The Rise of Modern Commercial Arbitration and the Limits of Private Ordering

54 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2017 Last revised: 2 Feb 2018

Date Written: February 1, 2018


Courts and commentators often assume that arbitration in the United States is or can be a purely private way to resolve disputes. This Article challenges that assumption by offering a new account of how and why truly extralegal commercial arbitration declined during the eighteenth century. It argues that the rise of the modern credit economy altered the possibilities of private ordering. Until the middle of the eighteenth century, merchants could generally resolve their disputes without courts or lawyers. But that changed as new forms of lending arose, credit transactions became more impersonal, and disputes became more focused on short-term victory than long-term relationships. As a result, merchants sought more formal ways to settle their differences, and even “private” arbitration came to depend on state law. The law’s heightened importance, in turn, enhanced the state’s control over merchants. This historical account casts doubt on recent attempts to distinguish “private” arbitration from “public” litigation by questioning whether commercial arbitration can be truly private in a modern economy.

Keywords: Arbitration, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Private Ordering, Legal History, British Empire, Merchants, Chambers of Commerce, Eighteenth Century

Suggested Citation

Burset, Christian, The Rise of Modern Commercial Arbitration and the Limits of Private Ordering (February 1, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Christian Burset (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States

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