Law is the set of rules a society creates and enforces to ensure a peaceful and stable environment. These laws are usually in place to protect citizens and punish people who break them. For example, stealing is against the law in most places and if someone is caught stealing they may be arrested or fined.
Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves several different purposes. These purposes include establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Some legal systems are more effective at delivering these functions than others, for example, an authoritarian government may keep the peace but often oppress minorities or other political opponents.
While most commonly used to refer to the rules created by a country or community which governs its citizenry, the term law can also be applied to any rule made by a strong authority that must be obeyed. Therefore, any rule a parent sets for their children or a company’s code of conduct could be considered a law. Additionally, a behavior that is instinctive or spontaneous can be described as a law, such as the law of self-preservation.
In modern legal systems, the rules and guidelines established by a state are usually written down in a constitution or other document, which must be adhered to by all citizens. In addition, most countries have a judiciary that is responsible for interpreting these laws and enforcing them. Generally, these courts follow the principle of stare decisis which means that the decisions of previous cases are considered binding on future judges.
Some people who study and research law have specialized fields such as constitutional or international law. Others work in legal professions such as attorneys and judges. There are even special titles which indicate a person has obtained an advanced degree in the field such as Esquire, meaning barrister, and Doctor of Law.
Historically, the law has been shaped by social customs and cultural traditions as well as the ideas of philosophers and scientists. For instance, naturalists such as Max Weber influenced thinking about the law by arguing that the creation and enforcement of laws were motivated by the need to control societies that otherwise would become wild and violent without a form of order or discipline. This argument influenced the development of a modern understanding of law. However, modern military, policing and bureaucratic power over citizens’ daily lives poses new challenges for the legitimacy of law that earlier writers such as Locke or Montesquieu did not anticipate. These challenges are the focus of a growing body of scholarship.