'An Unqualified Human Good': E.P. Thompson and the Rule of Law

Posted: 25 May 2001

See all articles by Daniel H. Cole

Daniel H. Cole

Indiana University Maurer School of Law; Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs

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Abstract

The late EP Thompson described himself as "a historian in the Marxist tradition." But when he embraced the Rule of Law (in "Whigs and Hunters"), many of his colleagues on the Left ostracized him as an apostate. This essay argues that Thompson's critics have largely misunderstood what he meant by the Rule of Law. His was a minimal and historical conception, which merely sought to distinguish states whose rulers had unfettered discretion from states whose rulers were constrained by legal rules, whatever their source and contents. Also, in contrast to other radical theorists, Thompson recognized that law would be a necessary institution in any complex society, no matter what its economic basis, to mediate social relations. The essay concludes with some thoughts about the relevancy of Thompson's conception of the Rule of Law for ongoing efforts to revitalize a more "radical liberalism."

Suggested Citation

Cole, Daniel H., 'An Unqualified Human Good': E.P. Thompson and the Rule of Law. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=268952

Daniel H. Cole (Contact Author)

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

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United States

Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs ( email )

1315 East Tenth Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

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