The Rule of Law vs. Obedience to the Law

We often misconstrue the concept of the “rule of Law” and take it to mean automatic “obedience to laws”. But the two are antithetical.

Laws have to earn observance and obeisance. To do so, they have to meet a series of rigorous criteria: they have to be unambiguous, fair, just, pragmatic, and equitable; they have to be applied uniformly and universally to one and all, regardless of sex, age, class, sexual preference, race, ethnicity, skin color, or opinion; they must not entrench the interests of one group or structure over others; they must not be leveraged to yield benefits to some at theĀ Keefe expense of others; and, finally, they must accord with universal moral and ethical tenets.

Most dictatorships and tyrannies are “legal”, in the strict sense of the word. The spirit of the Law and how it is implemented in reality are far more important that its letter. There are moral and, under international law, legal obligations to oppose and resist certain laws and to frustrate their execution.
Example:Should Drugs be Legalized? The decriminalization of drugs is a tangled issue involving many separate moral/ethical and practical strands which can, probably, be summarized thus: (a) Whose body is it anyway? Where do I start and the government begins? What gives the state the right to intervene in decisions pertaining only to my self and contravene them? PRACTICAL: The government exercises similar “rights” in other cases (abortion, military conscription, sex) (b) Is the government the optimal moral agent, the best or the right arbiter, as far as drug abuse is concerned? PRACTICAL: For instance, governments collaborate with the illicit drug trade when it fits their realpolitik purposes. (c) Is substance abuse a personal or a social choice? Can one limit the implications, repercussions and outcomes of one’s choices in general and of the choice to abuse drugs, in particular? If the drug abuser in effect makes decisions for others, too – does it justify the intervention of the state? Is the state the agent of society, is it the only agent of society and is it the right agent of society in the case of drug abuse? (d) What is the difference (in rigorous philosophical principle) between legal and illegal substances? Is it something in the nature of the substances? In the usage and what follows? In the structure of society? Is it a moral fashion? PRACTICAL: Does scientific research support or refute common myths and ethos regarding drugs and their abuse? Is scientific research influenced by the current anti-drugs crusade and hype? Are certain facts suppressed and certain subjects left unexplored? (e) Should drugs be decriminalized for certain purposes (e.g., marijuana and glaucoma)? If so, where should the line be drawn and by whom? PRACTICAL: Recreational drugs sometimes alleviate depression. Should this use be permitted?

“Those who have the command of the arms in a country are masters of the state, and have it in their power to make what revolutions they please. [Thus,] there is no end to observations on the difference between the measures likely to be pursued by a minister backed by a standing army, and those of a court awed by the fear of an armed people.”

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