In a book I wrote a few years ago in association with my teaching a regular class in college-level political science, I included a discussion about former POTUS John Adams’ cryptic, yet fundamental, statement that “America is a nation of laws, not of men.” Unpacked, this statement, based on the Rule of Law principle, means that laws, not people, rule. Every member of American society is to be governed by—and is subject to-- the same laws, regardless of that person’s station in American life; whether that means an American rich or poor, or Americans who are members of Congress or other branches of government, high-ranking bureaucrats or the POTUS; every American must be held to the recognized laws of America.
This is the much-heralded Rule of Law principle that supposedly obtains in the U.S.A. and is the foundation of the American republic. “A nation of laws” means that laws, not people, rule. Everyone is to be governed by the same laws, regardless of their wealth or poverty, class or color; whether it is the most common American or members of Congress, high-ranking bureaucrats or the president of the United States; the law is the equalizer.
This principle is commonly recognized as the primary element that has separated the United States from virtually every other nation in history-- the concept of it being “a nation of laws, not a nation of men.”
The central opposing view is the one that was advocated by Aristotle and his acolytes, that the best man (best people) in society, rather than the best law, should rule. That is, those in charge, however they got to be in charge (usually by force or trickery), were best suited to decide the fate of the society in question. Those “best men” would decide the fate of all others, and also would determine the rules by which to make that determination.
Said another way, the Principle of the Rule of Law posits that, “America is a nation of laws,” and that means that laws, not people, rule. Every American is to be governed by the same laws, regardless of their station; whether it is the most common American or members of Congress, high-ranking bureaucrats or the president of the United States; all must be held to the just laws of America. No one is, or can be allowed to be, above the law.
When we are asked what is wrong with this country in 2023 and continuing, we can start our answer here. Clearly, there are many loud voices now demanding that some Americans are, and should be treated, more equal than others. They deserve special treatment and are not bound by the same laws as everyone else is. And the current court system seems to be allowing that “best man” standard to be used. Donald Trump and a host of others seem not to be held to the same legal standards as other Americans. As such, a tremendous faith in America now hinges on the current spate of court cases Trump is involved in. If Trump is allowed to escape punishment, the threads holding this country together will no longer be viable. The Rule of Law principle will no longer be obtained. The so-called end of the administrative state will have begun.
In addition, without the Rule of Law Principle remaining dominant, there will be no reparations for Black Americans in this country. In fact, the ultimate failure of that principle will lead inevitably to the dissolution of America in the world.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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