The twenty-ninth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here , here , here and here.
Kipling had a love, hate relationship with the law and authority in general. He regarded law as necessary to the human condition, but he was too sharp an observer of the humanity not to notice that more than a few men in authority were fools, and that they manipulated laws to their advantage. In our confused times we have individuals who are stridently against laws that support traditional morality, while calling for government micro management in other areas of life that would have astounded most of the tyrants in history who lived prior to the last century. In his The Jungle Book (1894), Kipling sets forth a law code for a group, a wolf pack, that would at first blush seem completely lawless:
The Law of the Jungle
(From The Jungle Book)
by Rudyard Kipling
Now this is the Law of the Jungle —
as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk
the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf,
and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.
Wash daily from nose-tip to tail-tip;
drink deeply, but never too deep;
And remember the night is for hunting,
and forget not the day is for sleep.
The Jackal may follow the Tiger,
but, Cub, when thy whiskers are grown,
Remember the Wolf is a Hunter —
go forth and get food of thine own.
Keep peace with the Lords of the Jungle —
the Tiger, the Panther, and Bear.
And trouble not Hathi the Silent,
and mock not the Boar in his lair.
When Pack meets with Pack in the Jungle,
and neither will go from the trail,
Lie down till the leaders have spoken —
it may be fair words shall prevail.
When ye fight with a Wolf of the Pack,
ye must fight him alone and afar,
Lest others take part in the quarrel,
and the Pack be diminished by war.
The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge,
and where he has made him his home,
Not even the Head Wolf may enter,
not even the Council may come.
The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge,
but where he has digged it too plain,
The Council shall send him a message,
and so he shall change it again.
If ye kill before midnight, be silent,
and wake not the woods with your bay,
Lest ye frighten the deer from the crop,
and your brothers go empty away.
Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates,
and your cubs as they need, and ye can;
But kill not for pleasure of killing,
and seven times never kill Man!
If ye plunder his Kill from a weaker,
devour not all in thy pride;
Pack-Right is the right of the meanest;
so leave him the head and the hide.
The Kill of the Pack is the meat of the Pack.
Ye must eat where it lies;
And no one may carry away of that meat to his lair,
or he dies.
The Kill of the Wolf is the meat of the Wolf.
He may do what he will;
But, till he has given permission,
the Pack may not eat of that Kill.
Cub-Right is the right of the Yearling.
From all of his Pack he may claim
Full-gorge when the killer has eaten;
and none may refuse him the same.
Lair-Right is the right of the Mother.
From all of her year she may claim
One haunch of each kill for her litter,
and none may deny her the same.
Cave-Right is the right of the Father —
to hunt by himself for his own:
He is freed of all calls to the Pack;
he is judged by the Council alone.
Because of his age and his cunning,
because of his gripe and his paw,
In all that the Law leaveth open,
the word of your Head Wolf is Law.
Now these are the Laws of the Jungle,
and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law
and the haunch and the hump is — Obey!
As James Madison wryly noted long ago:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
Law is necessary in human affairs, but if those who administer the law become over-mighty, freedom wilts under the whims of rulers that are disguised as laws. Better no law than that, as CS Lewis noted:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Law is a good thing, but like most good things, only in moderation.