NL XXXIX: Law and Order

Index to this series

In the New Leviathan, three chapters ago, the essence of civilization was found in not using force against one another. Two chapters ago, civilization was found to be achieved, or at least perpetuated, through education by amateurs, especially within families.

Samuel F. B. Morse (American, 1791-1872), The House of Representatives, 1822, probably reworked 1823, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), National Gallery of Art

A few decades ago, as when Dan Quayle was vice president to George H. W. Bush, the Republican Party of the United States paid lip service to civilization through the slogan, “family values.” The Republicans might also have been a party of law and order; but if that was so, they have forgotten the meaning of this, if they ever knew it. Here is what Collingwood has to say about the subject.

39. 92. Let us get this clear, for it is the most important thing in the book. Law and order mean strength. Men who respect the rule of law are by daily exercise building up the strength of their own wills; becoming more and more capable of mastering themselves and other men and the world of nature. They are becoming daily more and more able to control their own desires and passions and to crush all opposition to the carrying-out of their intentions. They are becoming day by day less liable to be bullied or threatened or cajoled or frightened into courses they would not adopt of their own free will by men who would drive them into doing things in the only way in which men can drive others into doing things: by arousing in them passions or desires or appetites they cannot control.

The year is 1942. If the British are going to beat the Nazis, they will need the strength engendered by respect for law and order.

An example of law and order is a fine of ten pounds for driving with the wrong lights during a blackout. The Wikipedia article on wartime blackouts makes Collingwood’s case by saying, “the chief purpose [of blackouts] is to mobilize the entire civilian population, and provide a test to make sure they are obeying the rules.” (M. R. D. Foot is cited.)

Even aristocrats have to obey the rules. Perhaps referring to a newpaper article, Collingwood mentions an aristocrat who was fined the ten quid at Camberley, where Sandhurst is, on July 11, 1940 (39. 84). The “noble lord” was indignant: “Is this all such — — as you have got to do while gentlemen like me are fighting for their country?”

Perhaps indeed “strong masterful men like his lordship here” ought to get their way, while “low fellows like this constable” get “a smack in the face” (39. 91). That is the contention of Thrasymachus, when he asserts in the Republic that justice is the advantage of the stronger (338C). Socrates induces him to say that justice is the advantage of the established rulers (338E); however, these can err (339C). Ruling then is tacitly admitted to be an art; but an art works for the advantage of what it rules, not its own advantage (342E). Thrasymachus tries to save himself from refutation, but ultimately fails and blushes (350D).

If Collingwood can assume his readers have read the Republic, that is good. He does not actually mention Plato, but just proceeds to point out, as above, that if having one’s way means giving in to one’s desires and passions, this is a weakness. At this point, Collingwood has already said that letting the strong have their way is not much better than letting the weak die out, if not killing them off (39. 9).

Daumier, Honoré, Three Lawyers, between 1855 and 1857, Oil on canvas. Phillips Collection, acquired 1920

Law and order refers to the rule of law (39. 3). This means four things:

  1. There is a law, which could be legislation, or customary law, or just whatever a despot decides it shall be, as long as the decision stands until abrogated (39. 31).
  2. Everybody under the law can find out what it is (39. 32).
  3. The law is applied: there are courts (39. 33).
  4. The law is universal, “applying to every one of an undetermined number of defined cases”; in short, there is equality before the law (39. 34).

A failure of equality before the law means that the law is either

  • carelessly stated or
  • corruptly administered, as when aristocrats get a pass (39. 35).

Pericles boasts of equality before the law in the Funeral Oration of 431/0, recounted by Thucydides:

Let me say that our system of government does not copy the institutions of our neighbours. It is more the case of our being a model to others, than of our imitating anyone else. Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people (καὶ ὄνομα μὲν διὰ τὸ μὴ ἐς ὀλίγους ἀλλ’ ἐς πλείονας οἰκεῖν δημοκρατία κέκληται). When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses.

The translation is Rex Warner’s from the Penguin edition (1954, revised 1972); in the Greek, power is in the hands of the majority, not “the whole people.” Collingwood does not speak of Pericles, but his oldest example of equality is the wergild (39. 82), or “were-yield,” were meaning male human being, as in werewolf. The wergild is the fine paid for murdering a man under Anglo-Saxon rule (39. 71). The fine is different for different victims, but any murderer would pay the same fine for the same victim.

The murderer is forced to pay, so that further use of force is forestalled (39. 73), particularly in the form of a private war continued by the family of the murdered man (39. 72).

