Law and Order vs. Lore and Orders


Anthony Judge – TRANSCEND Media Service

Imagining Otherwise the Forceful Engagement of Singularity with Plurality

Produced in a period when the forces of the international community are complicit in bloody fantasies in Syria.


The media offer daily coverage of the encounters between different forces — typically opposing each other with extreme violence. Unchallenged reference is made to the action of “forces of law and order”, with little consideration of the possibility that — under the guise of principle — these may be used to suppress alternative understandings of “order”. These may well be experientially informed by a sense of traditional values and customary lore. The pattern has played out in the confrontation between Western forces and the tribal cultures of Afghanistan, for example.

The pattern is echoed in competitive sport and in business competition. Democratic protest may be contained or repressed by one or more forces of “law and order” — purportedly acting “in the name of the law”, as do those claiming rights and entitlements. The situation becomes confused when some claim to be acting “lawfully” and “within the law”, and this is contested by others — who may well perceive this as a tendency to “lay down the law” or to act “above the law”.

The questions raised here concern the assumptions regarding the sense of a singular “law” — purportedly respectful of a singular sense of “order” — when clearly, especially within distinct sovereign countries, there are quite distinct laws, as well as many forms of order. An effort may be made to harmonise these laws within regional communities or according to intergovernmental treaties. The consequence may be acclaimed as a singular “international law” — potentially obscuring fundamental inconsistencies.

Analogous questions may be raised regarding “force”. Typically in any situation, a plurality of “forces” are mobilized to “enforce the law” — possibly police, fire brigade, civil defence. The military. International intervention to that end may however be framed as the action of an “international force” in the singular, irrespective of the number of national forces it involves and coordinates to some degree.

The puzzle of concern here is the sense in which these various forces act against some other “forces” deplored as upholding one or more alternative patterns of “order”. These other patterns are then framed in terms of some sense of “disorder” in that they do not conform to the preferred form of order, it is sought to impose upon them — whether claimed as having been “legitimately” defined nationally or internationally.

The puzzle is further complicated by the extent to which those acting “otherwise” may frame their forceful action as “legitimate” in some sense — in the light of some other “law” or “lore”, whether religious, tribal or traditional, possibly to be sustained (somewhat ironically) by “lore”. They too may feel empowered as a “force”, whether or not it takes physical form, offering them a sense of acting “lawfully” — or perhaps “lore-fully” .

The questions raised by these considerations concern the potential unfruitfulness of framing the relationship with a variety of forces in terms of a singular law and a singular order — especially given the number of “forces” in play, and the “order” they variously seek to “enforce”. The current relevance of this exploration concerns the response(s) to forces framed as “terrorist”, “revolutionary”, “illegal” — however these definitions may be applied to groups with religious, ideological, political, “alternative”, or criminal activities. The cases of Sharia law, the Arab Spring movements, and the preoccupations of tribal peoples, all raise issues in this respect. The efforts of multinational corporations and organized crime to circumvent the forces of “law and order” contribute to the complexity, as does the disarray among those seeking to uphold a singular understanding of law and order.

The widely used phrase “law and order” reflects an unchallenged appropriation of insights which have other much-valued connotations. Missing is any sense of the relationship in practice between different forms of order and the “forces” with which they are variously associated.



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Jun 2013.

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