Last week, French President Jacques Chirac announced that he had signed into law the so-called Law on Equality of Opportunity passed by the French National Assembly; at the same time, he instructed the government to "take all necessary measures" to assure that the dispositions of the law concerning the contested "First Employment Contract" are not applied as written. (For the text of Chirac’s speech [in French], see here.)
This implies one of two things: either
(1) that Chirac imagines that France, despite the trappings of democracy and the rule of law, is, in effect, an absolute monarchy and that he can thus – upon the simple statement of his volition – suspend the application of the law;
(2) that the agents of the state are in general at liberty to apply the law or not – i.e. all laws, not just the new Law on Equality of Opportunity – as they please.
Chirac’s January speech on French nuclear deterrence – by which he is alleged by his mere words to have established a "new" French nuclear doctrine – provides some evidence that (1) is the case. Indeed, the uptake of the speech in both the French and foreign media (on which, see here) suggests that it is not only Chirac who harbors the illusion of his absolute powers.
As for option (2), if the agents of the state are at liberty to apply the law or not, then by extension citizens ought also to be at liberty to respect the law or not, since otherwise they would find themselves exposed to the purely arbitrary authority of each and every state functionary. The latter sort of tyranny, incidentally, was held by Hayek to be characteristic of totalitarian societies.
- April 8th, 2006