Why is the rule of law so important? Thomas Hobbes knows

One of the reasons I have been interested in the Leveson Inquiry is the rule of law.  The Inquiry has shown, through the revelations regarding, the press, politicians, and the police, that the rule of law has been put under strain.  When I think of the rule of law, I am reminded of Thomas Hobbes, whose ideas on the rule of law and the social contract were shaped by his experiences with the English Civil War.  He was, perhaps too strong of word, traumatized by the lawlessness and violence.  In response to those experiences, he wrote his most famous work The Leviathan.

Here is how the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy introduces him.

“Hobbes is the founding father of modern political philosophy. Directly or indirectly, he has set the terms of debate about the fundamentals of political life right into our own times. Few have liked his thesis, that the problems of political life mean that a society should accept an unaccountable sovereign as its sole political authority. Nonetheless, we still live in the world that Hobbes addressed head on: a world where human authority is something that requires justification, and is automatically accepted by few; a world where social and political inequality also appears questionable; and a world where religious authority faces significant dispute. We can put the matter in terms of the concern with equality and rights that Hobbes’s thought heralded: we live in a world where all human beings are supposed to have rights, that is, moral claims that protect their basic interests. But what or who determines what those rights are? And who will enforce them? In other words, who will exercise the most important political powers, when the basic assumption is that we all share the same entitlements?”

The questions he raised over 400 years ago resonate today.  How safe are we as citizens if the law is not upheld? How certain can we be that the law is upheld by the democratic mandate when the press has an undue influence on politicians?  How free are we if the guardians, the police and politicians, are unable or unwilling to investigate apparent wrongdoing?  The Leveson Inquiry has raised these questions, and more, explicitly or implicitly, which bring us back to why the rule of law is needed.

For these reasons, I have focused on the issue of the public interest, the press, the police, and politicians.  Without them working together to uphold the rule of law, how can I, or anyone else, be safe as a citizen?  Thus, my scrutiny of these institutions is not borne of malice but rather of the deep knowledge that they protect me, and others, from dangers that are lurking within any political society no matter how peaceful or democratic they may seem to be on the surface.  Thus, as a “true friend” of these institutions, I am bound to be critical for only the critical friend will point out their shortcomings so that they can improve. For improve they must if we are to be safe as citizens living under the rule of law.

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