The grave threat to the rule of law

Chatter about the rise of populism and far-right leaders is now common place. It is good that this is being discussed, as this is a real phenomenon and has serious implications for the world.

But overlooked in these discussions is what the rise of populism means for the rule of law. 

 

The rule of law is the idea that all people, even leaders, are restricted by rules that govern their conduct.

The rule of law is what keeps leaders from becoming dictators.

The promise of the rule of law is that all people, no matter their position, are potentially subject to oversight and scrutiny by a neutral judge. 

After 9/11, the rule of law has withered. Governments have used terrorism as an excuse to restrict civil liberties and justify wars.

It is hard to remember, but there was a time when the government had to do a lot of leg work to tap someone's phone.

There was a time when torture was prohibited, without exception.

There was a time when suspected terrorists were charged with crimes, given lawyers, and subject to a trial by jury. 

Those times are gone.

If there is one rallying cry for the 21st century, it must include a cry for the rule of law. This is a dangerous time, where leaders, everywhere, will stop at nothing to fulfill personal ambition, even if it means lives are destroyed or lost in the process. Courts and judges, all over the world, must take brave stands against executive power. And people of all stripes must not buy into the false and distortive messaging of fear and oppression that is now the hallmark of nearly every major Western government. 

At a time of such dramatic globalization and interconnection, the answer cannot by tyranny. It must be the establishment of global norms that are moored, permanently, indelibly, unstoppably, in the rule of law.

If leaders will not remember this, and will not honor this, then the crisis facing democracy is far more dire than we would like to believe. And the necessity of action to restore the rule of law becomes far more urgent and pressing than any thing else. Without the rule of law, there is only dictatorship. And if the whole world falls into dictatorship, humanity is truly lost.