Notes From Babel

A nation of laws, yes, but also a nation of people

with 3 comments

…a people of values, and a people whose institutions, including their legal-political institutions, reflect those values.  Plato taught that the order of the soul and the order of the polis, though of different types, were yet unable to be separated entirely.   The evolution of laws criminalizing suicide and assisted suicide, as a more modern example, was based on long-standing history and tradition carried over from England’s common law as contemptible evils, punishable by confiscation of the offender’s property by the state.  Later developments in the law, however, recognized that any purported punishment against the offender’s “lifeless clay” was, in reality, a sanction inflicted against the offender’s hagridden offspring.  And yet even today, the act itself is still criminalized.

And rightly so.  Suicide is a deeply profound, private, moral affair bearing on the order of the human soul itself.  But it is precisely for this reason that a state purporting to govern human souls cannot fail to recognize it and share in and reflect its governed’s contempt for the act.

A rough analogy may be made in the case of marriage.  A legal-political institution that purports to govern a people mustn’t fail to recognize and reflect in its tenets the principal method its governed employs to organize their families, their communities, their activities, their very lives.  Marriage cannot be removed altogether from the legal-political institution without sacrificing some quality of its connection with the people it means to govern.  And to the extent marriage continues to appear in the legal-political institution, it is a reflection, a “read-only” copy of the institution as it actually exists in the culture of the governed.  It thus cannot be redefined from the vantage of the political-legal institution without causing a greater rift with the governed than if marriage were disregarded by that institution altogether.


Written by Tim Kowal

August 25, 2010 at 10:59 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Dear Mr. Kowal,

    Personally, I find Plato most edifying when he discusses the civic organization of Atlantis.

    I admit that his Republic is a close second, however.

    Yours Truly,



    August 26, 2010 at 7:55 am

    • If I have correctly diagnosed the sarcasm in your comment, then I believe you may be taking Plato’s allegorical prescriptions for the ideal state too literally.

      Tim Kowal

      August 26, 2010 at 9:37 am

  2. Slightly too literally, perhaps, ha ha.

    The idea of Atlantis as Plato’s allegorical utopia is actually even more amusing to me, as it seems to be underwater. Perhaps he had Socrates’s sense of humor.

    I was just being glib, though. I owe you a real response. Here:

    I think the argument concerning a state’s relationship to the institution of marriage is a very strong one. What interests me is how even an obvious connection such as this (seemingly obvious, anyhow) still buckles like crackers under bootheels against something like … oh, I don’t know … something like the ten-year waiting list to buy a home in Sweden, say. That list made marriage obsolete and untenable in a single generation.

    If what you suggest is true — and I think it is — then there must be some natural conditions governing the aptitude of such an institution, and I find that concept absolutely fascinating. What is the appropriate environment for sanctioned marriage? And where’s the event horizon after which marriage is simply traditionalism?

    Anyhow, thanks for the read. I intend to stop by more often.


    PS – let’s have beertalk at the Huntington Beer Co. sometime.


    August 26, 2010 at 10:53 am

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