Rule of Law and Aristotle

A reader of the blog has asked me to flesh out my issue with the claim the rule of law is not a central pillar of Western civilization, which is a fair point (Luckily I have some really intelligent readers.)

My understanding of rule of law is that it is a recent concept, specifically an Enlightenment era concept which is utterly incoherent in relation to political structures prior to the collapse of monarchies. Referring to Wikipedia which is always a reliable advocate of the mainstream opinion on such matters is an interesting exercise, here is the opening paragraph:

The rule of law is the legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials. It primarily refers to the influence and authority of law within society, particularly as a constraint upon behaviour, including behaviour of government officials.[2] The phrase can be traced back to 16th century Britain, and in the following century the Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford used the phrase in his argument against the divine right of kings.[3] The rule of law was further popularized in the 19th century by British jurist A. V. Dicey. The concept, if not the phrase, was familiar to ancient philosophers such as Aristotle, who wrote “Law should govern”

This gives away clearly that it is a modern concept as I thought from my previous reading around the Milner group and Lionel Curtis, in which Dicey played a major influence.

The reference to Aristotle got me curious, as it did not ring a bell, so I followed the link to the wiki translation of The Politics, book three, chapter sixteen here. The translation is really poor, but does appear to support wiki’s contention that Aristotle supported rule of law:

As for an absolute monarchy as it is called, that is to say, when the whole state is wholly subject to the will of one person, namely the king, it seems to many that it is unnatural that one man should have the entire rule over his fellow-citizens when the state consists of equals: for nature requires that the same right and the same rank should necessarily take place amongst all those who are equal by nature: for as it would be hurtful to the body for those who are of different constitutions to observe the same regimen, either of diet or clothing, so is it with respect to the honours of the state as hurtful, that those who are equal in merit should be unequal in rank; for which reason it is as much a man’s duty to submit to command as to assume it, and this also by rotation; for this is law, for order is law; and it is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws, for the supreme power must be placed somewhere; but they say, that it is unjust that where all are equal one person should continually enjoy it. But it seems unlikely that man should be able to adjust that which the law cannot determine; it may be replied, that the law having laid down the best rules possible, leaves the adjustment and application of particulars to the discretion of the magistrate; besides, it allows anything to be altered which experience proves may be better established. Moreover, he who would place the supreme power in mind, would place it in God and the laws; but he who entrusts man with it, gives it to a wild beast, for such his appetites sometimes make him; for passion influences those who are in power, even the very best of men: for which reason law is reason without desire.

But compare this to the same section in the MIT translation:

Now, absolute monarchy, or the arbitrary rule of a sovereign over an the citizens, in a city which consists of equals, is thought by some to be quite contrary to nature; it is argued that those who are by nature equals must have the same natural right and worth, and that for unequals to have an equal share, or for equals to have an uneven share, in the offices of state, is as bad as for different bodily constitutions to have the same food and clothing. Wherefore it is thought to be just that among equals every one be ruled as well as rule, and therefore that an should have their turn. We thus arrive at law; for an order of succession implies law. And the rule of the law, it is argued, is preferable to that of any individual. On the same principle, even if it be better for certain individuals to govern, they should be made only guardians and ministers of the law. For magistrates there must be- this is admitted; but then men say that to give authority to any one man when all are equal is unjust. Nay, there may indeed be cases which the law seems unable to determine, but in such cases can a man? Nay, it will be replied, the law trains officers for this express purpose, and appoints them to determine matters which are left undecided by it, to the best of their judgment. Further, it permits them to make any amendment of the existing laws which experience suggests. Therefore he who bids the law rule may be deemed to bid God and Reason alone rule, but he who bids man rule adds an element of the beast; for desire is a wild beast, and passion perverts the minds of rulers, even when they are the best of men. The law is reason unaffected by desire. We are told that a patient should call in a physician; he will not get better if he is doctored out of a book. But the parallel of the arts is clearly not in point; for the physician does nothing contrary to rule from motives of friendship; he only cures a patient and takes a fee; whereas magistrates do many things from spite and partiality. And, indeed, if a man suspected the physician of being in league with his enemies to destroy him for a bribe, he would rather have recourse to the book. But certainly physicians, when they are sick, call in other physicians, and training-masters, when they are in training, other training-masters, as if they could not judge judge truly about their own case and might be influenced by their feelings. Hence it is evident that in seeking for justice men seek for the mean or neutral, for the law is the mean. Again, customary laws have more weight, and relate to more important matters, than written laws, and a man may be a safer ruler than the written law, but not safer than the customary law.

The second translation does not support wiki. In fact, if you read the section in context, Aristotle is recounting arguments in relation to absolute monarchy and the claim of law being sufficient for rule. If he supported rule of law in the modern sense, then it follows he would have mentioned that in the final part of The Politics, but he didn’t because that particular brand of crazy is again, a modern core aspect of the Cathedral, and if he did, wiki would not have to resort to confusing translations taken out of context.

The rest of the page is largely incoherent, with claims of the Magna Carta being rule of law being comical. I would hazard an educated guess that this whole concept of rule of law is the work of the Milner group et al, and the actions of American foundations pushing their super protestantism. It is not intellectually robust at all, and has been backfilled with bizarre historical manipulation.

Rule of law as commonly understood is difficult to argue against. The first problem is that it is so devoid of sense that it requires approaching it in the same manner as trying to approach answering a small child as to why they cannot eat ice cream all day, every day. The key point is this- law cannot govern because only men can govern. The law is decided by a man (or men) and then acted upon by other men. The law is not an autonomous entity which can act by itself, and even if it was then you still haven’t resolved the fact that then the programmers that create the code are effectively in control. If the law code is sufficiently advanced to be effectively an AI, then you have just carted off control to an AI which will need to be encoded with the capability of judgement to function, because the alternative is to create a system that can account for all eventualities automatically. This is logically impossible.

Rule of law at present translates as rule by those who write the law, and those that interpret the law. We have a name for that – the Cathedral. The Civil Service makes laws in line with their imperatives, and the Supreme Court interpret law according to their ideological imperatives. To fall for rule of law is truly a stupid thing to do, but you can see why it is so appealing. The utopian claim that no one has to be in control if we follow the laws is something that an electorate being of the same intellectual capacity as the toddler wanting ice cream all day will lap it up. That this puts a certain group of people in control who deny being in control – because law is, is the problem which needs to be addressed.