The Conflict between the Rule of Law and Bahamian Culture

First Published: 2003-02-08

Two clauses in the proposed Employment Act dated May 2000 make it a crime for a businessman to require–

  1. A prospective employee to supply finger prints or to take a lie detector test, or
  2. An employee to take any mechanical, electrical or computer test to determine his identity or truthfulness.

The Government insists on these provisions despite the objections of businessmen. Why is the Government doing this? Is it deliberately promoting crime by “protecting” the criminal? Not likely. But… the issue merits examination.

  • The Rule of Law

    The Rule of Law is a concept developed in Britain years ago… in fact, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Then the arbitrariness of despotic government gave way to a de facto separation of powers, first between lords and king and then between king and parliament. A.V. Dicey noted that “the law became the highest estate to which the king succeeds, for both he and his subjects are ruled by it.”

    The Rule of Law is a limit on the type of legislation that any government should pass. Ideally this excludes any legislation or regulation designed to benefit a particular group at the expense of others. In such cases the coercive power of the state is used in a discriminatory way.

    F. A. Hayek in his 1944 classic, The Road to Serfdom, illustrated this point by referring to the obvious extreme case of that period… actions taken by Adolf Hitler were duly authorized by legislation but were later deemed to be crimes against humanity. In one sense they were “legal” but they violated “the kind of general rules known as formal law”.

    In practice politicians constantly take actions that benefit the electorate and parts thereof in order to secure their own political power. Historically defense of a country-s borders against invasion and pillage worked to the benefit of all… as well as the construction of roads, bridges and ports. The Industrial Revolution flourished during a period when the benefactors of the prior authoritarian regimes lost their privileges. For instance, the revocation of the Corn Laws removed the protection afforded landowners against the importation of lower cost foreign grains. Politicians forever face the temptation to use the power of the state to benefit specific people at the expense of others. This is a constant struggle in a democratic society.

  • Bahamian Culture

    So why does the Bahamian Government insist on this legislation that appears to be “protecting” criminals? It-s cultural.

    In this case it is the misuse of victimhood and brotherhood. Historically Bahamians have experienced a unique combination of slavery, colonialism, poverty and an isolated small population. These shaped the Bahamian character.

    For perspective let us look at John McWhorter-s analysis of African-American society, Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America (Free Press, New York, 2000). He describes “Victmhood” as the collective consciousness of past “injustices” that is natural and healthy… if… it leads to rational thought and constructive solutions. It becomes “Victimology” when it simply fosters and nurtures “an unfocused brand of resentment and a sense of alienation.” In these instances it is evidenced by–

    • An exaggerated sense of separation from others
    • A belief that historical factors warrant the application of a different set of moral values
    • Support for one-s “brother” even when those more widely held values would not warrant such support
    • A failure to appreciate and consider the progress that has been made
    • Emotional and illogical thinking when problems are framed within a context that literally does not exist any more
    • A diminished self-esteem when one is held to a “lesser” set of standards.
  • The need to change

    It is reasonable to conclude that “Victimology for political gain” is the reason that these “protective” provisions are in the Unemployment Act. And this is unfortunate.

    According to Thomas Sowell (Conquests and Cultures: An International History, Basic Books, New York, 1998) the Rule of Law played an important role in why Britain became “the first industrial nation and retained its preeminence for a century. The evolution of the rule of law… not only helped promote the internal economic development of Britain itself, it helped attract to Britain much of the commerce of Europe.”

    Likewise in the case of the Bahamas today internal economic growth and capital inflows have been and are important… especially in the Global Economy… the only one in which the Bahamas can prosper.

    And in this process… culture does matter. The above analysis suggests that a part of Bahamian culture is in direct conflict with the spirit of English law. This is not just theory without real consequences. The country-s position in the international financial markets is threatened by the OECD blacklisting. In fact, the inefficient politicized justice system exacerbated the country-s problems by blocking and frustrating legitimate legal proceedings. This appeared as a disregard for the Rule of Law.

    Some will say that culture just like people won-t change. However, the country-s abundant legal skills, its Christian tradition and national self-interest could facilitate the kind of appraisal and action that would bring it into line with the spirit of the Rule of Law. This is both necessary and desirable.

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