What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many different ways. A legal system may be shaped by a constitution, either written or tacit, that dictates the rights of citizens and how laws are made and enforced. There are a wide variety of legal systems that differ in how laws are created, enforced and interpreted, but all have the same fundamental purpose: to create a society that is free from violence and crime and promotes social justice.

The discipline of law encompasses a broad range of fields and topics, including criminal and civil law, contract law, property law, international law, taxation law, constitutional law, and the law of war. Among these, the most well-known is perhaps criminal law, which deals with crimes such as murder and robbery. Civil law covers the relationships between individuals, including contracts, property and family matters. Constitutional law focuses on the laws that form the basis of a nation’s government and judicial system. Laws that regulate how countries manage their borders, foreign relations and trade are the subject of international law.

A central tenet of law is the principle that the state must not infringe upon the individual’s rights, whether those rights are related to freedom of speech, religion or privacy. The most significant legal debates revolve around this idea, and a variety of schools of thought have emerged in response. The natural-law school, for example, emphasizes the notion that some rights are innate or “natural” and cannot be taken away by the state. A more modern view, influenced by philosophers such as John Locke and Max Weber, views law as the product of the people’s consent.

In addition to a broad spectrum of laws, law is also influenced by philosophies that govern the relationship between the law and politics and other institutions. For example, some schools of law, such as the natural-law school and the anti-natural-law school, contend that the power of government is limited by the rights of the individual. Others, such as the utilitarian and libertarian schools, argue that the law should be based on moral and ethical principles and that the state has the right to do what it does in order to achieve certain objectives, such as keeping the peace and maintaining the status quo. Each of these philosophies has contributed to the way in which laws are formulated and enforced.