Originally published on Redroom on August 29, 2009.
“Plunder: When the Rule of Law is Illegal” by Ugo Mattei and Laura Nader presents a “narrative history of the imperial adventure rendered in historical and contemporary legal terms“ (Mattei and Nader: p 6) in order to illustrate the unfolding of the “rule of law” ideology in a pattern of continuity with the colonial experience.
Let’s clarify some of the key terms first. In the Introduction, the authors observe how “rule of law” possesses two basic meanings. On the one hand, it refers to the substantive content of a legal system that protects property rights and guarantees contractual obligations. “Rule of law”, however, equally refers to the specific formal features of a legal system which is “impersonal, abstract, and fair, because it is applied blindly to anyone in society” (Mattei and Nader: p 14).
These two meanings which make up the “rule of law ideology” are said to serve an illegal purpose whenever (1) they are used as cover-up rhetoric for the appropriation of resources; (2) they lend themselves to selective application, for the purpose of enforcing “double standards” in the imposition of restraints upon only some international or social constituencies; (3) they prevail over the value of peoples’ self-determination. Of course, this is just an approximate classification, which the authors advance in the Introduction, but which they do not recall later on in the book, as, at their core, all “illegal” uses of the rule of law share a common feature: that of favoring an unjust distribution of resources. Read more