Law and Development at a Crossroads:
Asian Alternatives to Universal Schemes?
In the institutional practice of law and development, a new paradigm is emerging. The intellectual underpinnings of the so-called “new law and economic development” have been described, analyzed and criticized in a number of recent works, perhaps most notably, in the recently published The New Law and Economic Development: A Critical Appraisal (Cambridge University Press, 2006). According to this new paradigm, “development” should be redefined more broadly than economic growth, following Amartya Sen’s famous formulation of development as “freedom.” Within this framework, the rule of law is to be pursued as an end of development in its own right rather than as a means to achieving economic success. At the same time, more attention is being paid by the international aid community to promoting democracy and protecting fundamental human rights. And social concerns are being integrated into mainstream development policies.
Various questions remain unanswered, however. An immediate reaction to these apparently progressive ideas reveals the presence of an old presumption that the rule of law and democracy are universally acceptable goods. This is an argument that may be problematic in different cultural contexts. And even if this presumption is accepted, there are considerable practical obstacles to be overcome. For example, it is not clear what it takes, beyond deliberate efforts on the part of the aid community, for notions of democracy and the rule of law to take root in foreign soil, even if one can agree as to their content. This is further complicated by the suggestion that the rule of law and democracy presuppose the existence of one another. Thus, the question becomes: Does the new paradigm offer us a way forward beyond earlier contestation of these issues or is it merely a case of “old wine in new bottles”?
While the new paradigm at least seems to remind us of the continuing relevance of old problems, a number of scholars are skeptical about it as another “big idea.” Universal schemes such as this are consistently being challenged apparently in favor of more localism. However, it is still not clear how far we should go in embracing “localism” even if a consensus has been reached to move away from “universalism.”
On the other hand, “localist” trends are already well underway. It is evidenced, for example, by the recent surge of academic interest in law in Asia and the proliferation of work in this area. Over the last few years, a number of scholars have addressed the issue of the rule of law and democracy in a specific Asian context, the most recent example being Globalization and Resistance: Law Reform in Asia since the Crisis (Hart Publishing, 2007). Asia provides an important case study precisely because it is a region that has experienced remarkable economic growth often in the apparent absence of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. However, whether attempts to conceptualize the idea of “Asian law” will prove to be fruitful or whether an emphasis on individual country-level studies will remain important is still to be determined.
These exciting recent developments provide a rare opportunity for organizing a dialogue between scholars working on similar themes at the juncture of persisting old questions, anti-universalist ideas and various levels of localist approaches. The primary purpose of this conference, therefore, is to bring together scholars and development community practitioners from Asia, Europe and North America to address these “post-law and development” issues in contemporary Asian context. By providing a forum for interaction between leading scholars and local experts, this conference hopes to advance knowledge in the field of law and development.
Researcher and LL.D. candidate
Graduate School of Law Kyushu University
• 2006 Law Conference
Law Conference/Alumni Symposium
• 2007 Law Conference
Corporate Governance in East Asia