The Basics of Law


Law is a system of rules enforced by a community or government in order to deal with social relationships, crime and business agreements. It is often referred to as the “rule of law” in order to distinguish it from other systems of governance such as the rule of might, where a group of powerful people can overrule ordinary citizens. The rule of law seeks to ensure that all members of society are treated fairly and that there is a balance between the power of the state and the power of individuals.

Legal systems vary in the extent to which they achieve this balance. Those that have an authoritarian character may be able to keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but they can oppress minorities and suppress freedom of speech and expression. Those that have a more democratic character are usually able to foster an atmosphere of debate and openness.

Generally speaking, laws are created and enforced by the government in order to prevent the harm of its citizens and ensure that all people can live comfortably. There are many different fields of law, each of which has its own specialized terminology and requirements. For example, criminal law covers the laws against murder and theft, family law is concerned with divorce proceedings and the rights of children, employment law deals with all aspects of employee-employer relations, while aviation law includes all regulations and standards pertaining to the safe operation of aircraft.

Most countries have a written constitution for the overall framework of their legal system and make additional laws for matters of detail. Some religious communities also have their own laws, based on precepts of their religion such as the Jewish Halakhah or Islamic Shari’ah. Other legal systems are more secular, relying on human elaboration of the law such as through interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.

Despite its wide range of applications, the law has certain underlying principles that are shared by all systems. For example, it is important that all laws be clearly defined and understandable by the public and that any person who breaks the law can be held accountable for their actions. There are a number of other issues involved with the proper functioning of law, including checks on the exercise of power by the government (such as an independent press and check of the electoral process), the ability to challenge a statute in court and mechanisms for peaceful transitions of political power. Max Weber reshaped thinking on these issues with his theory of the emergence of the modern state.