It Is Not Wisdom But Authority That Makes A Law. T — Tymoff

Laws are rules that every person must follow. Sometimes laws are made because a ruler or government says so, not because everyone thinks it is smart. A law is not always a good idea just because the leaders say we have to do it. We should think about whether a law makes sense or will help people.

The lawmakers do not always have the best answers. We need to use our brains too and decide if following the new law would be good or cause problems. Only working together on both sides can we make the best laws for everyone.

Authority vs. Wisdom in Lawmaking

The saying goes that “it is not wisdom but authority that makes a law.” This phrase underscores a fundamental tension between legal authority and practical wisdom in the process of lawmaking. Let us explore the contours of this issue through an in-depth examination of the forces that shape our legal system.

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The Primacy of Authority

When laws are created, authority inevitably takes primacy over wisdom. Legal systems necessitate clearly defined rules and procedures in order to function effectively and bring standardization and predictability to societal affairs.

As the renowned political theorist Max Weber established, the concept of rational legal authority forms the basis of modern governance, with power concentrated among elite policymakers and enforcers.

This concentration of authority facilitates coordination on a large scale but often comes at the expense of wisdom, defined as prudent judgment based on deep knowledge and experience.

Authorities view the law primarily as an instrument of social control and organization, aiming to incentivize certain behaviors and deter others through binding regulations. Wisdom resides more in collective experience and judgment over time.

Historical Reverberations

The primacy of authority over wisdom in lawmaking can be traced back to ancient conceptualizations of power. Plato’s ideal Republic depicted a top down political system ruled by an elite Guardian class whose wisdom and judgment would guide society.

However, authority dominated in practice even if wisdom theoretically justified such authority. Absolute monarchs throughout history consolidated control by establishing themselves as the supreme source of legal authority not beholden to any wisdoms but their own.

Enlightenment thinkers began challenging such tyrannical models, giving rise to modern democratic republican systems with more distributed sources of authority.

However, lawmaking processes remain structured top down, with policy experts and elected representatives holding monopoly over legal formation. Citizens participate indirectly by voting representatives into authority, then deferring to their policy wisdom.

The Tyranny Of Authority

When authority asserts itself unchecked, the potential for tyranny arises. Laws created through such an abuse of power risk being divorced from social realities, collective experiences, and deeper societal wisdoms.

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Historical examples abound, from prohibition and McCarthyism in the 20th century United States to authoritarian legal codes established by despots worldwide. Over Reliance on authority, untempered by wisdom, often stems from a “my way or the highway” mentality where dissident views are dismissed.

Regulations get imposed in a one size fits all manner with limited understanding of lived consequences. Local wisdoms and traditions receive no consideration. Ultimately, such a tyrannical exercise of power damages societal cohesion and trust in governance.

Moral Imperatives Vs. Legal Realities

Authority and wisdom frequently diverge when it comes to balancing moral stances versus practical legal considerations. Creating just laws demands weighing compassionate ideals against complex enforcement realities and precedent.

For example, making drug use strictly illegal satisfies a moral imperative but wisdom recognizes the futility of such policies and their harmful social impacts. Conversely, permitting unsafe financial practices satisfies legal pragmatism until a crisis of wrath ensues.

Navigating such tensions requires scrutinizing policies from diverse angles beyond a single-minded focus on authority or principle. Wisdom emerges from considering all viewpoints and continually questioning underlying assumptions with an open yet discerning mind.

The Role Of Wisdom

While authority provides necessary structure for governance, wisdom should play a greater role in lawmaking for policies to gain legitimacy and endure over time.

Wisdom derives from understanding issues from multiple lived perspectives, not just top down viewpoints. It favors nuance over simplistic solutions and sees laws as frameworks to guide rather than rigid doctrines.

A law rooted predominantly in authority may coerce outward behaviors but fails to persuade the public intellectually and morally. Over time, dissent grows as deeper societal wisdoms remain unheard.

In contrast, laws informed by wisdom gain legitimacy by addressing underlying complexities and balancing competing priorities fairly. People voluntarily defer to such regulations, seeing the principles of justice and common good underlying them.

