Ruling Before the Law: The Politics of Legal Regimes in China and Indonesia


Thursday, March 10, 2016, 4:10pm to 5:30pm


Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, 124 Mount Auburn Street, Suite 200-North, Cambridge, MA

You are invited to join William Hurst, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University and currently a Radcliffe Institute Fellow, for a discussion entitled “Ruling Before the Law: The Politics of Legal Regimes in China and Indonesia.” This talk will be moderated by Tony Saich, Ash Center Director and Daewoo Professor of International Affairs at HKS. 

"Ruling Before the Law" begins by arguing that in order to understand the politics of legal institutions in authoritarian, socialist, and post-colonial contexts, we must abandon teleological frameworks such as the “rule of law” and focus instead on what I term legal regimes. These can be classified by the degree to which non-judicial political actors intervene in individual cases and by the degree to which the overall political system – or polity – is closed and hierarchical or more open and in flux. This yields four basic legal regimes: “classical rule of law” with an open polity and little political intervention into legal cases; “rule by law” with little intervention but a closed hierarchical polity; “mobilizational” legal regimes with high levels of intervention and unstable polities in flux; and “neo-traditional” legal regimes with a great degree of intervention from a closed and hierarchical polity. By mapping these across two comparable, but otherwise “most-different”, political systems over the last 65 years, we come to a more nuanced and grounded understanding of important dynamics of state-society relations, institutional development, and social change – in addition to legal politics – in diverse contexts the world over. The project is based on ten years of intensive research, including more than 15 months on the ground in each country, across both urban and rural areas of East Java, North Sulawesi, Sichuan, Jiangxi, and Guangdong, in addition to Jakarta and Beijing.​

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