Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

One moment laws against 'religious hatred', the next against smoking in cars, now mobile phones. What next? But then, law-making has been expanding ever since the Romans drew up their XII Tables, c.

450 BC, which were themselves originally a mere X until they decided they needed II more. In AD 533, when the Roman empire in the West was no more, the eastern emperor Justinian published a Digest of Roman law. It was condensed from some 2,000 volumes.

Romans despaired of the problem.

Julius Caesar decided to reduce the statute book to a manageable size but was assassinated in 44 BC before he could begin. The great Roman historian Tacitus took up the theme, commenting that there seemed to be no end to law-making, and with his usual sharpness put his finger on an exquisite paradox. Laws were made to be obeyed. If there were so many of them, why was society so corrupt? Or was it the other way round: that the more corrupt the society, the more laws were needed to try to control it?

Ancient Greeks were equally aware of the problem. The 5th-century BC Greek intellectual Critias speculated that religion was invented to solve it. He makes a character in a play say: 'Then, when the laws prevented men from open violence, but they continued to act violently in secret, I believe that a shrewd and subtle man invented for men the fear of the gods. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.