Set of rules and guidelines intended to influence social behavior

Law is a system of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Law is a system that regulates and ensures that individuals or a community adhere to the will of the state. State-enforced laws can be made by a collective legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established by judges through precedent, normally in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can create legally binding contracts, including arbitration agreements that may elect to accept alternative arbitration to the normal court process. The formation of laws themselves may be influenced by a constitution, written or tacit, and the rights encoded therein. The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in various ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people.


An Independent Judiciary: Edward Coke, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay
"Coke had a gift for expressing common law principles in unforgettable ways. 'The common law,' he wrote, 'is the best and most common birth-right that the subject hath for the safeguard and defense, not merely of his goods, lands and revenues, but of his wife and children, his body, fame and life...No man ecclesiastical or temporal shall be examined upon secret thoughts of his heart...the house of an Englishman is to him as his castle.' ... Common law was the law which applied to everyone. It included Saxon legal customs, standard commercial practices for resolving disputes, Parliamentary statutes, judicial decisions and some royal decrees."
Barristers and Barriers: Sir Edward Coke and the Regulation of Trade [PDF], by Gary M. Anderson, Robert D. Tollison, Cato Journal, 1993
Examines Coke's impact on the regulation of the legal profession and argues that while he opposed royal grants of monopoly privileges, his efforts tended to enhance monopoly advantages of common law barristers
"In early modern England, judicial services were provided in a competitive market, in which a variety of different courts and court systems, operating according to different sets of legal principles and precedents, adjudicated disputes. ... Beginning in the late 16th century, the court system based on the English common law had begun to achieve clear dominance in the market for judicial services by erecting various legal entry barriers which hampered the ability of other court systems to successfully compete. The three common law courts ... colluded together, and generated substantial rents for the privileged barristers."
Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832), by T. Patrick Burke, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"... Bentham ... aimed to occupy the same role with respect to society and law that Newton had to physics, by reducing the multiplicity of phenomena to unity through the discovery of a single basic principle: the principle of utility. The fundamental concepts of the law, he maintained, must be concrete and observable by the senses, not abstract, and they are two: pleasure and pain. The ground of the law is physical sensibility; everything men do is motivated by the desire to avoid pain or obtain pleasure, which are just two sides of the same coin. ... An action or policy is rational to the extent that it possesses utility, that is, contributes to human happiness."
Coke, Edward (1552-1634), by Stephen M. Sheppard, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
"No one single conception of law is articulated in Coke's books, speeches, and writings. Yet his ideas about the law are consistent over his long career, and they may be summarized as taking the form of four principles: as a measure of human conduct applied by professionals, as a set of rules common to all, as a limitation on officials, and as a source of rights. ... Coke described the law as 'artificial reason' arising from the study and practice of the law's precedents and customs. He saw this study as taking 'new corn from old fields,' relying on long-established principles of reason and right to govern new forms of conduct."
Related Topics: Edward Coke, Rights
Complex Societies Need Simple Laws: We need to end the orgy of rule-making at once and embrace the simple rules that true liberals like America's founders envisioned, by John Stossel, 15 Mar 2012
Reflects on the "uncountable" number of laws and regulations in the United States as well as Britain, and elicits the views of Laozi, Hayek, Buchanan and Mises in favor of ending "the orgy of rule-making"
"We have 160,000 pages of rules from the feds alone. States and localities have probably doubled that. We have so many rules that legal specialists can't keep up. Criminal lawyers call the rules 'incomprehensible.' They are. They are also 'uncountable.' Congress has created so many criminal offenses that the American Bar Association says it would be futile to even attempt to estimate the total. So what do the politicians and bureaucrats of the permanent government do? They pass more rules."
Related Topics: Economics, Laozi, Society
Crime and Punishment in a Free Society, by Sheldon Richman, 6 Dec 2013
Describes how customary law and the principle of restitution were corrupted by English kings into a system of government laws and punishment of crimes (originally, violations of the "king's peace")
"At one time, an 'offense' that was not an act of force against an individual was not an offense at all. ... before the royal preemption, customary law prevailed in England. ... In such a system of law, one was not likely to see 'offenses' without true victims. ... This arrangement worked out fairly well — until would-be rulers, who needed money to finance wars of conquest and buy loyalty by dispensing tax-funded jobs, discovered that there was gold to be had in the administration of justice."
