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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 545

In his concise examination of the social and philosophical bases of law, H. L. A. Hart states that one main reason he wrote the book is to connect the definition of law, about which most people cannot agree, to the practical aspects of law, which does not seem as challenging to understand, or at least to cite. The vast array of definitions of what constitutes law—as opposed to distinct laws—is dauntingly wide. He does not think that this means that most definitions are wrong, however; the core values that make up law will vary among societies. In contrast, many members of a given society will know some of its laws, or at least how to learn what those laws are.

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Few Englishmen are unaware that there is a law forbidding murder, or requiring the payment of income tax, or specifying what must be done to make a valid will. Virtually everyone except the child or foreigner coming across the English word “law” for the first time could easily multiply such examples . . . .

Hart explains a fundamental principle of law to be that of “sovereignty.” This concept includes ideas about order, authority, and allegiance. He is not referring specifically to the centralized authority of a monarchy or similar system, however; the sovereignty concept applies equally well in a democracy. The concept he presents is the “doctrine of sovereignty.”

The doctrine asserts that in every society, where there is law, there is ultimately to be found latent beneath the variety of political forms, in a democracy as much as in an absolute monarchy, this simple relationship between subjects rendering habitual obedience and a sovereign who renders obedience to no one.

The reasons that this concept can apply in a democracy include the idea that the sovereign, or entity above the law, is the entity that creates laws and imposes limitations.

He creates law for others and so opposes legal duties or limitations upon them whereas he is said himself to be legally unlimited and illimitable.

The next, related questions that arise, for Hart, are the determination of who obeys such law and...

(The entire section contains 545 words.)

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