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What We Talk About When We Talk About the Rule of Law

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If you ask the average strawman American (that I’m creating for the purposes of this article) what makes America great he’ll hesitate only long enough to adjust his oversized Budweiser belt buckle before telling you it’s “our freedoms!” Automatically this summons to mind the Bill of Rights, possibly the First Amendment’s protections of speech, faith, and assembly in particular.

This overlooks a more fundamental principle however, and one that’s not so commonly discussed among real or hypothetical Americans. Dating back at least to the dawn of the 14th century in England, the writ of habeas corpus is arguably at the core of Western jurisprudence and the growth of the liberal democratic spirit. Its literal interpretation — the presentation of a criminal to the court for the declaration of his alleged crimes — doesn’t sound so profound to the modern ear. It’s broader sense though is at the heart of what’s separated liberal societies from the ancient world as well as the despotisms of the modern age. Habeas, at its core, is the principle of accountability. Continue reading

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