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Competing Definitions of the Rule of Law: Implications for Practitioners

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Definitions of the rule of law fall into two categories: (1) those that emphasize the ends that the rule of law is intended to serve within society (such as upholding law and order, or providing predictable and efficient judgments), and (2) those that highlight the institutional attributes believed necessary to actuate the rule of law (such as comprehensive laws, well-functioning courts, and trained law enforcement agencies). For practical and historical reasons, legal scholars and philosophers have favored the first type of definition. Practitioners of rule-of-law development programs tend to use the second type of definition. This paper analyzes the challenge of effectively defining the rule of law, through an examination of both types of definitions, the historical background of each, and the implications of each for rule-of-law development efforts.