28 Principles of Liberty: Principle 22 – A Free People Should be Governed by Law and Not the Whims of Man

Principle 22

“A Free People Should be Governed by Law and Not the Whims of Man”

by: Charity Angel

If mankind are governed by the whims of men they are subjected to every changing inclination of sudden illogical changes of mind, ideas, or actions of those in power. This is ruler's law at its worst. In this kind of society, no rights are secure and nothing is dependable; things are in a constant state of flux. Nothing is fixed nor predictable for the future.

The Founders defined law as a 'rule of action', which was binding on the ruler as it was upon the people. It was designed to give society a stable frame of reference so the people could feel secure in making plans for the future. John Locke said:

Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to everyone of that society. and made by the legislative power erected in it.

Under established law, every person's rights and duties are defined. Such a society gives the people a feeling of liberty, liberty under the law. The American Founders believed that without the protection of law there can be no liberty.

John Locke also pointed out that unless a society can provide a person with a code of fixed and enforceable laws, he might as well have stayed in the jungle.

To this end it is that men give up all their natural power to the society that they enter into, and the community put the legislative power into such hands as they see fit, with this trust, that they shall be governed by declared laws, or else their peace, quiet, and property will still be at the same uncertainty as it was in the state of Nature.

John Adams also agreed when he said:

No man will contend that a nation can be free that is not governed by fixed laws. All other government that that of permanent known laws is the government of mere will and pleasure.

Aristotle said:

Even the best of men in authority are liable to be corrupted by passion. We may conclude then that the law is reason without passion, and it is therefore preferable to any individual.

And from this we can see that Aristotle disagreed with his mentor Plato, who believed that that the ideal society should be governed by a few who would rule according to scientific principles and make on the spot decisions and force the people to do what is good for them. He said that if there was not a man with this scientific knowledge, then law would be required, but it was only the second best thing.

the difference appears to be perspective. Rather then looking at law as a merely a code of negative restraints and prohibitions, the Founders considered it to be a system of positive rules by which they could be assured of enjoying their rights and the protection of themselves, their families and their property. John Locke said it best:

The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings, capable of laws, where there is no law there is no freedom. For liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others, which cannot be when there is no law.

The Founders were sensitive to the fact that people only have confidence in laws that they can understand, as well as feel that it is of relative permanence, which will not be continually changed. James Madison said this so well:

It will be of little avail to the people that the law are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be revealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is today, can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known and less fixed?

Thomas Jefferson resigned from the congress in 1776 in order to return to Virginia to make certain that the state laws were rewritten so that when independence had been won, the people would have a model system of legal principles which they could both understand and support. The complex codes and laws of our day could be similarly improved with such a great housecleaning as Jefferson did for Virginia. Imagine what James Madison would think of our legislature and senate who pass bills that are so large that they have not read them when they vote on them, that vote on bills that are not yet even written!

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