Crime and Punishment in a Free Society, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Apr 2014
Expanded version of the TGIF article of 6 Dec 2013: describes how customary law and the principle of restitution were corrupted by English kings into a system of government laws and punishment of crimes
"... I want to draw attention to the distinction between crime and tort — between offenses against the state (or 'society') and offenses against individual persons or their justly held property. We're so used to this distinction, and the priority of the criminal law over tort law, that most of us don't realize that things used to be different. ... In a free society the category torts would fully replace the category crimes, and restitution would fully replace retribution."
Emergencies: The Breeding Ground of Tyranny, by William L. Anderson, Future of Freedom, Nov 2006
Examines the long history of "emergency powers" claimed by U.S. Presidents, including recent examples such as sanctions stemming from the International Economic Powers Act and the so-called War on Terror
"Indeed, as federal and state laws become more expansive and historical liberties are routinely crushed, perhaps it is time to look at the laws themselves, as opposed to seeing only whether President Bush’s actions are legal. Even if one is keeping to the letter (and even the spirit) of a law that violates individual rights, the larger and more pertinent question is not 'Is it legal?' but rather 'Why does this law exist anyway?'"
E.R.A.: A Red Herring at Best, by Charles Curley, 1981
A rebuttal to an Association of Libertarian Feminists discussion paper in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment
"Time and time again the history of man shows us that you cannot legislate what people think or how they think. Sexism can be ended. It will not be ended by passing another law, but by teaching, by example, by one-to-one discussion, argument and conversion. ... Working to pass a law does nothing to further the goal of changing people's attitudes."
Related Topic: Rights
Frédéric Bastiat: An Annotated Bibliography, by Sheldon Richman, 2000
Opens with a biography, then discusses Bastiat's major works and concludes with a current perspective; includes short list of works about Bastiat and links to other sites
"Philosophers have conceived law as resulting from a social contract ... (Thomas Hobbes), as designed to effect the greatest happiness for the greatest number (Jeremy Bentham and the utilitarians), or as an arbitrary convention ... In contrast, Bastiat is squarely in the natural law camp (along with John Locke): 'Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.' ... Thus law that conflicts with liberty and property is not proper law, but legalized plunder ..."
Frederic Bastiat, Ingenious Champion for Liberty and Peace, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Jun 1997
Lengthy biographical essay, covering those who influenced Bastiat as well as those influenced by him, his writings (including correspondence with his friend Félix Coudroy), his roles in the French Constituent and Legistative Assemblies and his legacy
"Bastiat went on to attack what he called 'legal plunder'—laws which exploit some people to benefit politically connected interests. He described how such laws tend to politicize private life: 'It is in the nature of men to react against the inequity of which they are the victims. When, therefore, plunder is organized by the law for the profit of the classes who make it, all the plundered classes seek, by peaceful or revolutionary means, to enter into the making of the laws.'"
Henry David Thoreau and "Civil Disobedience," Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, Mar 2005
After some background and biographical material, describes the event (Thoreau's imprisonment) that led to writing "Civil Disobedience" and Thoreau's reaction to those who paid the tax on his behalf, his jailers, his neighbors and Ralph Waldo Emerson
"He exclaimed in 'Civil Disobedience,' 'Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.' ... He now returned to Walden to mull over two questions: (1) Why do some men obey laws without asking if the laws are just or unjust; and, (2) why do others obey laws they think are wrong?"
Henry David Thoreau and "Civil Disobedience," Part 3, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, May 2005
Further examination of themes in "Civil Disobedience", including unjust laws, politicians and reformers, voting, when to resist the state and the influence on Gandhi
"Thoreau dissects the notion that 'the law is the law and should be respected.' For one thing, not all laws are equal. Some laws exist for no other reason than to protect the government — for example, laws against tax evasion or contempt of court. Such laws often have more severe penalties than those that protect individuals against violence."
