Rule of Law: Study Questions

Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well.  The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles


What did John Adams mean when he argued that the principle of self-governance required “a government of laws, not of men”? How is this argument related to Thomas Paines’ assertion that “the law is King”?

Why is the rule of law essential to democracy? Are there some aspects of rule of law as defined by Rachel Kleinfeld Belton that are more important than others? What aspect of the rule of law is the most important?

How did the United States overcome the essential contradictions of the rule of law in its practice of slavery and segregation? What did Martin Luther King mean when he stated that “the long arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” Why did President Obama quote this statement of Martin Luther King at his inauguration and when commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights?


Identify an example of democracies among the Country Studies or in Freedom House’s Survey of Freedom in the World where the rule of law broke down but has been reestablished through social and political movements (e.g. Chile, Philippines, or Poland). Using the list of important aspects of rule of law defined by Rachel Kleinfeld Belton, have students identify some examples of reestablishing rule of law principles to countries. How did this bring about change? What does this tell you about the concept of rule of law?

Using the three quotes at the beginning of the Essential Principles section as a basis for discussion, have students use historical examples to discuss the question: should the rule of law be defined by its ends or its means?

View one of the Recommended Films in Resources to discuss elements of the rule of law: due process, trial by jury, equality before the law, among others. What leads to the absence of rule of law? Within the framework of rule of law, what leads to justice and injustice? How does rule of law break down?



How did rule of law break down in 1933 Germany? After the Nazi tyranny, how was rule of law re-established in West Germany? Why did East Germany not re-establish rule of law principles? What were the principles of a communist dictatorship (for answering this question see also Country Studies of Poland and Estonia.) Did the reunified Germany keep West Germany's Basic Law as its constitution or adopt a new common constitution? Why? 


The Weimar Republic was the first democratic regime of unified Germany, but it is known in history as a failed state: it was a democracy that created the conditions for a terrifying dictatorship. Refer to the New York Times article “How Democracy Produced a Monster” and other links listed in Resources for historical background. Answer the questions: What characteristics of the rule of law existed in the Weimar Republic? How did the constitution enable the Nazis' rise to power? Can democracy turn to dictatorship easily?

Find another example in the Country Studies of cases where democratic elections resulted in dictatorship or semi-dictatorial conditions (e.g. Turkey, Venezuela). How is this case similar or different than the example in Germany?

View one of the Recommended Films in Resources to discuss elements of the rule of law: due process, trial by jury, equality before the law, among others. What leads to the absence of rule of law? Within the framework of rule of law, what leads to justice and injustice? How does rule of law break down?



What were the similarities and differences between the paths to independence taken by Malaysia and Singapore? How did Singapore succeed as an economic model? Was it through principles of economic freedom or through a directed state policy? What characteristics of the rule of law described by Rachel Kleinfeld Belton are observed in Singapore? Which are not?


Generally, democracy and economic freedom have coincided but recently there has arisen a political model of economically successful authoritarianism. Singapore is an example. Its long-time leader, Lee Kwan Yeu, argued that democracy is incompatible with Asian values and uses Singapore as an example of the success of economic freedom and authoritarianism. See the Resources section for interviews and articles by Lee, Fareed Zakaria, and Amartya Sen. Assign a paper or class debate: Does economic success justify authoritarianism?

Singapore was once part of Malaysia before becoming an independent city-state. See the Country Section on Malaysia in Multiparty Systems and compare with Singapore. Identify the common patterns of governance in both countries and also differences that might affect their future democratic development. Look at political developments in each country and select which country is likely to improve its freedom ranking to free. Explain the reasons for your conclusion.

Saudi Arabia


What is the relationship between the rule of law and Wahhabism? Is there an independent judiciary? Who controls the courts in Saudi Arabia? What distinguishes Saudi Arabia from Iran? Is Saudi Arabia a theocracy? Compare the two countries. Which country is more likely to see democratic changes? Why?


Does any aspect of rule of law as defined by Rachel Kleinfeld in the Essential Principles section exist in Saudi Arabia? Assess the principles of the rule of law she lists in relation to Saudi Arabia.

What social, economic, and political influences in Saudi life might contribute to change in the Kingdom? Review Caryl Murphy’s article listed in Resources. What does she predict regarding political change and why? Compare her analysis to other reports and articles on Saudi Arabia cited in the Economist and New York Times. Are her predictions shared?