Books above the Throne: The Ascension of the Book and the Actualization of Rule of Law in 17th -Century England
The paper is a journey exploring the historical relationship of printed books to authority. It employs a methodological rubric, known as “Media Theory and Ecological Holism” (traced to the information sciences and borrowed from the historian, Ronald Deibert) for analysis and support of the proposition that legal institutions, jurisprudence, and rule of law flourish or fail depending upon their compatibility with the information environment. The model is presented, not simply as a rubric for organizing the paper, but as a natural extension of Saul Wurman’s model, which lies near the heart of the library information sciences, and which is an appropriate construct for both bibliographic and historical analysis. Moreover, the paper suggests that actualization of the rule of law necessitates more than the enumeration of individual rights and the careful articulation of divided powers, but the presence of an information or media environment conducive to such rule. In illustrating this point, the paper illustrates the relationships of books to authority in early seventeenth-Century England, where ascendancy of the printed book as the ultimate repository of authority effectively establishes a limitation on royal prerogative and power. In particular, the paper explores the controversy surrounding Sir Edward Coke's legal publications and royal prerogative as claimed by kings James I and Charles I. Having established the role the printed book plays as source of authority and check on power, it returns to important questions about the nature of authority and compatibility of the rule of law in the emergent information age.
Keywords: Rule of Law, Information Environment, Book, Print, Authority, 17th century, England, King James I, Edward Coke, Media theory
Prof. Paul Callister
Library Director & Assoc. Prof. of Law, Leon E. Bloch Law Library