The Christian priority of extending respect to ordinary persons—while taking into account human failings and shortcomings—can also be seen in the emergence in the West of new political institutions. These political institutions existed nowhere else in the world, and they did not exist in ancient Greece or Rome. Something changed within the West to give rise to them. That something is Christianity. Consider our modern concept of “rule of law” In his book Law and Revolution Harold Berman argues that the modern Western legal system is “a secular residue of religious attitudes and assumptions which historically first found expression in the liturgy and rituals and doctrine of the church, and thereafter in the institutions and concepts and values of the law” This is quite true, but there is much more to the story.

Plato says that the highest form of law is discretion. This sounds strange to us, but it is correct. The best form of justice is to give each person his appropriate deserts. In the family, for example, you don’t treat your children exactly alike by establishing “laws” for them. You adapt your instructions and requirements in keeping with their individual personalities and situations. So it is, according to Plato, in politics. The best form of government is a benign monarchy or aristocracy ruling by discretion and dispensing justice in each indi- vidual case.

But we don’t do this in the West. Consider the simple example of speeding on the highway. We establish fixed rules—such as a limit of seventy miles per hour—and then enforce them. This does not, however, seem like the best system. Some people drive safely at eighty miles per hour. Others are a danger to themselves and others at fifty miles per hour. So why don’t we let the authorities decide each case on its merits? The simple answer is that we don’t trust the policeman to do this. We consider him a fallible human being who may be guided by prejudices. We would rather all live under a uniform rule that applies to everyone.