Today’s Delphic Maxim, #2 after “Follow God,” is certainly something we have all been thinking about and discussing both publicly and privately following the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police officers and other public safety officials in Memphis, Tennessee. Here in the United States, police officers, constables, sheriffs and the like are even sometimes referred to as “the Law” even though that is a popular misconception. While worthy of its own essay, today I would like instead to look at this advice from Apollo at its face value.
The Ancient Greek outlook on laws has informed our modern views: under Divine guidance did wise men set down rules to follow that would create a a framework in which people could live in a society by agreeing to abide by those very rules. Jesus, in the synoptic gospels, says “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars…” where he acknowledged the necessity of Jews to pay their taxes.
This maxim does not discuss the individual laws themselves. It does not ask, is this one just? Is this one fair? Instead it advises us to remember that all civilization has been similarly constructed on laws and that without them our society would fall apart. Laws do not just set out penalties for theft, they also enshrine commonly held notions of safety. The United States agreed that automobiles would drive on the right, in the United Kingdom on the left. That is Law.
By extension, the Law maintains the laws on how to amend current statutes, create new ones, overturn bad ones. Rather than subject people to endless revolutions of violence and chaos, representatives can modify the existing set to meet current circumstances. And here we find ourselves.
Those who have the authority and responsibility to enforce the Law feel that they are not also bound by it. We are to obey them bot to whom do they obey? Themselves? This breaks the maxim and threatens the very agreement on which our society is built. Now we need to close those loopholes that allow some of us to operate outside of the Law, that is obeisance in the divine sense.