The Concept of Law


Law is a set of rules made by an authority that must be followed. The word is most often used to describe government laws, but it can also refer to any strong rule that must be obeyed, such as a parent’s house rules or a universally understood threat of punishment. Laws can be created by governments, but they can also be the result of customs and practices that have developed over time. A good law will be clear, concise and easy to understand. It will also be predictable, so that people can plan their affairs with reasonable confidence that they know what legal consequences various actions will have. Finally, a good law will be reasonably stable over time, so that it is not subject to arbitrary change at the whim of officials.

In the broadest sense, law is the system of rules and institutions that form the framework for a society’s peace and order. It includes both formal legal rules and informal social norms, and it covers topics as diverse as tax law, contract law, labour law and property law. The concept of law is central to any discussion of a democratic society, and it is important in determining the degree to which democracy is possible.

The definition of law is an ongoing area of debate, and several competing theories exist. One theory, called legal positivism, holds that law consists only of commands backed by the threat of sanction issued by a sovereign. This view contrasts with the notion of a natural law, proposed by philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jeremy Bentham. Natural law posits that a society’s moral values are reflected in its laws.

Critics of legal positivism have pointed out that at least some laws appear to incorporate a moral stance, such as the prohibition against insider trading and due process, which protects the right to a fair trial and the right to privacy. Others have suggested that the notion of law encompasses a more complex idea, such as a principle of equity or fairness in a given situation.

The practice of law is regulated in most jurisdictions by the creation of laws that establish and define standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights. It is important to remember, however, that laws are a tool of power and should be subordinated to the will and moral standing of a government and its citizens. Ideally, the principles of democracy will create a system of law that is both fair and just.