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the jungleYou might wonder where this phrase comes from—the law of the jungle—which we take to mean lawlessness, spelled out in a fine turn of phrase. Rudyard Kipling thought otherwise; in fact, he makes quite a lot in a book for kids about something serious. Jungle is another name for forest. It is the world in which animals live, without any admixture of human things. Law is part of the human world, and whether it is anything but something human beings say and do is not at all clear. After all, we do not tell animals not to trespass property with signs or speeches, but we erect fences, to say nothing of anything else. The jungle just seems more natural than the city. This seems to be why Kipling is interested in how association might arise naturally and in the reasoning that emerges out of the situation of the jungle.

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 withe Lords of the Jungle—the Tiger, the Panther, and 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 crop, and your 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 your 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 poem is written in nineteen rhymed couplets in anapestic hexameter. They frequently break down the middle, which allows for comparisons. Given the shortness of Saxon words compared to Greek words, the anapestic rhythm allows an English poet to say quite a lot while stressing the important words. This use of form is not subtle, but it is good for education and memory. This sort of reflection on law is meant to be sung.

Kipling frames the enumeration of the laws with claims made on behalf of law, as to its truth and goodness. This part is in the indicative mood. This immediately changes to the imperative mood afterward: that is, the mood of the laws. Kipling prefers this quiet or subtle mode of education to arguments, and there is much to be said for a man who can speak to adults and children at once in his various mods.

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.

The introduction. The law is likened to the sky in respect of antiquity and truth, not to anything earthly.* The natural whole is earth and heaven. The sky is here likened to the law of the jungle. This is the way the whole is accessible to reason. But sky may be oldest, which does not really settle whether the world was created or is eternal—we would have no way of knowing, nor any need. The sky is also unchanging, as opposed to the jungle. That offers a standard of truth and knowledge that we then must use to try to make sense of the ever-changing jungle.

Unlike the sky, the law deals with life and death. Of course, this raises a question we will have to articulate throughout the poem: Is the law of the jungle like the law that says all things must fall—so do not jump out of windows—or like laws against jaywalking? In the one case, there is no reasonable choice, and punishment is a matter of effect following cause. But it is not quite the same in the other case. The difference between prosperity and ruin does not imply by itself anything like reason or choice. What it reveals more clearly is that the law has far more power to punish than to reward. This has to be considered together with the change from the indicative mood. The thing which we are considering and the way we consider it turn out to be more complicated than saying what has been or is or will be.

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.

Now we have a further complication, an inversion. The likeness comes before the thing it is like: the law. This is because we would not believe it otherwise. Three problems emerge. Kipling offers certain images for examination, not merely an assertion, so we have to consider them.

We first notice that the tree is one, but the wolves are many. Law is supposed to give unity, to put things together, to create wholes so that we can make sense of the world in which we live. Now, a wolf pack may be a whole, but it is also many parts similar to each other and unlike the whole. The tree is a whole and a one. The unity of law is not visible, or at any rate, law is not. The unity of the tree is obvious and does not depend on the creeper—it just underlines it, so to speak.

Then, it is obvious on reflection that the creeper needs the tree, or else it cannot reach sunlight and must die, but it would seem to be the other way with wolves. They need the law to live as a pack, lest their weakness doom them. But in one way, the law by which the pack is formed is like the creeper: It needs the wolves to come to sight.

Finally, the creeper is visible, but the law is not. The law is only visible in poetry. Law is the invisible cause of the strength of the wolf pack. Poetry makes wholes, like the law: It puts together visible and invisible, cause and effect. Law here seems to mean strength, not justice.

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.

Kipling starts from the basic needs of the body. Water is privileged, being fundamental to life. Drink, eat, sleep. These are laws of nature, imperatives. Here, the body is its own mind and there is nothing like what we call the soul. Hunger tells you to eat, thirst to drink. You need no teaching; no one wants to break these laws. The punishment, at any rate, for failure to comply is death. Pain, in all these cases, is a mercy—the body only wants to live. Here, refusal to comply is not even contemplated.

But two complications arise, without which this poem would easily end here by telling you to look to necessity and mind your business. First, Kipling says drink, but not eat. He replaces eating by hunting. The reason will become apparent in the sequel. Now, about drinking, he suggests that by nature thirst leads to over-drinking. You could call thirst naturally gorgeous. The body is its own mind, but it is unwise. An education, after all, is necessary.

The other problem is that hunting and sleeping are said to require a mind. Remember to hunt—hunger should be anticipated and preempted. This already implies habit and with habit the possibility of action, which is preparatory to a discussion of the soul. Kipling repeats himself without concern for the vulgar opinion that variation is the stuff of elegance, so there may be a reason to say forget not once but remember another time. Even wolves might be tempted to forget hunting—they might sleep instead—that would cause them to forget that the day is for sleeping. Inclination is considered here; we are still not arrived at choice.

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.

