The rule of law is about a group of people debating and then deciding in an open manner the rules by which they will live. Not everyone may agree with all the rules, but they live by them because they have decided to be part of a larger society and the benefits that come with that. That’s the ideal anyway.
The rule of a person is about one person deciding what the rules are for everyone else. The rule of a person also means that the rules can change in a second if the ruler decides that the rules should change.
The rule of law creates a sense of commonality – where the rules are supposed to be blind to individual circumstances. Again, this is the ideal. Sometimes the rule of law is used against people and whole groups of people.
The rule of a person creates a sense of servitude and uncertainty. No one has any idea what rules they will have to follow today or tomorrow. The rules may completely flip-flop. Whereas action A is legal today, Action B might be legal tomorrow while Action A has become illegal.
The rule of a person has been the most common form of governance in human history. All the ancient kingdoms ended up living by the rule of a person. Some started with some variation of the rule of law – think Greece and Rome. But they devolved to dictatorship and tyranny eventually. And they paid the price. When societies devolved into the rule of a person as their operating governance, they gain a few things – a false sense of order and safety, disrespect of anyone classified as an “other,” conspiracy theories to blame problems on, corruption, incarceration, and narcissism in leadership.
Take a look at some prime examples – Ancient Babylon is a great example. So are the kingdoms and reigns of the men who ruled what came from Alexander the Great’s empire. The Roman Empire is a great example. But those are all ancient examples.
The French during their Revolution exemplified these characteristics. But that’s almost 250 years ago.
Communist Russia and Nazi Germany were extreme examples that aren’t that old. Nor does it stop with politics. Organizations suffer from this form of governance as well. So do religions and churches that are centered on personalities.
We should be really careful with our governance – whether it be regarding government, religion, churches, businesses, or organizations.
While it may feel good to personify the rules in a single person, it is not wise. It does not end well. When we believe that only one person holds the truth and is the only person that should be listened to, we are in trouble. When we decide that one person sets the rules for everyone, we are in trouble. When we make excuses for a leader who manipulates people and tries to use other arms of governance for their own purposes, we are in trouble. When we make our loyalty to one person above all other things and ideas, then we are in trouble.
Not all will see the trouble that lies ahead. Not all will experience it. Some will be so convinced of their beliefs that they will have blinders on. So be it.
But let those who have eyes see and those who have ears hear. And let those who see a transition to the rule of a person live lives that move us towards the ideals – whether that be the rule of law, being a disciple of Jesus, or a company or organization that enhances lives. You can’t change others, but you can live differently. That’s how the world changes.