“One who asks law to rule,” Aristotle observes, “seems to be asking god and intellect alone to rule, while one who asks man adds the beast.”
By god, Aristotle means the supreme intellect, whose superiority consists partly in not relying on a limited supply of brain cells, and partly in being free of the passions whose power so often “perverts rulers and the best of men.”
In this life, law cannot actually replace the rule of men, for men make the human laws, and even natural and divine law must be enforced here below by men, in all their beastliness.
The true value of law is not that it rules us without us, but rather that it structures our self-rule so as to check what is beastly and encourage what is godly in our nature.
Law brings out the best in us in several ways. To begin with, it is desirable to let our wisest men make the laws, and to require others to follow them, as far as circumstances permit.
When we encounter peculiar or unanticipated problems, even the wisest laws must be adjusted or amended by men . Such a task should only be given to “law-guardians” and “servants of the law,” whose study of and respect for the law has trained them to apply wise principles to new situations.
Finally, law refines our nature by dividing political authority into “certain offices,” preventing any particular faction from fulfilling its desires without the cooperation of other factions, whose desires will never fully coincide.
What we call separation of powers, and checks and balances, work if and only if several elements come together: wise laws; education in those laws; and negotiation among men holding office under those laws.
When these desiderata hold, the hope is that the beastly desires of one group will be called out by another, and the native intelligence of the offenders will enable them to recognize their folly, and modify their demands.
They may then return this favor to their fellow citizens, when necessary.
The rule of law therefore presupposes men capable of reasoning soundly about public matters: that is, of deliberation.
How can we cultivate this virtue? As my piano teacher told me ages ago: practice makes perfect!
If we hope to restore our republic in the foreseeable future, daily exercises in deliberation are in order.
What do you think? Please comment, subscribe, & forward to friends!