I’m Paul Gowder. I teach here at the University of Iowa College of Law, and I’ve just written a book about the rule of law. “The rule of law.” What is it? Why do we care? A bunch of rich and powerful countries, as well as entities like the World Bank and the United Nations, spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting the rule of law. Politicians and judges routinely accuse one another of ignoring the rule of law. Law professors, like me, pour out gallons of ink on the rule of law. But what do we get out of it? What’s the payoff for all of this? Nobody’s really sure. Some scholars claim that the rule of law promotes individual liberty. Others focus on economic development; but the philosophers who talk about liberty, tend to radically disagree about what liberty is, and often what the rule of law is, too; the social scientists who say that the rule of law is associated with economic development, have measurements of the rule of law that don’t even match with one another, let alone with what lawyers and philosophers say they should be studying. It gets worse. How did the rare societies that have managed to achieve the rule of law pull it off? Again, social scientists don’t agree, and all those megamillion dollar efforts to promote it, that I just talked about, have mostly failed. Too often, rule of law development seems to mean, people from countries like the United States, Britain, and Germany, flying over and telling people from countries like Afghanistan that they should run their legal systems just like we run ours, while paying little attention to the cultural context or to what actually might cause people to support and defend a legal order. More recently, the rule of law has also undergone a troubling political polarization. These days, the ideological right is the loudest voice in its favor, and we see the ancient ideal of government under law being casually assimilated to the neoliberal economic policies known under the name “the Washington Consensus;” and serious scholars have said, evidently with straight faces, that Augusto Pinochet, an infamous dictator who marched into power with a military coup and immediately put on secret police, disappearances, torture camps, death squads, the works, instituted something like the rule of law, just because he also protected capitalist property rights. Unsurprisingly, the political left has increasingly turned on the rule of law, finding nothing to support in an ideal that looks increasingly like a mere legitimating mechanism for existing hierarchies of power and esteem. My book aims to upset this situation. “The Rule of Law in the Real World,” published by Cambridge University Press, argues that the central idea of the rule of law is not liberty, not economic development, and not property rights, although the rule of law is likely to incidentally help secure all those things. Instead, I argue that its central idea is equality. A state that achieves the rule of law allows ordinary citizens to stand in equal status with officials who wield the terrifying power of the government’s monopoly of force; a state that achieves it in a truly full-blooded fashion also achieves equal status among ordinary citizens. “The Rule of Law in the Real World” lays out the case for this egalitarian conception of the rule of law using the tools of political theory and philosophy of law; but it doesn’t stop there. It also uses original historical evidence to show that real world activists, who have fought for the rule of law in societies as diverse as Classical Athens and Seventeenth-Century England, have understood their efforts in terms of equality, too; and then, building on that historical work, “The Rule of Law in the Real World” develops a general model using the tools of game theory to describe the kinds of societies that are likely to be able to develop and sustain the rule of law. I argue that the rule of law cannot be achieved merely by tinkering with formal institutions, like constitutions and courts, but only by promoting genuinely equal legal systems that inspire in their people a commitment to take risks in order to collectively defend themselves against the powerful. The book also offers rule of law promoters a concrete menu of suggestions to contribute to bringing about such an egalitarian legal order, as well as a novel measurement strategy meant to help them more reliably see if they’re succeeding; but to me, the most important contribution “The Rule of Law in the Real World” makes is to push back against the political polarization I mentioned a few minutes ago. I believe I have shown that both left and right have reason to support the rule of law. For the right: the rule of law probably does promote economic development, and it does help ensure that the fearsome power of government is strictly defined to its well-defined bounds. There is a lot for Libertarians to like here; but it also gives us reason to fight for most of the important principles of the left: the righteous demands of the Black Lives Matter movement are rule of law demands, as are the demands of homeless activists who demand housing for all. All those who fight inequality and injustice have a friend in the rule of law. Thank you.