Rule of Law

The phrase “rule of law” refers to the idea that laws are followed, and that they apply equally to everyone. People obey the law and not the whims of a ruler. Further, no one is above the law. The rule of law is an ideal from ancient republics. PhilosophersJohn Locke and Baron de Montesquieu also wrote about the rule of law and how it could be maintained.

John Adams described the commitment to the rule of law when he enshrined separation of powers in the Massachusetts constitution “to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men.”

Scholars and philosophers debate whether the phrase “rule of law” should be applied to societies where laws are unjust or oppressive: If everyone follows the law, even though the law is unjust, does that demonstrate the rule of law? The Founders, like many before and after their time, including Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr., believed that the law should enforce natural principles of justice and that people did not have to respect random or oppressive laws.