Arthur was tired out. He had been broken by the two battles which he had fought already, the one at Dover, the other at Barbara Down. His wife was a prisoner. His oldest friend was banished. His son was trying to kill him. Gawaine was buried. His Table was dispersed. His country was at war. Yet he could have breasted all these things in some way, if the central tenet of his heart had not been ravaged. Long ago, when his mind had been a nimble boy's called Wart—long ago he had been taught by an aged benevolence, wagging a white beard. He had been taught by Merlyn to believe that man was perfectible: that he was on the whole more decent than beastly: that good was worth trying: that there was no such thing as original sin. He had been forged as a weapon for the aid of man, on the assumption that men were good. He had been forged, by that deluded old teacher, into a sort of Pasteur or Curie or patient discoverer of insulin. The service for which he had been destined had been against Force, the mental illness of humanity. His Table, his idea of Chivalry, his Holy Grail, his devotion to Justice: these had been progressive steps in the effort for which he had been bred He was like a scientist who had pursued the root of cancer all his life. Might—to have ended it— to have made men happier. But the whole structure depended on the first premise: that man was decent.
Looking back at his life, it seemed to him that he had been struggling all the time to dam a flood, which, whenever he had checked it, had broken through at a new place, setting him his work to do again. It was the flood of Force Majeur. During the earliest days before his marriage he had tried to match its strength with strength—in his battles against the Gaelic confederation—only to find that two wrongs did not make a right. But he had crushed the feudal dream of war successfully. Then, with his Round Table, he had tried to harness Tyranny in lesser forms, so that its power might be used for useful ends. He had sent out the men of might to rescue the oppressed and to straighten evil —to put down the individual might of barons, just as he had put down the might of kings. They had done so—until, in the course of time, the ends had been achieved, but the force had remained upon his hands unchastened. So he had sought for a new channel, had sent them out on God's business, searching for the Holy Grail. That too had been a failure, because those who had achieved the Quest had become perfect and been lost to the world, while those who had failed in it had soon returned no better. At last he had sought to make a map of force, as it were, to bind it down by laws. He had tried to codify the evil uses of might by individuals, so that he might set bounds to them by the impersonal justice of the state. He had been prepared to sacrifice his wife and his best friend, to the impersonality of Justice. And then, even as the might of the individual seemed to have been curbed, the Principle of Might had sprung up behind him in another shape—in the shape of collective might, of banded ferocity, of numerous armies insusceptible to individual laws. He had bound the might of units, only to find that it was assumed by pluralities. He had conquered murder, to be faced with war. There were no Laws for that.
T.H. White (The Once and Future King (The Once and Future King, #1-4))