What is This Rule of Law of Which You Speak?

The conservative blogosphere had a good time this weekend kicking around Kate Zernicke and her New York Times story on the Tea Party movement, which she determined is motivated by strange, antiquated concepts like the “rule of law” and obscure thinkers like Friedrich Hayek and Frédéric Bastiat. From “Movement of the Moment Looks to Long-Ago Texts,” her most telling paragraph:

Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, alluded to “The Road to Serfdom” in introducing his economic “Roadmap for America’s Future,” which many other Republicans have embraced. Ron Johnson, who entered politics through a Tea Party meeting and is now the Republican nominee for Senate in Wisconsin, asserted that the $20 billion escrow fund that the Obama administration forced BP to set up to pay damages from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill circumvented “the rule of law,” Hayek’s term for the unwritten code that prohibits the government from interfering with the pursuit of “personal ends and desires.”

As Jonah Goldberg points out, the “rule of law” is not an exclusively conservative concept:

Everything about this is hilarious. The rule of law is an “unwritten code”? Really? I thought the rule of law was the code. The rule of law is not “Hayek’s term” (it’s A.V. Dicey’s). But the idea stretches back to the earliest days of Western civilization. So on the one hand Hayek is obscure, but on the other hand he’s eclipsed Aristotle, Locke, Montesquieu, and the gang. Way to go Hayek!

And as Ted Frank points out at Point of Law, “How soon they forget Scott Horton or Dahlia Lithwick or Tom Geoghegan or Philip Heymann or many others criticizing the Bush administration over its supposed disregard for the ‘rule of law.'”

Where were Zernicke’s editors, anyway? Were they unfamiliar with the concept, as well?

The rule of law is an existential matter for U.S. business and manufacturers. If the government can penalize and persecute one company because it owners have criticized elected officials or the company makes a product that has fallen out of political favor, then investors will find more predictable, more “free” places to put their money.

By the way,  Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” is ranked 56th on Amazon.com, Glenn Reynolds notes.  The cartoon version is a quick read.

Join the discussion One Comment

Leave a Reply