The Moral and Civil Rule of Law

The Moral and Civil Rule of Law
Fr. Shay Cullen
8 March 2019

What is it that keeps a family, a community, a nation from the brink of chaos, uncontrolled corruption, grave injustice and prevents violent attacks, assassinations and mayhem? What brings civilized living, cooperation and development to a people? It is the Rule of Law.

Human beings emerged from the violent savagery of the law of the jungle and settled in communities and began to plant food and create villages. To survive in these small groups, they agreed on a set of rules of behavior that imposed restraint and control and those in turn created peaceful living.

The rules emerged over centuries from the experience of life and death. The knowledge of what was right and wrong, good and bad, true and false for the community and the individual emerged in the development of the human conscience. There was then belief in the divine revealed law, the Ten Commandments of the ancient world, and its completion in the commandment of love of neighbor, personal and human rights and dignity, freedom and equality, child and women’s rights were brought most powerfully by Jesus of Nazareth. It was mainly the Greek and Roman civilizations that codified civil law although previous civilizations had developed rule-of-law society also.

The Rule of Law is opposed to the rule of violence and injustice. It is supposed to end the might of the powerful over the weak and vulnerable. It establishes the relationship of government to the person and communities. All are accountable before the law, the rulers, and the ruled. It is based on the consent of the majorly in the community who agree to abide by it provided there is a democracy. If not, it will not be the rule-of-law for the people by the people; it will be the rule of the king, the dictator, the tyrant, or the party. This agreed set of rules and regulations that directs and controls human behavior, regulates ownership, protects the individual, establishes rights and duties is the basis of civilization to promote growth and prosperity. But do most people respect and obey the Rule of Law?

The status of a nation in the community of nations is now set in the ranking of World Justice Project Rule of Law Index. This highly respected organization based in Washington DC researches and counts just how nations respect and obey the Rule of Law in 113 countries. The WJP have eight sections or categories for their surveys as listed by them: “Constraints on Government Powers, Absence of Corruption, Open Government, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice.”

The results of 110,000 individual interviews and consultations with no less than 3,000 experts qualified in their fields provide the basic data on each country and helps determine each one’s position in the ranking of countries that are the most civilized by adhering strictly to the Rule of Law. So, is the world respecting the Rule of Law, respecting human rights and dignity, personal freedom, abolishing discrimination, standing for the right to life and security, absence of violence, rape, murder, child and woman abuse and racism? Can we celebrate a steady progress towards creating nations built on equality, justice, truth, peace and respect for the freedom of expression, where labor rights are protected and the right to privacy, freedom of association and religion is enjoyed by all?

Sadly and profoundly disappointing, the answer is no. In many nations the rise of crude ignorance, hatred, violence, division and the absence of reasoned discussion is becoming the trend. The far-right groups are promoting racist and discriminatory policies. They are gaining political support in many countries. Hungry, Poland, Italy and others are moving in this direction in Europe. Dictatorships are flourishing in Africa and Venezuela is on the brink of dictatorship. The root of discontent and violating the rule of law is in various economic woes:  inflation, austerity measures, corruption and greed. There are a few very rich people and many very poor. The yellow vest movement in France indicates this.

In regard to the abuse and overreach of government power, 64 percent of countries out of 113 surveyed fell short of respecting the law and showed less constraint on government power in their country. For overall respect for the rule of law, as many as 34 percent of countries fell lower on the index (2016). This is a serious and troubling decline. Whereas only 29 percent of the countries surveyed showed an improvement, the other 37 percent of countries surveyed remained the same.

The top three winners on the index were Denmark, Norway, and Finland. The lowest were Afghanistan at number 111 and Cambodia at 112 and last of all Venezuela 113. The index noted that the Philippines fell 18 points and is now 88th out of 113 overall and is 13th in the East Asia and Pacific Region. The government said in a statement that it would strive to improve its position on the Rule-of-Law index by next year. 

Besides the rule of law, which is made by government hopefully elected by the people to govern them justly and fairly, there is moral law. This is the code of human conduct developed by reason, conscience, and religious beliefs over centuries and guided by what is morally right, just, and correct in human behavior. Something might be lawful according to the strict letter of the law but morally wrong. When a powerful landlord has the means to legal rights to land that the poor have worked for many generations, the eviction of the farmers is morally wrong and the farmer’s claims are morally right. The farmers have natural justice and right on their side. The moral law should protect them. So every person, institution, and nation ought to respect the moral law as a priority while they rule justly by the rule of law.

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