Laurence Claus's Law's Evolution and Human Understanding
It is customary in a symposium honoring a book as valuable as Laurence Claus’s for the commentators to begin by noting their general agreement with the author’s thesis and then explaining that, in the spirit of academic engagement, they will focus on one small but interesting area in which the author and the commentator disagree. On this occasion, however, it seems more appropriate to reverse that approach. For reasons I will make clear, I am in substantial disagreement with Claus’s normative argument against authority. Unlike Claus, I believe that “because I said so” is often, especially when backed by the threat of sanctions, a necessary and desirable way to organize human existence in a world rife with sincere (and sometimes insincere) disagreement about many moral and policy questions and even more ridden with well-meaning decisionmakers who are often unable to recognize the deficiencies in their own decisionmaking capacities. Yet although Claus embraces a sympathy with the rejection of legal and political authority that I do not share, he incorporates within his normative argument against authority a descriptive claim of pervasive importance—the claim that, as a descriptive matter, people have less respect for authority and are less inclined to obey authority than much of the conventional wisdom supposes. In this Claus seems largely correct, and highlighting the soundness of this claim seems far more important than disputing, once again, the normative claim that Claus believes, mistakenly in my view, follows from his descriptive one.
Do People Obey the Law?,
San Diego L. Rev.
Available at: https://digital.sandiego.edu/sdlr/vol51/iss4/6