Law is a system of rules created through social or governmental institutions to ensure that people and groups follow societal norms. These rules are enforced through mechanisms that punish those who violate them. Laws can cover a wide range of topics, from the most mundane, such as driving safely, to the most serious, such as murder. They may be created by a collective legislative process (a legislature), a single legislator, resulting in statutes, by the executive branch through decrees and regulations or through judicial precedent, as in common law systems. The latter, called “case law,” uses the results of previous cases to determine how other law (such as statutes) should apply in a given case.
Some laws are specific to certain groupings of individuals, such as children and young people or drivers. Others are specific to particular actions, such as property transactions or criminal acts. Laws can be created for a variety of reasons, including the need to maintain a peaceful society, to preserve or enhance an individual’s rights, to protect against a societal threat, or to provide compensation when someone is harmed. Laws can also be created to control the growth of a population, such as with population control laws.
The nature of the law depends on the culture in which it is developed, its origins and how it is interpreted. There are some cultures that do not have laws as we understand them, such as hunter-gatherer societies, pastoral or horticultural societies.
Other legal systems are based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakha or Islamic Sharia, while Christian canon law survives in some church communities. Max Weber reshaped thinking on the nature of law by arguing that it is not simply a means to control behavior, but to coerce behavior to a desired end.
Some legal theories, such as the pure theory of law proposed by Hans Kelsen, view law as a ‘normative science’ that defines the right and wrong ways to behave in society. Other legal theorists, such as John Austin, saw law as a ‘compulsory social science’ that makes people able to live together in peace.
Laws can be categorized into two broad categories, public and private. Public law concerns the government and society, such as constitutional law or criminal law, while private law covers disputes between individuals or organizations, such as contracts, property or torts. Some legal scholars have even classified private law into various types such as commercial, employment or family law. Other scholars have attempted to further categorize law into areas such as administrative, environmental and intellectual property. They have also analyzed the role of law in modern society. They have also delved into the ethics of law, the history of law, and legal education. In addition, they have studied the relationship between law and political structures.