What’s the point of the rule of law?

Section 1 characterises elements shared by most conventional accounts of the rule of law. Section 2 outlines five reasons not to start, still less to end, with them. The rest of the paper develops an alternative account. Section 3 suggests that we do better to start with consideration of the point, the telos of the rule of law, rather than with enumeration of purported elements, the anatomy, of it. Since the rule of law is typically seen as a response to a problem, often described as arbitrary power, the fourth section attempts to say what sort of a problem that is, and why it has so often been regarded as problematic. The fifth and sixth sections seek to explain why the metaphor of tempering power well captures some of the character of such a solution. Section seven sketches some expansive implications of that ideal. It suggests that it should be understood as an inherently social and political ideal, not merely an ideal for law.