The so called authority of lawThe authority of

The so called authority of law

The authority of Law in a nation or community does not
really depend on any so-called “majesty” or mystic power in
man-made rules and enactments. Its real sources of power are
two, first, the strong interest of the majority or of a dominant
minority or of the community as a whole in maintaining it
and, secondly, the possession of a sole armed force, police and
military, which makes that interest effective. The metaphorical
392 The Ideal of Human Unity
sword of justice can only act because there is a real sword behind
it to enforce its decrees and its penalties against the rebel and the
dissident. And the essential character of this armed force is that
it belongs to nobody, to no individual or constituent group of the
community except alone to the State, the king or the governing
class or body in which sovereign authority is centred. Nor can
there be any security if the armed force of the State is balanced
or its sole effectivity diminished by the existence of other armed
forces belonging to groups and individuals and free in any degree
from the central control or able to use their power against the
governing authority. Even so, even with this authority backed
by a sole and centralised armed force, Law has not been able to
prevent strife of a kind between individuals and classes because
it has not been able to remove the psychological, economic and
other causes of strife. Crime with its penalties is always a kind
of mutual violence, a kind of revolt and civil strife and even in
the best-policed and most law-abiding communities crime is still
rampant. Even the organisation of crime is still possible although
it cannot usually endure or fix its power because it has the whole
vehement sentiment and effective organisation of the community
against it. But what is more to the purpose, Law has not been
able to prevent, although it has minimised, the possibility of civil
strife and violent or armed discord within the organised nation.
Whenever a class or an opinion has thought itself oppressed
or treated with intolerable injustice, has found the Law and its
armed force so entirely associated with an opposite interest that
the suspension of the principle of law and an insurgence of the
violence of revolt against the violence of oppression were or
appeared the only remedy, it has, if it thought it had a chance
of success, appealed to the ancient arbitration of Might. Even
in our own days we have seen the most law-abiding of nations
staggering on the verge of a disastrous civil war and responsible
statesmen declaring their readiness to appeal to it if a measure
disagreeable to them were enforced, even though it was passed
by the supreme legislative authority with the sanction of the



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