The rule of law and the limits of anarchy

Carmen E. Pavel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Anarchy is often contrasted with law, order, or security. But anarchist societies, by which I mean societies that lack a monopoly of coercive force, need not be lawless. They can develop sophisticated legal systems that regulate the behavior of their members and protect their rights. International law, market anarchism, and other models of anarchism such as the one proposed by Chandran Kukathas already exhibit or could plausibly exhibit complex legal rules and institutions. I will show that insofar as these models rely on consent, they all share similar structural flaws, namely, that they cannot meet basic rule-of-law values such as equality before the law and access to legal remedies for wrongs that embody and respect individual moral equality, even minimally conceived. The implication of this argument is not to vindicate state-based legal systems. Rather it is to show that legal systems, state-based or not, must have a strong nonconsensual, coercive element: the process of making, applying, and enforcing law must, to some extent, be severed from consent if law is to perform its function of providing for minimal justice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-95
Number of pages26
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


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