Bridging The Gulf Between Authority And Wisdom

For lawmaking to bridge the gulf between authority and wisdom, both components must be integrated rather than perceived as opposing forces. Authorities cannot abdicate responsibility over crafting laws but must proactively expand consultative processes.

Public viewpoints and localized knowledge should directly inform the legislative process from the start instead of only passively at the ballot box. Advances in technology and civic engagement now allow more participatory models of governance.

Citizens can contribute wisdoms through open policy forums, review periods, and referendum proposals brought forward democratically. Elected representatives equally gain by broadening their information sources beyond narrow interest groups and internal policy circles.

Empowering Wisdom Through Collective Will

Some argue that wisdom cannot truly guide legislation due to disagreements over philosophies and life experiences. However, communities often exhibit surprisingly cohesive wisdoms when collective deliberation processes are inclusive, respectful and solution oriented rather than debate driven.

Methods like citizens’ assemblies, consensus conferences and collaborative policy juries demonstrate the capacity of diverse groups to find shared ground and solutions when everyone participates as equal stakeholders.

Such models could restructure lawmaking to center less on partisan posturing and more on integrating community wisdoms to serve the common good. Large-scale surveys also gauge public sentiment to inform representative decision making.

By empowering citizens as equitable partners in the legislative process, authority and wisdom can integrate more organically through informed collective will. This evolutionary approach holds promise for laws garnering broad understanding and legitimacy over the long term.

Navigating The Contours Of Power And Prudence

Bridging authority and wisdom in lawmaking requires navigating complex issues of power dynamics, strategic compromise, and pragmatic implementation. Formal structures established through authority provide stability but can also subtly entrench certain viewpoints over time if unyielding.

Wisdom acknowledges such inertia and advocates incremental reform within existing frameworks to facilitate consensus building. Radical changes risk fracturing the social order or facing stiff resistance, rendering new policies toothless.

Gradual legislative evolution proves less destabilizing while still steering the ship of state towards justice. Compromise represents another political reality where authority and wisdom must find equilibrium.

Decision makers balancing competing interests cannot enact ideal policies or satisfy all constituencies. Wisdom accepts partial wins through cooperative problem-solving instead of demanding purity. It guides pragmatism towards the vision of an “ought” without violating “is” realities.

The Imperative Of Legal Reform

While recognizing the constraints of prevailing power structures, reform remains imperative to align laws more closely with evolving societal wisdoms. Outdated statutes lose relevance and prevent progress on issues like racial, social and environmental justice.

Periodic reviews should examine enforcing realities, precedent rulings, and citizen input to identify anachronistic regulations overdue for repeal or amendment.

Streamlining removes clutter obscuring core functions and restores public faith in a responsive system. Updating language promotes equity and understanding and prevents misuse of vaguely worded laws.

Selective yet steady reforms actualize wisdoms that authorities alone cannot see, integrating community knowledge and upholding the “living Constitution” principle. This evolutionary approach safeguards stability while enabling continuous adaptation crucial for just governance.

Why Laws Are Made, Not Wisdom

At its core, the purpose of laws is to establish standardized rules and consequences that organize social functions and transactions in a large population.

While wisdom can help craft good public policy, the legal system ultimately requires clearly defined statutes and precedents in order to apply justice fairly and uniformly.

Attempting to directly codify situational wisdom into laws would result in legal codes too vague, complex and full of exceptions to implement effectively. Wisdom provides a starting point and guiding considerations, not a replacement for the rule of law.

Even the most enlightened statutes still regulate human behaviors, organizations and edge cases that wisdom alone cannot foresee or resolve.

Wisdom Informs But Does Not Determine

Legislation demands balancing many viewpoints and weighing competing interests, tasks better informed by wisdom than directly dictated by it. No single person or group holds a complete understanding of complex issues from every angle.

Even committees of experts inevitably overlook some factors without diverse civic input. Therefore laws consolidate authoritative decisions from representative bodies rather than attempting to directly encode situational wisdoms, which are by nature non definitive.

