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Privileging Empirical Reality

Gurpreet Mahajan

Edited by Jose Maria Maravall and Adam Przeworski
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 321, price not stated.


The issue of political obligation has been a central concern of modern political theory. Why should people obey the state? Why should individuals subject themselves to the authority of the sovereign? Early liberal theorists referred to such benefits as, peace, security, freedom, and protection of one’s basic rights, as reasons for abiding by the law promulgated by the sovereign. As the movements for democracy and greater participation gained ground, the nature of sovereign authority and the accountability of the sovereign became the primary concerns. Democracy, it was argued, entailed a limited sovereign: limited by the rights of the citizens and the law of the land. Rule of law was expected to guarantee the liberty of the people by curtailing the arbitrary rule of men and, as such, was seen as an essential component of democracy. For many liberals, it was an instrument for enhancing individual autonomy and rule of an accountable and “principled government”. A normative link was thus postulated between democracy and the rule of law. But does this normative relationship exist in reality? Is rule of law a unique element of a democracy? Do all democracies function in accordance with the rule of law?   The volume under consideration raises these questions. It problematizes the relationship between democracy and the rule of law, and suggests that rule of law and democracy are both desirable attributes of a political system, but that does not imply that one follows from the other, or that, one necessarily exists with the other. Democracy and rule of law need to be seen as two separate and distinct concepts embedded in different institutional structures.   This is the shared understanding of democracy and rule of law that informs the twelve essays in this volume. The contributors share a further assumption. They assume that “normative” understanding of the link between democracy and the rule of law is less than satisfactory for it confuses description for explanation. By this they mean that normative accounts merely hint at the fact that each reinforces the other, enshrines the same concerns and agendas. It does not take into account the dissonance between the two, something that is strikingly evident in empirical analysis. Hence, setting aside normative liberal theories, the contributors privilege the empirical reality. They begin by noting that rule of law does not always prevail in a democracy, and then suggest the need to explain why governments abide by ...

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