What is the Rule of Law? – with James Stoner

The classical liberal perception of law draws on this tradition and centers around the concept of the individual.

James Stoner, Louisiana State University Professor

The rule of law can often be a lofty concept to navigate. Louisiana State University Professor James Stoner discusses the topic and its origins as part of our video series with Big Think on the core concepts of classical liberalism. 

Dr. Stoner opens with some of Aristotle’s thoughts on the law and how it pertains to the governed, particularly that it was a way of seeking justice. He describes how Aristotle saw the law as an equalizer, that it would apply to everyone the same. “In that way, law preserves a kind of steadiness to the administration of justice,” Dr. Stoner says.

Within a republic or a polity governmental structure, in which many rule together, Aristotle championed that those individuals could only rule effectively through the guidance of the law. The classical liberal perception of law draws on this tradition and centers around the concept of the individual.

The end was no longer defined as the common good, but rather the good of each individual, on the supposition of what’s good for each of us really varies from person to person.

– James Stoner, Louisiana State University Professor

This type of focus places the power of choice back on the individual, that you know what’s good for yourself better than anyone else could decide for you.

“Aristotle wrote that it’s ‘ordinarily better to be ruled by law than another human being,’ as [he believed] there are very few people who are really that wise, not to mention wise and concerned for your good,” says Dr. Stoner.

Rule of Law

From this springs John Locke’s idea of pursuing happiness, with the purpose of the law being to allow us to pursue our individual idea of happiness under the same, equally guided set of rules.

That means there is a place for law, but the law is now rules which allow each of us to live out our own lives and pursue the good, pursue happiness… as we understand it.

– James Stoner, Louisiana State University Professor
Washington DC

This video is one in a series about the core concepts of classical liberalism. Additional articles, videos, and content on this topic and others can be found on the Institute for Humane Studies blog.

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