Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Between law and free choice

"Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without." [Edmund Burke]
If we won't control ourselves it is very likely that we will be controlled. A free society depends on a people who require fewer laws because they behave well. We learn to behave well from our parents, our religious instruction, our neighbors, the mediating institutions of society. From "Obedience to the Unenforceable":
.... John Fletcher Moulton (1844-1921), a British barrister and judge, called good manners a “country which lies between Law and Free Choice.” We cannot write enough laws to control every aspect of human behavior and interaction, nor would we want to. But neither should we want for people to have the complete liberty to do as they please; chaos would result. ....:
Mere obedience to Law does not measure the greatness of a Nation. It can easily be obtained by a strong executive, and most easily of all from a timorous people. Nor is the licence [sic] of behavior which so often accompanies the absence of Law, and which is miscalled Liberty, a proof of greatness. The true test is the extent to which the individuals composing the nation can be trusted to obey self-imposed law. … Between “can do” and “may do” ought to exist the whole realm which recognizes the sway of duty, fairness, sympathy, taste, and all the other things that make life beautiful and society possible.
Teaching and practicing those things that we cannot be forced to obey but which smooth the everyday interactions of life are what Moulton called “Obedience to the Unenforceable.” They are a law we enforce upon ourselves, no matter what others do or think.

This is not mere etiquette. Not knowing which fork to use might be a faux pas, but using your salad fork for your cake hardly endangers the civil order. But not showing common courtesy and respect to others leads to a coarsening of the culture and makes day-to-day life just that much more irritating. .... [more]
Obedience to the Unenforceable « Acculturated