Importance of Rule of Law to Civil Society

Article excerpt

On May 1, 2010, the Joint Afghan-NATO training mission in Afghanistan celebrated for the first time "Afghanistan Law Day," reinforcing the United States' most recent refrain to Afghani President Hamid Karzai, "without respect for the rule of law, there can be no civil society." First established in 1958 by President Eisenhower, Law Day celebrates and rededicates the commitment of the United States and its allies to upholding the rule of law as a means to promoting a more stable society in which economic expansion will flourish.

The example of Afghanistan proves instructive of the ways that respect for the rule of law promotes civil society. We frequently hear news stories of cronyism and nepotism in the government hiring process, of misallocation of tax collections or international development funds, or of the need to bribe officials in order to conduct business in Afghanistan. Corruption of that sort does not merely impoverish the people of Afghanistan while enriching a politically favored few. A culture that allows this kind of corruption to go unpunished, or is institutionally too weak to prevent effectively that type of conduct, undermines the belief of ordinary people in their ability to be treated fairly under the law, engendering distrust for government and unwillingness to make the sort of investment necessary to foster economic progress.

In the United States, by contrast, we pride ourselves on the respect that Americans have for the "rule of law." In comparison to the nascent Afghan state, the United States has strong judicial institutions. Our courts have been granted strong institutional powers to address the risk that public officials in the executive or legislative branch will abuse their authority. While such abuses may never be fully eliminated, our legal system has the means and the authority to enforce its laws, and each of us, as officers of the court, have been assigned additional duties to maintain the integrity of this system.

In addition to legal professionals working to uphold the rule of law, the American legal system involves ordinary citizens in the day-to-day operation of legal system and reposes in them the ultimate determination of the facts of those matters tried to a conclusion. …