What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that regulates the conduct of individuals and groups, societies and nations. It serves many purposes, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. Law can be made and enforced by governments, or through social institutions such as schools, families and churches. It can apply to all members of a community or just to particular groupings, such as children or drivers. Its precise definition is a subject of long-standing debate and varies widely from one country to another.

Law encompasses a wide variety of topics, from international law and criminal law to family and employment laws. It also covers the rules that govern specific areas, such as taxation or banking. It can even include the laws of space, governing human activities in outer space and on the surface of the moon.

Law has been shaped by philosophical arguments since ancient times. Its precise meaning varies across contexts, from Plato’s notion of a nomos to more modern claims about the extension of state power. A central theme of modern discussions is the balance between the state and civil society, with the latter referring to communities, institutions and partnerships that serve as alternatives to government authority. Nevertheless, political-legal systems vary widely from place to place, and there are a range of revolts against existing forms of power, ranging from the aspirations for democracy expressed by Montesquieu to more recent concerns about police and military powers.

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