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The Rule of Law in the Western World: An Overview

Jonathan Rose

Arizona State University College of Law


Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 35, 2004

Today, in political and legal discourse, one hears frequent use of the phrase, the Rule of Law. The connotation is always positive and is frequently juxtaposed with undue governmental intrusion or lawlessness. The meaning of these words, however, is frequently not explained. A substantial number of political and legal commentators and philosophers have had something to say about these words and the ideas that they embody. The tenor of all this commentary leaves no doubt that the Rule of Law is a long-standing, powerful, and important component of liberal democracy.

This essay attempts to explore the different meanings and use of the notion of Rule of Law. Part II of this essay briefly discusses the history of the phrase. In an effort to reduce the ambiguity of the phrase, George Fletcher, a noted jurisprudential scholar, identified two versions of the Rule of Law: a “modest version” that means governance by and adherence to rules, and a “more lofty ideal that incorporates criteria of justice.” Part III considers these narrow and broad versions to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Although the focus of the paper is to explore the meaning of the Rule of Law and the differences between the two primary approaches, Part IV considers further issues relating to the Rule of Law that deserve mention: application in other political systems, justifications for departures from the Rule of Law, and the actions of the United States and other governments and organizations to current terrorism and other current events.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 24

Keywords: rule of law, liberalism, legal philosophy

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Date posted: June 26, 2009 ; Last revised: September 17, 2009

Suggested Citation

Rose, Jonathan, The Rule of Law in the Western World: An Overview (2004). Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 35, 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1426343

Contact Information

Jonathan Rose (Contact Author)
Arizona State University College of Law ( email )
Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
480-965-6513 (Phone)
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