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Natalie Tasci

International Law

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Professor O’Meara

23 January 2018

is the Law?

are many definitions of law. Merriam Webster defines law as, “(1): a binding
custom or practice of a community: a rule of conduct or action prescribed or
formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority (2): the
whole body of such customs, practices, or rules.”1 Encyclopedia
Britannica describes law as being, “the discipline and profession concerned
with the customs, practices, and rules of conduct of a community that are
recognized as binding by the community. Enforcement of the body of rules is
through a controlling authority.” 2
Shaw in “Why Law Exists,” defines law as being, “that element which binds the
members of the community together in their adherence to recognized values and
standards.” 3
Combining these definitions together, law can be defined as rules of conduct, which
are recognized as binding by the community in adherence to values and
standards; in other words, a set of rules by a community or government, put
into place to regulate behavior and avoid chaos. Just as backgrounds and
cultural traditions of different areas around the world are unique, so are laws.

Law echoes the cultural traditions of the country it works in. 4  

different parts of the world, come different forms of government and rule. In
the West, we have swayed farther away from laws based on religion, whereas in
countries like Saudi Arabia, Shari’a law, or Islamic law, based on the laws of
the Quran, is in full effect. Other countries with strict religious rule
include Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Sudan, Vatican City, and Yemen. 5
Modern democratic legal systems usually accommodate some form of religious
plurality and refrain from establishing or privileging any particular religious
entity or practice through legal sanction. 6
However, some can argue that all laws come from the basis of religion. Before
there were different faiths, there was man, who had empathy, morals, and a
sense of right and wrong. Religion conquered the world, and revolved itself
around these morals, implanting them in their teachings. We know not to murder,
kill, or steal, not because religion tells us it’s wrong, but because we know
it’s unjust behavior, unless one happens to be a sociopath. If morality were
solely based from religion, we would be in grave danger by the growing amount
of atheists in the world. These morals instilled in us from the day mankind was
born is called natural law. Natural law is a body of rules of universal
relevance, and because the ideas and precepts of the ‘law of nature’ were
rooted in human intelligence, it followed that such ruled could not be
restricted to any nation or any group, but were of worldwide relevance. 7

organized social institution including homes, schools and countries, have
recognized rules, which proves that humankind is dependent on established codes
of conduct. 8 Law
is a normative social practice: it purports to guide human behavior, giving
rise to reasons for action. 9  The purpose of law is to set up standards, keep
order, resolve conflicts, and protect the liberties and rights of citizens. 10 Laws
put rules into place to protect citizens from being hurt, give justice to those
who have been, and punish the offenders. By punishing offenders who disregard
the law, citizens of communities are forced to think twice before committing an
illegal act. In addition to deterring crime, the law offers a peaceful way to
settle and resolve conflicts through the court system.

However, not all
laws are good. There are bad laws that do more harm to society than good. How
can we tell the difference between a bad and good law? Good laws are laws that are
in the interest of the people, laws that do not discriminate, that are
reasonable, and that are not made to intimidate people. 11 A
good law is a law that a majority of the community can agree with. Morality
should be the basis of good law and policy. 12
If morality isn’t the basis for law and policy, and it is replaced by power-it
never leads to good government. 13
One way of evaluating whether a law is good or bad is to see if the law has
unintended consequences, whereby attempting to achieve its purpose, prohibits
other conduct which is not of itself harmful or damaging to society. 14
Laws that don’t solve an issue or that removes freedoms from the people is a
bad law.

1  Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. “Law.”
(accessed January 24, 2018)

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Law.”
(accessed January 24, 2018)

3  Shaw, “Why Laws Exist.”
(accessed January 24, 2018)












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