Iowa Thinking: Paul Gowder on "The Rule of Law in the Real World"

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In this short video, Professor Paul Gowder discusses his book The Rule of Law in the Real World (Cambridge University Press 2016).

The book gives a comprehensive new theory of the political and legal ideal known as "the rule of law": what it means (the coordinated collective control of power), why it matters (it constitutes a morally important kind of social equality), and how these properties should be taken into account in social scientific attempts to measure it as well as policy efforts to promote it.

The book begins with analytic political philosophy, developing a distinctively egalitarian account of the rule of law and its moral value. It then moves to history and political science, showing both that states with more egalitarian legal systems are likely to do better at sustaining the rule of law than states with inegalitarian systems, and that the self-understanding of participants in political conflict in real-world historical rule of law states—including democratic Athens and seventeenth-century England—understood the rule of law in egalitarian terms.

The book then turns to the development enterprise. The book offers a critique of existing empirical measurement strategies for the rule of law as well as an alternative rule of law measure. The new measure is rooted in the philosophical basis of the concept, behaves much as existing theoretical claims about the rule of law would predict (e.g., is highly correlated with economic development), and is more readily interpretable than existing measures.

In addition, the book explains how the egalitarian account of the rule of law can support interventions in the debate among rule of law development professionals and scholars between advocates of "bottom-up" and "top-down" development strategies. Finally, the book calls for the developed states to pay closer attention to promoting and maintaining the rule of law in their own political communities; in particular, it argues that policing in the U.S.—especially with respect to systematic discrimination against African-Americans—is a dire failure of the rule of law.

We invite you to watch.