THE RULE OF LAW: What It is and what It is not

We need to have a discussion about something too many speak about but too few understand: the rule of law.  Of necessity, this will be a long post – and even then, it will still be too short to touch on everything that needs to be said.  But still, we must address this issue, if only to assert that there is such a thing, that it has clear characteristics and that this definition does not change with time or culture.  Else we lose the very idea of justice all together.  We start with the words of the Roman statesman – and one of our founders’ favorite pagans — Marcus Tillius Cicero:

True law is right reasonin agreement with nature;  it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting;  it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions…It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely.  We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it.  And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and at all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst punishment.”

Cicero is important because he knew nothing of the Bible or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Moses, yet – by do nothing more than observing and applying right reason to the world around him – he arrived at much the same conclusions as Job: that there is a God; that He has ordained eternal laws; and that those laws cannot be violated by any act of man.  He also said we know this to be true and that the evidence is within each of us (i.e. we just feel it).  Coincidentally, this is exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans.  And this all comes together in the words:

“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….”

Sadly, too few of us understand what the term ‘pursuit of happiness’ actually meant to our founders, or to those from whom they adopted the idea.  It has nothing to do with pursuing carnal or material pleasures.  It is about the liberty to pursue the virtuous life, which is inherently bound to Natural Law.  It is the pursuit of virtue that separates us from the animals – and nothing more.  And it is in virtue that morality is found.  And it is in morality that all law is based.  And, as Cicero said, that law must be in agreement with Natural law and the laws of Nature’s God – or it is no law at all.

We have forgotten this eternal truth and replaced it with the law of men – which is no law at all.  Instead of holding up the ideal of Natural Law and seeking to achieve that goal by pursuing a virtuous life, we have sought countless ways to justify the perversions of Natural Law.  We call these perversions by many names, but they all amount to the same thing: justification of self-serving people who seek their own gratification.  And in the process, they have destroyed the understanding of the proper role of government and the law – especially in relation to society, liberty and justice.  The French philosopher, Frederic Bastiat, said it very well when he said:

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

The result of this perversion is an explosion of laws and regulations deemed necessary to force men to live correctly.  But these laws and regulations are nothing more than a trap.  They have become so numerous as to make un-indicted and un-convicted criminals of us all.  Don’t you understand: we have so many laws and regulations on the books today that each of us breaks enough laws every day that we could all be put in jail at any time the government wishes?  Thus the tap: we either do as the State commands, or they seize your liberty.  And this is why Cicero said this is a sin.


While it is an imperfect comparison – mostly because one is eternal and the other fleeting – it is a valuable comparison none the less.  What we should all see here is that sin – like too many laws – makes a prisoner of us all.  We can no more escape sin than we can escape breaking the laws that have been built around us like a prison cell waiting to be slammed shut.  The only hope we have to redeem us from sin is God’s Redeemer.  And the only hope we have to protect us from the law is the Constitution.  The founders knew that, because we are all sinners, and because the law is an instrument of morality based in God’s eternal law, we would all break the law.  We cannot help it; it is in our nature.  So they wrote the Constitution in a way that was intended to provide us some measure of protection from the government.  And this is because, while God’s Redeemer is perfect and therefore He judges perfectly, the government is nothing more than men, and men are imperfect and, therefore, will judge imperfectly.  So to provide some measure of mercy and security from our sinful nature, the founders wrote the Constitution such that the government was so constrained that it could not claim ‘probable cause’ until our transgressions had reached a level that the well being of others was threatened by our actions.  And even then, the founders wrote in procedural restraints to restrain the government in its zeal to punish.

In short, while Christ is our eternal protector and Redeemer, the law is meant to be our protector here on earth.  When it operates according to Natural Law, and is run by virtuous, God-fearing people, it can do this reasonably well.  Bastiat wrote a famous booklet defining this proper role of government.  It can be read over a cup of coffee.  I urge you to read it.  It has a simple title and you can find it here: “The Law.”

However, when the law is corrupted and becomes the instrument of corrupt and designing men who seek their own purposes, then the law ceases to be the law and becomes the essence of tyranny itself.  This is what we have in America today.  The rule of law has been lost.  If it were not, the majority of those calling themselves our ‘leaders’ would either be in jail or on trial.  But they are not because they have appropriated the law for themselves and in doing so, they have violated Nature’s Law.  To those men and women, I remind them once more of Cicero’s warning:

“…there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst punishment.”

4 thoughts on “THE RULE OF LAW: What It is and what It is not

  1. Wikipedia;
    “Claude Frédéric Bastiat (French: [klod fʁedeʁik bastja]; 30 June 1801[1] – 24 December 1850) was a French classical liberal theorist, political economist, and member of the French assembly. He was notable for developing the important economic concept of opportunity cost, and for penning the influential Parable of the Broken Window. His ideas have gone on to provide a foundational basis for libertarian and the Austrian schools of thought.[1][2]“. End quote.

    Bastiat wrote “the law” in 1848, which encompasses economic, political, and government theories. “The law” is not about “law” as modern Americans think of the law, but a theory for an overall law to be applied to all individuals in an equal and just manner. The law was written in an attempt to articulate to France why France should adopt an American form of governance. “The law” also explained why France continued having a revolution every decade since their original revolution and mass murder with the guillotine and compared with the American experiment and America’s prosperity as a result of limited government.

    Bastiats “window panes” equals obama’s “cash for clunkers”; which foreshadowed the dismal failure and wasted dollars which resulted “today”.

    Their are “laws” which are eternal, as Bastiat so aptly described over 160 years ago.

    Jefferson’s and Bastiat’s natural law = “classical liberalism” = limited government; is the simplest and purest form of prosperity for all who wish to seek “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

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