Losing the Rule of Law
The rule of law allowed the US to grow exponentially. It both facilitated foreign investment in railroads and other infrastructure and provided a stable set of rules for the growing civilization. Foreign investors felt safe with the strong rule of law and, while there was crime, it did not derail civil society. Yes, we had Dred Scott and Plessy v. Fergusson, but we also had Brown vs. the Board of Education. The rule of law facilitated the evolution of American Society into a more open and fairer culture. But along the way, we watered down the rule of law and civilization entered a retrograde and pulled back from its constitutional tenets “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”.
The Broken Windows Theory tells us that if you ignore the little things and overlook minor crime, it generates more crime. As we ignore the little disorders, they grow increasingly serious as we continue to overlook them. This disorder is indicative of the society’s retrograde. Many credit adherence with the Broken Windows Theory with bringing New York City back from the yawning abyss of lawlessness.
The same issue may well be true with laws. As laws proliferate and get stacked on top of each other in a labyrinth of print, people get desensitized to them, and start ignoring the ones that are inconvenient. Just like broken windows, the more that are ignored, the easier it is to ignore others, until there is little or no respect for the law.
Two minor examples from yesterday. The resort we are staying in has signs that state no pets unless they are service animals. Yet, I saw a woman walking a corgi on the grounds. While I cannot say for sure, I doubt the corgi was a service dog. I see this almost every place we stay. The guests ignore the policy and the resort does not enforce it. The other example was the 9-mile Cades Cove loop in the Great Smokey Mountain Park. Despite many signs asking people not to stop on the road and to “be an idol, do not idle” cars stopped anywhere they felt they saw something interesting. And when there are bears near the road, nothing else matters. People simply ignore the policy, and we get stuck in a long line of cars that barely move.
This trend is not new. I suspect that a major turning point happened in the 1960s with two things.
The first was Divorce Court. Divorce Court turned the law into entertainment and helped to lower respect for the law. Judge Judy and other shows of its ilk furthered the respect for law as the TV shows moved into crime and property disputes.
Second, the rise of the Civil Rights Era and saw the growth of congressional activism and passage of law, upon law, upon law. Too many laws to keep track of and understand unless you had one of the high priests of the American Bar Association. With so many laws, people ignored those that made sense to them or were not enforced. Look at the speed limit enforcement. A speed limit is just a suggestion and people understand that as long as they are “not too far over”, the police will overlook enforcement.
Now, many prosecutors and governments present us with huge erosion in the rule of law and respect for it. Cities and prosecutors are refusing to enforce laws and prosecute criminals. Crime and violence are rising as these measures, combined with “defund the police” movements, water down or even eliminate enforcement.
The result is companies are moving away from cities and states that do not respect the rule of law. Boeing is the latest example of companies moving from crime-ridden cities. Taxpayers are also fleeing these cities and states. The net result will hurt the poor the liberals claim to want to help.
The situation is like the witch that casts a spell on people and lulls them into a stupor and then fleeces them. The witch continues to pile ineffective laws into a never-ending flow of new rules and regulations and are increasing less effective. People lose respect for the law as they become inured to explosive growth. They do not follow the laws and the culture does not value virtue.
Of course, we want to bring down the evil witch. But as people fall into a stupor, resistance becomes more difficult. This is especially true when the witch attacks anyone that disagrees with the devaluation of laws and the reduction of virtue in society. So how do we do it?
Let us go back to the Broken Windows Theory. We need to eliminate duplicative and effective laws and streamline them. Congress and state and local governments need to stop passing new laws that are ineffective. Every new law should have an impact assessment. What does the new law cover that isn’t covered elsewhere? How will it be enforced? What effect will the new law have on civil society, liberty, and prosperity? Ineffective laws are like broken windows.
Second, we need to enforce the laws that remain on the books. The reduction in enforcement greatly waters down the rule of law and the respect for law and justice.
Third, we need to teach the rule of law and virtue in our schools. See Virtue And Courtesy Are Requirements For Effective Solution Development And A Healthy Society, Virtue Leadership and Power, and Virtue: Honor and Integrity blogs for thoughts on virtue.
In the end, it all comes down to education and culture. These are like the twin serpents in the caudices. The central staff in the caudices is a civil society. Education and culture can either grow, nurture, and protect a civil society or choke it and destroy it. A choked civil society helps no one, especially the people the liberals claim to want to help.