What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules that a state (or group of states) creates and enforces to regulate its citizens’ conduct. Laws typically bind people and entities, and are created and enforced by governmental institutions, such as courts, legislatures, executive branch agencies, and the military.

Law includes both public and private rights, with the former being mainly regulated by state institutions while the latter is primarily regulated by individuals (though both can be influenced by non-governmental institutions). The precise definition of law has been a subject of debate for centuries. Various scholars have proposed definitions of law, including those from social-contract, rights, and utilitarian schools of thought.

Most modern legal systems are founded on the principle that laws should be transparent, fair, and equal in their application across a jurisdiction. This principle is reflected in legal codes that avoid excessive detail and include broad general clauses to allow for adaptation to new circumstances.

Legal systems serve a variety of purposes in a nation, with some serving the functions more effectively than others. In a society with an autocratic government, for example, it may keep the peace, preserve the status quo, or oppress minorities and political opponents. In contrast, a liberal democracy may promote social justice and provide a platform for democratic change. Moreover, the political landscape differs from nation to nation, and so does the way in which law is made and enforced. For example, tort law may compel individuals to compensate each other for injuries caused by their actions, while crimes against a country’s sovereign authority are punished by criminal law.