Law (Crouches around the Bend)

“The [law] crouches at the door/Its urge is towards you /Yet you can be its master” (Gen 4:7) (emended)

On the road, the law crouches around the corner. I have always been struck by the special menace of the State Police patrol car, sitting alone or with a buddy, waiting patiently like some kind of animal for the next unsuspecting speeding violation. You want to go 80mph, but it’s a 55mph zone. After enough speeding tickets, the law gets inscribed between your innards and your right foot.

The law inhibits me. This is something that white, middleclass people can live with most of the time. It inhabits me and I inhabit it. When it works and when it’s just, the intertwining of law, consciousness, and habituation makes for circumspection.  Without thinking, I am more “wise” now as I anticipate its presence just around the bend. I want to drive fast. But slow is good too. Instead of the quickening acceleration, you maintain speed in a gliding, more gentle motion.

And there are ways to circumvent the law from within the law. Bonnie Honig in Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy writes a lot about the exceptions that are worked into the normal (non-emergency) fabric of legal systems.

Law is not law. With a lot of practice, it is relatively easy to master. It’s usually pretty safe to travel the speed limit [plus] 15 mph [minus] 1mph. I can only speak for my own experience. In America, racial privilege means there’s give and take to the law. Only on highways, though, not in hamlets in Upstate New York, where too much carelessness cost me too many points driving on backcountry roads the spring I taught at Colgate.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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