What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules governing human activity and enforced by a controlling authority. It influences politics, economics, history and society in myriad ways. The body of laws may be shaped by a collective legislature, resulting in statutes, or by individual judges through precedent, in common law systems. Some of the many areas of law include criminal and civil matters. Criminal laws deal with offenses against a nation-state, for example murder or robbery, whilst civil laws cover damages awarded for an injury to property or person, such as car accidents or defamation of character.

The main functions of law are to keep the peace, maintain a status quo and preserve social justice. However, some legal systems serve these purposes better than others. For instance, an authoritarian government keeps the peace and retains the status quo, but it can also oppress minorities or political opponents. Similarly, democracy does not necessarily lead to social justice, as the rich and poor are often treated differently under different laws.

Moreover, the concept of law is continually being reshaped by social changes that lawmakers and judges cannot always anticipate. As a result, laws are sometimes unfair or biased and must be amended or overturned when they become obsolete or averse to public opinion.

There are several different types of law, with each addressing a particular area of public life and private interests. Criminal and civil law are the broadest categories, with the former referring to offences against a country’s national security or civil liberties and the latter covering damage to property or person, such as negligence or defamation.

In addition to civil and criminal law, there is labour and employment law, which covers a tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade unions, as well as the right to strike. Environmental law encompasses regulations that protect the Earth and its ecosystems, including air pollution and global warming, while competition law, such as antitrust legislation, seeks to control businesses that distort market prices or harm consumer welfare.

Other specialised fields of law are taxation, banking law and financial regulation, patent law, family law, and space law. Increasingly, law is being influenced by new technologies, such as biometrics and the Internet of Things, which require detailed legislation and regulation. Other new areas of law include cyberlaw, privacy laws and intellectual property rights. However, the expansion of military, policing and bureaucratic power over civilians poses challenges to accountability that Max Weber or other thinkers could not have predicted. Therefore, the future of law remains a complex question for all. Despite its complexity, law shapes politics, society and our understanding of the world around us in innumerable ways. This is why it is essential that we understand its fundamentals and principles in order to shape its future. The more we learn about it, the better equipped we will be to make the right choices. This will ensure that law is an instrument of freedom, rather than an instrument of oppression and tyranny.