Re-Reading Weber in Law and Development: A Critical Intellectual History of 'Good Governance' Reform

116 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2008

Date Written: December 9, 2008


The "Weberianism" of the modern age derives from the influence of three theoretical concepts in Weber's work. First, Weber described the development of "logically formal rationality" in governance as central to the rise of Western capitalist democracy. Second, Weber posited that Protestant religious ethics had helped to promote certain economic behaviors associated with contemporary capitalism. Third, Weber identified the rise of bureaucratic governance, as the primary means of realizing logically formal rationality, as distinctly modern.

This essay examines the influence of these basic insights on discourse on legal reform in developing countries. The prioritization of legal and institutional reforms to achieve "good governance" seems to be part of a larger intellectual shift to the problems and challenges of "governance" in a globalizing world.

Transmitters of Weberian analysis in this milieu, however, have at times elided important nuances in Weber's own thought -- nuances that, if incorporated, might have significant implications within development discourse.

The paper's objectives are: first, to conduct an intellectual history that shows how one of the greatest sociologists influenced an increasingly important area of law reform in the age of globalization; second, to surface critiques arising within that field of law reform; and third, to suggest that there may be some connection between the two. In that sense, the paper seeks to make a contribution to two discourses: to enrich the study of the history of legal thought the reception of an important thinker has shaped contemporary law and policy in a relatively understudied field in the academy; and at the same time to underscore and contextualize policy critiques that have arisen in an increasingly important field of practice.

Keywords: Weber, development, sociology, Parsons, Structural Functionalism

JEL Classification: A14, B31, 010, 020

Suggested Citation

Thomas, Chantal, Re-Reading Weber in Law and Development: A Critical Intellectual History of 'Good Governance' Reform (December 9, 2008). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-034, Available at SSRN: or

Chantal Thomas (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States


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