In the social life one person may express a wish that another person should do or abstain from doing something. When this wish is expressed not merely as a piece of interesting information or deliberate self-revelation but with the intention that the person or institution addressed should conform to that wish expressed, it is customary to use a special linguistic form called the "Imperative Mood".
The varieties of social situation in which use is characteristically made of imperative forms of language are extremely diverse, yet the importance of which is marked by certain familiar classifications. Such expressions may be a "Mere Request" ('pass the salt, please), uttered as a "Plea" ('do not kill me'), or may be a "Warning" ('Don't move) or is an "Ordering" not merely asking ('shut up'), still less pleading, such as in the case of a gunman who says to the bank clerk, 'Hand over the money or I will shoot', in order to secure compliance with the expressed wishes, implying that the speaker threatens to do something which a normal man would regard as harmful or unpleasant and renders the affected party to an unwilling course of conduct.
If the gunman succeeds, we could described him as having "coerced" the victim and the victim as in this sense being in the gunman's power.
In nicer linguistic mood, we can also say that the gunman "Ordered" the victim to "Obey" as the situation suggests that some "Rights" or "Authority" to give order was present in this case. However, such suggestions of authority may attach the expressions "Order backed by Threats" and "Coercive Orders" or a "Command".
Commands carries a very strong implications that there is a relatively stable hierarchical organisation of men in which the commander occupies a position of pre-eminence. Where a Command is given, there is always a latent threat of harm in the event of disobedience. But to "Command" characteristically to exercise authority, not power to inflict harm; it is primarily an appeal not to fear but to respect for authority.
Such particularised form of controls are rather exceptional and an ancillary accompaniments or reinforcements of general forms of directions which are addressed to particular individuals or institutions and do not indicate a particular act to be done. The general type of conduct expected are to see that it applies to those directed and expectations of compliance. If the primary general directions are not obeyed, attentions will be drawn to them and compliance then demanded or else the disobedience will be identified and recorded with the subsequent threats of punishment imposed. In all cases, the range of application is a question of interpretation of the particular direction aided by general understanding.
It is true there is a sense in which the gunman has an ascendancy or superiority over the victim; it lies in his ability to make a threat which might well be sufficient to make the victim do the particular thing he was impliedly told to do so. There is no other form of relationship between them except this shortlived coercive one, but for the gunman's purpose this may be enough without the need to issue standing orders to be followed. Hence we are to use the notion of orders backed by threats or sanctions as explaining what the rules are, that there is a general belief on the part of those to whom the general orders apply that disobedience is likely to be followed by the execution of the threat not only on the first promulgation of the order, but continuously until the order is withdrawn or cancelled.
If such a general belief in the continuing likelihood of the execution of the threat is to exist, it may be that the power to carry out threats attached to such standing orders affecting large numbers of persons could only in fact exist, and would only be thought to exist, it it was known that some considerable number of the population were prepared both themselves to obey voluntarily, independent of fear of the threat, and to cooperate in the execution of the threats on those who disobeyed. We must suppose that, whatever the motive, most of the orders are more often obeyed than disobeyed by most of those affected. We shall call this: "a General Habit of Obedience".
It remains indeed to be seen whether this simple general notion of "Habitual Obedience" to general orders backed by threats is really enough to reproduce the settled character and continuity which the democratic system possesses.
These varieties of law, in spite of its appearance to the contrary, are really just complicated or disguised versions of this same form. Something more must be revealed about the data and about the person who gives the figures. The legal system of a modern state is characterised by a certain kind of supremacy within its territory and independence and they are not as simple as they appear to be, but what, on a common sense view (which may not prove adequate) is essential to them, may be expressed as an inhibition of conduct with fairly well-defined limits.