“Once it’s no longer accepted that something is wrong, all the laws in the world will avail you nought [sic].”
– ‘When it’s no country for old men’ : Mark Steyn, Maclean’s December 10, 2007
In the article by Mark Steyn, he states the idea that people’s actions are based on a deeper aspect of society other than the laws of that society. If something is understood to be wrong, whether it is codified in law or not, it is frowned upon by the world. Likewise, if something is not accepted to be wrong, even if it is considered illegal by law, then that law will little as a preventative measure. I agree in the sentiment that people don’t really consult the law everytime they want to do something, but rather than people infer judgments based on the culture and spirit of the times. Law in turn, must conform to this prevalent sentiment.
There are plenty of examples throughout history of law coming into conflict with the mood of a society. In the 1930’s, the United States tried to prohibit the consumption of alcohol (aptly named the Prohibition), much to the general discontent of the people. Did people follow the strict laws? Nope. Perhaps on the surface, yes, but the widespread result of the Prohibition was the era of the underground alcohol trade and speakeasys all over the place. The law disagreed with the people, and the people fought. It takes more than law to change a dominating notion or belief held in a society. Prohibition was so inefficient that it eventually just fell apart. The people fought and the people won.
A more modern example is the widespread prohibition of marijuana in virtually every North American and European country (go Amsterdam?!). Despite the money that goes into enforcing weed prohibition, it can hardly be said that the law has limited the use of marijuana as a recreational drug. Like the 1930’s, there’s a whole science to the illicit weed trade, and you could argue that it’s in fact easier to get your hands on some weed as a minor than cigarettes or alcohol, which are legal, but regulated. Because of the massive sub-culture constantly driving marijuana, the law is just a speed bump in an activity that is completely driven by the will of the people to keep smoking it.
Laws, to be obeyed, must reflect the people within a society. Those that attempt to prescribe a culture rather than describe that culture inevitably fade away.