Now, you see why Kipling said hunt, not eat. This is a bit of political psychology: The teacher tells the cub to remember the wolf is a hunter. Failure there is the self-destruction of wolf. Mere jackal is not good enough. This is an appeal to pride. The cub should be proud enough and contemptuous of jackals or else the law is worthless to him. The law cannot teach you if you lack ambition. Maybe we can say, as jackal is to tiger, so is the cub to the wolf. But the cub grows into independence. That is his pride, to resemble the tiger by his actions, though he resembles the jackal by his look.

This is not over: The pride of the wolf leads him to define himself as better than a slave and not as strong as a master. He is in-between. Pride and law create self-knowledge. To remember to hunt is about the same as having a right to hunt. It is striving for food, not food itself by itself.

Keep peace with the Lords of the Jungle—the Tiger, the Panther, and Bear.

and trouble not Hathi the Silent, and mock not the Boar in his lair.

The jungle and war. Pride, however, has got us into trouble. The self-awareness of the wolf requires a confrontation with the jungle as such. Immediately as the wolf is taught to contemn the jackal, he is taught to fear others. The wolf is no match for the lords—solitary predators, all stronger than wolves, none pack-hunters. But danger is not only from the predator, which might appeal to the predator’s pride.

The elephant should not even be troubled: Here the poet means to put together the silence of the majestic herbivore with the thunder of his trumpet and stampede. Again, visible and invisible are put together. The law teaches you what you should know. Body is not enough to know danger—similarity with the tiger helps to know him, dissimilarity with the elephant is a dangerous illusion.

The fifth animal is the boar. Why is mockery mentioned here? Because pride in oneself goes together with contempt for others. The boar is no hunter. Kipling does not say anything about the boar in the jungle—he is fearful only in his lair, where he will defend his own. Again, the boar in the jungle is unlike the boar in his lair. Again, visible and invisible have to be put together to see the whole. People who learn about boars from encyclopedias might miss this relation between seeing with one’s own eyes and learning from the laws. This is exactly what the wolf, also a lair animal with young to defend, would do. Contempt could be a deadly mistake. Recognizing danger, fearing wisely—the law teaches this.

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.

Here we move from the dangers of the jungle to do with other species to the dangers among wolves. Wolves are all pack animals, but not one pack. They are naturally both friends and enemies. Packs on the trail of prey have a reason to fight. How is another pack different to a tiger? Well, there are bigger packs and smaller. Only comparable packs would fight. The lords of the jungle are lawless, because they are laws unto themselves. Packs may be reasonable, however, because they are alike. Only in this case does law make sense and it is never certain of success. But even more startlingly—the law emerges only with the words of the leader. He is the mind of the pack, ruling the unrebelling body.

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.

Kipling does not write “if” Wolves hunt and kill. The limits that the pack sets to violence are rather limited, but suffice to establish the unity of the pack, defended even against its own members. The last three couplets show an inward motion from world to association—the closer we get to the pack, the more the law matters. At the farthest, the law is only knowledge about what’s what. In-between, law is also counsel, which holds forth the possibility of agreement and peace. Within, the law is a command.

The new power of law here is to do with weakness. Because of family, because of the passion that stirs fighting even in those who have no quarrel, and because of females, wolves will fight.

This is the only mention of war. Is war only war if civil war? It is most obvious there, for it is farthest removed from the rest of the jungle, though most dangerous. This section on war treats defense as common. Unlike the individual’s bodily needs, the need to learn from others’ experience raises the needs of the body to a higher level—the pride of the wolf tells him his life matters!—and makes possible common defense, which includes deference to rules and leaders.

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.

Politics emerges here. The inward motion takes us from pack to individual—but now the individual is transmogrified. We learn that private life is opposed to public life, and that public life has both an executive and a legislative power. (There is suggestion the executive is more intrusive, forceful…) Maybe the association of wolves depends on their need for lairs.

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.

This is the only section that emphasizes its beginning and conclusion, the only couplets featuring repetition. No sooner has the absolute privacy of private life in liberal politics been proclaimed that it is qualified. This is how Kipling’s sequences work here: The second couplet modifies the first. Because the lair is a refuge and wolves live together, no wolf has a right to endanger the others. The common judgment forces him to improve. His home is inviolable, but not his choice of where to make him his home. From jungle to lair, the power of law and the pack is in the middle, not in either extreme.

If ye kill before midnight, be silent, and wake not the woods with your bay,

Lest ye frighten the deer from the crop, and your brothers go empty away.

This is the middle of the poem and, in its concealed way, it addresses the strongest wolf, or the proudest. This is supposed to teach where the law puts wolf and pack with a view to what seemed the defining quality of the wolf—hunting. The law orders the wolf to silence where he would boast proudly of his quick success, or excellence. Less successful wolves of the pack are spared contempt and offered an opportunity. The law that enforces silence creates more equality. This is the only use of the word brothers—perhaps in its military sense.

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!

