As we shall see, what usually happens in our early medieval sources is that, when one social group, usually a family or kindred but occasionally an institution such as a monastery, is wronged, it makes a great display of its anger, of the fact that it has been wronged and of the fact that it has the right to extract vengeance upon the wrongdoers. Pressure is thereby brought upon the original attackers to make reparation, either informally or through the local officers of the law, or sometimes through the mediation of the church. Where compensation is not paid, the aggrieved party sometimes carries out a retaliatory attack. If the correct procedures have been followed, a successful vengeance killing is held to be quite legal, and terminates the dispute. There is little conception that the recipients of the retaliatory attack have any right to feel aggrieved, or that they would be justified in responding violently to it.
Fun post! I was just reading a book about Wyatt Earp and the wild west (which I might be writing about on my own blog in a few weeks), and there was a very strong tradition of private vengeance there too, even though the law frowned on it.
It's also worth noting that the Jewish law about the Avenger of Blood, in the Torah, reads like it isn't establishing that system but rather taking a system that already existed and limiting it. From Numbers 35: "You shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment... Then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood, in accordance with these rules."
Tribal, deeply mountainous areas of northern Albania and Kosova have long operated under a well-established and oral transmitted system of feud norms.
One British source living thereabouts for some time in the early XX century spoke of some areas seeing upward to a third of all adult men dying in revenge killings.
Any idea how things are going on in US cities? Are the gangs developing norms, customs to provide restitution? Or is it still shoot-em-up and retaliation? Listening to the morning news out of Chicago, it seems the latter.
<i> law is, must be, enforced by the state ...</i>
What of disagreements arising from a lack of the clear assignment of rights, and violations thereof?
If I recall correctly, there have been at least three small, armed, conflicts in various parts of the Americas each called "The Pig War", where settlers from the different cultures attempted to bring forward localized European expectations and found themselves in conflict over who should build the fence, carry the water, keep the pigs separate from the lettuce ...
If the rights and responsibilities are clearly assigned and widely recognized -- carved into Tablets of Stone, say -- such conflicts might be averted. Well, theoretically. More likely the capital-L "Law" gets carved into stone at the end of the war (by the winners) to avert the NEXT one. I expect, too, after a ruling government carves out such a Law that following generations of lawyers, scholars, disputants and clerks will wrangle about whether the Law about fencing the lettuce away from the pigs analogously applies to the Montagues' more-or-less wild rabbits pinching from the Capulets' patch of perennial primroses.