What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that creates a framework to ensure a peaceful society and enforces sanctions when these are broken. Laws protect individual rights, govern the activities of public and private entities and impose responsibilities upon all citizens. It is an important aspect of a democratic society and is a source of many debates about how best to achieve justice.

Law also provides a wide range of scholarly activities including legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. These studies often raise difficult questions about equality, fairness and justice.

The laws of a given culture reflect the values and beliefs of the people that make them up. They are therefore very different from place to place. However, many of the basic elements of law are the same in all cultures.

Some of these common elements include contract law, property law and family law. Other law disciplines focus on specific types of behavior or occurrences, such as censorship, crime and punishment, and war and the military.

Contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods or services, so it covers everything from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market. Criminal law deals with violations of societal morality, including criminal acts such as homicide and theft. Civil law jurisdictions (such as England) base their system on case law and decisions made by judges rather than statutes passed by legislatures.

In most societies, the authority that makes and enforces the law is vested in those who have political power, such as the rulers of a kingdom or a country. However, revolts against existing laws are a recurring feature in the human story.

A common theme in these revolts is the desire for a more democratic government or greater rights for citizens. While it is not possible to fully realize this goal, there are many efforts underway to change the way law is made and applied.

As with all systems of rules, there is a wide variation in the way law is understood and used around the world. Some countries rely on a mix of English common law, French civil law and German legal maxims. Others have codified their laws in small books called codes that are easy to understand and apply.

An example of a different view of law is the concept held by the Inuit people who live in the Arctic.8 Their concept of law includes a sense of harmony between humans and nature that is different from the one promoted by most modern Western nations. It is possible that a more holistic perspective on law, which doesn’t divide reality into categories such as natural and artificial/human, may eventually prove useful in developing more unified concepts of law for judicial and scientific use.