Rule-of-Law Typologies in Contemporary Societies*

By Carlin, Ryan E. | Justice System Journal, May 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Rule-of-Law Typologies in Contemporary Societies*


Carlin, Ryan E., Justice System Journal


In the last twenty years, the rule of law has undergone a revival in legal, academic, business, military, and development spheres. Yet we lack a clear understanding of the distinct forms the rule of law takes, and how and why they vary across states and over time. This study indicates one way to operationalize rule of law for analytic purposes while respecting the nonlinear combinations of rule of law's multiple dimensions. The results imply rule of law is not all of a piece and is likely to take only a handful of fairly predictable forms. Analyzing profiles of rule of law in the 1990s suggests five main typologies: Full Rule of Law, Incomplete Rule of Law, Peaceful Unrule of Law, Unstable Lawlessness, and Violent Unrule of Law. Finally, this essay encourages debates about the conceptualization, measurement, and types of rule of law similar to those found in the literature on democracy. Finally, this essay encourages debates about the conceptualization, measurement, and types of rule of law similar to those found in the literature on democracy.

The general optimism in legal circles, civil society, the development community, the military, and the media that a set of complementary institutions can promote the rule of law runs up against major disagreements on how to define, measure, and thus study rule of law empirically (Skaaning, 2010). While some have proposed ways to unite the efforts of reformers and scholars (McCubbins, Rodriguez, and Weingast, 2010), others see the problems as intractable, declaring rule of law an "essentially contested concept" (Gallie, 1956; cf., Waldron, 2002) or eschewing the concept for more disaggregated approaches (Rios-Figueroa and Staton, 2009).

This study accepts the premise that, like democracy (Dahl, 1971), the rule of law is an ever-retreating ideal (HiiL, 2007; Voigt, 2009). Thus, like democracy scholars, rule-of-law scholars can operationaUze a conceptual definition of rule of law and examine how closely cases match an ideal type. In this spirit, the present investigation adopts an existing definition of rule of law, operationalizes it, and classifies cases accordingly. The resultant rule-of-law profiles and typologies match basic theoretical expectations about which dimensions of rule of law "hang together." Hence, the approach advances the measurement debate. But an overarching goal of this study, and indeed this symposium, is to encourage lines of debate about the conceptualization, measurement, and types of rule of law that parallel the enriching debates underway in the literatures on democracy (Munck and Verkuilen, 2002; Collier and Levitsky, 1997) and authoritarianism (Geddes, 1999; Levitsky and Way, 2002; Schedler, 2006).

The rest of this study unfolds as follows. It first identifies a conceptual definition of rule of law. Next, it discusses the empirical indicators used to operationaUze the dimensions of this conceptualization. Then it uses cluster analysis to classify 1,046 country-years from 1992 to 1999 into rule-of-law "profiles." These profiles suggest five rule-of-law typologies: 1) Full Rule of Law, 2) Incomplete Rule of Law, 3) Peaceful Unrule of Law, 4) Unstable Lawlessness, and 5) Violent Unrule of Law. After examining cases that fit these typologies and some general theoretical expectations of the correlates of rule of law, a brief conclusion highlights the contributions of this research and paths for future investigation.

CONCEPTUALIZING THE RULE OF LAW

Rodrik's admission to The Economist (2008) neatly summarizes the definitional confusion plaguing rule-of-law research: "Am I the only economist guilty of using [rule of law] without having a good fix on what it really means? Well, maybe the first one to confess to it." To avoid this trap, this essay accepts Shklar's (1998) conceptual claim that "rule of law" means citizens do not suffer "the insecurity of arbitrary government, the discriminations of injustice, and the fear of violence" (p.

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Rule-of-Law Typologies in Contemporary Societies*
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