Colson’s Law is named for the man I learned it from: Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries. It is one of the fundamental laws of human history. It has always been true, and it always will be true, unless human nature itself changes in its very essence. It is the law of four “C’s”: Chaos, Community, Conscience, and Cops.
Colson’s Law can be remembered best visually, like the “square of opposition” in logic.
Community and chaos are “vertical” opposites, good versus evil, while cops and conscience are “horizontal” opposites, two goods to be balanced. Community and chaos are inherently opposed forces, like battling armies.
Cops and conscience are the two possible weapons of the defensive army (community) against the offensive army (chaos).
Both pairs of opposites are inversely proportionate, but the two vertical opposites are necessarily opposed (chaos and community destroy each other), while the horizontal ones are not (in fact, cops and conscience are often complementary).
But the need for each one decreases as the supply of the other increases: The more conscience a community has, the fewer cops it needs, and the more cops it has, the less conscience it needs to rely on.
The paradox of democracy is that it is founded on the premise of strong consciences but tends to produce weak ones by its very permissiveness. Its maximization of freedom (freedom from cops) rests on the willing submission of its citizens to conscience; yet this very freedom from cops tempts us to free ourselves from conscience, too. Paradoxically, this excess of freedom, or rather this mistaken kind of freedom, requires more cops to stave off chaos, thus resulting in less freedom. (For the two kinds of freedom — freedom from conscience and freedom from cops—are also inversely proportionate).
Colson’s Law states that the only alternatives to conscience are cops or chaos. If the inner shield of a community is lowered, the outer shield must be raised to stave off chaos. Therefore, a community, especially a free democracy, that loses its conscience will necessarily become a police state.
The idea of America becoming a police state will seem absurd to many, but that is because they forget that there is what Tocqueville called a soft despotism as well as a hard despotism, a Brave New World as well as a 1984. The populist dictatorship of Rousseau’s “general will” is as totalitarian as that of any king or tyrant, and much harder to topple, for it rests on propaganda, not arms; the media, not the military; and the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
The cops in a soft totalitarianism may well wield pens rather than sword. . . .