Law: Its Foundations and its Limitations in the Nation-State

Before any form of international framework of relationship between nations can be developed, it would be useful to examine the concept of law or regulation and what its limitations may be.   The concept of law within a society is something that develops from the perceived needs of that society and the cultural background that has been developed.  Thus, there is not a sense of a universal law for all circumstances, as what may be acceptable in one country or culture may be found illegal in another.  There are of course certain general concepts that tend to find their way into the laws of societies world-wide.

Sri Aurobindo examines the basis of “law” in society:  “Its real sources of power are two, first, the strong interest of the majority or of a dominant minority or of the community as a whole in maintaining it and, secondly, the possession of a sole armed force, police and military, which makes that interest effective.  The metaphorical sword of justice can only act because there is a real sword behind it to enforce its decrees and its penalties against the rebel and the dissident.  And the essential character of this armed force is that it belongs to nobody, to no individual or constituent group of the community except alone to the State, the king or the governing class or body in which sovereign authority is centred.  Nor can there be any security if the armed force of the State is balanced or its sole effectivity diminished by the existence of other armed forces belonging to groups and individuals and free in any degree from the central control or able to use their power against the governing authority.”

Law, within this framework, can find ways to minimize violence within the State, but cannot fully eliminate it, as it remains an enforced outward mechanism rather than an inward growth of consciousness, and a corresponding influence on the actions of the members of the State.  “…Law has not been able to prevent strife of a kind between individuals and classes because it has not been able to remove the psychological, economic and other causes of strife.”

“Crime with its penalties is always a kind of mutual violence, a kind of revolt and civil strife and even in the best-policed and most law-abiding communities crime is still rampant. … But what is more to the purpose, Law has not been able to prevent, although it has minimised, the possibility of civil strife and violent or armed discord within the organised nation.  Whenever a class or an opinion has thought itself oppressed or treated with intolerable injustice, has found the Law and its armed force so entirely associated with an opposite interest that the suspension of the principle of law and an insurgence of the violence of revolt against the violence of oppression were or appeared the only remedy, it has, if it thought it had a chance of success, appealed to the ancient arbitration of Might.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 14, The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity – Its Enormous Difficulties, pp. 121-122