The rule of law may be interpreted either as a philosophy or political theory which lays down fundamental requirements for law, or as a procedural device by which those with power rule under the law. The essence of the rule of law is that of the sovereignty or supremacy of law over man.
The rule of law insists that every person – irrespective of rank and status in society – be subject to the law.
The rule of law as Philosophical Doctrine:
The rule of law is an aspect of ancient and modern natural law. In essence, the natural law tradition of which there are many strands insists that the authority of law derives not from the power of any political ruler, but from a higher source, either theological or secular.
Natural law in Ancient Greece and Rome:
Aristotle stated in The Politics: ‘the rule of law is preferable to that of any individual’.
To the ancient Greeks, man was under the governance of the laws of nature – the natural forces which controlled the universe – although this view is more closely aligned to the ‘law of nature’ than ‘natural law’ as it came to be understood in later times. From the times of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the quest for virtue – or goodness or justice under law – has been a recurrent theme.
Cicero on the dictate of natural law:
"True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions. And it does not lay its commands or prohibitions upon good men in vain, though neither have any effect on the wicked. It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to attempt to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will one master and ruler, that is, God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst penalties, even if he escapes what is commonly called punishment . . ."
It is from ancient Greek philosophy that natural law enters into Roman law.
Christian Natural Law thought:
The scriptures and gospel provided the basis for Christian natural law thought which developed in the Middle Ages. Natural Law was perceived as God-given, communicated to man by Revelation, and remaining absolutely binding upon man and unchanging in its content. Thus natural law takes precedence over man made laws. If state law conflicted with the lawd of God, the obligation to God must prevail.
St Thomas Aquinas:
“This rational guidance of created things on the part of God… we can call the Eternal Law.
But, of all others, rational creatures are subject to divine providence in a very special way; being themselves made participators in providence itself, in that they control their own actions and the actions of others. So they have a certain share in the divine reason itself, deriving therefrom a natural inclination to such actions and ends as are fitting. This participation in the eternal law by rational creatures is called the natural law.”
In 1534, Thomas More at the cost of his life, refused to recognized Henry Viii as head of the Church, thereby acknowledging the higher duty of obedience of God rather than the rule of his temporal King.
Natural Law and International Law:
On an international level, natural law thought played a significant role in establishing the over arching dictates of international law. Grotius said that natural law would exist even if God did not exist. This there was an insistence on rationalism, also, the emphasis of...