A social structure is mandatory for the survival of humans. Man’s natural affinity for evil and conflict has been around since the dawn of time – until order was maintained through the introduction of laws. Without law, the integrity and stability of society would diminish completely. As a strong advocate of determinism, Thomas Hobbes believes that a strict government is the only way to social stability.
Hobbes believed that a state of nature – one without a form of government – would essentially be a “war of all against all.” This life would hardly be worth living due to the inherent evil nature of some human beings – selfishness, desperation and greed are the factors that define the “war of all against all state.” Hobbes thought that people will violently compete in order to secure the basic necessities of life or for material gains; that people would compete and challenge others out of fear to ensure personal safety and to earn a glorified reputation so as to deter others from challenging us.
Without some form of leadership, laws and government everyone would be in a state of universal insecurity dominated by fear. Even those who aren’t selfish or cowardly – those who are inherently good – would behave selfishly and cowardly in order to secure their safety. They would have no problem, for example, attacking a potential threat if it would earn them a reputation of someone who shouldn’t be “messed with.” In the words of Hobbes “the wickedness of bad men also compels good men to have recourse, for their own protection, to the virtues of war, which are violence and fraud.”
Laws have arisen in society as a way for the government to take control – to prevent negative behaviour from citizens in a society. Many behaviours have had a negative stigma associated with them due to religious beliefs and historically, laws were introduced as a means of preventing this unwanted, unacceptable behaviour. Issues of the past, no matter how unnecessary they may sound, posed a problem at one point or another and were dealt with the introduction of laws. Ancient Babylon’s earliest law was a simple philosophy – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Roman laws consisted of such things as: “Whenever someone makes a formal promise or sells property, then according to law, that promise must be carried out” or “if anyone sings abusive songs about somebody else, he shall be put to death.”
Another law was more conditional: “If anyone breaks somebody else’s limb and does not apologize, then the other man can break the first man’s limb in return.” This law was conditional based on an apology. A uniform legal code was first introduced for the whole Roman Empire and issues were dealt with through lawyers and a judge – Canadian legal code is loosely based on these principles. Even today, there are some ridiculous laws that may seem unnecessary in Canada, such as: “You can’t drag a dead horse down Yonge St. on a Sunday” or “having the colour of house and garage doors being regulated by city bylaws.” Both those laws seem irrelevant to societal norms in Canada, but they posed a threat at one point or another.
Laws are fundamental means of protection and ownership for everyone within society. They enforce fair and equal treatment of all citizens in society. The goal of the law is to ensure that there is fairness to all and justice. Justice is only achieved through equal treatment to every member in society and that is why there are strict laws with the punishment for each crime being the same. If punishments varied for two murderers who commit the exact same form of murder then one of them would be done an injustice – something which is unacceptable in society. The law must treat every group and every individual equally to maintain order in society.
As well as maintaining order, the law and the equivalent punishments for breaking it have many purposes. For a start, the main purpose of the law is the remove the dangerous person – the criminal – from society. Removing the offender not only ensures the safety of individuals in society, but it, in a sense, “teaches the offender a lesson.” An optimistic view is that the offender will realize that they have been caught and will learn that they can no longer get away with that particular form of crime. This, of course, is rarely the case. The view of the offender is commonly that “I’ve been caught; I have to be more careful.” This is where the next benefit of the punishment comes in. In cases such as homicide or forms of sadistic violence the point of punishment is an effort to rehabilitate the offender – to teach the offender that what they did was wrong not because they got caught, but because many people were affected by it and it is an unacceptable way to behave in society.
Dangerous Offender legislation is a prime example of the benefits of rehabilitation. Its goal is to keep anyone deemed a Dangerous Offender, usually the sickest, most sadistic and twisted criminals, imprisoned until they show psychological improvement regardless of their sentence. A third goal of the law is to deter individuals from committing crime. That is, regular citizens will realize that there are severe penalties for committing a crime and that getting caught is very common and therefore decide that committing a crime is too risky and not commit it. Severe punishments are required in conjunction with common arrest rates in order to effectively deter potential criminals.
