The West That Was, Part 5, by Paul Rosenberg

The common law is an underappreciated cornerstone of Western civilization. From Paul Rosenberg at

When law was sovereign

All of us in the modern West grew up believing that we were living under “the rule of law.” The truth, however, is that the rule of law – the sovereignty of law – ended a couple of centuries ago. And by losing it, we lost a primary driver of our civilization.

The sovereignty of law was never perfect, of course… it had to be applied by actual human beings… but it engaged the better aspects of human nature and thrived along with them. The systems that replaced it, on the other hand, thrive mainly upon human weaknesses.

What “rule of law” means to people today is that a single set of rules applies to everyone equally. That’s not remotely true in practice, of course, but that doesn’t make the concept bad: implementation in the real world always introduces problems. What makes our “rule of law” deeply and even fatally flawed is the part that’s not included in the slogans: the fact that a small group of law-makers stand above the law, not below it.

Unlike the rest of us, if the law-makers don’t like the way the law applies to them, they are free to change it, and can nearly always do so without consequences.

In the old days of Western civilization, no one was above justice. Law was sovereign over everyone. And that version of law was not made; rather, it was discovered. The judges of that era didn’t write edicts, they discovered and explained what was just or unjust in particular cases.

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