Statutes indicate overarching societal will while leaving acceptable gray areas for judgment calls. Wisdom plays an advisory role to authorities who must ultimately set unambiguous rules.

Authority Sets Boundaries That Guide Behavior

Whereas wisdom offers nuanced understandings, authority establishes jurisdictions and limitations through clear prohibitions and mandates. Without codified parameters, reasonable yet contradictory understandings of “right conduct” could proliferate unchecked, hindering coordination.

Regulation provides guardrails preventing chaos or harm that wisdom alone may fail to avoid. Boundaries set through democratic process do not preclude individual discernment within lawful scopes.

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Internalized wisdom still guides most citizens’ discretionary decisions everyday. But external authorities uphold social contracts for recourse against outliers threatening stability or vulnerable groups. This balance of wisdom and authority enables ordered freedom.

Different Wisdoms Lead To Differing Views

While wisdom emerges from lived experience, individuals and subgroups naturally develop differing wisdoms based on their unique perspectives and backgrounds. Varied life circumstances and access to information produce a diversity of sound yet contradictory understandings on many issues.

This pluralism of reasonable wisdom lies at the heart of disagreements over legal and social policies. Contrasting views arise not from one side embracing wisdom with the other abandoning it.

But from multiple wisdoms colliding when applied to contentious debates like abortion, gun control or environmental protection.

Acknowledging these honest divergences in perspective humbles all sides and bolsters democratic discourse. Rather than attacking opponents’ motives or intelligence.

The respectful exchange of wisdom enlightens while finding common ground becomes the goal instead of total victory. Compromise and consensus then arise from shared empathic listening across perceived differences.

Politics Necessitates Authority Over Consensus

While wisdom counsels integrating diverse viewpoints, legal and political systems require definitive resolutions through codified statutes and rulings. Governing large democratic nations with pluralistic populations makes consensus on all issues an unreasonable expectation that would paralyze governance.

Elected leaders and courts carrying authority must therefore consolidate perspectives into binding policies through a combination of representation, deliberation, and at times majority decision making.

Wisdom alone cannot directly produce workable laws due to irreconcilable interpretations in polities composed of fallible humans with partially aligned yet partly conflicting wisdoms and priorities.

Unfettered Debate Yields No Outcomes

Empowering wisdom fundamentally means broadening consultation and incorporating diverse public input into lawmaking. However, opening legislative forums to unbounded discussions risks delaying important issues in perpetual deliberation without finality.

Meaningful change requires both consensus building and timely resolution to address evolving problems constructively. Authority structures circumscribe parameters for input windows and voting procedures that move agendas forward without shortchanging civic participation or rushed decisions. Calibrated processes balance open-minded wisdom and implementation demands.

Flexibility Allows Revision As Wisdom Evolves

While authority establishes binding statutes, the evolving nature of situational wisdom necessitates an flexible, non-absolute approach to legal codes over time. Community understandings, empirics, and even technologies continuously develop, revealing new perspectives or solutions unforeseen previously.

Rigid, permanent laws prevent aligning regulations with progressing wisdom as societal learning occurs. A balanced legislative framework embraces revision, allowing reconsideration of policies not keeping pace with times. Review periods and amendment votes update statutes reflecting deepened comprehension or new priorities.

Revisability maintains relevance and public faith in a system adapting wisdom gained from experiences applying past guidelines. It prevents obsolete directives from hindering preferable courses of action indicated by maturing insight. Yet stability also depends on incremental, deliberate changes maintaining institutions’ fundamental functions.

Checks Balance Authority To Respect Wisdom

Concentrated power corrupts if not checked; authority concentrated without safeguards risks becoming detached from citizens. Judicial oversight, electoral turnover and lobbying representation mitigate misuse while stabilizing rules against reactionary swings.

Separation of powers across branches and federal-state divisions multiplies perspectives brought to policy making. “Checks and balances” assimilate diverse community wisdoms into governing, hindering any single viewpoint from overriding others. Limited terms prevent entrenchment of viewpoints no longer consonant with social realities.

Overall, this system of distributed authority and accountability to the populace institutes feedback emphasizing workable solutions over partisan victories. It cultivates receptive yet resilient laws upholding justice as communal understanding progresses.

