'An Unqualified Human Good': E.P. Thompson and the Rule of Law

48 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 1999  

Daniel H. Cole

Indiana University Maurer School of Law; Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs; Indiana University Bloomington - Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis

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Date Written: June 1, 1999

Abstract

The late EP Thompson described himself as "a historian in the Marxist tradition." But when he embraced the Rule of Law (in Whigs and Hunters), many of his colleagues on the left ostracized him as an apostate. This essay argues that Thompson's critics have largely misunderstood what he meant by the Rule of Law. His was a minimal and historical conception, which merely sought to distinguish states whose rulers had unfettered discretion from states whose rulers were constrained by legal rules, whatever their source and contents. Also, in contrast to other radical theorists, Thompson recognized that law would be a necessary feature of any complex society, no matter what its economic basis, for mediating social relations. The essay concludes with some thoughts about the relevancy of Thompson's conception of the Rule of Law for ongoing efforts to revitalize a more "radical liberalism."

Suggested Citation

Cole, Daniel H., 'An Unqualified Human Good': E.P. Thompson and the Rule of Law (June 1, 1999). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=169264 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.169264

Daniel H. Cole (Contact Author)

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Avenue
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Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs ( email )

1315 East Tenth Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
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Indiana University Bloomington - Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis ( email )

Indiana University Bloomington
Bloomington, IN
United States
(812) 855-4421 (Phone)

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