Formalism and anti-formalism in the Chinese Communist Party’s governance project
Forthcoming with Global Constitutionalism
23 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2021
Date Written: February 5, 2021
This article argues that the CCP’s governance project oscillates between rule-based formalism and anti-formalist scepticism about rule-based governance. In this dichotomy, anti-formalist arguments support Party leaders’ efforts to maintain and increase the Party’s influence over the judiciary and other state organs, which is a key justification for the Party’s power. Formalist language, in contrast, supports Party leaders’ attempts to constrain lower-level Party cadres’ uses of power within the Party. Formalist language is particularly prominent in Party ideologues’ writings on the interpretation of the Party’s internal regulations, including the CCP Constitution. At the same time, Party ideology also provides for various anti-formalist arguments about rule-based governance within and outside the Party. In effect, the Party leadership seeks to exert rule-transcending political leadership through formal rules. While the focus of this article is on China, it argues that other illiberal regimes may also be studied in terms of similar, potentially incoherent approaches to rule-based governance.
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