The New Imperialism: Violence, Norms, and the “Rule of Law”

The past decade has seen a surge in American and international efforts to promote “the rule of law” around the globe, especially in postcrisis and transitional societies. The World Bank and multinational corporations want the rule of law, since the sanctity of private property and the enforcement of contracts are critical to modern conceptions of the free market. Human-rights advocates want the rule of law since due process and judicial checks on executive power are regarded as essential prerequisites to the protection of substantive human rights. In the wake of September 11, international and national-security experts also want to promote the rule of law, viewing it as a key aspect of preventing terrorism. Given their conflicting priorities, human-rights advocates, economic analysts, and those concerned primarily with national and international security naturally differ on the proper law-reform priorities for transitional societies. They battle over whether commercial-law reform should precede criminal-law reform, whether the creation of new commercial courts should take priority over the creation of human rights and war crimes courts, and whether judicial reform ought to come before police reform. Since September 11 , 2001, the three groups have also disagreed about the imperatives of the “war on terror,” which many rights advocates see as privileging short-term security concerns over longer-term commitments to promoting human rights. Nonetheless, the three groups (which can overlap) share the basic assumption that the rule of law is central to stable and modem democratic society.