When it comes to the law, our first hurdle in terms of connecting and engaging with it is in the way it is written. The language of law is so distinct, it is almost a language in its own right, much like the language of love. Both the language of law and the language of love hold the power to either include or separate by being transparent or obscure, true or false. Through language, then, law, like love, has the power to either unite or divide.
The language of law in its written form has fascinated scholars for centuries with its own ornate style. Characterized by an abundance of technical terms, common words with uncommon meanings, and archaic expressions among other unique features, it is defined as a “specialized use of certain terms and linguistic patterns that governs the teaching of legal language,” and we study it almost like a second language so that we can understand its complexity, its many layers and rules, and communicate more effectively. But the rules of law are not always apparent, and language can elude us. By placing the language of law on an inaccessible pedestal, we run the risk of diminishing our connection with it. As with the language of love, words can be employed with the deliberate intention to be perceived in a specific way, but perception is not always the truth.
Language is central to human affairs, especially when it comes to the law which is responsible for defining human relations and creating them where they didn’t exist before, such as in marriage. The law seeks to clarify and reveal what is true. It simply wouldn’t exist without language; it is bound within books and acts and bills, it is bound within its own form. Much like humans would cease living – at least in the true sense of being heart-opened, joyful givers and receivers of life – without love, the law would cease to exist without words. Language is so deeply embedded in every aspect of the law, just as it is with people and love: everything is inextricably bound and nothing is separate. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas points out that lex, the Latin word for law, comes from the verb ligare meaning “to bind.” Just as mutuality exists in law whereby parties are bound by obligations, love binds people together.
Both law and love are thus essential dimensions of human life: to lose faith in either is in a sense to deny life. The paradox, of course, is the uncertainty that each brings because we want to follow their rules but find we cannot. WH Auden explores this concept beautifully in his poem Law, Like Love, where he identifies that both law and love challenge us and force us to accept that the rules only take us so far; after that, we have a responsibility to fathom our way through the uncertainty and find the courage to seek what is true. If we are not centred in truth, we are living in darkness. Observing the law is more than adhering to a set of rules, it also requires the self-examination of one’s heart and soul to live in perfect accord with nature, self and others. Perhaps it is the gardeners in the poem who had the closest appreciation for, and understanding of, the purpose of both love and law in life as “the sun.” Law and love in their truest sense should always be the light that carries us forward, through the unknown, out of darkness into the truth.
Like the gardeners, we must all play our part in tending to this purpose. As part of our mission in Propylon, we are committed to breaking down the layers of complexity that exist in the law so that it is both easier for legislative staff to manage it and for citizens to understand it.