Defining “Rule of Law”

For much more information on the Rule of Law, especially as it applies to the United States of America, see my free online book, Character Not Included: What America must fix before she can fix anything else.  The Rule of Law section begins here.

What do we mean by “rule of law”?

The definition is quite simple.

In short, the rule of law is a system of government in which a society adopts or maintains a set of good, just, and fair laws by which it and its government will be governed.   The nasty alternative to such a system, of course, is one in which the government can do whatever it wants and the people have no way to refuse laws that they don’t think are good, just, or fair.  Lately, the United States is resembling the latter more than the former.

If you’re looking for a one-liner embodiment of the concept of the rule of law, one of the best statements is that of our 2nd President, John Adams, who envisioned “…a government of laws, and not of men.”  Here are some other common definitions below, which were found by searching “define:rule of law” at Google.  Reading each of the following can help the reader firmly to grasp what is commonly meant by “rule of law”.

  • a state of order in which events conform to the law
  • the doctrine that no individual is above the law and that everyone must answer to it
  • One of the cornerstones of democratic society, meaning that everyone is subject to the law. It is not just the rule that everyone is covered by the Criminal Code and must be charged and convicted if appropriate. …
  • A legal system in which rules are clear, well-understood, and fairly enforced, including property rights and enforcement of contracts.
  • All government officials and all private citizens must follow the laws of the nation and must be treated equally under the law. The government is created by and for the people and is answerable to the people.
  • another phrase for law and order; the principles that require that the powers of the state be derived from and limited either by legislation enacted by Parliament or a legislature or judicial decisions made by independent courts;
  • The rule of law is the principle that governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws that are adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedure. The principle is intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance.
  • The principle that every member of a society, even a ruler, must follow the law.
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