The Rule of Law


Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition has long been a subject of debate, with many different theories put forward. In modern society, it is involved in many aspects of daily life, from contracting for goods and services to determining property rights. It serves a number of purposes, four of which are setting standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights.

In addition to the above, the rule of law requires that citizens be willing and able to follow legal norms and accept legal determinations of what their rights and duties are. It also requires that those who govern be accountable to the people through a free and independent press, checks on their power (such as a separation of the branches of government), and mechanisms for ensuring that transitions of power are smooth. And finally, the law should be accessible to everyone, clear and understandable, applied fairly and evenly, and enforced consistently.

The Rule of Law is a complex idea, and scholars have argued about it for centuries. There is a lengthy heritage of work on this topic, from Aristotle to medieval theorists such as Sir John Fortescue and Niccolo Machiavelli; through the Enlightenment and the writings of Montesquieu; to American constitutionalism and the Federalist Papers. Many of the most well-known arguments have been made in laundry lists, like Fuller’s eight formal principles of what he called “the inner morality of law” (1964: 37-41): generality; publicity; prospectivity; intelligibility; consistency; practicability; and stability.

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