“I mentioned in the introduction that Hobbes liked to distinguish between “commonwealth by acquisition,” or using force to compel people to be peaceful, and “commonwealth by institution,” or using trust to get them to follow rules. In reality, however, the two go together. The Pompeians laid down their swords in A.D. 59 because centuries of war had built such a great Leviathan that they could trust it to overawe its subjects. The empire, Gibbon pointed out, had replaced war with law. In the first two centuries A.D., using force to settle disagreements became, if not completely unthinkable, then at least highly inadvisable.
Government and laws bring their own problems, of course. “Formerly we suffered from crimes,” Tacitus had one of his characters joke. “Now we suffer from laws.” A government strong enough to stamp out wrongdoing, the empire’s subjects learned, was also a government strong enough to do even greater wrong.
Thursday, May 3, 2018
Formerly we suffered from crimes, now we suffer from laws.
From War! What Is It Good For? by Ian Morris. Page 40.