In This Review

Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: In Search of Knowledge
Promoting the Rule of Law Abroad: In Search of Knowledge
Edited by Thomas Carothers
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2006, 350 pp

The promotion of democracy and the rule of law has become the proposed solution to all sorts of global challenges -- civil war, terrorism, corruption, postsocialist transitions, economic backwardness -- and the foreign-aid community has made strengthening law and political institutions a central objective. Carothers, a leading authority on the subject, provides an illuminating survey of ambitions and accomplishments in this valuable collection of essays by scholars and practitioners. The message is that aid efforts focused on promoting the rule of law can make a difference but that legal reform is slow and difficult -- as is underscored by the meager results in sub-Saharan Africa, the former Soviet Union, and especially the Middle East. Part of the problem is that there are limits to what outside assistance can achieve in the absence of domestic leaders and constituencies committed to reform. But the problem emphasized by Carothers is that the knowledge of what works and what does not is so thin. Several authors also argue that aid should be shifted from supporting state reform to empowering social groups and the poor to spur change from below. Aid promoters currently tend to focus on concrete institutional reforms, but it is the deeper transition -- strengthening the overall role of law in society -- that is both more important and largely elusive.