The Rule of Law and The Emperor’s New Clothes

Plurality in the modern world is undeniable. We are forever being informed about the global village and about how the world is literally shrinking with the growth of communication technologies. Twenty years ago the internet wasn’t of particular interest to the general population, only specialists and adventurous hobbyists. Now it is hard to imagine no BBC I-Player, Facebook or Hulu.

A recognition of the pluralism in the world has occurred and multiculturalism is now a part of the contemporary fabric which cloaks the world. One hears claims that multiculturalism has failed. This is a fairly foolish comment as multiculturalism just is, to apply levels of success or failure to it is to make judgements where none belong. Regardless of ones opinion the growth of cheap transport has changed the world and folk will now cross continents to find the best possible lives they can for themselves. It is somewhat ironic that many perceive that ‘better’ life to be here in the West: For although our physical world is a richer one, where hardship, poverty and illness have all been reduced, where longevity has been increased, joy of life seems to have been diminished and we face serious troubles, such as global warming, technological addictions and erosion of the spiritual.

All societies, up until this point, have included ‘The Rule of Law’ as one of the bases for securing natural justice and for ensuring the positive growth of the nation-state. But whilst not directly, and most would deny at all, the Rule of Law is being challenged and undermined in ways never imagined or conceived thirty years ago. The Rule of Law is that thinking which concludes in order for human beings to flourish and grow they need a structure to follow, one which involves justice, enforces punishment and claims moral legitimacy. Whether any nation-state has actually achieved that is hugely debatable. More likely the Rule of Law is a way for powerful elites to claim legitimacy and to do what they want. Of course such corruption is not welcomed by societies and negative connotations are avoided because the Rule of Law gives as well as takes. Men take what they perceive to be justice and other sins pass by unrecorded and unseen.

Plurality will change all of that. It is unavoidable, but very few recognise or value such a claim. Take Copyright as a small example. Most young people will not be able to describe Copyright to you. And as the years pass that becomes the common stance for thirty and forty year olds. In a world were information can be transmitted and cloned in nano seconds the idea, let alone enforcement, of a Copyright law, seems anachronistic and out of place. Apply this thinking to Law in general and one can see how it is being slowly eroded away. When it becomes unenforceable who knows what will fill the abyss.

The Rule of Law has been fundamental to the growth of societies. To claim it is on its way out or is likely to be replaced will be sneered at by many. What can possibly replace such a structure, which is both a natural development and representative of natural justice? Take away the Rule of Law and societies will crumble- surely. The difficulty in envisaging such a situation has many strands. Firstly any evidence is only anecdotal. The systemic failure of punishment as a way of dealing with those who do not respect the rule of Law has never been properly researched or investigated. When Darwin (perhaps Gilbert White) offered evolution as an explanation for change his ideas were initially dismissed as ludicrous. Galileo suffered the same fate. Even with scientific empiricism new ideas are rejected and if they persist are then assimilated, made to fit the landscape of the day. When the Rule of Law, with all its absolutes and certainties is eventually revealed to be nothing more than the Emperor’s new clothes* then great minds will need to find alternatives, for at the moment there are none and it is difficult to imagine any. It is akin to thinking of a new colour. It is impossible and won’t happen until we see the new colour. But it is not something to be feared.

The idea of a world without rule of Law is unimaginable, likely a return to Hobbes* life, ‘brutish and short.’Or is it? Our current focus on borders, nation states, absence of democracy, punishment, commercial laws, might over right, elitism and a false sense of security is all legitimised by a corrupt Rule of Law. No-one knows what happens next. But the Rule of Law, despite its long history, is not likely to survive. Essentially it contradicts itself, because law and justice are two very different things. All over the world one can witness the clamour to hold onto our current ways, from new laws concerning the digital revolution through to the neo-imperialism which is carried out under the guise of justice. Almost every area of life contains parts which are not eased by the Rule of Law but are made more difficult and complex. Some new thinking needs to occur. It would be better if we were prepared for the next step but, in our oh-so human way, it is more likely we will not be, but will be caught unawares.

* ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ is a fairy tale in which the Emperor’s much favoured new suite of clothes turn out to be nothing at all.

Thomas Hobbes was an early English philosopher. (1588-1679)

2 thoughts on “The Rule of Law and The Emperor’s New Clothes

  1. Very good post. I agree completely.

    There must be some fundamental changes in the way we perceive and interact with Life if we expect our species to survive.

    The laws that rule us are largely created and enforced by evil, a small minority seeking totalitarian dominance over all. They are, for the most part, weapons of oppression rather than a just and moral code to help maintain a civil society.

    There are universal laws of Nature that we all understand instinctively. We know the difference between right and wrong but refuse to act accordingly because we have been trained to “believe” that “competition” is preferable to cooperation.

    Only compliance with those laws not written by “man” can we salvage the human species. Failure to comply will inevitably result in extinction. And please do not imagine that I refer to the laws of any religion. Such laws are as much the creation of humans as are stop signs at an intersection.

    How to comply with those laws while retaining our “humanity” has been and will remain our greatest evolutionary challenge.

    Just my opinion.

  2. @Richard
    I see your comment,
    “The laws that rule us are largely created and enforced by evil, a small minority seeking totalitarian dominance over all,”
    as a symptom of the cynicism that is the zeitgeist these days. OP’s post is also reflective of it.
    Copyright laws are increasingly incompatible with information society. As we (if we) move out of a system based on greed and competition, the laws will merely change to reflect the system. To argue that the erosion of relevance of one law, or even more than one, will lead to the eventual removal of all of them is a slippery slope argument.
    /All/ of civilization’s laws are a result of a very fallible species trying to agree on a system of control that everyone is happy with. There is no ‘natural’ set of laws, just laws that look like they won’t be changing in the forseeable future.

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