The Law of the Jungle

Rudyard Kipling writes, in the second jungle book:

Just to give you an idea of the immense variety of the Jungle Law, I have translated into verse (Baloo always recited them in a sort of sing-song) a few of the laws that apply to the wolves. There are, of course, hundreds and hundreds more, but these will do for specimens of the simpler rulings:

Now this is the Law of the Jungle—as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back—
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

Wash daily from nose-tip to tail-tip; drink deeply, but never too deep;
And remember the night is for hunting, and forget not the day is for sleep.

The Jackal may follow the Tiger, but, Cub, when thy whiskers are grown,
Remember the Wolf is a hunter—go forth and get food of thine own.

Keep peace with the Lords of the Jungle—the Tiger, the Panther, the Bear;
And trouble not Hathi the Silent, and mock not the Boar in his lair.

When Pack meets with Pack in the Jungle, and neither will go from the trail,
Lie down till the leaders have spoken—it may be fair words shall prevail.

When ye fight with a Wolf of the Pack, ye must fight him alone and afar,
Lest others take part in the quarrel, and the Pack be diminished by war.

The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge, and where he has made him his home,
Not even the Head Wolf may enter, not even the Council may come.

The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge, but where he has digged it too plain,
The Council shall send him a message, and so he shall change it again.

If ye kill before midnight, be silent, and wake not the woods with your bay,
Lest ye frighten the deer from the crops, and the brothers go empty away.

Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, and your cubs as they need, and ye can;
But kill not for pleasure of killing, and seven times never kill Man.

If ye plunder his Kill from a weaker, devour not all in thy pride;
Pack-Right is the right of the meanest; so leave him the head and the hide.

The Kill of the Pack is the meat of the Pack. Ye must eat where it lies;
And no one may carry away of that meat to his lair, or he dies.

The Kill of the Wolf is the meat of the Wolf. He may do what he will,
But, till he has given permission, the Pack may not eat of that Kill.

Cub-Right is the right of the Yearling. From all of his Pack he may claim
Full-gorge when the killer has eaten; and none may refuse him the same.

Lair-Right is the right of the Mother. From all of her year she may claim
One haunch of each kill for her litter, and none may deny her the same.

Cave-Right is the right of the Father—to hunt by himself for his own:
He is freed of all calls to the Pack; he is judged by the Council alone.

Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw,
In all that the Law leaveth open, the word of the Head Wolf is Law.

Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is—Obey!

The Law of the Jungle as Allegory

I'm inclined to think that the "Law of the Jungle" is not a fictional work about the laws of beasts, but an allegorical work about the laws of men. This is not a particularly strained interpretation, of course, but let's analyze it through that lens to make it clear:

First and foremost, the Law of the Jungle described by Kipling (via Baloo) is imposed upon the Jungle People from the outside, by reality. It is the basic rules that must be observed on pain of automatic death or injury:

Wash daily from nose-tip to tail-tip; drink deeply, but never too deep;
And remember the night is for hunting, and forget not the day is for sleep.

This is the most obvious instance of the non-social Laws of Reality in the poem, though all the laws mentioned have aspects of being imposed by reality.

The equivalent for man is "Dress well and keep yourself groomed, and don't step in front of a bus". Nobody has to agree that these are good ideas for them to be good ideas; the structure of reality and of social interaction imposes them upon us.

Second, the Law is social protocol. It says who is right in disputes, and it says how to behave in social settings. It is the agreed-on social reality of right and wrong. But though it requires agreement, it's not a purely social construct; it also has to be correct. For example:

When Pack meets with Pack in the Jungle, and neither will go from the trail,
Lie down till the leaders have spoken—it may be fair words shall prevail.

If everyone agrees on this rule, it works. If they don't all agree, lots of wolves get killed or injured in the fight. If they think it's just about the agreement, and agree on something else, reality probably has a nasty surprise for them. This example is obvious, but many other social rules are less obviously constrained by reality, while still being so just as much.

Another example of the law-as-social-agreement-on-reality thing is James Donald's account of Natural Law:

Natural law has objective, external existence. It follows from the ESS (evolutionary stable strategy) for the use of force that is natural for humans and similar animals. The ability to make moral judgments, the capacity to know good and evil, has immediate evolutionary benefits: just as the capacity to perceive three dimensionally tells me when I am standing on the edge of a cliff, so the capacity to know good and evil tells me if my companions are liable to cut my throat. It evolved in the same way, for the same straightforward and uncomplicated reasons, as our ability to throw rocks accurately.

