What is the point of law and its various functions in society? It is in fact a complex answer to that age-old question, with new and improved answers constantly coming into play. In the United States, for example, we have our common law system, a legal code founded by decisions of the federal courts. Our nation has seen a proliferation of constitutional amendments and changes over the years, many of which reflect the changing balance of power between government and society. Each of these events has affected law and its role in society, and it has become increasingly necessary for people, businesses, and other institutions to understand how such law works, and why.
When asked what is the point of law and its purposes in society, the most common answer is that law protects the rights of individuals and allows for the orderly conduct of society. This is both a basic and more complicated answer. Beyond this, however, is an even more fundamental question, one that the answer to which is bound to vary across different types of law: What is the point of laws? Without laws to govern the conduct of society, there would be no societal control over the conduct of individuals, groups, businesses, and even nations themselves. Without law, there is not law: A realm on its own, separate and distinct from the rest of the world.
Individuals and groups may choose to engage in behavior that violates the law, but they cannot decide to do so on their own, and they certainly cannot resort to force against those who do not comply with their wishes. Therefore, laws are necessary to legally bind those who choose to break the law. They prevent individuals and groups from unjustly punishing those who have violated the law. They prevent individuals and groups from arbitrarily taking action in order to protect their rights. In short, laws exist to limit the actions of individuals and groups, ensuring that the exercise of rights is subject to the constraints of the law.
When we start to ask what is the point of law, then we often come to realize that the question has answers that range from the absurd to the sublime. The ridiculous arises when we consider the idea that what is the point of laws? We are simply asked to recognize that the law exists to tell us when and how we should act. If the law does not tell us when and how we should act, then where is the point of the law? There is no point of law, other than to tell us when we should and how we should act.
On the other hand, we must also recognize that what is the point of law is often the only point of law. In many ways, law is meaningless unless there is a societal context in which it is used. Some argue that in some societies the point of law is to guarantee certain rights and freedoms that are not given by any other means, such as a family or community bond. However, these same people often acknowledge that the point of law is to protect those who are vulnerable and in need of protection, such as women and children.
In today’s world, the question “what is the point of law?” is a bit more complex than it was even just a generation ago. In some societies the importance of law is revered and considered vital to the functioning of society, while in other societies, law is seen as a strict letter written by an overzealous government that is destined to restrict freedom and civil rights. No matter which type of society we find ourselves in, the importance of law will always be in debate.