Is Edward Snowden a Lawbreaker?, by Sheldon Richman, 28 Jun 2013
Considers whether Edward Snowden "broke the law" by his disclosures of NSA telephone and internet data collection
"... the obligations of natural law — essentially not to trespass on the person and property of others — preexist and are not the result of anything that legislators say. ... Statutes forbidding murder, rape, torture, and theft, then, are redundant, adding nothing to our natural obligations as human beings. But legislation consistent with justice is the exception, not the rule."
Related Topic: Lysander Spooner
Law as 'Reason' or as 'Violence'?, by Butler Shaffer, 17 Nov 2001
Compares modern "law" to ancient "law merchant" and describes various rationalizations used to justify the violence in the modern system
"There have been times in which 'law' was, indeed, a means for peacefully resolving disputes. The ancient system known as the 'law merchant,' for example, developed among men of commerce as a way of settling quarrels in the marketplace. ... Over time, the political system took over the roles of these merchant judges, and 'law' became more completely politicized."
Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution, by Murray Rothbard, Cato Journal, 1982
Examines the principles of tort law, how to determine what is just property and how to deal with invasions of property such as air pollution
"... the principles of tort or criminal law ... are negative commands or prohibitions, on the order of 'thou shalt not' do actions X, Y, or Z. ... certain actions are considered wrong to such a degree that it is considered appropriate to use the sanctions of violence (since law is the social embodiment of violence) to combat, defend against, and punish the transgressors."
Liberalism, by Friedrich Hayek, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas, 1978
Chapter 9; originally written in 1973 for the Enciclopedia del Novicento; covers both the history of both strands of liberalism as well as a systematic description of the "classical" or "evolutionary" type
"Rome, in addition, gave at least. to the European continent a highly individualist private law, centring on a very strict conception of private property, a law, moreover, with which, until the codification under Justinian, legislation had very little interfered and which was in consequence regarded more as a restriction on, rather than as an exercise of, the powers of government."
Morals and the Welfare State, by F. A. Harper, 1951
Examines five moral principles by which the idea of the Welfare State (described in more detail in an appendix) can be judged; extension of talk given 13 June 1951; later published as "Morals and Liberty" (see The Freeman, Sep 1971)
"The so-called Law of Gravity is one expression of Nat­ural Law. ... If it had not existed prior to the discovery—even though we were ignorant of it—it could not have been there to be discovered. That is the meaning of the concept of Natural Law. This view—there exists a Nat­ural Law which rules over the affairs of human conduct—will be challenged by some who point out that man possesses the capacity for choice ... But this trait of man ... does not release him from the rule of cause and effect, which he can neither veto nor alter. What [it] means, instead, is that he is there­by enabled, by his own choice, to act either wisely or unwisely ..."
Natural Law and Peace: A Biography of Hugo Grotius, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Biographical essay
"Grotius championed a natural law philosophy which derived from the 'higher law' doctrine of Marcus Tullius Cicero and other ancient Roman and Greek philosophers. They believed the legitimacy of government laws must be judged by standards of justice – natural law. Grotius defended natural law without appealing to the Bible or organized religion. He insisted it followed from the nature of things, and it was discovered by human reason. He wrote, 'Now the Law of Nature is so unalterable, that it cannot be changed even by God himself. For although the power of God is infinite, yet there are some things, to which it does not extend.'"
Related Topics: Hugo Grotius, Netherlands, Rights, War
On the Origin and Character of Rights, by William Blackstone, The Freeman, Mar 1981
Selection extracted from Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. I
"Hence we may collect [conclude] that the law, which restrains a man from doing mischief to his fellow citizens, though it diminishes the natural, increases the civil liberty of mankind; but that every wanton and causeless restraint of the will of the subject, whether practiced by a monarch, a nobility, or a popular assembly, is a degree of tyranny; nay, that even laws themselves, whether made with or without our consent, if they regulate and constrain our conduct in matters of mere indifference, without any good end in view, are regulations destructive of liberty ..."
Related Topics: Liberty, Rights
Popular Sovereignty: A Biography of Algernon Sidney, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Biographical essay
"Sidney (Euonomius) affirmed the doctrine of a 'higher law' which had been championed by Cicero, ... He continued, 'The essence of the law consists solely in the justice of it: if it be not just, it is no law... The law that should be for our defense is a snare...what law soever is made prejudicial to those of that society, perverting justice, destroys the end for which it ought to be established, is therefore in the highest degree unjust and utterly invalid ...The most important temporal interests of all honest men are: to preserve life, liberty, and estate.'"
