The Rule of Law

The Rule of Law

The Common Sense of Global Politics

Christopher May

This timely book explores the complexities of the rule of law – a well-used but perhaps less well understood term - to explain why it is so often appealed to in discussions of global politics. Ranging from capacity building and the role of the World Bank to the discourse(s) of lawyers and jurisprudential critiques, it seeks to introduce non-lawyers to the important and complex political economy of the rule of law.

Chapter 1: The rule of law as a social imaginary

Christopher May

Subjects: economics and finance, political economy, law - academic, law and society, legal philosophy, legal theory, politics and public policy, political economy

Extract

The rule of law does not promise results so much as it promises an approach, a process, a practice of reason-giving, a set of argumentative conventions. (Torke 2001, p. 1450) Studying the law we become part of it. The consequence is that our deepest cultural commitment - the commitment to the rule of law - remains one of the least explored elements of our common life. (Kahn 1999, p. 2) Such a high degree of consensus on the virtues of the rule of law is possible because of relative vagueness as to its meaning. (Chesterman 2008a, p. 3) As I hope I have demonstrated in the Introduction, the idea of the rule of law is often appealed to in discussions of, and deliberations about, politics. Now I want to suggest that one useful way of understanding the contemporary resonance of the rule of law is to regard it is a 'social imaginary'. Charles Taylor's idea of the 'social imaginary' stems from his focus on the 'way ordinary people "imagine" their social surroundings' carried in 'images, stories and legends'; he focuses on ideas that are shared by 'large groups of people, if not the whole of society'; and on those ideas that represent a 'common understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy' (Taylor 2004, p. 23); a social imaginary is a particular form of common sense.