What Is Law?

Law, in its broadest sense, is a set of rules that shape politics, economics, history, and society. These laws may be created by a state’s legislature or executive, and/or by private individuals through contracts or statutes.

The origins of law can be traced back to the court machinery for civil cases that developed in the Middle Ages. These courts relied on writs (written orders from royal courts) and on legal precedents to settle disputes. These writs were based on forms of action, rights encoded in the constitution, and statements that limited the absolute power of royal officials.

While the concept of “law” is a matter of considerable dispute, some scholars have defined it as a set of legal norms that regulate human behavior and society. Others have argued that law is the art of justice, a science, or both.

There are two main types of law: the laws that govern a government and its actions, and the rights that people have under certain conditions. The former, enacted by the government, are referred to as a “legislative law”; the latter, enforced by the government or the citizens’ representatives, are referred to as a “judicial law.”

Legislative law is usually made through a legislative process involving a group of legislators or a single legislator. These legislative bodies can be a national, regional, or local legislature, and their members can be elected or appointed.

The judicial process is usually made through a system of judges, who make legal decisions that determine the application of laws. These legal decisions are often derived from precedent, but they can also be new.

Regardless of the source, the result is that the laws made by the legislature and the decisions made by the judges are the ones that define what people can and cannot do in the world. This is especially true in the area of social welfare, where governments have considerable control over social life and the means to enforce rights.

One characteristic of the laws formulated by the legislature is that they typically have a high level of abstraction, meaning that they imply rather vague and undetermined demands. This is in contrast to the more concrete prescriptions of a legal right, such as those that require people to obey a governmental order, which are relatively stable.

A related characteristic is that laws often have a strong preemptory quality, meaning that they trump or exclude many, but not all conflicting reasons that could justify an action. This characteristic reflects law’s claim to be superior to other institutional normative systems, its greater social importance, and its relative compulsoriness.

Another feature of the laws formulated by the judges is that they are usually stringent, meaning that they limit the range of actions that are deemed to violate a right. This is in contrast to the less stringent features of other normative systems, such as those found in social clubs, trade unions, and universities.

A third characteristic of the laws formulated by the judges is a high level of restitution, or compensation for the violation of a right. This can take the form of remedial duties that impose damages on the wrongdoer for the proximate losses suffered as a consequence of violating the right. These duties can take the form of monetary awards, but can also be in the form of non-monetary benefits such as restitution of the value of unjust gains and/or the compensation for the deprivation of a right resulting from the violation.