From the middle ages to the present, the economic and social construction of cities in various countries has been progressing continuously. The reasons for these achievements are complex, ranging from personal factors in the right decisions of those in power, to factors of opportunity blessed by history, and of course to institutional factors of change, such as the law. The complexity of the construction achievements in a short period and their causes interweave together, and it is easy to make contemporary people feel good about themselves and produce two wrong understandings. One mistake is to solidify the path of the past as a model of historical development, in order to refine a value that can be proud of and propagated abroad. Another misconception is that it is easy to overstate the efficacy of policy and contingency factors while ignoring the root causes of institutional factors.
In the long river of human history, more than 50 years of prosperity and development is just a passing through. For the long-term rise and fall of a country, the factors of policy and contingency are more like a ‘medicine primer’. But it is the institutional factors that can make a country healthy. Among them, the rule of law is the core of institutional construction, the most important. The essence of the rule of law includes running the country according to the constitution, protecting private rights, procedural justice, judicial independence and social justice. At the current historical juncture, whether leaders choose, build and rely on the rule of law will ultimately determine whether the past prosperity and development of cities is just a flash in the pan. Specifically, the rule of law can play a historical role in at least the following aspects.
First, in terms of economic construction, the rule of law that protects private property rights and contract performance will stimulate people’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and investment and promote economic transformation and upgrading by releasing institutional dividends. On the other hand, if the government’s protection of private rights is not improved, the elites will continue to ‘vote with their feet’ and ‘dream’ in other countries. (Banzhaf and Randall, 2008, pp. 843-863)Therefore, without the rule of law, there will be no institutional guarantee for a country’s continued economic prosperity.
Secondly, in terms of political construction, the rule of law that advocates procedural justice and judicial justice will provide citizens with bottom line social justice and install social shock valve in advance for potential large-scale political conflicts in the future. Since the beginning of the new century, contradictions and conflicts caused by social injustice have emerged one after another. Recent cases have also made it clear that citizens’ resentment of social injustice has accumulated a lot of negative energy for society. The rule of law, and only the rule of law, can prevent a city from sliding into a revolutionary trend due to social injustice, and avoid the resulting situation of lose-lose between citizens and rulers.
Finally, in terms of social construction, only the rule of law that guarantees the diversity of values and freedom of thought can make the society prosperous in diversity and provide institutional guarantee for seeking common ground while reserving differences and reaching necessary social consensus. On the contrary, because there is no rule of law, the various values formed in the social transition are in a gray area, and very sensitive to any potential offense against the fierce defensive attack, and led to many of the values of society to adopt the Hobbesian sense of ‘jungle rules’ for survival. The rule of law is the only way to bring the values of society out of the jungle.
In short, only a move towards the rule of law can help build a society in which people in cities can make long-term plans for their future lives, in which citizens can trust and identify with their citizens. In the final analysis, whether the rule of law can be fully implemented in cities will determine whether cities can be revived and whether urban civilization can be decently continued.
Of course, to move towards the rule of law, we should not just finish one’s work. After the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, the rule of law in China has gone through the following four stages: the legal pragmatism in the early republic, the legal nihilism in the period of the ‘cultural revolution’, the legal empiricism in the period of reform, and the legal idealism to which we are now striving. The so-called legal idealism is the idea of transforming law from a tool and a system into a state.
Fortunately, looking back at China’s history since 1840, the contemporary Chinese people have had a historic opportunity that none of their predecessors ever had: to lay a historic foundation for a prosperous, civilized and democratic China in the future by moving toward the rule of law as a means of peaceful construction. (Jayasuriya, 2017, pp. 113-134) In the past 30 years, under the guidance of the empiricism of ‘crossing the river by feeling for stones’, China has completed the construction of the legal system at least at the legislative level. In practice, both the government and society have initially tasted the benefits of the rule of law. Despite a serious decline in rule of law in recent years, the ruling party’s ‘report to the 18th national congress of the communist party of China’ pointed out that ‘rule of law is the basic way of governing’ and promised to ‘comprehensively promote the rule of law’. (Jayasuriya, 2017, pp. 113-134) In other words, at least on a literal level, China’s leaders have endorsed the path from legal empiricism to legal idealism.
Rousseau said, ‘the law is not inscribed on marble, nor is it inscribed on a copper watch, but on the hearts of the citizens.'(Rousseau,220) Belief in law is the only way for human beings to follow the rule of law and order. The cultivation of citizens’ legal consciousness is very important to the establishment of a country under the rule of law.