The Discipline of Law
Law is a body of rules and guidelines enforced by a controlling authority that governs conduct, ensures justice, and maintains social order. It has its origins in ancient times, when social or governmental institutions relied on customs and traditions to regulate behavior. Over time, the discipline of law developed as a formalized system, with more specific rules and more rigorous enforcement. It also became a source of philosophical inquiry, economic analysis and sociology.
A large number of legal systems exist in the world, which differ from one another. Some, like the United States, utilize a common law system that focuses on the individual interpretation of judges’ decisions, rather than relying on specific statutes (a compilation of case law is known as case law). Other countries use civil laws, such as those in Japan. These laws are based on detailed written codes that specify exactly how a judge should proceed in a particular situation.
The discipline of law encompasses many specialized areas that span all aspects of human life. Some are concerned with the rights of individuals or groups, such as labor law, environmental law and intellectual property law. Other areas deal with the structure of government and political power. For example, constitutional law examines the principles and practices that make up a nation’s constitution, including how it is created, amended and interpreted over time.
Some areas of law are particularly pertinent to our contemporary society, such as international law and environmental law. Both these fields examine the relationships between nations, and between nations and other organizations, such as corporations and international organisations. In addition, they explore the ways in which a country manages its natural resources and how it interacts with other nations.
Other specialized areas include criminology, which is the study of criminal behavior and punishment. This area of the discipline also includes an examination of how the power of law can be exercised effectively, as well as the role of violence in law enforcement and justice-making. Max Weber is credited with reshaping thinking on the extension of state power, and modern militaries, police forces and bureaucracies pose challenges that Locke or Montesquieu could not have foreseen when writing about their respective ideas about the proper limits of a society’s control over the lives of its citizens.
In addition to specialized areas, law also covers many general topics, such as the relationship between government and business, the nature of judicial process, the role of a lawyer and how laws are made. The field of law is so broad that it can be divided into three broad categories for convenience, though these subjects intertwine and overlap. Labour law, for instance, concerns the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union; it also addresses workplace rights, such as a minimum wage or safety standards. Family law, on the other hand, involves divorce proceedings and marriage law, as well as the right to welfare benefits such as jobseekers’ allowances and housing grants.