Rule of Law and a Respect for Authority
Personal experience has led me to have a respect for authority and to value the Rule of Law.
The reason I find that respect for authority is important is because the number of things that I don’t understand is much larger than the things that I do. This doesn’t mean that I blindly follow authority, but that I recognize there is something I can learn from everyone, especially those who hold a position of authority over me. The Lord has seen fit to place them in my life in a position of authority. I can only assume it is because he wants me to learn something from them.
At the risk of being obvious, the alternative to the Rule of Law is that something other than law rules. There have been several other things that have ruled human society throughout the history of the world. A few of the other alternatives to the Rule of Law:
- Rule of the Strong – this is the default which arises out of chaos naturally- while this may appeal to the strong, it does not serve the values of justice or mercy. If you don’t value justice or mercy, this would appeal to you. Side note: it doesn’t necessarily follow that if this one appeals to you, you don’t value justice and mercy, and you may not be seeing all of the consequences of your thought choices.
- The strong should not be allowed to do whatever they want to the weak – ignoring the values of justice and mercy. This is not the same thing as allowing natural consequences because the strong tend to resist natural consequences which they don’t like and if they are the strongest, there is nobody to hold them accountable.
- Rule of a Tyrant – this is just a more formal version of the Rule of the Strong and has the same weaknesses, except it adds the pseudo-legitimacy of formality and positional authority, adding an obstacle to changing it.
- The tyrant should not be allowed to do whatever it wants to their subjects – ignoring the values of justice and mercy.
- Rule of a Monarch – This is just an improved version of the Rule of a Tyrant. It is essentially the same formal structure, but instead of a Tyrant, there is an individual of assumed goodwill in the position of authority.
- The biggest problem is it almost always eventually degrades into the Rule of the Tyrant because as the adage goes: Power corrupts – the monarch is human and his heirs can be more so.
- The monarch should not be allowed to do whatever it wants to their subjects – ignoring the values of justice and mercy.
- Rule of the Majority (AKA a Democracy or a Republic) – This is a different version of the Rule of the Strong. When you have multiple people combine their strengths, their combined strength is more than the strength of any individual – this has the same weaknesses as the Rule of the Strong.
- The majority should not be allowed to do whatever it wants to the minority – ignoring the values of justice and mercy.
- Rule of Trust – this is where people agree to associate based on an unspoken, unwritten, assumed agreement that everyone will treat each other with decency and respect. We could easily call this the Rule of Naïveté. This one only really exists in a small group and quickly either dissolves the group or morphs into one of the others above.
- I like what Orrin Woodward says, “In God we trust. All others must have data.” Or as it applies here, “… all others must follow the rules.”
- Rule of Feelings / Rule of Spiritualism – These two are essentially the same and are just a variant of the Rule of the Monarch or Rule of the Tyrant depending on the disposition of the individual. The differentiation is that with these two, feelings and spiritualism are substituted for the actual will of God.
- Those in positions of authority should not use their own feelings or spiritualistic impressions to justify whatever they do to those over whom they have influence – ignoring true principles.
I don’t know if you could tell or not, but all of these are really just different versions of the same thing. In Theory, The Rule of Law is more effective than the alternatives. I see the Rule of Law to have two levels.
- Rule of Law – this is when everybody in a society is equal under the law. There is nobody who is above the law. This was the intent of the US Constitution – to document rules which would check the individuals who hold positions of authority from abusing their authority.
- There is a danger – the creation of a legalistic society where legality is mistaken for morality and ethics is defined by the rules rather than true principles.
- Rule of Principles – this is a perfection of the Rule of Law. When the laws that rule are merely a documentation of true and lasting principles, we have the Rule of Principles.
- There are no examples of this in secular history. In LDS scripture and doctrine there is one example, but I won’t go into that here.
Orrin gives an excellent talk about the Rule of Law here.