Wiley-Blackwell Publishing: Books Reviewed in 2008

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Plunder: When the Rule of Law is Illegal

Edition: 1st

Format: Paperback

Author: Ugo Mattei & Laura Nader

ISBN: 978-1-4051-7894-5

Publishers: Wiley-Blackwell

Price: £19.99

Publication Date: March 2008

Publisher's Title Information

Plunder examines the dark side of the Rule of Law and explores how it has been used as a powerful political weapon by Western countries in order to legitimise plunder - the practice of violent extraction by stronger political actors victimizing weaker ones.

Challenges traditionally held beliefs in the sanctity of the Rule of Law by exposing its dark side

Examines the Rule of Law's relationship with 'plunder' - the practice of violent extraction by stronger political actors victimizing weaker ones - in the service of Western cultural and economic domination

Provides global examples of plunder: of oil in Iraq; of ideas in the form of Western patents and intellectual property rights imposed on weaker peoples; and of liberty in the United States

Dares to ask the paradoxical question - is the Rule of Law itself illegal?



1. Plunder and The Rule of Law.

An Anatomy of Plunder.

Plunder, Hegemony, and Positional Superiority.

Law, Plunder, and European Expansionism.

Institutionalising Plunder: The Colonial Relationship and the Imperial Project.

A Story of Continuity: Constructing the Empire of Law (lessness).

2. Neo-liberalism: Economic Engine of Plunder.

The Argentinean Bonanza.

Neo-Liberalism: An Economic Theory of Simplification and a Spectacular Project.

Structural Adjustment Programs and the Comprehensive Development Framework.

Development Frameworks, Plunder, and the Rule of Law.

3. Before Neo-Liberalism: a Story of Western Plunder.

The European Roots of Colonial Plunder.

The Fundamental Structure of US Law as a Post-Colonial Reception.

A Theory of Lack, Yesterday and Today.

Before Neo-Liberalism: Colonial Practices and Harmonious Strategies—Yesterday and Now.

4. Plunder of Ideas and the Providers of Legitimacy.

Hegemony and legal Consciousness.

Intellectual Property as Plunder of Ideas.

Providing Legitimacy: Law and Economics.

Providing Legitimacy: Lawyers and Anthropologists.

5. Constructing the Conditions for Plunder.

Plunder of Oil: Iraq and Elsewhere.

The New World Order of Plunder.

Not Only Iraq: Plunder, War, and Legal Ideologies of Intervention.

Institutional Lacks as Conditions for Plunder: Real or Created?.

Double Standards Policy and Plunder.

Poverty: Justification for Intervention and Consequence of Plunder.

6. International Imperial Law.

Reactive Institutions of Imperial Plunder.

U.S. Rule of Law: Forms of Global Domination.

The Globalisation of the American Way.

An Ideological Institution of Global Governance: International Law.

Holocaust Litigation: Back to the Future.

The Swallowing of International Law by U.S. law.

Economic Power and the U.S. Courts as Imperial Agencies.

7. Hegemony and Plunder. The Demise of the Rule of Law in the United States.

Strategies to Subordinate the Rule of Law to Plunder.

Plunder in High Places: Enron and its Aftermath.

Plunder in Even Higher Places: Electoral Politics and Plunder.

Plunder of Liberty: The War on Terror.

Plunder Undisrupted: The Discourse of Patriotism.

8. Beyond an Illegal Rule of Law?.

Summing Up: Plunder and The Global Transformation of the Law.

Imperial Rule of Law or the People's Rule of Law.

The Future of Plunder.

Notes to Text.

Selected Further Reading.

Documentary Film Resources.


The Authors

Ugo Mattei is Distinguished Professor of International and Comparative Law at University of California, Hastings and at the University of Turin, Italy. He is a widely published scholar in economic and political aspects of law and his work has been translated into many languages. His professional activities have included substantive periods of teaching and research in Europe, Africa, and Latin America.

Laura Nader is Professor of Anthropology at University of California, Berkeley and is possibly the leading world authority in Anthropology of Law. She has conducted fieldwork in Lebanon, Mexico, and the US and her groundbreaking work on harmony ideology and access to law and her unmatchable publication list make Nader one of the most interesting voices in the current academic scene.


The authors of  “Plunder”, are Professor Ugo Mattei , UC Hastings Law School San Francisco, expert in law and economics and Professor Laura Nader, Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkley. Laura is a copious writer and her other books include “The ethnography of law” (1964);”Law in culture and society” (1969); “No Access to Law: Alternatives to the American Judicial System” (1981); and The Life of the Law: Anthropological Projects” (2002) whilst Ugo Mattel was involved in academic projects such as “The Common Core of European Private Law project” at the University of Trenco.

The book illustrates the word ‘plunder’ in its many senses- from slavery and its imperial setting, the Holocaust, the war on Iraq and its alleged weapons of mass destruction, oil exploitation, political exploitation; modern day financial exploitation and also intellectual property exploitation.

The exploitation of the financial market through the use of derivatives is discussed in detail. Derivatives, the reader will know, was the financial instrument in question when Barings Bank, then one of the best known names in the City of London, was decimated through the  actions of Nick Leeson, a rogue trader. Other lesser known financial plunders through the legal use of derivatives were the $100 million Swap Contract on a fixed to floating basis by Proctor and Gamble and $1.3 billion failed derivative hedging strategy of Germany’s Metallgesellschaft (as explained in Stefan Bernstein’s book “Understand Derivatives in a Day”). Indeed, the current global ‘credit crunch’, is a form of meltdown of the entire global derivatives market. Derivatives are simply “bets on the future value of the principal and the principal might be a complex thing such as the economy of a country…” (page 39).

The most fascinating of the authors’ ideas is the conjecture that there is plunder of intellectual property. The authors assert that Western institutions actively promote the legal instruments that plunder intellectual property (page 87). For example, funds are donated to certain developing countries provided that certain new intellectual property laws are passed. Western ideas and conditions have forced themselves on most countries and are now universal.

The authors conclude that  western capitalism has practiced extractive plunder to get to where it is today, using the law to protect companies’ bottom line but at the same time, to incrementally redistribute resources to stronger parties, thus enforcing the disparity between the poor and the rich through the protection of private property. Besides this, many of the world’s countries have adopted the English Common Law, including the public trust doctrine which means that the state is the Trustee of all natural resources, yet allows corporations that inevitably pollute the air, the water, the financial system, through economic reasoning in the law.  For example, the ecological damage produced by oil plunder by Texaco in Ecuador would cost $5 billion to clean up and this cost represents 50% of Ecuador’s foreign debt.  Ecuador cannot clean up this oil pollution.

 Uprisings and protests by people are often quelled by ruthless killings, gunning down of strikers, the book argues.  The poor must pay for the rich people’s obscene consumption. It is said that 90 % of the world’s population are hungry whilst the remaining 10% are obese.  Because of the global rule of law, protecting the rich from the poor, there can be no challenge to this status quo.  There are some 24,000 United States citizens, whose wealth is as much as 90 million other US citizens. The rich are rich because the poor are poor and it is the rule of law that dictates this.

"Plunder" is a book that can be read by everyone, not just those with legal training, because it has been written without most of the jargon from the world of law and economics. It is food for thought and possibly for action.

Sally Ramage


"Internet Law Book Reviews", Copyright Rob Jerrard 2008