Handbook on the Rule of Law
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Handbook on the Rule of Law

Edited by Christopher May and Adam Winchester

The discussion of the norm of the rule of law has broken out of the confines of jurisprudence and is of growing interest to many non-legal researchers. A range of issues are explored in this volume that will help non-specialists with an interest in the rule of law develop a nuanced understanding of its character and political implications. It is explicitly aimed at those who know the rule of law is important and while having little legal background, would like to know more about the norm.
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Chapter 8: The rule of law: An outline of its historical foundations

Pietro Costa


The idea of a government according to the law, of a power subjected to the law, draws strength from its opposite, from the idea of an arbitrary and ‘absolute’ sovereignty, exempt from rules because superior to them. The chapter deals with the remote roots of this basic contrast, from Antiquity to the revolutions of the late eighteenth century. Throughout this long period voluntas and ratio, power and law confront each other, but only gradually the main content of the law, or at least its principal function, tends to coincide with the allocation of absolute rights to individuals.

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