Inequality, Instability and the Rule of Law

This paper is a component of a broader project on the social dimension of the rule of law. It is widely known that inequality can produce social effects that place strains on the rule of law – corruption, political tension or strife, rule by decree, and so on. The question in this paper is whether this tension is accidental or intrinsic. In other words, does a severe amount of economic inequality necessarily result in an erosion of rule of law principles? If the answer were yes, it would be surprising, for the rule of law is employed centrally by neoliberal thinkers. This paper will argue against them that there is an all but necessary connection between severe instances of economic inequality and violations of the rule of law. Grave inequality itself is incompatible with the rule of law not mainly because it produces corruption and social unrest, but especially because it creates relationships of dependence and arbitrary power that are anathema to rule of law values.