What is Law?


Law is a system of rules imposed and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. The word itself combines two concepts: law, meaning “a rule” and norm, meaning “a standard.” Law is a tool for society to control behavior in order to preserve peace and order and encourage development through a fair and just process. Laws may be a result of a collective consensus or a decision by a higher authority, such as a court ruling. The term has a broad range of applications, encompassing many different subjects and fields. These include the laws of war and military service; economic law, which governs business transactions; criminal law, which deals with punishment for crime; family law, which covers marriage, divorce, and child custody; inheritance law; labour law, which concerns workplace rights and collective bargaining; property law, governing ownership of tangible things; legal jurisprudence, which examines how judges decide cases; and procedural law, which determines which materials are admissible in courts.

Some people argue that law is merely power backed by threats. These people, often called tyrannists, claim that since the sovereign is the only one who creates the law, it can be interpreted as power over others. A more sophisticated understanding of the law, however, reveals that citizens can check the power of their government by voting out its officials who do not serve their interests well.

A law is a set of rules made and enforced by a sovereign, state or other authority that dictates how people must behave. A law can be as simple as an order to eat five fruits and vegetables a day or as complicated as a tax code. In either case, a law is a set of rules that must be obeyed to avoid penalties like fines or imprisonment.

The purpose of a law is to maintain peace and the status quo, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, and provide for an orderly transition of power within a nation. Different nations have different legal systems that serve these purposes better or worse. For example, an authoritarian regime may keep the peace but also oppress minorities and political opponents (as was done by the military government of Burma under the euphemism Aung San Suu Kyi).

There are three main kinds of law: statutes, regulations, and court decisions. Statutes are duly enacted laws from the federal government or a state government. Regulations are guidelines that go beyond the specific details of a statute and are generally enforceable on a broader basis, such as the principle of stare decisis. A court decision is a ruling in a single case that is given broader legal weight for future cases, known as precedent. These three types of law interact with each other in many areas, involving the intersection between law and the biosciences, for example. Moreover, these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the number and variety of laws that exist.