Skip to main content

Rule Breaking and Political Imagination

“Imagination may be thought of as a ‘work-around.’ It is a resourceful tactic to ‘undo’ a rule by creating a path around it without necessarily defying it. . . . Transgression, on the other hand, is rule breaking. There is no pretense of reinterpretation; it is defiance pure and simple. Whether imagination or disobedience is the source, constraints need not constrain, ties need not bind.”
So writes Kenneth A. Shepsle in his introduction to Rule Breaking and Political Imagination. Institutions are thought to channel the choices of individual actors. But what about when they do not? Throughout history, leaders and politicians have used imagination and transgression to break with constraints upon their agency. Shepsle ranges from ancient Rome to the United States Senate, and from Lyndon B. Johnson to the British House of Commons. He also explores rule breaking in less formal contexts, such as vigilantism in the Old West and the CIA’s actions in the wake of 9/11. Entertaining and thought-provoking, Rule Breaking and Political Imagination will prompt a reassessment of the nature of institutions and remind us of the critical role of political mavericks.

Read the introduction.

176 pages | 1 line drawing | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2017

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Political and Social Theory


“Shepsle highlights that politicians learn the rules to better break them. At a time when political leaders in the US and elsewhere are seeking to rewrite the rules to their own advantage, this timely book reminds us that institutions exist as long as stakeholders are willing to protect them and that small, apparently benign, transgressions can have long-term consequences.”

Stephane Wolton, London School of Economics and Political Science

“A home run for those interested in institutional change. Shepsle uses captivating stories to illustrate that devising, revising, and breaking the rules are more than an expected pay-off calculation. At times, breaking rules requires imagination to see downstream further than others or a willingness to take a leap into uncharted waters.”

Lee J. Alston, Indiana University

“What happens when the rules don’t hem in the most forceful actors? That is the question Shepsle asks in Rule Breaking and Political Imagination. No one interested in the news can fail to be intrigued by the central proposition in his new book."

David Warsh, Economic Principles

Table of Contents

What’s This Book About?

Part I. Basic Ideas

1 Rule Breaking
2 Imagination

Part II. Institutions, Rule Breaking, and Imagination

3 Thick Institutions and Rule Breaking: Sulla and Caesar, Reed and Johnson
4 Breaking Rules in Breaking the Filibuster
5 Political Imagination after Filibuster Reform: The Postcloture Filibuster and Its Demise
6 A Third Take on the Filibuster: Breaking Rules by Reinterpreting Rules
7 Obstruction and Urgency in the Nineteenth-Century House of Commons
8 Violating Legislative Rules: Resolving Bicameral Differences
9 Stealing Elections

Part III. Bits and Bobs

10 King David and Old Testament Rule Breaking
11 Foreclosure, Bankruptcy, and Contract
12 Gimmickry
13 Intelligence Agencies: Breaking the Rules by Making Up Their Own Rules
14 Vigilantism


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press