Rule of Law

I’m going to try my best to keep politics out of this discussion. But lately there have been a lot of mentions of the Rule of Law, and I thought it might be a good time to discuss it.

The basic idea behind the Rule of Law is that law rather than people rules a nation. It means that no person in that nation is above or exempt from the law, not even those who create and enforce the law. Although the English phrase was first written around 1500, the concept has been around in many legal systems since long before that. In the Anglo-American legal tradition, the Rule of Law was explicitly recognized in Magna Carta in 1215; this document stated that even the King of England must obey certain laws.

Not all governments have respected the law. For example, when a dictator or autocrat is in power, or when a ruler is considered divine or a representative of divinity, he may will have unchecked power. And even when a governmental system nominally follows the Rule of Law, that promise is only good if someone is willing to enforce it. So if the ruler abuses his powers and those who are charged with controlling him do nothing, the Rule becomes meaningless.

I think it’s clear how all of this applies to us in the modern world, but how is it relevant to you as an author? If you are writing spec fic—especially fantasy or sci fi—you might want to think about the Rule. Does your fictional society respect it? How is it enforced? What happens when a ruler pushes the boundaries?

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