Authoritarian Rule of Law

Legislation, Discourse and Legitimacy in Singapore

Authoritarian Rule of Law

Scholars have generally assumed that authoritarianism and rule of law are mutually incompatible. Convinced that free markets and rule of law must tip authoritarian societies in a liberal direction, nearly all studies of law and contemporary politics have neglected that improbable coupling: authoritarian rule of law. Through a focus on Singapore, this book presents an analysis of authoritarian legalism. It shows how prosperity, public discourse, and a rigorous observance of legal procedure have enabled a reconfigured rule of law such that liberal form encases illiberal content. Institutions and process at the bedrock of rule of law and liberal democracy become tools to constrain dissent while augmenting discretionary political power – even as the national and international legitimacy of the state is secured. With China seeing lessons to be learned in Singapore, as do any number of regimes looking to replicate Singapore's pairing of prosperity and social control, this book offers a valuable and original contribution to understanding the complexities of law, language, and legitimacy in our time.


"In this superb volume, Rajah crafts the best account to date of ways political liberalism can be systematically dismantled in the name of the rule of law. By tracing key moments in Singapore's history since independence, Rajah brilliantly reveals how political discourse and dramatic public performance can be manipulated by an urbane authoritarian state to cow vocal lawyers, to intimidate civil society, and to limit basic legal freedoms. Rajah convinces us that there exists a new form of illiberal political order - the authoritarian rule of law. This theoretically innovative, empirically compelling, and gracefully written book not only speaks eloquently to scholarly audiences, but it has far-reaching consequences for national leaders who seek "third ways" in which economic development is partitioned from political liberalism."
- Terence C. Halliday
Research Professor, American Bar Foundation; Co-Director, Center on Law and Globalization, American Bar Foundation and University of Illinois College of Law

"Authoritarian Rule of Law spans the period from colonization to the present, using a series of case studies to provide a sweeping as well as detailed and textured portrait of the rule of law in Singapore. Rajah reveals how the state has adeptly utilized narratives about its common law legal tradition, its vulnerable status (as a multi-ethnic city-state with limited natural resources), and its exceptional economic success, to make strong claims to legitimacy based upon the rule of law. This fascinating book exposes a rarely seen side to the rule of law, acknowledging its benefits while also showing its potential for abuse."
- Brian Z. Tamanaha
William Gardiner Hammond Professor of Law, Washington University School of Law