Can you discuss the consensus perspective and the conflict perspective as it relates to the law (in other words, the nature of laws and the purpose of law)?  

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The conflict and consensus perspectives offer different views about the nature and purpose of laws. The consensus perspective states that consensus or agreement about social norms and beliefs keeps a society together. Laws are created to uphold this consensus and to punish people who deviate from these norms. Consensual beliefs...

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The conflict and consensus perspectives offer different views about the nature and purpose of laws. The consensus perspective states that consensus or agreement about social norms and beliefs keeps a society together. Laws are created to uphold this consensus and to punish people who deviate from these norms. Consensual beliefs about acceptable behavior maintain the social order and inform the laws that are created. 

Conflict theory, on the other hand, emphasizes the inherent tensions in society. Developed by Karl Marx, among others, conflict theory focuses on the differing needs and desires of those who have capital (or the means to make money) and those who do not. Laws and social institutions such as schools and religious organizations are maintained by the elite to maintain the social order and prevent a change in the status quo. Conflict theorists emphasize the importance of class conflict to create greater equality among different groups in society. In their view, laws were created to maintain inequality.

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There is a difference between the consensus perspective of law and the conflict perspective of law. The consensus perspective of law is a belief that laws are based on shared norms of society. Thus, the laws of a society are ones that most people, even in a diverse society, agree are proper and acceptable for that society.

The conflict perspective of law is the belief that a dominant group, which could be a minority group, makes the laws. These laws are imposed upon some people in society, often against their will. This theory believes there are different viewpoints about what is and is not acceptable as it relates to the laws. Different groups will have different values. As a result, these groups will not be able to agree on what is and is not acceptable for the laws. Usually, the dominant group asserts its will when making the laws. The purpose of laws in this system is often to keep the dominant group in control and to protect the interests of the dominant group.

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The consensus and conflict perspectives are two different views on the origins and the nature of laws.  As their names suggest, the former perspective holds that laws come about through a process of consensus while the latter suggests that they come about through conflict.

In the consensus perspective, laws are the embodiment of a consensus in society.  This is a consensus that helps to hold society together and allows it to function smoothly.  In this view, the law is a good thing for all in society.  The law helps to keep society running well because it enforces rules that a society has developed together over time.  These rules have been developed through consensus because they are beneficial for the society.

The conflict perspective has a much less benign and harmonious view of the laws.  In this view, the laws are imposed by whatever group prevails in conflict within the society.  Society is full of conflict between different groups (men and women, different economic classes, different races and ethnicities, etc.).  The groups that win their conflicts get to make the laws.  They then make laws that will help to keep them in power and will help to keep their antagonists in a subordinate position.  Thus, the laws are not developed by a consensus of society but are instead a tool to be devised and used by the dominant classes.

Thus, we can see that these two perspectives have very different views of the nature and origin of laws.

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