John is walking in the park one day, ranting to himself about stupid drivers not obeying the speed limit and roaring down his street and the stupid police not doing anything about it, when he comes across a bottle half buried in the dirt. To his surprise, when he pulls it out and opens it, a genie comes out! Unlike other genies, this one will only grant a single wish. John, still thinking about those drivers, makes a spur-of-the-moment wish: "I wish all laws would be enforced!"

POOF! All laws are now magically enforced. Nobody can willingly and knowingly break a law, ever again.

Of course, dictators love this. They can make all the laws they want, and their subjects have to obey them! (Way to go, John)

But what about elsewhere in the world? How would lawmakers try to use and abuse the opportunity to make laws that will be obeyed?


You have to know about, understand, and be capable of following a law in order to be required to obey it. Also, only humans are affected. So

  • A law that everyone will always speak Esperanto only affects those who already speak it
  • A law that everyone will learn Esperanto does affect everyone who doesn't speak Esperanto
  • A law saying that all infants will allow their parents to get enough sleep does nothing :(
  • A law passed in secret does nothing until it is no longer secret
  • Laws cannot make plants, animals, or inanimate objects do anything (making it illegal for a building to collapse while there are people inside is useless)

Examples of "use":

  • Doing their best to prevent their successors from abusing the system
  • Setting up a system allowing people to encode goals as laws, such as "Sally will exercise three times a week", or "Fred will stop smoking"

Examples of "abuse":

  • Legalized bribery
  • Setting themselves up as a permanent aristocracy
  • Making it so that no laws apply to them

Which government is responsible? The one in charge of the area. In contested areas (such as during a civil war), I'm not sure how this would work. Those areas are not the focus of this question, though.

  • $\begingroup$ I think a class of criminal will develop who go simply never read the news, etc. so they don't hear about any new laws. Also, how about being told about a fake law? How would you know you're hearing about an actual law? Also, does this spell know which government is responsible for laws in a certain area? $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jan 28, 2016 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM if you're told a fake law, you'll find that you can disobey it without any problem. The spell does know which government is responsible for laws in a given area, but I'm sidestepping the issue of who is responsible in contested areas, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Rob Watts
    Jan 28, 2016 at 19:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ So if I told you about a law in China, for example. Would you then find yourself restricted by their laws? Couldn't a country conquer the world by passing a law that "all foreign citizens surrender unconditionally, and obey our representatives", and then simply blasting that information across the internet/media? Couldn't they at that point just send a delegation to each country and declare themselves masters of the world? In fact, if your genie doesn't differentiate between legal spheres of influence what's to stop me from establishing The Republic of Andrei and passing my own laws? $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jan 28, 2016 at 19:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM It sounds like the magic knows if the law applies to you. So if you're in the US, laws in China don't apply to you, and even if you knew about them you would not have to obey them unless you were visiting China. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Jan 28, 2016 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ Would the US Bill of Rights count as a law? If so, then said dictator would never really be able to take over the United States since he would be bound by a law as well. Also, what if an invading army steps into enemy territory? Would said army be bound by the law of the invaded nation? $\endgroup$ Jan 28, 2016 at 19:42

5 Answers 5


The law isn't precise enough for this

The law in a common-law country is not just a set of statutes and rulings, it is a living entity -- a body of knowledge that changes with changing social norms (for instance: trespass law is almost entirely dependent on its surrounding social norms to function, an issue that's caused great problems with attempts to define the digital equivalent). Furthermore, interpretation differences between courts arise as a natural part of the legal system's functioning -- eventually, these are settled by a high court, but can persist for years until a suitable case appears. A great example within the US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was recently pointed out by the EFF on their blog:

Like many laws, the text of FOIA tries to distill abstract principles—in this case, government transparency—into plain English that the public, government agencies, and courts can apply to particular cases. Just like any writing, however, statutes can suffer from poor drafting, bad grammar, and incorrect punctuation that courts must then parse.

This issue was front and center in Hamdan, as the court had to decide how to interpret FOIA Exemption 7(E), which allows agencies to withhold law enforcement records that:

would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law

Courts have interpreted the exemption in two ways. The first interpretation, which EFF believes is the right one, reads the entire sentence as being subject to the last clause that states "if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law." In other words, records concerning both "techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions" and "guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions" can only be withheld if "disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law."

Courts following this interpretation have required agencies to show that the particular techniques and procedures at issue in the FOIA request would, if disclosed, potentially give lawbreakers a roadmap on how to evade law enforcement or otherwise break the law.

The second interpretation, which the Ninth Circuit adopted in Hamdan, starts by noting that there is a comma between "techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions" and "guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions." Because of that comma, the courts reason, the two categories of records are distinct. Next, the courts note that there is no comma between "guidelines for law enforcement investigation or prosecutions" and the phrase "if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law."

Under this interpretation, the Hamdan court reasoned that because there is no comma between the circumvention risk clause, and because Exemption 7(E) treats "techniques and procedures" and "guidelines" as two distinct categories of records, the circumvention risk clause applies only to the "guidelines" category of records. Or, to put it another way, the lack of a comma in the second half of the exemption means that "techniques and procedures" can be withheld without agencies having to show that "disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law."

  • $\begingroup$ Like we already knew: commas save lives. Let's eat, grandma! $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Feb 1, 2016 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ "Fear God, not to kill is good." $\endgroup$ Feb 18, 2019 at 18:45

It would cause a system ripe for abuse. Though it depends on how laws come to be deemed laws. Does a dictator in a fit of pique about his dessert and say "Never Serve Gelato Again!" become a law until he changes his mind and rescinds it?

