Conceptualizing the Rule of Law

  • Rodolfo SarsfieldEmail author


With the rise of research on the rule of law during recent years, the meaning of that concept has become a subject of much debate. The lack of consensus becomes quickly noticeable when some of the existing concepts of the rule of law are examined. This chapter seeks to explore the different concepts of the rule of law – and its definitional prerequisites – present in the literature. This review is organized according to two competing accounts of conceptual analysis used in political science, hierarchical structures (e.g., Møller/Skaaning 2014), and radial categories (e.g., Collier/Mahon 1993). Hierarchical structures organize different definitions of a concept along a continuum from the thinner (or minimalist) definitions to the thicker (or maximalist) definitions, while the conceptual analysis of radial categories proposes the existence of a “primary category” (Collier/Mahon 1993) with different “diminished subtypes” of the concept (Collier/Levitsky 1997). Thick and thin conceptualizations “involve trade-offs between generality and specificity, quantity and quality, and absolutes and matters of degree” (Coppedge 2002: 1).


Rule of law Rule by law Democracy Individual rights Equality Law 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Autonomous University of QueretaroSantiago de QuerétaroMexico

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