Some of you may think that this post has to do with politics, but I would disagree with you. Some of you will think that I am “throwing the first stone“, as in Jesus’ statement in John 8:7 when the Pharisees were going to stone a woman caught in adultery and he said, “…Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (New International Version of the Bible), but they would be wrong as well. I freely admit that I am as guilty as any and all in the United States of what I will talk about next…
For some time, something has been rumbling around in my mind. Something unsettling. Something I have had a hard time distilling down into a concise statement that I could then ponder what’s next. Something that is effecting everyone in this country, the United States of America (“USA“). Something that will effect my children, and their children, and their children’s children. Something that I believe WE, the citizens of the USA need to be mindful of, address in our discussions, and start to address in our actions. So what is this “supposition” that I set forth?
- The Founding Fathers of the USA founded this country on the “rule of law“.
- As a people, We flourished as We allowed this principle to take root in our every day life, our political life, our religious life, and our personal lives.
- When We shared our values – and that word is key, “shared“, not “forced down their throats” not “conquered them and forced them to acknowledge” and not “used our superiority to show that we are right and they are wrong” – the rest of the world listened.
- When We showed our values by helping the rest of the world, sharing of our bounty (sorry for using the old fashioned word, but that captures my thought), the rest of the world saw what the “rule of law” could do for them.
Am I getting old? Am I yearning for a better time, a time of my youth? Nope, I think that we have been missing the boat for some time now (and I mean decades beyond my lifetime), and now the “chickens are coming home to roost“. So I would like to explore, first my supposition and its individual pieces. Then, in future blog posts, I would like to set forth some points for us all to start a discussion around and hopefully right the ship…
Rule of Law
So what do I mean by the “rule of law“? On the surface, it sounds simple but man has been struggling with these issues since Socrates in ancient Greece, or if you are technically inclined, by Plato‘s and Xeonphon’s writings referencing Socratic ideas and discussion (see Plato’s Republic as one of the best known of these). If we break this down into three distinct contexts, it becomes somewhat easier:
- “Rules according to law“;
- “Rules under law“; and
- “Rules according to a higher law“.
“Rules according to law” states that the government will act only under clearly written rules, regulations, and legal principals. But most importantly, “Well established and clearly defined laws allow individuals, businesses, and other entities to govern their behavior according (United States V. E.C. Investments, Inc., 77 F. 3d 327 [9th Cir. 1996]). Before the government may impose civil or criminal liability, a law must be written with sufficient precision and clarity that a person of ordinary intelligence will know that certain conduct is forbidden.”
“Rules under law” states that no one is above the law. In England, this started with a group of 13th century Barons protecting themselves from a tyrannical monarch with the Magna Carta (the English Monarch is subject to the law). Following this tradition, the U.S. Declaration of Independence had a group of Colonial rebels throwing off the yoke of injustice by a king who suspended the very laws that the Magna Carta started and the English Parliament enacted. The Constitution of the United States of America established the American codified laws, with the Bill of Rights enumerating them further.
There is no better example of how the U.S. government should work than the impeachment of Richard M. Nixon – it reigned in the executive branch of the U.S. government and held out that even the President of the United States is still subject to the law (UNITED STATES V. NIXON, 418 U.S. 683, 94 S. Ct. 3090, 41 L. Ed. 2d 1039 (1974)).
And finally that “rules according to a higher law” pertains to the what is alluded to in the Declaration of Independence when it says,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,…“
That the written laws require governments to treat all persons equally under the law. Now we all know that the U.S. Civil War pertained to this, but maybe not the way we were taught in elementary school – property rights were at risk. I’m not saying that slavery was right or wrong (BTW, I personally think that it was wrong), I’m saying that Abraham Lincoln stole property from U.S. citizens without recompense. This of course sets up a huge issue for government – if a law is morally wrong, should they still be required to uphold it?
Why even the United Nations, an organization that I don’t particularly feel embodies anything close to what I would hold the United States of America accountable to states as part of its website:
“Promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels is at the heart of the United Nations’ mission. Establishing respect for the rule of law is fundamental to achieving a durable peace in the aftermath of conflict, to the effective protection of human rights, and to sustained economic progress and development. The principle that everyone – from the individual right up to the State itself – is accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, is a fundamental concept which drives much of the United Nations work.“
I think that much of the world understands, at least with their head, what the “rule of law” should me, but the problem right now is that every one applies it to everyone else and not themselves – either individually, state wise or nationally.
Later this week, more on my supposition #2, #3, and #4.
- “Rule of law.” A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier.. 1856. 27 Apr. 2014 http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Rule+of+law
- “Featured documents: The Magna Carta.” 27 Apr. 2014 http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/
- “Nixon, United States v..” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. 2008. The Gale Group 27 Apr. 2014 http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Nixon%2c+United+States+v.
- Founding Brothers, The Revolutionary Generation. 2000 by Joseph J. Ellis, page 91.