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Novelists and jurists from the dawn of social thought have remarked on unequal justice for the poor, but the Enlightenment laid a foundation in Western societies for modern and postmodern examination of the relationship between law and poverty as a social problem. The Enlightenment emphasized individual merit, equality, and the material foundation for social relations, while deemphasizing relationships between social status, religion, and law. The latter may still influence Western thought—perhaps more so in a period of conservative retrenchment and fundamentalist revival—although they have been displaced as modes of analysis by empirical methods that reflect the Enlightenment impulse to understand and change the world. The subject of law and poverty has a rich empirical literature, but the emphasis here is primarily on the work of ...

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