Restoring Trust in the Rule of Law

8 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2018

See all articles by Ernst Hirsch Ballin

Ernst Hirsch Ballin

Tilburg Law School; T.M.C. Asser Instituut; University of Amsterdam

Date Written: January 1, 2018


The law as an abstract system of rules establishes the conditions under which people in large societies can live together in peace. This is not because they all have personal trust in each other (which is obviously impossible to establish) but because they trust that living up to the rules is what normally can be expected and will be approved – and also that contraventions will be disapproved or retaliated against. This embryonic rule of law was and is the condition for any sustainable society that is too large to know each other personally. The recognition of human rights and the constitutional setup of democracies based on equal citizenship create the context for mutual trust in the rule of law. Terrorism, at least ideologically motivated all-out terrorism as we have seen it since the beginning of this century, is different: different both in its goals and in its methods, which determine each other. Its goal is to undermine trust in the rule of law in a way that is decisive for the future of the affected societies. And that might happen, regrettably, partly because some political responses to terrorism, while presenting themselves as firmly opposed to terrorism, actually give way to a destruction of trust in the rule of law. That happens when they, on their turn, also renounce the common pedigree of democracy and rule of law, arguing that the war against terrorism requires exceptional measures. The best possible, principled but also practical response to terrorism as well as to non-violent centrifugal forces can be clear: do not give up promoting the inclusive ideal of a constitution and rule of law for all.

Keywords: rule of law, terrorism, human rights, democracy, citizenship, trust, cultural essentialism

JEL Classification: K19, K40

Suggested Citation

Hirsch Ballin, Ernst M.H., Restoring Trust in the Rule of Law (January 1, 2018). Tilburg Law School Research Paper No. 04/2018, T.M.C. Asser Institute for International & European Law 2018-1, Available at SSRN:

T.M.C. Asser Instituut

P.O. Box 30461
2500 GL The Hague, 2517JN


University of Amsterdam

Amsterdam, 1018 WB


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