“It’s the Law.”: Social Norms and the Rule of Law


This Article posits that treating social norms as isolated regularities, as is commonly done in the legal literature, misses the big picture of social norms. Analyses of the relations between social norms and the law consequently run the risk of becoming “just so stories.” Economic analyses of other-regarding behavior may go beyond the narrow view of self-interestedness yet they remain confined to the individual level of analysis. To account for the societal-level mechanisms underlying social norms, this Article outlines a model in which norms form interdependent systems. Societal emphases on cultural values define the backbone of an evolving body of particular norms. This model sheds new light on the nature of the rule of law and on its role in promoting social order. Testable hypotheses are derived and empirical evidence is marshaled for the proposition that the rule of law is not a universal, culturally independent norm.


Law and Society

Date of this Version

February 2004