True enough.
Good people don’t need laws to tell them how to behave while the ‘cunningly willful’ amongst us will indeed, time and time again, try to circumvent the consequences of bypassing the law.

Then why?
Two and a half millennia after Plato had dispensed this piece of wisdom we still have laws.
Is there a possible explanation for this apparent aberration?
Are we that thick-headed or there’s something else?

To settle this question – to start attempting to settle it, actually, we must first agree upon the difference between good and bad.

Ooops!

‘Everybody knows what good and bad is’ doesn’t really work, right?

In principle… maybe, but when it comes to putting principles into practice… we need guidelines!
Just as ‘good fences make good neighbors‘, a clear understanding among the good about where the realm of the bad starts in earnest makes life a lot simpler. For all of us. And the more visible that line is, the simpler our life becomes.

Only this is but half of the actual explanation.
Laws do make our life simpler, indeed. Unfortunately, ‘simpler’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’.

As some of you already know, I’ve spent half my life under communist rule.
Does ‘Ceausescu’ ring any bells with you?

Under communism, life was a lot simpler than it is now.
Presumably, life was a lot simpler under any of the many flavors of authoritarian rules experienced by humanity during its history. This being the reason for no matter how horrible a dictatorial regime had been, there were always some who had regretted when that regime had fallen.

‘OK, so what’s your point?
That laws, in general, might be good but the laws which impose an authoritarian regime are bad?
You know that you’ve just opened a fresh can of worms, right?’

How do you determine the difference between a good law and a bad one?

There’s no such thing. No law is above good and bad. For the simple reason that we call laws are made by us.
We are fallible human beings and everything we make, including our laws, is, and should continue to be, constantly improved.

‘Then you’re nothing more than a ‘closet progressive‘!
I knew it!
‘Constant improvement’… yuck!
Not to mention the fact that the most important Law comes from God, not from Man!’

I’ve already disclosed that I’m an agnostic.
That I have no idea whether a(ny) god had anything to do with what’s happening around/with us.
All I know is that all laws, including the Bible – and all other Holy Books, had been written by people.
By Humans, that is.

And I also know that there are two kinds of law.
‘Natural’ – as in noticed by us, and ‘synthetic’.

While all laws are ‘artificial’ – ‘written’ by us, the natural ones had been first noticed and only then put on paper.
While all laws had been written on purpose – each ‘writer’ had their own reason for doing it, the ‘synthetic’ ones had been put together with a specific goal.

While observing – and when necessary improving, the natural laws benefits all, the ‘synthetic’ ones serve only those who make it their business to impose those laws upon the rest of the community.

While observing – and, when necessary, imposing them upon SOME, improves the prospects of the entire community, designing and imposing ‘synthetic’ laws upon a community will always bring a huge amount of disturbance.
Sometimes fatal for that community.
Always fatal for the regime attempting it!

‘How about some examples?’

I’ll give you two natural laws and a ‘synthetic’ one.

The law of gravity. Also known as Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.
This law didn’t need Newton to notice it. The Earth had already been orbiting the Sun for a while before Newton told us why.

‘Do not kill’. A subset of the Golden Rule, ‘Do no harm, if you can help it’.
Also ‘natural’ but a lot more ‘fluid’.
And, strangely enough, noticed and ‘put on paper’ way before the law of the falling objects…
Just think of it!
The ‘law makers’ have noticed long, long ago that the communities which follow the Golden Rule fare much better than those whose members treat each-other like dirt. Yet only a few short centuries ago somebody ‘noticed’ that things fall according to a constant rule… and bothered to make it into a law.
Was ‘gravity’ too obvious? Inescapable, so why bother?
While the Golden Rule worked better when enforced? When the formal rule mandated that even the rulers themselves had to obey the rule?

It’s easy to notice that the first two, the ‘natural’ ones, produce consequences regardless of people observing them or not.
Meanwhile, ‘synthetic’ laws are, entirely, the figment of somebody’s imagination. And produce consequences only when/if enough people are ‘seduced’ by the perspectives of those laws being put into practice.
Communist rule, for instance, could be put into practice only when enough people had been seduced by Marx’s ideal that all property should belong to the state and be managed by a ‘select’ few. Only then, after those ‘select’ few had, somehow, convinced enough followers, could Marx’s ideas be transformed into laws. And put in practice. With the already obvious consequences…

‘OK, but I still don’t get it!
Is there a way to tell whether a law is good or bad before-hand? Before its consequences had become manifest?’

That’s a tall order. And you know that!

Actually, no!
There’s no fire-proof method of ascertaining anything before-hand, let alone something made by us.

But there is a next best thing.
The ‘natural’ laws are natural because they had been first observed. Only then written into law. And because of things proceeding in this order, whenever something changed those who had noticed the change had adapted the wording of the law to the new reality. Simply because those who had to make do with the consequences of the law being put into practice could not wait too long whenever they had noticed that there was a better way.

People have dreamed of flying since god only knows when but they had learned how to do it only after they had been told that everything is pulled to the center of the Earth.
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ had been very useful. For a while… Now we use the same principle – do no harm, but we implement it in a more nuanced manner.

People have also dreamed of a fair society.
And, frankly, ours is a lot fairer than that of our grand-parents. Because we have constantly improved our ‘manners’.
We have not only observed ourselves while living but we’ve also done something when anything went wrong.
The problem is – and it’s only one problem here, that not all things can be reversed. Some mistakes can be fully redressed, other compensated … but we’ll have to take with us the consequences of those mistakes. And the longer a mistake is allowed to happen, the more important the consequences.
So. ‘Synthetic’ rules are bad not because they have been dreamed up by us. They are bad because those who promote them cannot accept the idea they might have been wrong.
The really bad ‘synthetic’ rules were those who could not be changed from within!

Whenever a law maintains that things cannot happen, ever, but in the manner prescribed by that very law, that text is no longer a law. It’s a dictate!
It’s dictates that we can do without, not laws.
And it’s our job to make out the difference. One way or another.

Disclosure.
You haven’t ‘heard’ this from me.
I’ve only ’embellished’ some ideas I’ve stolen from Popper, inasmuch as I’ve understood anything from them.