The Rule of Law and Authoritarian Rule: Legal Politics in Sudan

Sally Engle Merry

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Does the rule of law guarantee peace and democracy, as so many people in the development and governance field believe? What are the historical and sociocultural conditions that shape the way rule of law mechanisms work in practice? Mark Massoud's monograph tracing the changing dimensions of the rule of law in Sudan from its colonial period to the present offers an important perspective on these questions, casting doubt on the simple argument that the rule of law produces democracy and peace. Instead, he shows how colonial and authoritarian rulers used the rule of law to consolidate power and legitimate their rule. In Law's Fragile State: Colonial, Authoritarian, and Humanitarian Legacies in Sudan, Massoud develops the concept of legal politics, arguing that the way the rule of law works varies with the political system in which it is embedded. He concludes that the forms of legal politics that reinforce the power and authority of legal institutions are more likely to sustain an authoritarian state than to bring democratic rule. His analysis is a valuable caution to those who promote the rule of law as the salvation for all. Taking a sociolegal perspective, he shows how it works in practice.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)465-470
    Number of pages6
    JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences
    • Law


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