Rules regulating social behavior raise challenging questions about cultural evolution in part because they frequently confer group-level benefits. Current multilevel selection theories contend that between-group processes interact with within-group processes to produce norms and institutions, but within-group processes have remained underspecified, leading to a recent emphasis on cultural group selection as the primary driver of cultural design. Here we present the self-interested enforcement (SIE) hypothesis, which proposes that the design of rules importantly reflects the relative enforcement capacities of competing parties. We show that, in addition to explaining patterns in cultural change and stability, SIE can account for the emergence of much group-functional culture. We outline how this process can stifle or accelerate cultural group selection, depending on various social conditions. Self-interested enforcement has important bearings on the emergence, stability, and change of rules.