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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 275 of my late Nobel-laureate colleague James Buchanan’s 1996 paper “Distributional Politics and Constitutional Design,” as this paper is reprinted in Choice, Contract, and Constitutions (2001), which is volume 16 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan:

In summary, my argument here is that politic has lagged behind law in its incorporation of the principle of generality, and that efforts must be made to bring politics into line. The rule of law – this generalized term still carries considerable moral approbation among members of the community. And the central content of this term is that persons should be treated equally before the law to the extent that this is possible, that any discriminatory treatment violates the fundamental principles for a liberal social order. But we have allowed our politics to intrude pervasively into economic life without recognizing that some constraints akin to that summarized under the generality precept of the rule of law should long since have been applied.

DBx: Majority-rule politics is today in the United States ever-more raw and myopic – and dangerous. Its players, fans, and cheerleaders never bother to think along the lines indicated here by Buchanan.

‘Of course, courts and law-enforcement officials must never exercise bias,’ so say the players, fans, and cheerleaders of raw majority-rule politics, ‘but politics is different. Majority rule reveals the will of The People, and The People’s will is always supreme.’

What a frightening notion.

In reality, the rule of law reigns only if, and only insofar as, it prevents the state from generating benefits for some particular people at the expense of other particular people. The rule of law is violated if and whenever the state acts in this discriminatory way – even if the state acts in this way exclusively through its political branches, and even if those branches act at the behest of the majority of citizens.