One of the core principles of the Acton Institute is the importance of the rule of law: “The government’s primary responsibility is to promote the common good, that is, to maintain the rule of law, and to preserve basic duties and rights.”
While most conservatives would agree with this sentiment, there has recently been a lot of confusion about what defending the rule of law requires and entails. The most troubling mistake is the confusion of the rule of law with judicial supremacy, the view that the Supreme Court gets to have the “final say” on the meaning of the Constitution and that the other branches of government may not contradict it.
As Carson Holloway says, conservatives should defend the Constitution and the rule of law, but they should not defend judicial supremacy. The Constitution—not the Supreme Court—is our country’s highest authority:
Rule of law isn’t an attention-grabber. There are no celebrities touting social media campaigns for rule of law, no telethons with your favorite pop star to answer the phone and take your money, no website where you can buy t-shirts and water bottles to show your support. Most people don’t even know what “rule of law” means.
The rule of law, I think, is best understood by considering its opposite, which is the rule of men. The rule of men is when you have the rule of force, the rule of power, the rule of arbitrary, subjective opinion. The rule of law means that there are stable, reasonable laws that apply to everyone, regardless of their station in life.
When rule of law does not exist, the poor suffer. They cannot afford justice, because it comes at a very high price. International Justice Mission (IJM) works around the world to change this; every person deserves justice, regardless of their income, their religious beliefs, their nationality or any other category in which they may fit. First and foremost, every person is imbued with the dignity of our Creator and dignity demands justice.
In Bolivia, justice is hard to come by. IJM fought hard for one little girl.
International Justice Mission (IJM) is an NGO working globally to prevent violence, reform corrupt systems, protect and promote rule of law and sustain changes. That’s their mission, summed up in a few brief words.
What it really means is that girls like Suhana are saved. Suhana was forced into India’s sex trade, not once, but twice. IJM did not give up on her. Hear her powerful story.
The subject of contracts is not particularly romantic, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.
In some ways, we’ve come to overly ignore, downplay, or disregard contracts. Across the world, we see grandmaster politicians and planners trying to impose various “solutions” with the flicks of their wands, paying little attention to core features like trust and respect for property rights. Here in America, our government is increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or foreclosed Billy and his bank.
In other ways, however, we are excessively contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. We want guarantees to ensure the maximum reward for the minimum amount of work. We want legislation that protects our jobs and locks in our wages and retirement. We want to put in our 40, return to our couches, grab one from the cooler, and say, “that’s that.” We want to give our effort insofar as we receive our due, insulating ourselves from risk, sacrifice, and discomfort wherever possible. (more…)
I worked alongside several Acton Institute colleagues and Coldwater Media for years on the Poverty, Inc. full-length documentary film, which tackles the question: Fighting poverty is big business, but who profits the most? It was gratifying to watch it Monday at what I’m told was the only sold out showing of the 2014 Austin Film Festival.
It was at the first dine-in movie theatre I’ve visited, the Alamo Draft House, which meant we were watching a film about extreme global poverty while being plied with beer, cokes, popcorn and pizza. Since my feelings toward the film border on the maternal, and since I had some delicious Tex-Mex before arriving and was not the least bit hungry, I was tempted to stand and in the stentorian voice of The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob exclaim, “Down with your greedy forks and steins! Silence!!! This … is … ART! There … on the screen … are the HUDDLED MASSES! Have you no SHAME!” (more…)
It’s interesting to debate and share idea like freedom of speech, religious liberty or entrepreneurship. Helping folks in the developing world create and sustain businesses if exciting. Watching women who’ve been victimized by human trafficking or their own culture find ways to support themselves and their families is wonderful. But none of this happens without rule of law.
Rule of law is not “sexy.” It doesn’t get the press of a brilliantly successful NGO. There are no great photo ops of folks picketing in front of the Supreme Court with signs touting rule of law. But virtually nothing can happen without it. (more…)
Education is becoming part of juvenile justice in Nicaragua.
