The Quality of Democracy: Why the Rule of Law Matters

Issue Date October 2004
Volume 15
Issue 4
Page Numbers 32-46
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High-quality democracy requires a truly democratic rule of law that ensures political rights, civil liberties, and mechanisms of accountability which in turn affirm the political equality of all citizens and constrain potential abuses of state power. How may the democratic rule of law (état de droit, estado democrático de derecho, Rechsstaat) be conceptualized and, insofar as possible, empirically gauged? By exploring a set of variables within the rule of law we can understand what makes it effective and how it relates to other aspects of the performance of democratic countries. This essay focuses on contemporary Latin America (especially Argentina and Brazil) where national-level democratic regimes often effectively coexist with undemocratic sub-national regimes—so-called “brown areas.”

About the Author

Guillermo O’Donnell is professor emeritus of political science and senior fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies of the University of Notre Dame and professor of political science at the University of San Martín, Argentina. In 2006, he was the first-ever recipient of the International Political Science Association’s Mattei Dogan Prize for lifetime achievement.

View all work by Guillermo O’Donnell