The Challenge of the Rule of Law

The lecture last week considered the Rule of Law concept in historical perspective. Aside from its possible, highly restricted connotation of public order maintained by the force of politically organized society, three basic meanings or emphases were identified in discussions of the Rule of Law: first, certain constitutional principles, particularly those ascribed by Dicey to 19th-century Britain; second, certain valuable procedural safeguards of a fair trial; and third, those asserted universal and perhaps immutable principles, derived from God or Nature by the rational faculties of man, available to guide and, in some views, to invalidate positive legal action. Without denying the significance of any of these emphases, I suggested certain criticisms as relevant insofar as any one emphasis is advanced as the sole definition of the Rule of Law, and that concept, in tum, is offered as a general safeguard against abuses of the power of the modem state.