The Fall and Rise of the Rule of Law and the Trope of Ownership

‘The rule of law’ draws extraordinarily diverse supporters. Theorists from the Marxist historian E.P. Thompson to the conservative economist Friedrich Hayek have embraced it; in September 2005 the entire membership of the United Nations committed themselves to it. Such widespread endorsement is possible only because of relative vagueness as to what the term might actually mean.
This poses particular problems in states where rule of any sort is uncertain. The facilitation or imposition of the rule of law in fragile or conflict-affected countries has been something of a growth area since the rediscovery of the rule of law — long discredited after the failed ‘law and development’ efforts of the 1960s and 1970s — in the post-Cold War era.
Yet the enthusiasm and resources devoted to programming in this area have not been matched by much success. Rule of law is invoked as a kind of mantra, but efforts to support or promote it tend to be technical quick-fixes or rhetorical abstractions. In part this is due to the absence of agreement on a definition.
The author’s presentation (from which these brief notes are drawn) will examine the fall and rise of the rule of law, some of the lingering definitional questions, and the use and abuse of the term ‘ownership’ in particular.

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2009

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