In the history of humankind, all societies have been governed by certain set of laws. In fact, the very concept of society symbolises the presence of some kind of laws as it is perhaps impossible to constitute a society in the absence of law. This is best illustrated by noted social contract theorist Thomas Hobbes in his classic work, Leviathan. Hobbes has argued that the birth of the state was the result of a kind of social contract between the people in order to end the ‘state of nature’ where life was ‘nasty, brutish and short.’
Pavan Chaurasia | Opinion
It was the anarchy that was the guiding principle in the ‘pre-state’ society where life and property was at constant risk of being taken away by anyone, at their whim, any time. In India too we had the similar philosophical concept of Matsynyaya, the analogy of an ocean where large fish consumes the smaller fish, or to simply say, might is right.The duty or the dharma of the king in an ideal state therefore was to end this policy of Matsnyaya and bring in justice to all its citizens. Manu, the law maker of ancient India, codified the societal laws in his book Dharmashastra, the laws that still prevail in India to some extent and shape of our society and politics.
This is the reason rule of law is closely associated with other concepts of political theory like justice, democracy and freedom. However, one must not forget that not every law brings justice or that justice is only ensured by the mindless belief in the legal system. Law and justice may converge regularly but there are exceptions to it too and history is full of it. Remember Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg law or discriminatory laws against the natives imposed upon by the colonisers in many of the colonies, including India. It becomes a matter of extreme debate as whether following the law would be just or breaking it! Under such circumstances, the clash between ‘justice by law’ and ‘law by justice’ becomes imminent.
At stake is also the procedural as well as the substantive element of justice. Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi stood for the later when he took out his famous Dandi March, by breaking the salt law put on India by the British, which he believed to be both immoral and unethical. The philosophical anarchist, as Mahatma Gandhi described himself, believed that following immoral law was equal to committing the crime and breaking it was the duty of every citizen who believes in justice. Similarly, there cannot be bigger irony than the fact that those who hid Anne Frank (the fifteen-year-old Jewish girl whose diary became the most widely read text to emerge from the Holocaust) were deemed to be criminals and those who gave her to the Nazi German police officials were following the law!
‘Unruly’ rule of Law in America
The murder of Geogre Floyd, an African American in the USA at the hands of a white policeman and the mass protests that have shaken the most powerful country of the world brings in the debate of rule of law back into the picture. A society that fails to protect its most vulnerable and marginalised section of society cannot claim itself to be either democracy or a follower of ‘due process of law’. Also, it cannot ask other states to turn ‘democratic’, since its own record is becoming worse. Its moral fabrics are torn apart by the very agencies that are assigned the duty to protect and nurture them. What has happened in US is a grim reminder as to how after several decades of Black movements, the people of colour have to struggle to make the American society realise that ‘#BlacklivesMatter.
It also calls for a serious introspection about the current political discourse where far-right voices have been gaining currencies and white-supremacists are now moving towards the mainstream after being at the fringes for very long time. This is dangerous signal not just for the leftists and centrist but also for those on the centre-right as their space is slowly but surely occupied by these people. Contrary to the general belief, those on the centre-right aren’t racist, bigots, xenophobic or anti-globalists. At best they are conservative and orthodox who believe in sticking to the status quo on matters of religion, polity and society. Any change in it, they believe, should be organic and gradual, evolutionary and not revolutionary (unlike the left which argues for the opposite).
The far-right is eroding the credibility of the ideology of right wing itself and bringing shame to it. What is happening as a result is that more and more rational, democratic and peace-loving people in the USA are slowly dissociating themselves with this ideology. It for the Americans to protect their rule of law by making efforts to reduce the tensions that have emerged due to the protests in many cities where cases of rioting have also come up. Use of brute force to control the protesters will only aggravate the situation. Moral fabric needs to be restored so that Blacks, Hispanics, Asians other social groups feel that law and constitution of America stands for all and not just the Whites. If it is not done in time, the internal politics of USA can damage its global stature.
(Pavan Chaurasia is a PhD candidate at the School of International Studies (SIS), JNU.)