Activity: The Rule of Law and government officials

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Use this quotation from Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments to discuss the rule of law and different paths to power. 
“Bellringers” are classroom tools that help set the tone or introduce a topic in the classroom. Adam Smith Works bellringers use quotations from and activities based on the work of Adam Smith, allowing you to illustrate the long history of the ideas you will explore in your classroom by grounding them in great books. 

Adam Smith Works Activities are quotations with accompanying activities that you can discuss with your students to introduce a topic, generate deeper discussion, or set the tone for your lesson. They cover topics from economics to history to moral philosophy. 

Bellringers are presented as slides ready to pull and use in your classroom. On each slide you can find speaking notes and links to more information. 
  • Click the hyperlinked quotation (for example, look for something like (WN 1.ii.2) to see the quotation in the context of the full text. 
  • Where available, click "Click here for more about this quotation" to visit a short article about the passage in question. 
  • Speaking notes suggest topics for discussion when using each quotation.  
“In many governments the candidates for the highest stations are above the law; and, if they can attain the object of their ambition, they have no fear of being called to account for the means by which they acquired it. They often endeavour, therefore, not only by fraud and falsehood, the ordinary and vulgar arts of intrigue and cabal; but sometimes by the perpetration of the most enormous crimes, by murder and assassination, by rebellion and civil war, to supplant and destroy those who oppose or stand in the way of their greatness.”(TMS I.iii.3)
 
This group activity should take ten minutes, plus any time allocated for class discussion.

Divide the class into groups of four to six students and provide them with the prompts below for discussion. 

What is the definition of the Rule of Law?

Adam Smith differentiates between those who acquire rank through political power and those who acquire economic wealth through market activity. With your group, name examples of politicians from around the world who meet the description offered by Smith. Then name examples of entrepreneurs from around the world who acquired economic wealth through market activity.

How do their reputations differ?

Once group discussions are complete, students may asked to share their thoughts with the class or via a short writing assignment.

See the quotation in context as part of the full online text of The Theory of Moral Sentiments here (link will take you to the paragraph in which the quotation can be found).

Read more about this quotation at the OLL Entry. You may choose to share this piece with your students following their discussion. Do they agree or disagree with the explanation provided?