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“The law is the last result of human wisdom acting upon human experience for the benefit of the public” (Samuel Johnson).
IF WE EVER GOT TO THE POINT WHERE WE THOUGHT OF “LAW” AS A TOTALLY NEGATIVE WORD, THAT WOULD BE UNFORTUNATE. The fact is, “law” is not a bad word. We need to rehabilitate the idea behind it and think of the entire subject more appreciatively.
The principle of law can be abused, of course, and when it comes to specific laws, there will always be some that need to be repealed. But as a basic concept, law ought not to be despised. All things considered, it’s good to have laws. We’re better off with them than without them, even when keeping them is inconvenient or expensive.
Sometimes we ask too much of law. Forgetting that the purpose of law is limited, we try to make it do things it can’t do. Disappointed with the results, we then become cynical about the value of law. Yet we’re too quick to be critical. Martin Luther King Jr. was right: “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” Law can’t be the only tool we use to build a good society, but it’s certainly one tool, and it’s foolish to try to do without its help.
People who have made lawfulness a part of their character are a pleasure to work with and to live next door to and to be friends with. A willingness to be bound by the rules makes a person dependable. We tend to trust those who can be counted on to honor the law’s restraints; with them, the possibility of unpleasant surprises is much less fearful.
So if we appreciate this trait in others, we need to adopt it ourselves. We need to steer clear of the arrogance and unpredictability of lawlessness and develop a genuine appreciation for legal limits. As noted above, those aren’t the only limits we need, but all of us do need them to some extent, and we ought to appreciate them as far as they go. In one way or another, most of us would like the world to be “a better place.” The rule of law can help bring about that result, but we’ll enjoy little of its benefit if we ourselves don’t obey the law.
“I sometimes wish that people would put a little more emphasis upon the observance of the law than they do upon its enforcement” (Calvin Coolidge).