Here, we see the wolf family. Hunting is a matter of need and ability—family puts limits on the hunter’s pride. Notice how the word mate only appears here: Sex is avoided for reasons of decorum, but not war! And, too, sex is naturally shameful, whereas the laws deal with serious concerns. Hunting is the truth the jungle reveals and a pack ordered by excellence in hunting has an implied hierarchy for mating. The good takes precedence over the beautiful in the law. The relation between glory and cruelty is at stake here—the hunter may love the hunt, and a needy family gives him all the opportunity to hunt, but he cannot go out of his way. This is the most serious limit on the wolf: Do not kill man, because he is beyond the law of the jungle! (If the number seven is meaningful, it is the number of animals wolves may not kill.) The hunter’s pride can go too far. The special status of man is obvious, for wolves need not be told not to kill tigers.

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.

This latter half of the poem deals only with laws that arrange affairs among wolves of the pack. This is the only case of a wolf acting like a tiger and the only appearance of the word pride, which I have used liberally in preparation. If the strongest wolf can treat the weakest like tigers treat wolves, there is no justice in the pack. Strength still overtakes law, but it is weakened by law. Even the strongest wolf must obey the commands of the law. The pack-right is the minimum condition of justice, the protection of the weakest. The phrasing is unsparing: What such a wolf does is plunder. The kill really does belong to the killer, and meanness is a cause of aggression.

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.

This is the only death sentence in the laws, recalling the introduction. Hunting and risking life together means all have an equal right to eat. The eating is done in common—that strengthens the association. What this couplet is talking about obliquely is equality: If the strongest wolf tries to plunder from the pack, he will be killed. That is the strength of the law. Not even the strongest is stronger than altogether—he will bring them together, of course, by being their common enemy. Notice the great difference between what pack-right gives you and what the kill of the pack gives you.

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.

Now, wolves have to be prevented from plundering from the strongest wolf, because they have discovered their strength. An entire story is said in Kipling’s allusions which tests his political psychology. The strongest wolf will give of his kill, so as not to tempt the pack into plundering, but he gets to eat more than weak wolves would.

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.

Now, for the first time we hear about the cubs to whom we only once were told this is addressed—only they need an education, adults being perfect. The yearling is old enough to chase, but not to kill. Of the pack, he is first to benefit from the kills the strongest make while hunting with the pack. This is the responsibility of the strongest for the weakest, of adults for the young, which is also an example. The strongest wolf has been chastened by now. He will not refuse.

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.

We’re going back in time from pups that chase to pups that have merely been weaned from their mother’s teat. She will hunt now, and provide them with food from any kill, but only from those adults like her. This showcases a larger movement from adult to cub: Hunting, mating, defending the weak, and then naturally to the cubs. From greatest power to least, the law is supposed to compensate for pride with wisdom and defend the unity of the pack, which stands in some relation to the natural growth of the wolf.

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.

We’re again going back in time to when the wolf has to provide for his bitch and her litter, and even before they’re born. This is the moment of greatest need for the wolf, so he is freest from the pack. Apparently, the Council retains some ability to judge—a rare allusion to the judicial power—but the pack has no call on him to hunt for others. Notice, the pack will not help him either. The use of the word cave suggests something strange—it is one of a few references to people, as opposed to the preferred word, lair.

Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw,

In all that the Law leaveth open, the word of your Head Wolf is Law.

The law, because it is predictable, openly known to all, and of universal application, has weaknesses. The executive needs to go beyond this in order to defend it—his authority over the pack is recognized, but not fully defined by the laws. The qualities of the executive are endurance, prudence, and martial ability—you learn an ugly truth here, that law is nothing without enforcement. The law requires not only mind but body. Prudent laws leave open some matters and define them only vaguely. It goes without saying, only males can lead. This reintroduction of strength as a title to rule follows the taming of the strongest wolf. Pride has to be chastened, but it cannot be replaced while the wolf is a hunter.

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!

This is the conclusion: The essence of the law is obedience. The laws are many and mighty here. Nothing more is said about truth or antiquity, and law is pluralized. The change is significant, but we have been prepared for it by the detailed understanding of political psychology and the suggestions about liberalism, which are part of regime theory, so to speak. This goes so far as to say, bad laws with strength are preferable to good laws without. Wolves are similar to us because they have to kill to live, and they need strength together to compensate for individual weakness. This is a modified form of the teaching that being is striving.

Had I not gone on at such great length, I might have been able to say more about the philosophical basis of this political teaching. The jungle is an attack on Darwin’s notion of evolution. It is also a defense in the face of the modern political science that tried to save our natural awareness of the world against the modern natural science that endangers it. This does not reduce nature—it gives a respectful attention to our awareness of wholes and our need to understand natures—and makes a serious attempt to prove our powers are roughly commensurate with our needs. This is, of course, also an attack on Thomas Hobbes’s homo homini lupus. It restates the dignity of both war and association. It is a mystery of community that it is naturally plural. Simply because there are many communities, they must come to war. But community is prior to war, nevertheless.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

Notes:

*Kipling’s use of likeness recalls the epic poets, over against the modern poet’s preference for metaphor. But is not the concluding couplet a metaphor?

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