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The Rule of Law

The Code of Hammurabi


“When the rule of law works against its own people, it no longer continues to work.”

The Code of Hammurabi is the oldest and most complete tablet containing civil laws as well as forms of punishments that have yet been discovered. While it contains some edicts which today’s society would find primitive and harsh, it begins with an interesting premise. The preamble states, among other ideas,” to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak……and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”*

The words above in bold, particularly caught my attention because it seems this is not the case in many of today’s systems of government. Although our world is certainly a more complex society than what Hammurabi faced nearly 4 millennia ago, it too, was much easier for him or other rulers to usurp control and enslave civilizations had they so wished. Yet even he found it important to enact legislation prohibiting some from deliberately taking advantage of the inhabitants of Mesopotamia.

Laws are ubiquitous and found in all aspects of life. Many are simply based on common sense. Mathematics has several such as the commutative law (A+B= B+A). Nature has created her own set of laws from the simple to the complex. In order to better understand how they work, scientists have been studying them from the moment humans developed intelligence. Civil law must have begun when our ancestors felt it necessary to form a community and have reasonable ways to settle disputes.

Unfortunately, it has become a more common practice for some who study the law, to learn how to skirt it and at times use it in an unfair advantage for them and those they represent. Even being praised at times for how they were able to twist it into something completely different from its original intention.

Undoubtedly laws are important and in a free society, it would make sense that fewer laws would allow more freedoms. However, when the authors of those laws purposely write loopholes and ambiguities into them, it certainly leaves opportunity for the “strong to harm the weak”.

Imagine for a moment that you were sitting on the Babylonian throne 4000 years ago and felt compelled to decree a rule of law; what would be some of your thoughts and intentions? Would you work to undo everything that great leaders did before you or would you seek to learn from theirs and others’ wisdom? Would you proclaim laws that would “enlighten the land” or would they be skewed toward bestowing you more power?  It will be quite interesting and I am certainly looking forward to your thoughts and comments and perhaps putting them together for a “Part Two”

*Excerpts from the Avalon project, Yale Law School translated by L.W. King

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