What laws affect me and when do they change? If I cross state or country boarders do I automatically obey these new laws. When do laws take effect, when they are announced or when I hear about them? What if someone lies to me about a law? Take off your shirt because you can't wear Black on Mondays...

There are always ways to get around laws. If you make the laws to specific or constrictive you handicap your people. "you can't do anything I don't tell you to do" means you will be the ultimate micromanager that makes the Sims look simple. The more freedom you give of course comes with more chances of people doing what they want instead of what they 'should'.

even if you put in place a system that is 'fair' and it 'works' sooner or later someone will find a way to rig it for themselves and their friends. Then the abuse will build. Of course sooner or later they will make a mistake and someone else will take over.

The best fix would be to have a law that says people are not magically bound to obey the law in this country, to put things back to 'normal'. Though a new cycle would happen, where, "Well we should leave 'No murder' magically enforced" and then "Well rape is a terrible crime, lets enforce that magically too." Which of course no one would argue with (generally), but it won't stop there.


Since this question is specifically about lawmakers and not society's response, we kill off most of the more interesting grey market reactions to the new legal system. However, you introduced at least one loophole I can drive a bus through:

Knowledge of the law: I can't resist making some small mention of how society would be changed by this dynamic. Ignorance really would be power. If you don't know it's law, it doesn't effect you. People would go through a lot of trouble to seed doubt in their own mind about the existence of certain laws, and to then remain ignorant of them.

Due to the knowledge problem, a government would put a priority on spreading knowledge of their laws. In a good society it might looks something like this:


  1. All previous laws are abolished. (Otherwise, many societies could change drastically due to people interpreting current laws excessively strictly . . . for instance there is a law in Minnesota that says it's a misdemeanor "When any man and single woman have sexual intercourse with each other." This could be misinterpreted to mean there must be more than one woman involved, leading to radical changes in society.)
  2. If you believe someone may break a law due to ignorance, and informing that person doesn't present substantial risk of death or maiming, you must attempt to make them aware of the law they are at risk of breaking.
  3. If someone tells you about a law, obey their information until it can be proven that the information is incorrect.
  4. It is illegal to intentionally spread misinformation about a law.
  5. It is illegal to intentionally interpret a law in a manner other than it was originally intended to be interpreted.
  6. Do nothing that you think is likely to harm people more than the action helps.

Results of Laws 2-5:

Taken together, laws two through five would lead to very concise laws that are easily understood, making it easy to verbally make someone aware of a new law, and then be bound by that law. A law would then spread very quickly throughout the populace.

In a less good society, you might see something more like some of the following done by lawmakers:


  1. Induced Amnesia: If you're caught doing something immoral (but not illegal): Make a law against it, use a short term memory blocker before passing it, blatantly break the law you created but no longer remember creating. You now have "proof" that someone is framing you . . . you couldn't possibly break a law you knew about!

  2. Previously ridiculous laws become common: "All verbal references to your overlords must be made in a loving, devoted tone."

  3. Temporary laws to cleanse a population: "Everyone must honestly say how they feel about their overlords Day." "Everyone must kill anyone who told them something negative about their overlords yesterday."

  4. Physics/Math breaking: "Pi = 3.2" (I would think you would say this is impossible, but in Indiana that bill passed the house in 1897 . . . what happens when it's made law?) I don't know exactly what this law would do . . . but if this were law, then a person could effectively prove any mathematical equation, rendering math non-functional. This would break a shockingly huge number of things.

  5. Thought Control Laws: Thanks to humans having the ability to choose what we dwell on we would have laws like the following . . . "It's illegal to consider attempting rebellion." "It's illegal to consider permanently leaving this territory." "It's illegal to consider harming a lawmaker or former lawmaker."

  6. Behavioral Amnesia Laws: "Behave as if you never suspected or believed lawmakers were anything other than perfectly benevolent."


For most lawmakers, what we have already is enough. I mean, if everyone followed all of the laws all of the time, we'd have a pretty good society; that's the point of laws. In my opinion, lawmakers' main focus in this situation should be finding new jobs for all of the people who worked--or lived--in jails across the world.

Of course, some will be even better. They will notice loopholes of this system like the one you mentioned with the exercise goals (of course, this system would take a lot of work so they can only make their personal goals laws.) These people could use this to ban things like war, obesity, discrimination, etc. This would probably be good for society.

While there are the good people, there will also be the bad. These people would try to use the laws to their personal gain, like "You must give me money," or something like that. In democracies and things like that, this won't do much, since they will (I hope) be outnumbered by the good guys. But in dictatorships and monarchies, this will allow them to take over the country. Some might use this system to take over the world, and they probably would be able to with laws like "you must be part of my army," or "all planes flying to X country must bomb them."

And then there are the REALLY evil ones, who make a law that says, "You may not follow the law."


We have always been at war with Eurasia

Your example about Esperanto can be easily extended to provide total dominion over anyone obliged to follow your laws, for example, by passing a law saying Everyone is required to believe any official government position without question, and to forget, as expeditiously as possible, any fact which might otherwise prove such position to be false.

Then there are bills of attainder. These are specifically barred under most modern legal frameworks, but they used to be very common. Here, the government would simply have the power to pass a law ordering someone to do something.

That something can be as specific as Joe's Diner, on the corner of 3.14th St and Some Blvd, will bring back those delicious English Muffins and never remove them from the menu again or even Joe is required to stop breathing until dead at 2 PM today.

The first thing a bad guy would do is pass a law requiring everyone to continue to involuntarily obey them, but to forget that they were being compelled to do so.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .