This article argues that social norms need to be analyzed as an interdependent system rather than isolated regularities. Adopting the framework advanced here is compatible with the different views of social norms currently proposed by law and economics scholars. This framework may thus serve as a bridge toward a unified theory of social norms and other social institutions. In terms of policy implications, extant evidence implies that instilling a rule-of-law norm in countries where it currently does not prevail may be a daunting task. People in such countries may find the content of the rule-of-law norm attractive yet incompatible with the social environment in which they live. Development programs that rely on the rule-of-law state paradigm must take into account the cultural environment to which they are targeted.
Crucially, the rule-of-law norm applies at the societal level of analysis. It describes societies, not individuals (consider the Copenhagen Criteria). Individuals do not uphold the rule of law, they obey the law.
In contrast, the rule-of-law norm is less likely to prevail in societies that emphasize embeddedness. In high-embeddedness societies, the very identity of individuals and the meaning they find in life derive from numerous relationships with others. Respect for tradition, honoring elders, and obedience are salient values. Self-restraint and compromise of one’s desires are essential in such a cultural environment. What one’s got to do depends crucially on the circumstances. The ultimate source of guidance about the right behavior may vary with context.
Very interesting article throughout. The article uses institutional economics and cultural psychology to answer one of the most challenging questions of human societies.