Law is the body of rules that a community recognizes as binding and enforced by a controlling authority. It serves four principal purposes: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It is important for citizens to understand how law works and how they can participate in making it.
Oxford Reference offers authoritative and accessible entries on all aspects of law, including legal history, legislation and regulation. It also provides expert analysis of major debates in legal theory and covers the main areas of legal practice, such as criminal law, property law, family and labour law, civil and commercial procedure and evidence law.
The study of law also examines the way in which a community regulates itself and the relationship between state and citizens. Max Weber and others have reshaped thinking on the extension of the state; modern military, policing and bureaucratic power over ordinary citizens’ daily lives pose special problems for accountability that earlier writers such as Locke or Montesquieu could not have foreseen.
It is part of the nature of law that it is coercive and that people must obey its commands or face sanction. It is not the only normative domain, however, and other sources of guidance – morality, religion, social conventions and etiquette – have a great deal in common with law in how they influence behaviour. Moreover, there is a profound sense in which the shape of the physical world limits what law can demand of humans.