Children are socialized to obey the law from a very young age. Parents are responsible for teaching children rules and morals which they must obey. This is the same principle as the law. If a child breaks a rule, that child is punished. If a person breaks a law, that person is punished. When children are old enough to break the law and be punished for it, they know what is right and wrong due to moral guidance. Even those without natural intuition of what is right or wrong – Natural Law – know not to break the law due to the punishments they endured as a child for breaking rules.
Being obedient of the law is something that is required of all citizens, not only because of the consequences that follow, but because of the societal order that is maintained by having everyone obey the law. If one person gets away with breaking the law, no matter how miniscule the punishment may be, other people will get the impression that this law is not enforced or that is very easy to get away with and continue to break it. A prime example of this is seen with marijuana legislation. Many people have smoked, or continue to smoke marijuana regularly, making it more common and therefore more acceptable in society. Although society appears to accept it more, it doesn’t mean that marijuana isn’t harmful or detrimental to a person’s well-being. Various drugs could potentially be argued as a lifestyle choice and left up to the individual using them, but this is not the way society should be governed.
Laws are imposed for a reason and drugs are illegal because they harm the user, even if it’s willfully. There is no way to govern “responsible drug use,” especially when it comes to operating vehicles. Breaking any law has an overall negative effect on society. Stealing from even the largest store, such as Wal-Mart, will have a negative effect on everyone. Not only does the owner of the store lose their merchandise, money and time, those who shop at Wal-Mart may experience a surge in prices on the stolen item.
This is due to the owner needing to make up for the lost profit of the stolen goods. Some may follow the principle that one person committing an action such as stealing has no detrimental effect, but if everyone followed that principle, the store would go out of business due to theft and all the “good Samaritans” who didn’t steal and paid for their goods would again be losing out for something they had nothing to do with. Those laws which are no longer necessary will phase out of law naturally, such as it being illegal to drag a dead horse down Yonge St. on a Sunday no longer posing a problem in Canada.
If Canada were to suddenly remove its government, society would be in a chaotic state. People would be free to loot, plunder, kill and perform reckless acts with no one to stop them. Everyone’s “rights” would essentially be taken away. No one would have the right to life. This poses yet another question – is it ever okay to break the law? Take the scenario of a starving mother who must steal to feed her family. In this case, it may seem okay to break the law. But this is only because this mother cannot support her family and essentially they are being denied the right to life – guaranteed to them by law. This situation seems rather paradoxical, as she is breaking the law to uphold the law. In times of desperation, where the most basic human right is being denied or impaired, it is okay to break the law. When survival is necessary, any human would break the law as is the case of self-defense scenarios. This is why sentencing is flexible. While the law is very strict, the sentencing may be lowered on conditions such as why the crime was committed and the situation of the criminal.
A final question to pose is: does the law provide justice? Justice is defined as “the principle of moral rightness; equity.” But the problem with this definition is that morals are commonly subjective by person. Obviously, there are many things that are objectively wrong including murder, but there are many moral “grey spots.” Based upon who is asked, speeding on the highway may be a taboo to one person, but be perfectly okay to another. It’s safe to say that justice is the act of maintaining order in a way that benefits and affects everyone in the same way in regards to law. Laws that put restrictions on a specific group or individual are not just because they limit the rights of certain individuals. According to this principle, the law is just. It maintains order in society while treating all individuals equally without reference to their sex, age, ethnicity and/or cultural and religious beliefs. So long as the law treats everyone equally, including those in power, the law can be considered just.
The law is a major part of society that is used to maintain order. Before the imposition of a leader and specific guidelines, society was in a state of chaos – no one was protected and everyone lived in a state of universal insecurity. With the introduction of a legal system and laws, society has been governed in a peaceful way and criminals have traditionally been dealt with in a way that was accepted by all members of society. Even ancient societies, such as the Babylonians and the Romans used laws to sustain order and to ensure that justice was done. The law has been, and will continue to be an essential part of all societies. Without a legal system, the value of society would be reduced to nothingness and the integrity of humans would be absent from the world.