Letting the Laws Sleep

1 08 2008

Two years ago, I did a series of posts on Pierre Hadot’s reading of Marcus Aurelius. I cited the following quote from Hadot’s book, The Inner Citadel:

“…the formula ‘to let the laws sleep’ was a proverbial expression, meaning that, in case of serious crises, we must resign ourselves to silencing our moral principles…¬†When Apollonius died before Marcus became emperor, the latter was deeply grieved, and wept abundantly. The courtiers reproached Marcus for his demonstration of affection, probably because they considered his philosophical pretensions to be a joke, and wanted to show him that he was being unfaithful to his own principles. However, the emperor Antoninus Pius said to them: “Let him be a man. Neither philosophy nor the Empire can uproot affections.’

Since I read that passage, the phrase, “letting the laws sleep” has been on my mind more and more. The phrase has nothing to do with living immorally or immoderately. It has more to do with acknowledging that life is sloppy, difficult, and never in black and white. The modern approach to this would either have us assert the law everywhere and at all times, or kill the law altogether. While this makes for a very predictable and safe society, it is far from the solution to all of our problems.

One can suspect that those who would want to assert the law of things without any regard for consequences do not really believe in the goodness or truth of the law, but rather are afraid that the law is neither good or true in itself. That is the difference between ideology or fundamentalism and truth in itself. Deciding that the law may not apply in all circumstances does not mean that it is false. It only means that we are weak and it is eternal, and we must be humble before the cold fact of our wavering humanity.