The Rule of Law: Keeping It All From Falling Apart

Statue of Justice at the Castellania in Valletta, Malta Date 2 February 2016 (4 February 2016, according to Exif data) Source Own work by the original uploader Author: Continentaleurope

The rule of law – in which each power is balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds…in which the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of men (cf., CCC, #1904)

If love be the glue that holds societies together, law – we should say, ‘laws’ – provides the structure, without which, to paraphrase Yeats, things fall apart, and the centre cannot hold.

There are three elements to the rule of law – that notion of the balancing of authorities – which we may describe as vertical and horizontal, and, we may add, divine.

Horizontal: At any one level of authority – federal, provincial, state – authority should be invested in various bodies, so that no one person or group holds all the power. Hence, here in Canada, at the federal level we have at least three political parties, a House of Commons with 338 current members, all of which is turn balanced by 105 Senators (meant to be a house of ‘second sober thought’). There are also supreme and federal courts and judges. And above them all, in theory, is the Governor-General, who stands in place of the Queen. An analogous balance is found in provincial and municipal governments, and any society.

Vertical: Besides these balances within each level, there are also multiple layers of authority, from the highest (Church and State) to the lowest (individual autonomy). These include not only municipalities and provinces (or states), but more importantly, all the myriad private associations, from the family on upwards: Businesses, schools, hospitals, offices, newspapers, media outlets, unions, sports, and any group organized for any purpose. These should all be independent of the various governments, to ensure freedom. This includes medicine and education, even if they may be helped by the state in time of need. More so should newspapers, so the press feels free to criticize the government, and hold its members to account. All of this is based on the principle of subsidiarity, that a higher authority should not interfere in a lower authority, but only offer help in case of need. Not only is this more just, maximizing freedom, but it is also more efficient, as those closest to any decision are usually also the most competent to make it.

Divine: Over and permeating both of these, are the limits set by God by His own laws, concerning worship, liturgy, reveled truth, including moral principles. Any violation of these is, as Saint Thomas says, not a law, but a species of violence. (e.g., the legalization of abortion or euthanasia). This is the specific mission of the Church in teaching minds and sanctifying souls. The State is bound to the Church in areas of overlap (such as civil laws based on moral principles).

Much of the rest of what we call ‘life’, music, art, literature, education, health, food, sports, all culture and personal expression, is accomplished by the myriad of private associations, joined voluntarily according to proclivity, desire and want. There are few ‘laws’ governing these, but rather customs, which are much stronger and more enduring than law.

It scarcely need be said that the balance of the rule of law has seen better days, and may well be crumbling: Prelates are, prostrate before the power of the state, prescribing medical procedures, while neglecting liturgical and moral abuse. The State has absorbed too much of our life, with politicians and physicians dictating when, how and even if we should receive the sacraments, crushing peaceful protests, while allowing, if not aiding and abetting, violent ones; freezing bank accounts, for the ‘crime’ of expressing or supporting the ‘wrong’ opinions; experimental therapies are mandated, livelihoods destroyed if refused or demurred, all without due process or the rule of law. This, as the economy and supply chain falter, the spectre of runaway inflation looms, borders break down and police are given apparently indiscriminate powers.

In sum, too many of our leaders are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, while doing what they are not supposed to be doing, in haphazard and arbitrary ways.

Even the sudden relaxing of strict Covid policies, although more pleasing, is disconcerting. If it was lethal and illegal to hug your grandmother yesterday, but fine today, what shall we say of the morrow?

Our leaders have taken their cue from Machiavelli, and his banefully influential book Il Principe, published in 1532, just as rulers across Christendom were throwing off the authority of the Pope, the Church, and God himself. If Machiavelli’s treatise can be summed up in one sentence, it is that the will of the prince is law, which, of course, is no law at all. Just pure, raw will to power, as his future disciple, Nietzsche, put it. We are now witnessing the full bitter fruits.

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed.

But all is not lost! One may hope, for although we are near the brink of chaos, we haven’t quite yet fallen in. There may yet be a way back from the precipice, if the checks and balances that are in place are utilized. We may take some heart that Trudeau has just revoked his Emergencies Act (even if police will still be given ‘special powers), reportedly since the Senate – sober second thought! – was poised possibly to vote against it. More such is needed, a clear vision of fundamental principles, of rights and freedoms, along with the human will, strength, courage and determination to protect them.

Ultimately, the solution is not to be found in the political realm, but in the moral and spiritual; as Solzhenitsyn said of his own fight against tyranny, the line between good and evil runs through each human heart. We as individuals have had to rely less upon law, and more upon our conscience, with which we will all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. We should pray for the grace of good counsel.

So keep up the good fight, dear reader, for saved is the man who perseveres in the truth to the end. And that sort of saving, is the only one that counts.