What’s the Point of the Rule of Law?

May 22, 2019
02:00 pm - 03:30 pm

About the event

Beginning in the 1990s, ‘rule of law’ emerged on the agendas of most Western aid donors. It was thought to be a key element in solving a host of political, economic, and social ills—from corruption and economic underdevelopment to weak political institutions and state abuse of power. Yet successful efforts to strengthen or instill the rule of law in places where it is weak or lacking have not been conspicuous. Why? Of course, the task is hard. But the typical understanding of the rule of law does not make it any easier. Moreover, the challenge today lies not merely in the difficulty of the task and the way we approach it, but also in a shifting global order. Western liberal-democratic models of development no longer have the monopoly they seemed to enjoy in the 1990s. The emergence of an alternative Chinese model, increasing skepticism about Western models, and the epidemic rise of populist and authoritarian rivals mean that the virtues of the rule of law can no longer be assumed to be self-evident. Those who support the rule of law need to be able to defend it before increasingly skeptical audiences who think they have other viable options. In his presentation, Professor Martin Krygier critiqued existing ways of thinking about the rule of law and offered alternative frameworks. He also explored how adapting our intellectual approach might improve the global community’s ability both to promote the rule of law and to defend it against the global efflorescence of populist and authoritarian enemies. Journal of Democracy Editor Marc F. Plattner moderated the discussion.



Professor Martin Krygier, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow


moderated by

Marc F. Plattner, Co-Editor, Journal of Democracy


about the speakers

Professor Martin Krygier is Gordon Samuels Professor of Law and Social Theory at the University of New South Wales, in Australia and recurrent visiting professor at the Graduate School of Social Research, Warsaw. His research interests include the conditions and nature of the rule of law, and challenges involved in developing and sustaining it in post-communist Europe and other societies scarred by dictatorship and conflict. His writings seek to meld politically engaged legal and political theory with social theory, observation and experience and he has written extensively both for academic audiences and for journals of ideas and public debate. His works include Philip Selznick: Ideals in the World (2012), and, as editor, Rethinking the Rule of Law after Communism (2005) and Spreading Democracy and the Rule of Law? (2006). In 2016, he received the Denis Leslie Mahoney Prize in Legal Theory for his writings on the rule of law. During his fellowship, he plans to write a book for scholars, activists, and citizens that defends the ideal of the rule of law, while challenging traditional understandings of what it is and what it is for. He will also work on a closely connected project on populism and constitutional democracy.

Marc F. Plattner, founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy and co-chair of the Research Council of the International Forum for Democratic Studies, spent many years as NED’s vice-president for research and studies. He received his Ph.D. in government from Cornell University, where his principal area of study was political philosophy. He is the author of Democracy Without Borders? Global Challenges to Liberal Democracy (2008) and Rousseau’s State of Nature (1979), a study of the political thought of Jean Jacques Rousseau. His articles on a wide range of international and public policy issues have appeared in numerous books and journals. Over the past two decades, he has coedited with Larry Diamond more than two dozen books on contemporary issues relating to democracy in the Journal of Democracy book series.


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