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”.

Copyright and Terrorism Suspects

Here’s an interesting blog post a few years ago on the objections voiced by musicians against the alleged use of their songs in suspected torture cases in Guantanamo. The article discusses some of the copyright claims the artists may raise. Most recently, artists including R.E.M. and Pearl Jam have filed a freedom of information act request to determine if the songs were used. See the recent article here.

Danny O’Brien: Technojournalist & Cyber Libertarian

Danny O’Brien is an English technology journalist turned cyber libertarian. He is also one of the most interesting people I’ve met lately.

Here is what makes Danny so interesting. First, he dances on stage when he lectures (while wearing an NSA t-shirt). Second, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture. Third, he and the folks at the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), have crafted a plan to save the Recording Industry, which recently announced it would stop suing college students and their grandmothers. The plan calls for users paying a flat $5 a month subscription fee for access to all the songs in the world.

Over dinner, I asked Danny how his organization differed from the Free Software Foundation (FSF), started by uber IP basher and software guru Richard Stallman. Danny replied that the FSF is mainly concerned with software and technical issues dealing with freeing source code for open access, whereas the EFF is mainly concerned with civil liberties, e.g. freedom of speech and privacy.

From my interactions with Danny I get the sense that he is immersed in an incredibly stimulating and vibrant counterculture. Why do I believe this? Here’s just one example.

Danny mentioned over dinner how his wife, journalist Quinn Norton, had written a story about body hackers experimenting with extra sensory perception. She wrote a Wired Magazine article about her experience implanting a magnet in her finger. It is one of the most fascinating concepts and reads I have encountered in a while.

Stories like that kept hovering over the table where Prof. Kembrew McCleod, Molly Kleinman, Prof. MichaelBennet and Mike Morelli and this blogger shared laughs and IP-related pop culture stories over local brews at the Library Tavern.