If prohibitions are as important as here represented, it is well that we reflect on the man-contrived thou-shalt-nots, particularly as to the several types of persuasiveness—for there can be no prohibition worth the mention unless it is backed by some form of persuasion. So far as this exploration is concerned, there are three forms of persuasion which make prohibitions effective or meaningful. I shall comment on the three forms in the order of their historical appearance.
The Code of Hammurabi, 2000 B.C., is probably the earliest of systematized prohibitions. This is considered one of the greatest of the ancient codes; it was particularly strong in its prohibitions against defrauding the helpless, that is, against unpeaceful actions directed at the helpless. To secure observance, the “persuasiveness” took the form of organized police force. The Columbia Encyclopedia refers to the retributive nature of the punishment meted out as a “savage feature … an eye for an eye literally.” Not only is this the oldest of the three forms of persuasion employed to effectuate prohibitions and to keep the peace, but it remains to this day an important means of persuasion.
The next and higher form of persuasion appeared about a millennium later—the series of thou-shalt-nots known as The Decalogue. Here the backing was not organized police force but, instead, the promise of retribution: initially, the hope of tribal survival if the commands were obeyed, and the fear of tribal extinction were they disobeyed, and, later, the hope of heavenly bliss or the fear of hell and damnation. It may be said that The Decalogue exemplifies moral rather than political law and, also, that its form of persuasion advanced from physical force to a type of spiritual influence. We witness in this evolutionary step the emergence of man’s moral nature.
The latest and highest form of persuasion is that which gives effectiveness to the most advanced prohibition, The Golden Rule. As originally scribed, around 500 B.C., it read: “Do not do unto others that which you would not have them do unto you.” What persuasiveness lies behind it? Not physical force. And not even such spiritual influences as hope and fear. Force and influence give way to a desire for righteousness: a sense of justice, regarded as the inmost law of one’s being. That this is a recently acquired faculty is attested to by its rarity. Ever so many people will concede the soundness of the prohibition, but only now and then do we find an individual whose moral nature is elevated to the point where he can observe this moral imperative in daily living. The individual with an elevated moral nature has moved beyond the concept of external rewards and punishments to the conviction that virtue and excellence are their own reward.