The standard account of the relation between democracy and the rule of law focuses on law’s liberty-enhancing role in constraining official action. This is a faint echo of the complex, constitutive relation between the two. The Greeks used one word – isonomia – to describe both. If democracy is the system in which people have an equal say in determining the rules that govern social life, then the rule of law is simultaneously before, after, concurrent and synonymous with democracy: It contributes to the formation of citizens with the capacity for self-governance, serves as the instrument through which democratic decisions are implemented, functions as one of the central social practices that constitute citizens as equals and addresses the question of how to ensure that government by the people operates for the people. The rule of law has many independently valuable qualities, including impartiality and predictability. But, to valorise the rule of law for its own sake is to fetishize authority. The fundamental values of the rule of law are as the instrument of democratic self-governance and the expression of the equal dignity of all persons. Democracy thus entails the rule of law, but both implicate the yet more comprehensive ideal of equality. Core rule-of-law values require political norms and conditions of equality, generality and comprehen-siveness. In a modern, differentiated society, however, the constitutive relation between democracy and the rule of law is fractured and law becomes the agent of authority. Courts in the modern constitutional state have contributed to the decline of rule-of-law values, supporting role specialization through judge-made immunity doctrines that protect officials at all levels. The crisis of police violence against minorities is a symptom of this breakdown. Greater accountability can ameliorate the problem. But an effective solution requires the fair and equal distribution of political power.
American Politics | Civil Rights and Discrimination | Constitutional Law | Law | Political Theory
Winter, Steven L., "'Who' or 'what' is the rule of law?" (2021). Law Faculty Research Publications. 512.