Two weeks ago President Obama returned to the Illinois capitol. Praising the bipartisanship he had found there, he recalled that, despite having different principles, the parties had forged “compromises” that made for “progress.” He held up Illinois politics as superior to the partisan politics that infect Washington D.C. today.
The President may be nostalgic for the political culture that launched his career as a politician. But he does not have to live in the sorry state that was created in large measure by the bipartisanship he celebrates. Illinois is mired in billions of dollars in debt. Its bond rating is the lowest in the nation. It is judged the third worst state to do business. Its strong public sector unions deliver poor services at a high price.
Illinois’ failure to live within its means, and its solicitude for public sector unions, has indeed been bipartisan.
This month’s Liberty Forum debate on the relationship between the inherited common law norms of liberty and our written Constitution also opens to a conversation on the comparison between civil law and common law and the degree to which each system protects liberty and permits fruits of liberty like commerce and jurisdictional competition to flourish. In this post I point to some comparative strengths each system possesses and the prerequisites to their successful operation which may no longer be operative.
A good way to explore the nature and implications of the rule of law in a free society is to compare the Civil Law of Europe with the Common Law traditions of England and America. Harold Berman’s second volume of Law and Revolution invites just such an exercise by examining the influence of the Reformation on both. What follows are some general reflections that were raised in my mind by that reading and current events, These should not be taken as final conclusions,but merely points for further conversation with respect to how both systems relate to liberty.