The concept of the rule of law is central to western civilisation. In its most basic, ‘core’ sense, the rule of law means that it is desirable to be governed by rules, rather than by the discretion of rulers. This entails an independent body, a court, to settle disputes and peacefully restrain those in power from imposing their personal wishes on us. The rule of law also supports the certainty that, as Hobbes emphasised (Section 2.3.1), is fundamental to civilisation. The rule of law is an aspect of the broader notion of constitutionalism (Section 1.1.1). It derives from the origins of European civilisation. In the third century bc, Aristotle recommended ‘a government of laws not men’: ‘it is better for the law to rule than one of the citizens so even the guardians of the law are obeying the law’ (Politics, III, 16, 1087a). His reason for this included the belief that it is easier to find competent lawyers than wise rulers. In England the rule of law is claimed to go back to the Anglo-Saxon notion of a compact between ruler and ruled, under which obedience to the king was conditional upon the king respecting customary law. It was famously invoked by the thirteenth-century jurist Bracton as ‘a bridle on power’: ‘[T]he King should be under no man but under God and the Law because the Law makes him King’ (On the Laws and Customs of England (Thorne tr, Harvard University Press 1968) II, 33).
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