What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, and it has been described as a science and as the art of justice.

Among the purposes of law are to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, and guide social change in an orderly manner. The extent to which a government can meet these objectives is dependent on its political structure and the social context. A democracy, for example, will allow people of all backgrounds and economic classes to share in the benefits of the law, while an authoritarian regime may oppress minority groups or restrict freedoms.

The law has numerous branches, including contract law (which governs agreements to exchange goods and services), criminal law (which governs crimes committed against others), and property law (which defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible possessions such as homes and cars). The law also includes laws governing aviation, bankruptcy, medical jurisprudence, maritime law, and tax law.

The law’s role in a society is determined by the balance of power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government. A government with a balanced balance of these powers is less likely to become corrupt, as the framers of the U.S. Constitution intended, and will be more effective in carrying out its principal functions. In contrast, a government that concentrates too much power in the hands of one individual is more likely to become unpopular and fail in its basic functions.

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