The rule of law was the starting point. But the real breakthrough was when they came up with the concept of rights. Rights were anti-law, rights are places the law can’t go. Rights are so important to retaining freedom that when they weren’t put in the Constitution, the first Congress and three-quarters of the States jammed ten of them into that document by amendment in four short years.
We call those ten amendments the Bill of Rights, but they’re really the Bill of Leave Us the Hell Alone.
Rights and laws: If you can locate the balance point between those two poles you’ll have a pretty good idea how free a given society is. And if you want a society that is self-governing and sustainable you should also know this:
The best laws aren’t the ones that are enforced. They are the ones that are obeyed.
There is a cost when laws are foolish, outdated, unjust, or generally disregarded and held in contempt. Such laws devalue the currency of the other laws. It’s the legal equivalent of inflation—have too many worthless laws and soon the whole legal edifice is bankrupt.
Rights are even more frail. The USSR had a bill of rights, but it rarely advanced beyond the theoretical. Rights are the restraint of power by paper. It’s a miracle they are ever respected at all.
The alternative to Rights and Laws is Rules and Obedience. Mankind lived under that yoke for as long as mankind lived, until the last couple of centuries, because it worked. The alternative was the law of the jungle and we’d left the jungle behind when we dug the first ditch. But, as the old saying goes, you can take the homo sapiens out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the homo sapiens. Bullies and brutes, the nefarious and the negligent, are always with us, probably in proportions unchanged since the stone age. Mankind needs to be ruled or it dies. The only question is how.
The great good act behind Mr. Cheney’s tacit support for gay marriage is that he said it out loud. He could have hidden behind his politics and condemned it, while quietly telling Mary, “Go to Sweden, honey, and I’ll walk you down the aisle.”
But he didn’t, he supported tolerance instead. That’s an example for all of us libertarian fascists. If we are going to live together in peace and freedom, if we are to properly balance rights and laws, we need restraint in our behavior and tolerance in our opinions, both as much as humanly practical.
But who gets to say how much is practical? Why me, of course.