Not available in 2020/21
IR326      Half Unit
The Rule of Law: A Global History

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Jens Meierhenrich CBG.10.01


This course is available on the BSc in International Relations, BSc in International Relations and Chinese, BSc in International Relations and History, BSc in Politics and International Relations and LLB in Laws. This course is not available as an outside option. This course is available with permission to General Course students.

Course content

This taught seminar course introduces students to the theory and history of the rule of law, one of the most frequently invoked - and least understood - ideas of political theory and practice. What exactly is the rule of law? Is it still a harbinger of liberty or just the latest manifestation of neocolonial domination? Is it a moral ideal or merely a means to an end? Can it really facilitate democracy, development, and economic growth? And why is the rule of law compatible with authoritarianism? In answer to these and related questions debated in law and the social sciences as well as in international organizations, governments, think tanks, and NGOs the world over, this interdisciplinary course introduces students to important advocates of the rule of law (from A. V. Dicey to the World Bank) and also to notable critics (including Thomas Hobbes, Carl Schmitt, Judith Shklar, and Eric Posner). Through close readings of seminal texts and a global analysis of historical cases and trajectories, students will gain an innovative and in-depth understanding of the promise - and limits - of one of the most foundational concepts of the modern world.


20 hours of seminars in the MT.

In line with departmental policy, students on the course will have a reading week in week 6.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Students will write one formative essay of 1,500 words on an assigned topic.  This essay will be used to sketch out ideas for the summative essay.  Feedback will be provided on the essay which will aid in the research and writing of the summative essay.

Indicative reading

  • Tom Ginsburg and Tamir Moustafa, eds., Rule by Law: The Politics of Courts in Authoritarian Regimes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)
  • Paul Gowder, The Rule of Law in the Real World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016)
  • R. W., Kostal, A Jurisprudence of Power: Victorian Empire and the Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge
  • University Press, 2005)
  • José Maria Maravall and Adam Przeworski, eds., Democracy and the Rule of Law (Cambridge:
  • Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  • Friedrich Kratochwil, The Status of Law in World Society: Meditations on the Role and Rule of Law
  • (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014)
  • Eric Posner, The Perils of Global Legalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the LT Week 1.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2019/20: 16

Average class size 2019/20: 16

Capped 2019/20: Yes (16)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication