lady justice desk Classen Rafael/EyeEm/Getty Images
en English

Will the Rule of Law Hold?

There can be no definitive answer. Still, the rule of law and the institutions that sustain it – whether courts, elections, or independent public agencies – have proven to be a source of greater resistance than many populist leaders expected, and more resilient, perhaps, than democratic forces dared to hope.

WARSAW – The great political question of 2019 is clear: Will the rule of law withstand the attacks being launched against it in many countries, or will autocratic forces prevail?

To begin with, one should distinguish between autocratic tendencies in Turkey, Hungary, or, say, Poland, and the political chaos and autocratic impulses on display in more established democracies. The United Kingdom’s “Brexit” from the European Union has become ever more shambolic. And in the United States, where last November’s midterm elections returned the House of Representatives to Democratic control, President Donald Trump now faces the prospect of a raft of congressional investigations.

As the central concept that distinguishes liberal democracy from the arbitrary whims of mobs and monarchs, the rule of law is problematic for any politician who claims to embody and channel the spirit and will of “the people.” That is as it should be. “To secure the public good and private rights,” James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 10, majority factions “must be rendered…unable to concert and carry into effect schemes of oppression.” A lack of institutional checks on the exercise of government power is precisely why “pure” democracies of the past “have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”