Understanding The Quotation

The opening quotation by French scholar Auguste Mancini highlights a core tension between authority and wisdom in lawmaking. Authority establishes what is through edicts and adherence, but wisdom discerns what “ought” to be from principled reflection.

Mancini argues authority alone does not make a just law simply by decree. Legislation derives greater legitimacy when informed by rationales and policies society comprehends as fair and concordant with ethics rather than mere displays of power. Wisdom establishes moral bases for directives while authority implements them.

His words caution against legislation motivated by authoritarian impulses rather than aims to reason, uphold dignity and serve the public good. Statutes resulting from thoughtful consideration gain acceptance willingly; those imposed strictly by fiat inspire resistance as illegitimate overreach. Wisdom’s role remains crucial for law to meaningfully guide conduct.

The Role Of Authority In Legislation

While wisdom acts as a moral lodestar, authority gives laws binding force through codified rights and obligations. Democratic processes authorize representatives and executives to consolidate societal wisdom into clearly defined statutes regulating behaviors and institutions.

Establishing baselines through determinate legislation allows for consistent application of justice impartially. Citizens know misconduct’s consequences while organizations obtain regulatory certainty. Authority counterbalances anarchy and ambiguity if channeled non-tyrannically through checks.

Periodic elections also concentrate dispersed public authority, affording direct oversight of created policies. Those abusing power face removal while engaging consultative rulemaking gains mandates. Overall, authority executed accountability serves as wisdom’s administrative mechanism.

Navigating Legal Realities

Harmonizing wisdom and authority acknowledges legal realities like precedent, practicalities and political constraints. Ideal statutes gain limited traction if contradicting entrenched rulings or implementation barriers. Gradual yet principled shifts sustain institutions while reform progresses.

Compromise resolves many disputes, with all sides partially satisfied rather than totally validating a position. Wisdom accepts less than perfection permitting constructive work. Authority shows flexibility where rigid stances undermine justice.

Through cooperation navigating such contours, laws prove adaptive serving the common interest. Authority executes public will via democratic mandates and judiciary safeguarding rights, with wisdom advising a vision guiding reform and discretion within boundaries.

The Influence Of Precedent

Precedent exerts a strong yet nuanced influence on the relationship between authority and wisdom in lawmaking. On one hand, adherence to past rulings lends legitimacy, consistency and predictability valued in legal systems. Disrupting precedent risks caprice or special pleading.

However, blindly following every precedent risks entrenching past decisions no longer consonant with societal progress or new understandings. Wisdom acknowledges precedent as guidance not a straitjacket, altering respect deserves case by case. Landmark cases sometimes overturn precedents whose effects harmed justice.

Reconciling these realities demands discerning which precedents restrain needed change versus which flexibly evolve law. Nuance appraises rulings’ current impacts and foundations rather than following automatically or rejecting abruptly. Precedent preserves stability while permitting reforms aligning statutes with contemporary wisdoms.

Challenges To Legal Wisdom

Challenges To Legal Wisdom

Disagreement over wisdom inevitably arises, testing legislation’s philosophical and pragmatic foundations. Diverse parties contest interpretations favoring their priorities. Various jurisprudential schools apply reason differently to issues.

Controversy stimulates reassessing stances and exploring objections’ merits to strengthen weakened positions or acknowledge flawed reasoning. Rigidity denies such opportunities for growth. Humility accepts fallibility and commitment to continually honing justice through open debate.

Challenges strengthen credible arguments and discard positions untenable upon deeper scrutiny. Outcomes emerge wiser and laws gain legitimacy from weathering skeptical reviews revealing hidden defects or meritorious alternatives deserving consideration. Contentious yet civil discourse improves statutes.

Towards A Paradigm Shift

Some argue the prevalent paradigm overly dominated by authority needs adjusting to better integrate wisdoms. Reformers envision policy models distributing power more inclusively and factoring public input substantively earlier in legislative cycles.

