What is the importance of law?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Law governs much of what everyone does, day in and day out. It tell us what our rights and duties are.  It allows us to assert rights that we have.  It lets us know the consequences of not doing what we are supposed to do. Without law, we do not have civilization; we have chaos. Law is meant to protect people and property from harm. It is designed to either remove people from society who have harmed people and property or to make them monetarily responsible for the harm.  If we had no law, people could steal from us, hurt us, damage our property, or do any number of other acts that society has agreed it does not find acceptable. Conversely, we could steal from others or harm them without laws to discourage us from doing so.  There is no reason to think that, without law, people would all behave nicely and reasonably. With law, we clearly know what we are responsible for doing and what will happen to us if we violate a law. Without law, people could and would do whatever they wished.  

Let me give you some examples of the importance of law in everyday life. We can expect to work in a safe work environment because of laws. We can assert our rights if we are discriminated against because of law. We are able to own property and not have someone arbitrarily take it from us because of law.  Our children are entitled to an education because the law mandates it.  We have privacy rights because of law.  We are entitled to state our opinions without the government stopping us because of the law. Many of us now have health insurance because of a law. We can rely on the safety of food because food safety is subject to the law, and advertisers cannot lie to us because of the law, too.  The list of ways in which law affects our lives is endless.

There are two broad areas of law, called criminal and civil.  When someone commits a crime, it is considered a crime against all of society, so the state prosecutes the crime, and the person is punished by being removed from society or forced to pay a penalty of some sort.  When we act carelessly against another, what is called negligence, we are in the civil law area, and the victim of our carelessness can sue us, seeking money for whatever damage we caused, for example, in a car accident.  Either way, having laws and consequences persuades most people to behave in ways that society agrees are proper. 

Having said all that, it is important to understand that the law must be seen to be applied equally and reliably to all, to presidents as well as to laborers, to the rich as well as to the poor.  If it is not applied equally and consistently to all, it becomes ineffective, and the entire society is harmed. The law is something that we need to be able to count on, so that we know what is expected of us and so that we know what will happen if we do not obey the law.

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