"The law is but words and paper without the hands and swords of men."

James Harington in The Commonwealth of Oceana

James HaringtonThe law is often misjudged by those that have come face to face with its necessary component, the enforcement of law.

Without the police and other law enforcement officers such as security and prison guards, the law would be increasingly ignored by those who would prefer anarchy.

James Harington, also spelled "Harrington", was an English philosopher and writer who lived from 1611 to 1677.

When Charles I was sentenced to death, Harington wrote The Commonwealth of Oceana, which Thomas Cromwell promptly had seized.

Harington re-dedicated the book to Cromwell and it was then allowed to be published.

The Commonwealth of Oceana, a work of fiction, contained a number of novel ideas in regards to the administration of justice such as a rotation of judges and politicians.

Later, in about 1661, Harington spent some time in the Tower of London on a charge of conspiracy.

The segment of Oceana that the quote comes from is as follows:

"... government (to define it de facto, or according to modern prudence) is an art whereby some man, or some few men, subject a city or a nation, and rule it according to his or their private interest; which, because the laws in such cases are made according to the interest of a man, or of some few families, may be said to be the empire of men, and not of laws.

"The former kind is that which Machiavel (whose books are neglected) is the only politician that has gone about to retrieve; and that Leviathan (who would have his book imposed upon the universities) goes about to destroy. For 'it is,' says he, 'another error of Aristotle's politics that in a well-ordered commonwealth, not men should govern, but the laws. What man that has his natural senses, though he can neither write nor read, does not find himself governed by them he fears, and believes can kill or hurt him when he obeys not? or, who believes that the law can hurt him, which is but words and paper, without the hands and swords of men?'

"I confess that the magistrate upon his bench is that to the law which a gunner upon his platform is to his cannon."


Original of painting of James Harington (spelled "Harrington") held in the National Portrait Gallery, London, #4109; painted circa 1658.


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