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.
Matthew Spalding knows this. Rule of law, he says, is at the heart of the American Constitution.
The rule of law may be the most significant and influential accomplishment of Western constitutional thinking. The very meaning and structure of our Constitution embody this principle. Nowhere expressed yet evident throughout the Constitution, this bedrock concept is the first principle on which the American legal and political system was built.
You may not take much notice of rule of law in your every day life, but you’d sure notice if it wasn’t there. The lack of rule of law means the bullies and the thugs get what they want. And if you have what they want, there’s no recourse for you.
That’s the situation is much of the developing world. Imagine trying to farm a piece of land that has been owned by your family for generations. However, you have to title to prove you own the land. Even if you do have a piece of paper that says you own it, someone bigger and stronger than you can take it, because he bribed a government official to look the other way. How can you ever get ahead under these conditions?
What exactly does “rule of law” mean? Spalding breaks it down:
First, the rule of law means a formal, regular process of law enforcement and adjudication. What we really mean by “a government of laws, not of men” is the rule of men bound by law, not subject to the arbitrary will of others.
Second, the rule of law means that these rules are binding on rulers and the ruled alike.
Third, the rule of law implies that there are certain unwritten rules or generally understood standards to which specific laws and lawmaking must conform.
Lastly, even though much of its operation is the work of courts and judges, the rule of law ultimately is based on, and emphasizes the centrality of, lawmaking.
Again, nothing flashy or glitzy. You are probably not going to make this a topic of conversation at a dinner party. But take a moment to imagine life without rule of law. And know that many, many people live that life.
Rule of law is essential to building wealth, creating and sustaining businesses, and for human flourishing. Rule of law may not seem to be the most fascinating topic, but to people in the developing world, it is. And so it should be for us.