What Does “It is not Wisdom but Authority that Makes a Law” Mean?

What Does “It is not Wisdom but Authority that Makes a Law” Mean? post thumbnail image

Table Of contents

Understanding the QuoteWhat is wisdom?
What is authority?
Interpreting the quote
Historical Context
Origins of the quote
Application in different contexts
Famous uses of the quote
Analysis of the QuoteWisdom versus authority
Implications of the quote
Criticisms and counterarguments
Modern RelevancePolitical implications
Legal implications
Societal implications
Examples in contemporary discourse


When we encounter the phrase “It is not wisdom but authority that makes a law,” we are confronted with a statement that challenges our understanding of the relationship between wisdom and authority in the context of lawmaking. In this article, we will delve into the depths of this quote, exploring its origins, interpretations, historical context, and modern relevance.

Understanding the Quote:
What is wisdom?

Wisdom is often defined as the ability to make sound judgments based on knowledge, experience, and understanding. It encompasses a deep understanding of human nature, ethics, and the consequences of actions.

What is authority?

Authority, on the other hand, refers to the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. It is often vested in individuals or institutions by virtue of their position or status within a society.

Interpreting the quote:

The quote suggests that the legitimacy of laws does not stem from their inherent wisdom but rather from the authority of those who enact and enforce them. In other words, the power to create and enforce laws is derived from authority rather than the inherent wisdom of those in positions of power.

Historical Context:
Origins of the quote:

The origins of this quote can be traced back to various sources throughout history, including ancient philosophical writings and political discourse. One notable example is Thomas Hobbes, who wrote in his work Leviathan that “covenants without the sword are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.”

Application in different contexts:

Throughout history, this concept has been applied in various contexts, from monarchies to democracies. In authoritarian regimes, laws are often imposed through the authority of a single ruler or ruling party, without necessarily reflecting the wisdom or will of the people. Similarly, in democracies, laws are often enacted by elected representatives who derive their authority from the consent of the governed, rather than their individual wisdom.

Famous uses of the quote:

The quote has been referenced and paraphrased by numerous political leaders, philosophers, and scholars throughout history. One notable example is John Locke, who wrote in his Second Treatise of Government that “wherever law ends, tyranny begins.”

Analysis of the Quote:
Wisdom versus authority:

The juxtaposition of wisdom and authority in this quote raises important questions about the nature of power and governance. While wisdom may inform good decision-making, it is ultimately authority that determines the legitimacy and enforcement of laws.

Implications of the quote:

The quote highlights the potential for abuse of power and the importance of holding authority figures accountable for their actions. It also underscores the need for a balance of power within governance structures to prevent tyranny and ensure the protection of individual rights and freedoms.

Criticisms and counterarguments:

Critics of this quote argue that wisdom should play a more significant role in the lawmaking process, as laws that lack wisdom may lead to injustice and societal harm. They also contend that authority should be derived from the consent of the governed rather than imposed from above.

Modern Relevance:
Political implications:

In today’s political climate, the tension between wisdom and authority remains ever-present. Political leaders often face scrutiny over the legitimacy of their decisions, particularly when they appear to prioritize authority over wisdom.

Legal implications:

In the legal realm, debates rage over the extent to which judges should defer to legislative authority versus exercising their own judgment based on legal principles and precedent.

Societal implications:

On a societal level, questions of authority and wisdom permeate discussions around social justice, human rights, and the role of government in addressing pressing issues such as climate change and inequality.

Examples in contemporary discourse:

Recent examples of this tension can be seen in debates over immigration policy, gun control, and the balance of power between branches of government. In each case, the question of whether laws are driven by wisdom or authority is hotly contested.


In conclusion, the quote “It is not wisdom but authority that makes a law” challenges us to critically examine the sources of power and legitimacy within our legal and political systems. By understanding the interplay between wisdom and authority, we can strive to create laws that are both just and legitimate, ensuring a more equitable and democratic society.


  1. What is the origin of the quote “It is not wisdom but authority that makes a law”?
    The exact origin of the quote is unclear, but similar sentiments can be found in the works of philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.
  2. Does this quote suggest that wisdom is irrelevant in the lawmaking process?
    Not necessarily. While the quote emphasizes the role of authority in enacting laws, wisdom still plays a crucial role in informing decision-making and ensuring just outcomes.
  3. How does this quote relate to the concept of democracy?
    In a democracy, laws are ideally enacted by representatives who derive their authority from the consent of the governed. However, the quote highlights the potential for authoritarianism and abuse of power even within democratic systems.
  4. Can laws be legitimate without the consent of the governed?
    According to the quote, laws derive their legitimacy from authority rather than consent. However, many argue that true legitimacy requires the consent and participation of those subject to the law.
  5. What are the implications of prioritizing authority over wisdom in lawmaking?
    Prioritizing authority over wisdom can lead to unjust laws and undermine the principles of democracy and justice. It can also perpetuate systems of oppression and inequality.

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