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Friday, February 05, 2016

The Rule of Law in the Real World.

This round of prawfsblawgging comes at an exciting and terrifying time for me: my first book, The Rule of Law in the Real World, comes out in a few days, courtesy of Cambridge University Press. It's an attempt to reconcile the philosophical, legal, and empirical literature on the ideal of "the rule of law," and show its symbiotic relationship with genuine legal equality. I think the official release date is February 11, although at least one person has already gotten her hands on a copy (before me!). Pre-orders are open (Cambridge, Amazon). I've also put up a website at rulelaw.net, mainly as a home for some cool interactive data visualizations---but I also hope to make it a live, ongoing thing, collecting other rule of law scholarship, data, and knowledge in general.

So the exciting is obvious, buy why terrifying? Well, I think that all of us academics are subject to quite a bit of imposter syndrome, and none more than those of us doing interdisciplinary work. No matter how good you are, even if you're Richard Posner Himself, you can't produce high-quality scholarly work in every discipline at once.  So anyone who publishes an extremely interdisciplinary book---and this book is that, in spades, delving into political philosophy, classics, game theory, empirical analysis, and other areas---surely must live in terror of opening up the journals or getting a Google Scholar alert to see his or her book get shredded by someone who actually is good at one of the disciplines the book has invaded.  And while there are treatments for this condition---serious cross-training, showing your work to people who know more than you before rather than after publishing it--- there is no certain cure. 

Yet some research topics really can only be handled by using methods from every field at once. The rule of law is definitely one of those: it has such a long historical provenance, has been the object of so many conflicting interpretations from lawyers, philosophers, historians, economists, political scientists, and others (Waldron once called it an "essentially contested concept"), and has such growing policy relevance in a world where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent promoting it (or the promoters' conception of what it might be) in places like Afghanistan, that the only way to really get any traction and make any progress is to try to bring something together from those disparate domains.  This is, I think, why Brian Tamanaha's wonderful rule of law work has become so influential: he really made the first big attempt to listen to all the diverse conversations on the subject.

So hopefully the terror of the review pages will prove unfounded, and it'll turn out that I'm really not faking competence in all those things.  The next half a year or so will tell.  In the meantime, I'll be blogging about The Rule of Law in the Real World throughout the month, along with whatever other crazy topics happen to cross my mind.  Onward!

Posted by Paul Gowder on February 5, 2016 at 06:29 PM in Books, Legal Theory | Permalink

Comments

As someone who stretched to write about the rule of law, I feel your nervousness. The website is fascinating, and I'm sure the book will be as well.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Feb 6, 2016 4:20:29 PM

Thank you Michael!

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Feb 6, 2016 9:09:53 PM

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