Rule of law. It’s necessary, vital…and dull. There are no rock stars shouting out about it from the stage at an arena concert. Celebrities don’t staff the phones for rule of law fundraisers. Newscasters are not breathlessly interviewing experts about rule of law.
Yet without it, there is chaos, crime, corruption. The current border crisis bears this out.
According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Latin America is the only region in the world where murder rates increased in the first decade of this century. Robberies have nearly trebled over the past 25 years; extortion is growing fast. So fed up are clothing businesses in Gamarra, the centre of Lima’s rag trade, with paying an average of $3,000 a month to extortionists that they held a conference in June to publicise the problem.
Plenty of factors explain Latin America’s crime disease. The external demand for cocaine, and attempts to suppress the drug trade, prompted the spread of organised criminal mafias; growth in domestic consumption of drugs has since compounded the problem. A bulge in the number of young men, many of whom are poorly educated and command low wages in the legal economy, is another factor.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Iraq’s largest oil refinery for domestic use has been overtaken by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the radical jihadi terrorist group aiming to establish an Islamic caliphate in these two nations. As Iraq’s most lucrative resource is now siphoned off by a radical organization, the global oil market risks destabilization while financially empowering ISIS. Economic stability facilitates greater religious freedom – establishing an ISIS controlled government as detrimental to Iraq’s advances toward a stable and secular democratic state. The Christian population has been a primary target of this fundamentalist movement, with ISIS demanding they must convert to Islam, pay a fine, or face “death by the sword.” It was in here, in ancient Babylon, where political and economic institutions took stead; today these have been condemned while the Biblical story of Exodus is being retold with 50,000 Christians fleeing their homes. (more…)
Last week was a busy one, news-wise, and this may have slipped by you. Suddenly, 4.5 million people in the 5 U.S. territories (American Somoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are now exempt from Obamacare. Just like that.
What’s the story? Obamacare costs too darn much, and insurance providers were fleeing the U.S. territories, leaving many without insurance or at least affordable insurance. These territories have spent the last two years begging to get out from under this law, only to be told the Department of Health and Human Services
has no legal authority to exclude the territories” from ObamaCare. HHS said the law adopted an explicit definition of “state” that includes the territories for the purpose of the mandates and the public-health programs, and another explicit definition that excludes the territories for the purpose of the subsidies. Thus there is “no statutory authority . . . to selectively exempt the territories from certain provisions, unless specified by law.”
Laws, let us remember, are made by Congress. Unless they’re not. For instance, last week, the Department of Health and Human Services said they’d reviewed the situation and
the territories will now be governed by the “state” definition that excludes the territories for both the subsidies and now the mandates too. But the old definition will still apply for the public-health spending, so the territories will get their selective exemption after all.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, there seems to be some elasticity in the White House’s definition of “state.” And, may I add, some elasticity in the democratic process, the Constitution and rule of law. Perhaps a review via Schoolhouse Rock will help.
Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, details how the growth of government-corporate cronyism during the past 120 or so years has been largely a phenomenon of the socialist left. Wendell Berry misses this crucial historical insight in his running critique of capitalism, and his missing it draws him into flatly inaccurate claims, as when he asserts that “the United States government’s agricultural policy, or non-policy, since 1952 has merely consented to the farmer’s predicament of high costs and low prices; it has never envisioned or advocated in particular the prosperity of farmers or of farmland …”
This makes it sounds as if the government is largely uninvolved in agricultural markets, letting the winds of the free market blow wherever they wish. It’s true that the U.S. government has moved away from buying and destroying food as it did under FDR in the Great Depression, a statist attempt to prop up commodity prices while countless Americans went hungry. But even since 1952, and in a dizzying number of ways, the American government has been busy erecting all manner of protections for American agriculture, from fat subsidies on rice and other grains to import quotas on sugar, price supports on milk, and a long-running policy of paying farmers and ranchers to idle parts of their land. (more…)