In the March 4, 2013, issue of Time Magazine, in the Milestones segment, there is an obituary about a fellow named Ronald Dworkin, who died on February 14 at 81, and who is described as a legal philosopher. Well, needless to say, that term fascinated me, and so did the entire entry. Mr. Dworkin taught the law and wrote about it, and one of the things said about him was that he was “… a world-class scholar whose concept [was] that law had to be based as much on fundamental moral principles as on formal rules….”
Obviously this was an extraordinary man and obviously a brilliant one. But what made the greatest impact on me was that somehow I had never thought of the law as anything other than a set of moral rules or principles and yet the implication in the obit was that this was a fairly unique point of view. If I have understood correctly, and the majority of our laws are formal rules rather than rules based on moral principles, then the thought occurs that maybe our laws are more fallible than one would suppose. Oh, we all know that there are many foolish laws on the books in towns and cities and states and in our federal government, but one always hopes that the foolish (and sometimes downright bad) laws are in the minority and furthermore imminently scheduled for revision or removal. But if our core laws, the laws by which our entire society operates, are based on merely formal rules rather than our having enacted laws to support the fundamental moral principles of human decency to which we must hold, such as the rights of the individual, in order to even come close to being a civilized society, than perhaps that explains why we are going through so many upheavals in the basic fabric of our society.
And while no sensible individual wants upheavals and divisions, perhaps that is what we will need in order to analyze and refine our laws to ‘preserve, protect, and defend”. You know, so that we feed the hungry, protect the old and vulnerable, educate the young, encourage families, no matter what their description, take care of the structures of our country, take care of us.