Empowering citizens as problem solving partners cultivates shared responsibility and bridges divisions. Participatory structures enhance wisdom’s role in guiding equitable resolutions acceptable to diverse communities. Outcomes prove durable with buy-in replacing top-down dictates.

Transition faces resistance from entrenched structures. Yet evolution suggests such innovations may strengthen governance legitimacy and public faith in democracies. Possibilities remain worth constructively exploring if approached optimistically rather than rejectingly. Progress often happens gradually through open minded transition.

Embracing Ethical Jurisprudence

For lawmaking to better harmonize authority and wisdom, some argue the prevailing legal paradigm should shift from strict positivism towards acknowledging morality’s place. Positivism views law and ethics as separate realms, with statutes defined solely based on origination and contents, not inherent rightness.

Ethical jurisprudence contends laws merit scrutiny against ethical standards like justice, dignity and human rights. When policies clearly violate core values despite democratic processes, policies face legitimacy issues requiring reevaluation. Natural law theory also holds certain universal moral principles supersede even authoritative rules.

Embracing ethical considerations does not demand implementing a singular philosophy, but it orients legislation towards righteousness. It guides reforming unjust precedents and anachronistic statutes no longer ethically tenable. Wisdom finds expression not as direct rule writings but as moral benchmarks informing authorities crafting rules serving the common good.

The Role Of Legal Education

Legal education influences bridging authority and wisdom by how it trains new professionals. Traditional pedagogy focused on doctrinal memorization risked viewing law as static and disconnected from real impacts.

Modern reforms better cultivate wisdom by emphasizing practical skills and diverse societal perspectives. Interdisciplinary study examines law’s intersections with fields like economics, ethics and social sciences. Experiential learning through clinics applies classroom lessons helping underserved groups.

Critical thinking gets honed discerning law’s philosophical and pragmatic complexities beyond memorization. Appreciating multiple viewpoints and questioning assumptions anchors future lawyers well to integrate community wisdoms into equitable policymaking or representation. Education thereby strengthens both authority’s enforcement and wisdom’s guiding influence.

Authority’s Dominance

Observers note authority remains the dominant paradigm in mainstream law despite discussion of integrating wisdom. Polemical stances broadly characterize law as either a wisdom or authority based enterprise with little synthesis.

However, such dichotomies oversimplify millennia of jurisprudential evolution. In reality, legal systems integrate both through tensions navigated via principles of justice, representation and precedent. Neither philosophical camps alone explains laws’ moral or pragmatic dimensions.

Seeing constructs as compatible yet distinct domains acknowledges their necessary yet optimizable fusion. Dominance arises not from one excluding the other intrinsically, but from praxis emphasizing certain aspects while underdeveloping others correctly over time. Nuance resolves “either-or” debates constructively.

Wisdom As A Guiding Principle

While authority articulates binding rules, wisdom serves as an orienting principle encouraging just, equitable application respecting human dignity. Situational knowledge tempers rigid stances with compassion for complex realities statutes target abstractly.

Wisdom-led discretion considers consequences of criminalization disproportionately harming vulnerable groups. It evaluates moral dilemmas like end of life decisions too personal for blanket regulations. Policing embraces de-escalation over draconian force where possible.

Judges weighing equitable factors in rulings recognize no law anticipates every contingency. Educated wisdom mitigates unfair impacts, unintended or unreasonable outcomes exceeding harms intended to prevent. Statutes provide a moral minimum; wisdom realizes higher justice through discretion.

Introspection Into Lawmaking Dynamics

Authority alone proves incomplete without self-critique maintaining responsiveness. Wisdom means interrogating policies’ philosophical and practical underpinnings through open introspection. Impact assessments solicit diverse perspectives on statutes’ fairness, effectiveness and whether underlying rationales endure.

Public comment periods similarly question rationales, suggest improvements and identify oversights. Transparency and accountability optimize laws representing community interests instead of disengaged directives. Periodic reviews identify anachronisms and reform needs.

Self-analysis maintains coherence between regulations and evolving human rights standards. It examines whether concentrated regulatory power operates democratically, respecting minority viewpoints. Introspection realizes law as a living, imperfect institution requiring continuous wisdom.

