Anyone paying attention to major events of the day in the United States and around the world would know that the basic social fabric is fraying from a toxic mix of ills — inequality, dislocation, polarization, environmental distress, scarce resources, and more. Signs abound that after decades of uneven but steady human progress, we are digging a deeper and muddier hole for ourselves. The principal reason for this pessimism is not the material facts of decline — we have lived through worse times before — but the crumbling consensus around how to overcome such crises. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is fast becoming the latest stress test for whether the social contract can hold.
The roadmap for climbing out of the trough should begin with the understanding that the rule of law is the sine qua non of more successful societies. Societies with strong rule of law have built-in mechanisms for mediating conflicts through open and inclusive debate, in which all voices are treated equally, and outcomes are perceived as fair and reasonable.