Sunday, June 10, 2012

salus populi suprema lex esto

The legal maxim salus populi suprema lex esto has been employed in two opposing ways since its appearance in the world of politics and law. Inherently ambiguous,it has been used to further both the power of the state - which I will refer to as Dominating power - as well as the power of popular movements and movements for autonomy and self-rule - which I will refer to as Liberatory power. For example, Macchiavelli and Hobbes argued that the maxim justified the use of force by a monarch to implement his or her rule. On the other hand the Levellers, as well as John Locke, cited the maxim in justifying efforts to emancipate peoples from just such rule. To be sure, taking his cue from Locke, John Adams - along with other Founders - argued that the maxim supported the North American colonies' independence from the British Crown. Incorporated into U.S. law as a metanorm, the maxim has been cited from before the ratification of the constitution, throughout the 19th century, and into the 21st - albeit with diametrical interpretations spanning the extremes between domination and liberation.
For an authoritative account see the article The Messianic in the Law in the University of Bologna Law Review

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