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Essay: The Rule of Law

San Marcos High freshman has winning essay in Santa Barbara County Bar Foundation contest.

[Editor’s note: San Marcos High freshman Eli Harris’ entry was selected as the winner of the Santa Barbara County Bar Foundation‘s 2008 Law Week essay contest. The assignment was to write about the rule of law and answer the question, “Why is it important for us as individuals and for the communities and nations in which we live?” San Marcos classmates Amy Ransohoff and Dillon Kraus placed second and third, respectively. Harris’ essay, which was published this week in The Santa Barbara Lawyer, appears below. Click here for Ransohoff’s essay. Click here for Kraus’ essay.]

While pondering the importance of laws in regards to individuals, communities and nations, I felt no one better understands the concept than William Golding. Golding’s intention in writing his novel Lord of the Flies was to portray a simple message: Law and order is necessary to prevent people from regressing to their savage nature. In lawless circumstances, humans will create a very primitive culture, where the strong rule over the weak. Although on Golding’s fictional island civility was initially present, it quickly dissolved into chaos. This is the same downward spiral that a nation without laws will descend into. In order to defy man’s natural barbaric tendencies, it is important for us as individuals, communities and nations in which we live to follow a rule of law.

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Eli Harris (Harris family photo)

An obvious argument in favor of laws revolves around the subject of personal and community safety. Without basic regulations against crimes such as violence, theft and rape, an individual would fear for his security in public and at home. If this fear were instilled in the public, a nation would be unable to unite and would be dysfunctional as a team. Without law and law enforcement, the greedy would steal, the cruel would harm, and the perverted would sexually assault. It is a necessity in any culture to have not only rules but also a structure with which to enforce the rules.

In addition to assuring our safety, our laws here in the United States grant us the freedom to voice our opinions without punishment. Hence, laws are not always restrictive but also can be empowering to civilians. The right to protest peacefully is a tremendously important privilege protected by our laws. The freedom of the press guaranteed in the Bill of Rights is a law that protects the public from government corruption. Religious freedom is a crucial right guarded by our constitution. Laws like this ensure our liberty as individuals within our nation.

Unfortunately, there are many examples in today’s current events of countries where lawlessness has become evident as a serious issue, particularly in the continent of Africa. For example, in Sudan, due to lack of government control, the country is suffering from warring and genocide. There are rebels who are protesting against the government and the government has been responding by murdering whole villages, burning their crops and exterminating tribes. In Somalia there has been no form of central government since the 1990s. The country has fallen into complete violence, causing three-quarters of the population of the capital city, Mogadishu, to flee because of the breakdown of civil order. This real-life example shows the importance of having a reliable code of conduct to live by.

In order to avoid the Lord of the Flies-type scenario, it is vital to create and abide by a rule of law. There is no other peaceful method to protect the safety of each citizen other than to agree on guidelines to follow. Anarchists may argue that laws restrict their freedom, however, in many cases it is law that guarantees one’s freedom. Without a code of conduct, nations will erupt into violence and societies will self-destruct. Sadly, Golding seems to be correct in his philosophy that man’s barbaric nature is bound to appear if the thin surface of organized rule is effaced.

Eli Harris is a freshman at San Marcos High.

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