The Rule of Law

The unrest in the Middle East illustrates what happens in societies where those in power deprive citizens of the rule of law. Absent the rule of law, there is no room for property, markets, freedom or progress.

I was first exposed to the concept of the rule of law in a civil liberties course during my undergraduate studies at New York University. The professor for this singular course was Dr. Peter V. Rajsingh. During an initial lecture dealing with law and philosophy, Professor Rajsingh mentioned that a critical concept sustaining any liberal democracy is the rule of law.

It was initially puzzling to think of a society being “ruled” by something as abstract as the law. In my mind, we were ruled by politicians, judges and the other individuals with authority and power. But then Professor Rajsingh provided an analogy that has stayed with me since. He said that the rule of law can be analogized to a game of chess.

There are rules to chess, which are necessary for the game to proceed. Similarly, Professor Rajsingh explained, a liberal democracy needs rules to work, and those rules are defined by a well functioning and impartial legal system. Without the rule of law, those in government would not be constrained by principles or the will of the people. The antithesis to the rule of law is repression, autocracy, arbitrariness and unprincipled application.

Perhaps John Adams captured the idea best when he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution: “To the end it may be a government of laws and not of men”.

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