Unseating Unilateralism

'Private Law and the Rule of Law', Lisa Austin & Dennis Klimchuk eds (OUP, 2014).

32 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2012 Last revised: 21 Sep 2017

See all articles by Evan Fox-Decent

Evan Fox-Decent

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 6, 2013


Two sets of literature dominate academic discussion of the rule of law. The first is the Fuller/Hart/Raz literature of legal philosophy that focuses on Fuller’s internal morality of law and the framework it supplies for the exercise of agency. The second is the public law literature descended from AV Dicey that celebrates the rule of law as an equity-working bulwark against arbitrary executive power. Long before these literatures developed a life of their own, however, Thomas Hobbes articulated a conception of legal order that featured core elements of both. This, I argue, is the public law dimension of Hobbes’s account of legal order.

But Hobbes’s legal order has a private law dimension, too. Indeed, he begins his account with private law because it allows him to express most vividly the fundamental organizing idea that underlies the institutions of both public and private law: the prohibition on unilateralism. This principle affirms that no private party is entitled to dictate terms or enforce justice claims unilaterally against another. Public authorities alone are entitled to adjudicate and enforce justice claims. In Hobbes, I suggest, the prohibition on unilateralism is manifested in various laws of nature that inform both the structure and norms of legal institutions. The prohibition on unilateralism thus lies at the heart of the public as well as private law dimension of Hobbes’s legal theory, and reveals public law and private law as a unity.

Keywords: unilateralism, Hobbes, rule of law, laws of nature, authority, arbitration

Suggested Citation

Fox-Decent, Evan, Unseating Unilateralism (June 6, 2013). 'Private Law and the Rule of Law', Lisa Austin & Dennis Klimchuk eds (OUP, 2014).. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2175588 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2175588

Evan Fox-Decent (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

HOME PAGE: http://www.mcgill.ca/law/about/profs/fox-decent-evan

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