A terrible catastrophe is playing out in Zimbabwe, one that – in light of South Africa’s ongoing complicity – calls into question the possibility of achieving the rule of law in Southern Africa. Only Botswana seems able to do it, and even there, the hold is fragile – imperilled by atrocious HIV rates. A very good insider’s account is available over at LP, along with an earlier thread where one commenter engages in exactly the sort of cultural relativism that encourages me to make nasty quips on the meaninglessness of group rights (in short, there aren’t any – ‘individuals have rights’ as Nozick argued, but not groups).
To my mind, where culture conflicts with the rule of law, then culture must cede ground. Cultures that don’t cede this ground may – quite legitimately, in my view – be described as ‘barbaric’ and ‘uncivilised’.
When pondering the situation of the Zimbabwean voter who must now turn out to vote in a meaningless poll, this quotation from Lon Fuller – the doyen of rule of law scholars – comes to mind:
As such a sitation develops, the problem faced by the citizen is not so simple as that of a voter who knows with certainty that his ballot will not be counted. It is more like that of the voter who knows that the odds are against his ballot being counted at all, and that if it is counted, there is a good chance that it will be counted for the side against which he actually voted.
A citizen in this predicament has to decide for himself whether to stay with the system and cast his ballot as a kind of symbolic act expressing the hope of a better day. So it was with the German citizen under Hitler faced with deciding whether he had an obligation to obey such portions of the laws as the Nazi terror had left intact.
From The Morality of Law, pp 40-41 (Yale University Press, 1969).
UPDATE: Tim Blair, on where this stuff starts.