A government of laws, not of men

In 1780, John Adams, a political philosopher and the second president of the United States, enshrined the idea of “a government of Laws, not of men” In the Massachusetts state constitution. His words represented his firm conviction that governments should be built and based on written laws and agreed to by those to be governed and not left to the motivation of a group of men or one man to decide the fate of the people and the nation.

In 1787, his words and the Massachusetts state constitution became the model for the U.S constitution and also be known as one of the oldest and most comprehensive legal documents for a nation in the world.

A ratified constitution clears the path to institutional building, protection of civil liberties, and nation building. Written constitutions contribute to economic growth by providing stability, accountability, and credibility.
Along with dedicated and informed citizens, A country’s strong institutions contribute to preserving and protecting the nation’s constitution. For a nation to survive the evil, manipulative acts of a few men, devoted citizens must stay involved with their institutions to protect the nation’s democratic path from the fall to anarchy, similar to Afghanistan, Libya, and many other nations.

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral assistance, “The vast majority of contemporary constitutions describe the basic principles of the state, the structures and processes of government and the fundamental rights of citizens in a higher law that cannot be unilaterally changed by an ordinary legislative act. This higher law is usually referred to as a constitution”. A Written Constitution is considered supreme and superior to any ordinary laws and not easily changed. 

In the case of Libya, and in the absence of strong institutions and educated civil society, I am afraid Libya’s proposed general elections will not survive the corruption and greed of the few, and a ratified constitution can offer some measures of stability and success to the elections but not entirely.

Omar Khattaly
Chief consultant at khattaly International Consulting and former head of Libya Investment Authority Real Estate Fund. A researcher on the political economy and State-owned enterprises in the Middle East and Africa.

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