John Austin’s utilitarian answer was that law is “commands, backed by threat of sanctions, from a sovereign, to whom people have a habit of obedience”. Natural lawyers on the other side, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, argue that law reflects essentially moral and unchangeable laws of nature. The concept of “natural law” emerged in ancient Greek philosophy concurrently and in connection with the notion of justice, and re-entered the mainstream of Western culture through the writings of Thomas Aquinas, notably his Treatise on Law.
As nationalism grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Law Merchant was incorporated into countries’ local law under new civil codes. In contrast to English common law, which consists of enormous tomes of case law, codes in small books are easy to export and easy for judges to apply. EU law is codified in treaties, but develops through de facto precedent laid down by the European Court of Justice. Law is a set of rules that are created and are enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior, with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. State-enforced laws can be made by a group legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes; by the executive through decrees and regulations; or established by judges through precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions.
- The other important model is the presidential system, found in the United States and in Brazil.
- In civil law the sources recognised as authoritative are, primarily, legislation—especially codifications in constitutions or statutes passed by government—and custom.
- In civil law systems, contract and tort fall under a general law of obligations, while trusts law is dealt with under statutory regimes or international conventions.
- Suffolk Law Alumni Magazine asks alumni and faculty what lessons they have learned after some challenging years.
For a description of legal training and a general background, see legal profession, legal education, and legal ethics. Articles that delineate the relationship of law to political structures are constitution; ideology; political party; and political system. For articles that discuss the importance of law regarding social justice and other social issues, see human rights; land reform; and social service. For an examination of comparative legal systems and the relationship of the law to the social sciences, see comparative law. For an analysis of the role of law in the administration of government, see administrative law.
Immanuel Kant believed a moral imperative requires laws “be chosen as though they should hold as universal laws of nature”. Jeremy Bentham and his student Austin, following David Hume, believed that this conflated the “is” and what “ought to be” problem. Bentham and Austin argued for law’s positivism; that real law is entirely separate from “morality”. Kant was also criticised by Friedrich Nietzsche, who rejected the principle of equality, and believed that law emanates from the will to power, and cannot be labeled as “moral” or “immoral”. There have been several attempts to produce “a universally acceptable definition of law”. In 1972, Baron Hampstead suggested that no such definition could be produced.
Christina Swarns L’93, who has dedicated her career to criminal justice reform, speaks with Essence about her position as Executive Director of the Innocence Project. The JD Class of 2025 embodies Penn Carey Law’s strong commitments to cross-disciplinary learning, advocacy, service, and academic excellence. Wisconsin Law in Action is a monthly podcast featuring new or forthcoming scholarship from the UW Law School Faculty, exploring a variety of legal topics and examining new developments in the legal academic field.
Today, countries that have civil law systems range from Russia and Turkey to most of Central and Latin America. Sociology of law is a diverse field of study that examines the interaction of law with society and overlaps with jurisprudence, philosophy of law, social theory and more specialised subjects such as criminology. The institutions of social construction, social norms, dispute processing and legal culture are key areas for inquiry in this knowledge field. In the United States the field is usually called law and society studies; in Europe it is more often referred to as socio-legal studies.
If a country has an entrenched constitution, a special majority for changes to the constitution may be required, making changes to the law more difficult. A government usually leads the process, which can be formed from Members of Parliament (e.g. the UK or Germany). However, in a presidential system, the government is usually formed by an executive and his or her appointed cabinet officials (e.g. the United States or Brazil). A judiciary is theoretically bound by the constitution, just as all other government bodies are.
At first, jurists and legal philosophers were suspicious of sociology of law. Civil law jurisdictions treat contracts differently in a number of respects, with a more interventionist role for the state in both the formation and enforcement of contracts. In France, an ordinary contract is said to form simply on the basis of a “meeting of the minds” or a “concurrence of wills”. Germany has a special approach to contracts, which ties into property law. Their ‘abstraction principle’ means that the personal obligation of contract forms separately from the title of property being conferred.