Law is the set of rules enforceable by society or government that regulate behavior and enforce social justice. It has many different functions and controversies surrounding its role in society, including:
Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways. It can serve to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect minorities against majorities, preserve individual rights, and promote social change. Law can be created and enforced by legislative statutes, executive decrees or regulations, and judicial decisions in common law systems. It can also be created by private individuals in legally binding contracts or arbitration agreements. It may be based on a written constitution or tacitly encoded in the tradition of a legal system, or created by the practice of jurisprudence and a body of case law.
The main function of Law is to ensure that people receive fair treatment by a just and impartial judiciary. This is accomplished through a system of fixed principles, which prevents arbitrary, biased or dishonest judgement. In some areas, like aviation or railroads, laws at the federal level preempt all state law, while in other areas, such as tort law and family law, a limited number of federal statutes coexist with a much larger body of state law.
A particularly controversial aspect of Law is its coercive nature. This has given rise to a long-running debate over its normative importance. Early legal positivists, such as Bentham and Austin, held that the law’s ability to impose its practical demands on citizens by force is what distinguishes it from other normative domains. This was later disputed by 20th century legal realists, such as Hart and Joseph Raz, who held that the coercive aspect of law is no longer pivotal to its fulfillment of its social functions.