The role and impact of legal culture on the stability of the rule of law

The research examines the role and impact of culture - in the cultural anthropological sense - and specifically legal culture in terms of the extent and stability of the Rule of Law.

Our main objective is to examine the extent to which culture – besides other variables, such as basic economic and social variables – influences the rule of law. In order to measure the rule of law, we rely on international rule of law indices (e.g. Freedom House, World Justice Project), not disregarding their limits concerning geographical and historical data availability and concerns about validity. Among the cultural variables, we use data already available from various large international and regional surveys (eg WVS, ESS) and from extensive research projects (eg. Hofstede, Schwartz, Inglehart, Gelfand). Another group of cultural variables refers specifically to attitudes about the rule of law. Research examining these variables and their potential impact on the rule of law is extremely rare and typically lacks a comparative aspect. In the present research, we propose a representative questionnaire survey in 9 European countries, representing the largest possible differences in terms of religion, history, geographical position (East-West; North-South), EU membership, etc. Case studies are envisaged in the same 9 countries, partly to explore further information and partly to better identify ‘culture → rule of law’ causal relationships with qualitative methods (e.g. process tracing).

According to our initial hypothesis, the legal culture greatly influences the strength and stability of the rule of law generally, and its institutions. (aa.) Culture is an important explanatory factor, probably even more important than such factors as economic prosperity, etc. (ab.) Dominantly, the relationship is one-directional; culture influences the rule of law, although the opposite effect may also be present, but typically only in the long run.

The research distinguishes between two groups of cultural variables: More general ones, and variables directly related to the rule of law. In this respect, we hypothesize that (ba.) in addition to direct cultural variables, some more general cultural variables (e.g., Hofstede’s individualism-collectivism, or power distance index) also show a statistical correlation with the rule of law. (bb.) Consequently, the knowledge of general cultural variables may be enough, at least to some degree, to assess the support of the rule of law. A better understanding of the relationship between “general cultural variables → legal cultural variables supporting the rule of law → strength and stability of the rule of law” in the 9 countries involved in this project may improve the assessment of the stability of the rule of law based solely on general cultural variables in other countries. The interrelationship of main variable sets is depicted in the below figure.