One of the most tried-and-true ways of ensuring that we have better laws and rules is to make ourselves accountable to any rule that we would wish to inflict on someone else. As comes up repeatedly in life and in my own thinking and writing, empathy is hard, and one of the ways that one can best ensure the highest degree of empathy possible is to live under the rules that one wishes to set up for humanity. It is also one of the best ways to gain credibility as a defender of a legal order, since it is easy to make rules for others and try to enforce them through force or fraud, but it is far more praiseworthy and respectable to set up a legal order that is benign enough that one is willing and able to live under it for oneself without demanding the sort of double standards for me and thee that reduce respect given to authority. Our age has a critically low mass of respect for institutional authority, and a great deal of that comes from the wide gulf between the rules that are enforced on others and the rules that are actually followed by elites.
One of the most powerful aspects of Christ’s life on earth was that he came as an ordinary person and lived according to laws and ways that He, in His preincarnate existence, had legislated for Israel (and the world). Even though He could have claimed as a result of being the Son of God that he was exempt from the rules, He strove to obey them in their true and original spirit so as to disarm the complaints of others. The fact that Christ was willing and able to live under the legal order that He had set up for His people made it clear that such rule could be obeyed, assuming that one had a will that was perfectly attuned to following God’s ways and had an unlimited supply of God’s Spirit and was free of the rebellious and fallen human nature that we have in such abundance at present. Even for lesser beings, one of the aspects of the Bible that has always been extremely relevant to the matter of the credibility of authorities has been the demand that rulers be a part of the ruled and be subject to the same standard. Lex rex, rather than l’etat c’est moi, has always been the godly approach of authorities, to recognize that even rulers of church and state are bound by the legal traditions of the institutions that they inherit rather than being creators of a new order in which they have no boundaries or constraints except their own colossal ambition.
When we create laws and frame regulations under the awareness that we and others are subject to the same standard, our attitude to such matters changes dramatically. If we are writing rules for others that we have no intention to apply to our own conduct, we are likely to not be particularly compassionate to nuances or exceptions and are likely to make rules that are extremely burdensome and that are enforced without mercy. Likewise, we are likely to be ignorant of the way in which we will behave in ways that we deny to others. We will use our power to ease the way for ourselves or our friends and relatives to profit from their connection to us, even as we seek to make it difficult for anyone else to do so. We will benignly smile upon the way that others will seek to gain our approval and support for something by making it mutually beneficial even as we strive to reduce the ways in which others may benefit from the fruits of their own expertise or situation. We will create burdensome bureaucracies for others to follow where service is poor and wait times are long even as we will use our own power and influence to ensure that we do not have to suffer from such indignities ourselves. It is shared suffering of injustice and folly that creates a shared passion against such matters, and to the extent that elites avoid the suffering that their conduct brings upon others, they are simply not aware of the life that others have to live.
A shared legal order under which all people, regardless of status, are accountable to the same standards, creates a community of feeling between rulers and ruled. When all know that they will be held accountable to the same standards, a great deal of attention will be paid by rulers to ensuring that those standards are just, since no elites or rulers or leaders wish to be under unjust systems that they have the power to shape. Indeed, it is frequently only by subjecting rulers to the rules that they inflict that we can have any hope that these rules will be legislated and enforced with anything approaching equity and fairness. To the extent that we do not desire to subject ourselves to the restrictions and regulations that we would wish to place on others, we are admitting that these regulations are in fact burdensome, wasteful, and unjust. And to the extent that we seek legal orders that bind ourselves as well as others together in common, we demonstrate our desire for justice and fairness because we show a willingness to restrain ourselves to the extent that we wish to restrain others, and in a world like our own such opportunities to demonstrate our own sincere longings for justice without doing so hypocritically are few and far between and ought to be eagerly sought as a way of reducing the credibility gap that exists between our self-regard and the view that others have of us.