What is the rule of law, and how can we build it? In light of the expansion of the administrative state and transnational markets in the global South, the answer to this question is central to public participation in Southern governance processes. In this paper, I argue that, as a matter of practice, rule of law reformers themselves assert that this question is unanswerable. Using case studies and reflections from practice, I focus on the effects of this professional attitude on local rule of law institutions, finding that they become provisional and less participatory as a result.