Arguments Supporting Tymoff

Tymoff’s assertion highlights wisdom’s primacy over authority when judging laws’ legitimacy and justice. Wisdom constitutes the moral philosophy by which regulations should be assessed. It asks whether policies align with community values and ethics over political motives alone.

Unquestioned authority enables overreach and abuse without guidance. Wisdom ensures power protects vulnerable groups and advances human rights instead of minoritarian interests. Regulations must persuade intellectually, not just utilize force. Law compels outward behaviors but wisdom sways conviction.

Wisdom prevents short sighted, inflexible directives unable to adapt insights from experiences applying statutes. It values evolving understandings over static controls. Community participation in lawmaking also increases legitimacy and public cooperation with nuanced policies.

Challenging Tymoff’s Assertion

While wisdom certainly informs just laws, some argue it cannot replace or surpass the role of established authority in governance functions. Positivists contend legislation requires binding force more than philosophical rationales alone. Clear rules maintain predictable, consistent application of justice.

Placing too much emphasis on wisdom risks invalidating democratically enacted statutes if open to endless reinterpretation. Laws represent negotiated compromises balancing interests versus any single philosophy. Perfection gets abandoned for workable solutions.

Wisdom also lacks consensus amid diverse, reasonable views. Whose wisdom guides without authorities? Unfettered debate delays closure. Majority decision making through popularly endorsed representatives remains necessary.

Checks on authority like elections and judicial review better address abuses than displacing authority with ambiguity. Constitutional separation of powers distribute authority while still permitting policy disputes. Criticism targets excesses, not authority structures themselves as inherently illegitimate.

Overall both authority establishing what is and wisdom discerning what “ought” to be play indispensable yet complementary governance roles. Criticizing shortfalls alone risks theoretical extremism overlooking practical necessities of stable, coordinating institutions. Balance remains key.

The Ideal Balance

No single paradigm advocating total primacy of either authority or wisdom adequately explains the nuanced, historical relationship between these concepts in legal frameworks. Both serve vital functions that become dysregulated by overreliance on one component alone.

The ideal model accepts tensions constructively navigating contours between the two. It recognizes laws requiring binding force and efficiency that authority administers, while also maintaining legitimacy and social virtues when wisdom guides discrete policy debates and adjudications sensitively considering underserved groups.

Public participation and ethical considerations can help authorities make wiser choices benefiting communities. Yet consensus also necessitates majority processes moving agendas. Stable rules provide scaffolds for discretion and reform. Balance optimizes this synergy maintaining ordered freedom.

Overall calibrating, not eliminating, the influence of both preserves responsive governance attentive to civic wisdom without volatility. Law represents an ongoing process between these poles continuously perfecting justice and democratic rule.


Who wrote it is not wisdom but authority that makes a law?

Thomas Hobbes wrote the quotation “It is not wisdom but authority that makes a law.”

What is the difference between law and wisdom?

Law is a set of regulations or principles enacted by authority, while wisdom is discernment and judgment gained through experience over time.

What is the law of Word of Wisdom?

The Word of Wisdom is a section of the Doctrine and Covenants, a Mormon scripture, that provides general guidelines regarding health, including abstaining from tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee.

Is wisdom more powerful than knowledge?

Wisdom is more valuable than knowledge because it requires not just having information but also having good judgment about how to apply knowledge meaningfully based on lived experience.


The relationship between authority and wisdom in legislation is a delicate balancing act. which calls for careful and thoughtful navigation of different perspectives. Neither concept alone adequately explains the dynamics at play. As both play important roles which become unstable due to over dominance of each other.

An optimal approach recognizes the need for both binding principles of management through authority. and at the same time an orientation toward justice, equity, and collective wisdom that thrives under the guidance of thoughtful discretion. Maintaining this balance requires an open mind, constant self reflection and a willingness to incorporate diverse perspectives into the legal framework over time.

If authority focuses on urban wisdom born from lived experiences. While wisdom continues to advise fair policies through respectful participation. So legislation in the service of the public good has the greatest potential for broad understanding and legitimacy.

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