Law is a system of rules enforceable by governmental institutions to regulate the behavior of individuals and communities. It serves several purposes, four of which are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.
Law reaches into every aspect of modern life. It encompasses everything from social security benefits to international treaties, from the rules governing corporate mergers to the rights of private citizens in the event of a car accident. The various branches of law are generally divided into three categories, though they often overlap:
This area covers all manner of disagreements between people. Examples include property law, which defines a person’s right to his or her tangible property (e.g. land, buildings and cars) and intangible property such as bank accounts and shares of stock; contract law, which covers agreements between people that exchange goods or services; and criminal law, which deals with the punishment of conduct deemed harmful to society.
The genesis of law often depends on the cultural context in which it arises. In some cultures, law originates from religion. Islamic Sharia law is the world’s most widely used religious legal tradition. In others, it is created through a combination of ancient philosophy and professional legal scholarship. In most cases, however, laws are made by a collective legislature, in the form of statutes and regulations, or by an executive branch through decrees and administrative orders. In the United States, the Constitution vests most of the power to make laws in the states, and each state has its own varying system of rules.
While some areas of law may be more complex than others, all laws have certain characteristics in common. For example, they are usually written in clear and understandable terms. They also address questions of equality and fairness. Finally, they are usually based on logical arguments or facts rather than on emotion or personal opinion.
The main function of the law is to ensure that all members of a community adhere to a set of standards and rules. The law also provides a framework for conflict resolution and establishes trust between people. This is especially important in societies with diverse ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds. In some situations, the law can even serve to prevent war. The guiding principles of the law also help to ensure that government officials and police officers act ethically in their work. They are required to follow the law and to act in good faith, to treat all persons fairly, and to avoid discrimination. The same is true for members of the judiciary, whose job it is to interpret and enforce the law. This type of integrity is essential to the rule of law. In the absence of this, a nation would quickly degenerate into chaos and violence. In addition, a government without the rule of law would not be able to govern its people or protect its interests abroad.