Not available in 2022/23
IR326      Half Unit
The Rule of Law: A Global History

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof 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.

This course has a limited number of places (it is capped).

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.


This course is delivered through classes totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Lent Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of in-person classes/classes delivered online.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Students are required to research and write one formative essay (1,000 words) on an assigned topic and due in Week 7 of Lent Term. This essay will be used to sketch out ideas for the summative essay. Essays must be fully - and carefully - referenced using one of the major conventions consistently.

Indicative reading

Jens Meierhenrich and Martin Loughlin, eds., The Cambridge Companion to the Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021)

Tom Ginsburg and Tamir Moustafa, eds., Rule by Law: The Politics of Courts in Authoritarian Regimes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

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 ST.

Essays must be fully - and carefully - referenced using one of the major conventions consistently.

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2021/22: 15

Average class size 2021/22: 16

Capped 2021/22: Yes (15)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

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