Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Might makes ...

Today in class we discussed authority and the underlying theory that, "might makes right". From my limited understanding it can be boiled down to this. A governing entity can exert authority (might) over the physical body of people or their property in their geographic area of control to establish order (right). When power is exerted in this manner it is considered legitimate. An example of illegitimate authority would be if the King of France told the people of England that they can't eat fish on Fridays. Since the King of France has no means of enforcing the law on the people of England then his authority is deemed illegitimate. But if the King of England proclaimed that fish on Friday was a high crime, and could send to the stockades persons caught eating herring with their Friday tea, then the King of England's proclamation would be considered legitimate. Essentially the act of enforceability is what separates legitimate and illegitimate displays of authority.

Now comes the great question which I'm sure has plagued many philosophers and first year law students such as myself, how does "rightness" come into play? Should the maxim, "might makes right" be changed to, "might makes enforceability, so do it or else". If an institution has dominion over my body and property, does that make it's laws and actions "right". Of course not, everyone knows that "rightness" is painfully subjective. So then what are we left with? Can we legitimately decide on our own, absent institutional powers, what is "right"? If legitimacy rests on enforceability, then who (or what) has the greatest ability to regulate our actions?

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