What Is Law?

Law is a set of rules created and enforced by a government that regulate behavior and provide a framework for peaceful coexistence among its citizens. These rules are created to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and that no one violates the rights of others. Law also includes the institutions, systems and personnel that create, enforce and administer these rules. In addition, it covers all professions that deal with advising people about the law or representing them in court or providing decisions and punishments.

A variety of theories have been advanced to explain the nature of law. Hans Kelsen, for example, described it as a ‘normative science,’ meaning that law is something that conforms to people’s innate sense of right and wrong. Another theory was posited by Max Weber, who argued that laws are social constructs based on the societal viewpoints of rationality, justice, order and morality.

While some of these theories are contested, it is agreed that laws exist to govern society and protect the individual. For the majority of people, law is what keeps them safe and allows them to live their lives.

The complexities of law have led to numerous fields of study and practice. Contract law, for example, outlines the exchange of goods and services in any transaction, and there are various styles of contracts that can be binding. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible assets (such as land or buildings) and intangible assets (like money or shares of stock). In common law jurisdictions, judicial decisions are considered “law” on par with legislative statutes and executive regulations. The principle of stare decisis (meaning that lower courts must follow the decisions made by higher courts) is a key feature of this system.

Other areas of law include aviation; carriage of goods; banking; bankruptcy; commercial transactions; constitutional law; family law; inheritance; labour and medical jurisprudence. Some of these areas of law are more specific than others. For example, immigration law deals with the rights of people to move to a country that is not their own and with citizenship issues; while family law encompasses marriage and divorce proceedings and the rights of children. Biolaw focuses on the intersection of law and the life sciences.

While the vast majority of people rely on the protections of law to live their lives, there are those who argue that law is nothing more than power backed by threats. This view is largely based on the fact that tyrannical rulers, such as the Nazis or Saddam Hussein, have used their power to execute thousands of Jews or torture minority Sunni Muslims. However, this argument overlooks the fact that most citizens in democracies feel a strong sense of empowerment over their governments. They can elect their representatives and vote out officials who are not doing a good job. Moreover, they have access to courts that are intended to hold those in power accountable to the citizenry.