The Angles and Saxons were part of the “outer ring of partially Romanized tribes” (39. 62), serving as a buffer between Rome and the world beyond. Far from causing the break-up of the Empire (39. 63), these tribes helped it survive as long as it did (39. 64).

Europeans became accustomed to the rule of law under the Roman Empire (39. 43). This is why (39. 42), for the “European mind,” the rule of law is essential to civilization (39. 4). This would not be explained by detailing the consequences of letting the rule of law die out (39. 41).

Daumier, Honoré, The Uprising (L’Emeute), 1848 or later, Oil on canvas. Phillips Collection, acquired 1925

The Romans accustomed the Europeans to the rule of law, but maintaining the custom is ultimately an act of will. There is nothing racial or genetic in having a “European mind,” any more than in Atatürk’s conception of being a Turk. Being Turkish is an act of will, as shown by the slogan,

Ne mutlu Türküm diyene,

Happy the person who says, I am a Turk.

Some persons don’t get the point, but think being Turkish (or whatever) is a matter of “blood.” A sad example would be a person who refused donations of Greek blood for Turkish earthquake victims. The Turkish health minister was apparently such a person for the 1999 İzmit earthquake, according to

  • my memory;
  • what purports to be a report of the Congressional Research Service;
  • an article on the World Socialist Web Site that cites Turkish sources.

Fortunately Greek donations to Turkey were in fact accepted and later reciprocated.

In part IV of the New Leviathan, Collingwood will consider four examples of barbarism: the Saracens, the “Albigensian Heresy,” the Turks, and the Germans. The indicated heresy found a place here in Asia Minor, perhaps around the same time (43. 27) as the Turks under Alparslan, who defeated Roman Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 (44. 24). After some centuries, and failed attempts on Vienna, the Turks ultimately gave up their barbarism, and:

44. 85. The result is visible in the Turkey of to-day, a country no longer to be tempted by a recollection of her ancestors’ thievery, but leading an honest and upright life.

There was no reason for the “thievery,” and no reason for giving it up. An attempt to state a reason will be tautologous:

44. 87. What is the cause of this change? It was because, during the same years in which the Germans turned to thievery, the Turks turned to honest ways.

This should dispel any notion of an inevitable “clash of civilizations.”

In Chapter XXVII, “Force in Politics,” Collingwood refuted the idea that having two political parties was inefficient. The alternative was tyranny. Still, the parties had to understand their dialectical role. The rule of law is itself a way of making persons play their dialectical roles. “Going to law” is not a way of quarrelling, that is, engaging in eristic (39. 5); it is a way of settling a quarrel, by engaging in dialectic (39. 51).

If they are British, I know not to whom Collingwood refers when saying,

39. 54. The error that going to law with a man is an eristical thing to do, instead of a dialectical thing to do, is deliberately encouraged in the twentieth century by certain parties who want to destroy the rule of law and reintroduce the vendetta and the blood feud; and by others who act as their jackals.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Ronald Reagan won the American presidency in 1980 by campaigning implicitly against the rule of law; explicitly he was against “big government.” As president, he joked of signing legislation that would “outlaw Russia forever; we begin bombing in five minutes.” Russia was the “Evil Empire.” It is hard to tell now whether those days of my youth were better than those facing young people today.

Collingwood may not spell it out, but again there is no inevitable “clash of civilizations.” Civilization means the process of replacing eristic with dialectic, quarrel with agreement. The process is never complete, but neither does it stop short. You may preach the inevitable clash of something, but civilization will be no party to this clash.

Civilization is the name of Part III of the New Leviathan. When he opens Chapter XXXIX, which we have just reviewed, Collingwood himself reviews what we have found so far in the part:

Chapter XXXIV:
Civilization happens in a community (39. 1).
Chapter XXXV:
Civilization is a becoming more civil:

  • with respect to one another, in the sense of abstaining from the use of force;
  • with respect to nature, in the sense of exploiting it intelligently (39. 11).
Chapter XXXVI:
These senses of civilization follow from engaging dialectically with one another (39. 12); this is the essence of the word civilization, as it is used (39. 14).
Chapter XXXVII:
An example is education, “by which a civilization keeps itself alive,” and which “is a job for the family” (39. 18).
Chapter XXXVIII:
In the civilized community, wealth diffuses throughout. This entails the abolition of poverty, and therefore the abolition of riches (39. 19).

The final two chapters remark (39. 2) respectively on

Law and order (Chapter XXXIX):
“what you have to do to be civilized” (39. 21);
Peace and plenty (Chapter XL):
“what you get by being civilized” (39. 22).

4 Trackbacks

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