...

Natural law is, or follows from, an [Evolutionary Stable Strategy] for the use of force: Conduct which violates natural law is conduct such that, if a man were to use individual unorganized violence to prevent such conduct, or, in the absence of orderly society, use individual unorganized violence to punish such conduct, then such violence would not indicate that the person using such violence, (violence in accord with natural law) is a danger to a reasonable man. This definition is equivalent to the definition that comes from the game theory of iterated three or more player non zero sum games, applied to evolutionary theory. The idea of law, of actions being lawful or unlawful, has the emotional significance that it does have, because this ESS for the use of force is part of our nature.

In other words, Law is a real beneficial equilibrium of behavior. What James Donald does not mention, but which ought to be understood, is that the smooth operation and application of the law depends on common knowledge of the law. If people disagree about whether some conduct is lawful, or don't understand why it is ok to initiate violence against law-breakers, society cannot work as smoothly.

Thirdly and lastly, Law is imposed by authority:

Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw,
In all that the Law leaveth open, the word of the Head Wolf is Law.

Even this is more of a social rule to obey authority than it is an example of centralized enforcement. Kipling leaves out explicit mention of the fact that law is usually supplemented by broadcast and imposition by a central power, because it is such an obvious fact of modern life, during his time and ours. But this may be just because the theory of centralized law is not needed by the rank and file of the pack, only its application for them, obedience:

Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is—Obey!

I believe that with this poem, and the related thread running throughout the Jungle Book, Kipling was drawing the reader's attention back to the socially decentralized and reality-imposed essential core of law, because modern men are in such danger of forgetting it. Certainly the philosophical themes are too well-developed, and too consistent with reasonable but uncommon theory of law, to be just backdrop for a children's story about talking animals.

Laws of Reality, Society, and Authority

Let us then extract and repeat the understanding of the nature of law which is implicit in the Jungle Book, and clarify and extend it to a fuller theory of law as it applies to humans:

First and foremost, there are the Laws of Reality, imposed on the individual and on the group by God or Nature, on automatic pain of death or harm. If you fail to take your own side in the competition for resources, you're going to have a bad time. If you get between a mother Bear and her cub, you're going to have a bad time. If you leave your workspace messy, you're going to have a bad time. If your group fails to stay organized and coherent in a conflict, you're going to have a bad time. If your epistemology denies that the pattern of light refracting onto your retina is strong evidence of Shere Khan the tiger... Etc. There is no arguing with or changing these rules, only obeying them or insulating yourself from them.

Second we have the Laws of Society, common understanding of which enables smooth interaction between self-interested agents if they can mostly agree. (The self interest being imposed by reality, as the non-self-interested are quickly eaten.) Examples of this are my rules for brotherhood, most social norms, and classic distributed natural law as told above by James Donald. The key to social law is that defectors can be excluded or defeated by volunteers at relatively low cost, a supermajority finds the terms beneficial or acceptable, and it is easy to agree about who has defected. Social law does not need to be explicit to work; it can work nearly as well when everyone has only an implicit or emotional understanding.

Third we have the Laws of Authority, which are imposed in an empire by agent(s) in solid control of that empire. Why?

  1. The Laws of Reality are imposed upon the empire by Nature and/or God.

  2. The owner(s) of the empire extract benefit from the health of their empire, which is an asset.

  3. The owners have the power to impose rule that changes the overall behavior or evolution of the empire.

  4. (1, 2) They are thus interested in steering their empire towards compliance with the Laws of Reality.

  5. (3, 4) Being both able and willing, the owners of an empire impose internal Laws of Authority that are a reflection of the external Laws of Reality that focuses their wrath preemptively at the site of dysfunction.

Thus we have our Laws of Authority. For concrete example, there is nothing in the Law of Reality or Society that stops me from ganging up with my toughest buddies to raid a neighboring people across the whale-road. Indeed, it is the historical norm for my people. But once the empire is secured and the subjugated clans yield and begin to pay tribute, such behavior between subordinate clans within the empire brings disorder and loss upon the whole. Thus the owner-king prohibits it for the good of the whole, the good of the whole being the good of the owner-king.

I believe all of ordered law derives from these three sources.

We are accustomed in modern life to think of law as arbitrary imposition from on high, but Kipling reminds us that law is also social and eternal, empowering us to understand and apply it on the local level within our social communities. Even the theory of the Laws of Authority provides a basis for understanding and engineering many of the things we might want to do with local leadership.