Examining the Methods
The Law, In Regards to Citizen and Subject
The most popular concept of modern society today is that certain regulations and laws can harmonize the relationships between all people. To those who accept this, it is not a question of if laws can be used to mold people, like clay. The question is how to enact laws in a seemingly delicate framework, between constitution and senate, so that people best respond to the body of laws. In reality, this means asking: what activity should be directed by the government, and what activity should be directed by the individual's conscience?
Whatever the vision of the involved citizen, it is typically something that aims towards the greater benefit of all citizens. Or, at least, this is its intention. But, for so many good intentions, the involved citizen is usually fighting against another "involved citizen." The modern sight of the US congress is something of an armed truce between pro-choice and pro-life, pro-immigration and pro-border, pro-gun and pro-gun-control. Each one of these advocates brings a strong amount of their own identity and culture with their political involvement. And each of them genuinely believes that whatever prosperity or liberty is brought about, it will inspire the common individual towards virtuous behavior.
This is the predominant concept of the law, as it is treated within the mainstream's cultural and social outlets. It is a tool which has been used improperly before, to create good people, but some modification of it is necessary to really make virtuous subjects. In order to create this vision, the involved citizen will use whatever avenue is available for influencing the law: encouraging voters, writing representatives, and lobbying senators, as well as trying to "inform the community at large."
The vision of the involved citizen could be far more involved than simple one-issues, like poverty, civil rights, religious freedom, or peace. The ideal they are bringing encompasses virtue. With the laws working properly, people will be motivated toward the greater good -- they will be inspired by the law's new freedom, it's new prosperity, or it's new security. And without this minor change, the people cannot truly aspire to greatness. Or, such is the thinking of the republic's political citizen. A patriotic individual, for instance, may argue that the right to gun ownership, when fully recognized, will inspire the people with a reverence for their nation now that they have liberty. The same is argued with every other lobbyist, whether it is pushing for an agenda on the right or the left. "These new laws will make people better," is the message they are bringing.
This vision, necessarily, is involved with the people who are effected by the laws. To pass these laws, whatever they may be, the lobbyist argues they will bring stronger culture, greater wealth, and more security to all. But all of these things are a measure of human existence. There is no wealth that has meaning without the people who created it, nor culture without those who bore it, nor security without those who are vigilant toward it. Whatever world or vision that the lobbyist is seeking to truly established, their laws only effect the people who are beneath the sovereignty of the state.
The Creation of Society's Individual
To mold the human being, as though one were to mold clay. While the sculptor applies brushes and utensils, to make all of the delicate marks necessary to a statue, the state uses laws and courts, to enforce an image upon the citizen. The comparison is meaningful, since both the artist and the government use force -- the law means nothing without police officers, the courts have no purpose without prisons. The artist may use a thin rod to place dimples through the clothing of their statue; but the state may use handcuffs, solitary confinement cells, and the hangman's noose, as though these are the tools to impart virtue upon the citizen.
If the state is so necessary to impart goodness to the individual, one must necessarily become curious about what has made the person so far without the state's intervention. The child is first exposed to the conditioning imparted by their parents. And for the vast majority of its few early years, all of its influences are from its parents and whatever extended family interacted with the youth. Before the infant can talk, it those who try to interact with the young who give it manners, a tone in attitude, and a particular way of doing things.
Once the young can hear and speak, the net of influence expands and expands. It starts to include friends of the family, friends from the neighborhood or school, teachers and others who participate in community efforts. All of these people have a strong touch in shaping the citizen's mind, long before it is ever capable of perceiving the law as a tool for shaping virtue. It is under the guidance of those closest to the youth that the true molding occurs, and it is not done by decrees and orders, but by affection and mutual trust.
Once the youth has grown to become an adult citizen, either the laws can repress them personally, or the laws will be made by them. Where the laws repress the people, they will not be likely to change attitudes and habits that have been ingrained since early life. And where the laws are made by the people, they will amount to nothing more than a very general contract between all members of society for preventing abuses.
In the first case, where the law seeks to reform the "unvirtuous," it cannot succeed, because the youth in civilized societies are not born unto laws of the state but to the love of parents. This has its lasting impression. And in the second case, where the law is made virtuous by its virtuous participants, there is no need for the law -- as a good law, chosen by good people, will not be needed where there is no evil to be repressed.
For any law to have real meaning, it must have the force to coerce others into obedience. Even in a monarchy, this force is most ably secured by gaining the trust and faith of the people. As those which have not tried gain their people's loyalty, whether the Tzar of Russia or the King of France, have suffered a worse fate than those who have merely lost elections. But if the majority happen to be good, there is no need for them to make laws over themselves. And if the majority happen to be bad, the laws themselves will be bad.
Social Organization Based on Freedom or Based on Force?
Those who want to change the law because they want to change society feel like coercion and force can add something to humanity that was not there before. For to outlaw an activity, whether it is black market trading or drug use, will itself not prevent or stop the activity. The law itself does not change the inherent character of humanity in regards to what it desires or despises; it can only offer the threat of force, confinement, and imprisonment. The individual who is imprisoned for doing something they have been raised to do may be able to instill a type of outer-obedience. But it will make it even more difficult to change the attitude or the mindset of such people. If they have held on to their faith tenaciously through government repression, then reasoning itself will be able to shake it.
For what is it that the law can introduce, except prisons and police, to create the change it wants? It only motivates humanity by fear and threats, which boils the emotions of revenge and stubbornness on the part of the subjects. It does not tend toward the virtuous attitude of humanity. As for there to be any goodness or altruism on the part of the individual, it must come voluntarily by their own choice. Threats that limit human activity and curtail freedom will keep the conscience occupied. The individual, spending more time arranging their life according to the code of laws, will have one strong, negative influence in the determination of their character. And the state, unlike the early family and community relations of the individual, does not act through voluntary cooperation and communal mutualism.
The state only acts through violence or the threat of it, and by its presence, humanity is desensitized by such cruelty -- in this atmosphere, virtue becomes impossible. What is it that government can hope to do in order to improve the lives of the people? It can pass laws for the efficient organization of society's resources, but they would not be able to reorganize it without engineers, and they would not be able to distribute food or goods, without first taking them from their producers. If the state were simply trying to facilitate cooperation between the different forces of society, then it would not be a government at all, because it would not be founded on laws or rulers. A society built by voluntary, mutual, and cooperative efforts, but this is always ruled out as a possibility because it technically implies pure anarchy.
It is easy to demonstrate the weakness of the law in channeling anything good out of the people. But this leads to something more important, the encouragement of thinking for alternative solutions to society's difficulties. Each person directly wants to influence others, through their positive qualities and their regard by the community. It is such a natural, inherent part of the human character that has existed since humanity has banded together. For in creating a vision of a harmonious, emancipated world, one must ask what has molded the individual so far -- and the person has been made better by their mutual connection with society, but has only been debased by the threats made by laws.