The American Rule of Law versus the New Road to Serfdom

The rule of law is considered a bedrock principle of our nation and central to ordered liberty.

This post is the first in a series intended to explore the unique nature and significance of the American rule of law to the moral, political, and economic well-being of our nation.


Is the United States on the new road to serfdom?

A member of the European Parliament, having seen the path already taken by European nations, thinks so.  Daniel Hannan, updating Friedrich A. Hayek’s thesis in his classic work from the 1940s regarding increased national planning and state control in The Road to Serfdom, graciously challenges the United States in The New Road to Serfdom: a Letter of Warning to America (2010).  His message to us:  do not to depart from our unique American form of liberty by following the European path downward! 

His insights and warning ought to be a clarion call to us in the United States.

For instance, Hannan writes, “The United States is Europeanizing its health care system, its tax rates, its day care, its welfare rules, its approach to global warming, its foreign policy, its federal structure, its unemployment rate.” Hannan sees Europe’s 20th and 21st century path as the new road to serfdom.  It is a path that “is incompatible with the vision of the founders and the spirit of the [American] republic.”

This new road to serfdom is actually not surprising in light of the redefining in the late 19th century and 20th century of one of the bedrock principles of our American republic: the rule of law.  

How so?

In simple terms the rule of law means “the law is king” a translation of Samuel Rutherford’s classic 17th century work Lex, Rex.  Copies of this Scottish Presbyterian’s book were burned by authorities supporting its antithesis, Rex, Lex – “the king is law” where might makes right.

Central to the rule of law are two foundational principles:  no individual, whether by blood or by position of power, is above the law and the law is not to be applied arbitrarily.

But not all rule of law is created equally.  In other words the source of different forms of the rule of law differ. Their origins are not the same.  Nor are they created equal – meaning the quality of different forms of the rule of law varies dramatically.

As memorialized in the charter for our nation’s existence, the Declaration of Independence, the American rule of law has its source in a higher law, God’s law.  Our founders asserted their conviction that foundational rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were unalienable, could not be taken away, because of their origin in a law that superseded man’s law.  Thus, willingly pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to these commitments, they wrote,  “[w]e hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Our founders left no doubt that the source of our rights and law originated not with man but with our Creator, God. 

Our founders then laid out the one purpose of government¸ “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

As I will explain in further posts this commitment to a higher law suffered intense attack within the American legal system in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century.  “Progressives” discontent with being bound to a higher law, still paid lip service to the “rule of law” but denied its divine origin and asserted law was made by man not discovered.  Leaders in the 21st century of both political parties including President Obama and Vice President Biden pay lip service to the rule of law, but have adopted that “progressive” mindset.  

Ideas have consequences.  Rather than fashion necessary laws in a manner consistent with timeless transcendent truths, lawmakers indulge themselves in fashioning and refashioning law based on transient pragmatic principles – principles based on whatever seems to work at that time under the guise of this redefined “rule of law”.  The effects of these political choices reverberate economically, morally and socially as national government increasingly asserts it scope of authority over other God-ordained spheres of authority.

The result:  a precarious pathway down a new road to serfdom.



Peter H. Johnston owns his own business providing research and consulting services in the fields of law, education and public policy. He received his B.A. in history from Cornell University and his law degree from Oak Brook College of Law and Public Policy. He is a graduate of Chuck Colson’s biblical worldview mentoring program through the Wilberforce Forum and is currently working on his MBA through Oklahoma Wesleyan University. He has spoken and/or written on topics such as religious freedom, education, the rule of law, constructive contributions of Christianity to culture, sanctity of life, and restorative justice. Peter has testified before Texas legislative committees and the Texas State Board of Education, was interviewed on CNN Sunday Night while serving as President of Texas Center for Family Rights, and ran for Texas State Board of Education in 2008. He lives in southeast Texas with his wife, Nanette, and daughter Karen, one of four children and four grandchildren.

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