It is true to say that, "Clearly if most of us didn't respect most laws, then they would have no power over us." But it is not as simple as it seems.
For example, when two bank robbers run into a bank with a hundred people and tell everyone to get down on the ground, then we could say the same about the bank robbers' law mandating that the people get on the ground. Even with their guns, the bank robbers could not defeat a a hundred people in a bank if all the people resisted. But the bank robbers would shoot any person who starts to get insubordinate, and that would scare the others. I believe that that is why people tend to obey laws: Most people are afraid to start resisting, and. when anyone does start resisting, they are usually taken out and made into an example.
Let me also explain how I see laws come to be. Governments are often created and supported at first because the people believe that government is a so-called necessary evil
. The masses generally believe that they need a centralized government to protect them from interpersonal acts of governance (e.g. rape, murder, etc.). They want the government to monopolize the use of offensive violence as to protect them from individuals. But the governments almost always tend to grow in power and scope. They get more and more involved in people's personal lives. And the governments tend to more and more favor one group of people in society at the expense of the rest. The "necessary evil" that was made to protect people from offensive violence and dominance becomes the very tool by which some people attack and dominate the others. The solution turns out to be worse than the original problem.
Except to avoid being punished by the government, I do not see why anyone person "should" obey the laws. (Granted, I try not to speak with normative morality anyway
I do know that almost all of my greatest heroes were criminals who got arrested and sometimes even executed by the state. Namely, consider Martin Luther King, Henry David Thoreau, Malcolm X, Jesus, Socrates, and Gandhi.
I find it most respectable when people choose to act without regard to what is illegal. I have the most respect for people who act in accordance with their own conscience and values. And it is that view that makes me appreciate Henry David Thoreau's statement, "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison."