Rule of Law as an “Institutional Equilibrium”: Analytical Impacts on Unequal Societies

One of the most difficult challenges for someone exploring the concept of rule of law is to get lost in translation. Countries not sharing the Anglo-American legal tradition may find, in such a concept, nothing other than a highly imperfect equivalent. Yet, such translations are normally very reliant on normative assumptions and not rarely overlook how political forces and organizations achieve an “institutional equilibrium” through behavioral incentives, thereby constraining and dispersing power among various organized interests. Drawing from the Brazilian experience, this paper seeks to examine how this distinct approach to the “rule of law” may be more suitable for: a) connecting self-preservation to democratization processes; b) understanding the individuals’ and institutions’ noncompliance to the law and their resort to extralegal means; and c) exploring the impacts of social inequality on the quality of democratic institutions.