The Structural Impediments
A political society governed by the rule of law is one in which exercises of public authority are guided by articulate legal norms and in which public officers are held to high standards of accountability. No society succeeds in giving full expression to the legality ideal, and departures from it may result from a great number of distinct influences. As discussed in the second chapter, a widespread perception that vital community or personal interests are being threatened by crime, terrorism, international aggression, or other menaces may cause public officers to act beyond the authorizations of existing law or to seek new laws that weaken the officers' accountability; 1 and they do so often with the approval, or even at the insistence, of a democratic majority. 2 We in the United States have been living in such a period for more than a generation. But there are other factors of history, tradition, and institutional structure that may exert more persistent and equally potent influences limiting realization of the legality ideal. It is probably impossible to separate the impacts of history and structure, for they are often inextricably intertwined. The structure of institutions generates habits and traditions, while historical attitudes, in turn, are among the determinants of institutional structure and its subsequent modifications.
If asked to identify the most distinctive aspect of Ameri-