Reasoning on the Nature of Things, by Clarence B. Carson, The Freeman, Feb 1982
Discusses how natural law doctrines were repudiated by utilitarians, why natural rights are important from an economic viewpoint, how the rights to life, liberty and property can be construed and what the author understands as the "social contract"
"The natural law philosophy was largely abandoned in the course of the nineteenth century. ... It did attain to the rank of a philosophy of law in ancient Rome, was revived as part of a more comprehensive scheme of law by Thomas Aquinas, and undergirded the development of modern law from the Renaissance down through the eighteenth century. ... Those who view it simply as a legal theory, or even more broadly, as a theory of society and the state, understate its claims and impact. ... The following are some of the natural law doctrines: state of nature, the laws of nations, social contract, and natural rights."
Ron Paul and the Empire, by Steven LaTulippe, 31 Jul 2007
Considers what steps the establishment could take to prevent Ron Paul from becoming President
"Maybe Rep. Paul ... drained a mud puddle when he built his new house...and maybe that puddle could theoretically be classified as a 'wetland?' Or, even better, maybe a close relative is in hot water with OSHA/FDA/IRS/you-name-it ... Rep. Paul's sentence could be lessened, of course...provided he agreed to drop his candidacy as part of a 'plea bargain.' Ayn Rand once stated that the hallmark of authoritarian systems is the creation of innumerable, indecipherable laws. Such systems make everyone an un-indicted felon and allow for the exercise of arbitrary government power via selective prosecution."
Society without a State, by Murray Rothbard, 28 Dec 1974
Talk delivered at the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy
"The basic point, however, is that the state is not needed to arrive at legal principles or their elaboration: indeed, much of the common law, the law merchant, admiralty law, and private law in general, grew up apart from the state, by judges not making the law but finding it on the basis of agreed-upon principles derived either from custom or reason. The idea that the state is needed to make law is as much a myth as that the state is needed to supply postal or police services."
Related Topics: Anarchism, The State, Taxation
The Courts and the New Deal, Part 1, by William L. Anderson, Future of Freedom, Jun 2005
First part of a four-part series examining how Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal affected federal courts and other legal practices; contrasts the thoughts of Blackstone and Bentham
"The federal courts did not grow on their own ... the Leviathan we see today has come about because groups of intellectuals and lawyers actively sought to change the very meaning of law in the United States. It was and is a sorry episode of U.S. history, one of many such affairs that have turned the nation's legal system from a marvel to a slough of treachery, deceit, and unpredictability. The system of justice that once protected the innocent and held contracts and private property to be near-sacred entities, has become a mechanism through which lawyers legally loot businesses and rogue prosecutors regularly charge, convict, and imprison the innocent."
The Essence of Government, by Doug Casey, 26 Oct 2001
Examines the questions "What is the essence of government?" and "Are governments necessary?"
"Once you leave the ken of common law, the only distinction between the 'laws' of governments and the ad hoc proceedings of an informal assemblage such as a mob, or of a more formal group like the KKK, boils down to the force the group can muster to impose its will on others. The laws of Nazi Germany and the USSR are now widely recognized as criminal fantasies that gained reality on a grand scale. But at the time those regimes had power, they were treated with the respect granted to any legal system."
Related Topics: Government, Groups, Middle East
The Experimental Economist: Nobel laureate Vernon Smith takes markets places they've never been before, by Vernon L. Smith, Nick Gillespie, Michael W. Lynch, Reason, 9 Oct 2002
Topics discussed include law (discovered vs. formally made), experimental economics, electric power, demand-interrupt pricing, airport landing and takeoff slots, NASA missions, libertarianism and economics
"Robert Ellickson ... looked at what fence law is in Shasta County, California. The law makes it clear that you're liable for the damage your cattle does ... The reality is that people share fences. If you're a guy who gets known in the community as careless, as someone who doesn't keep your fences up ... your neighbors are much harder on you than if it's just a one-time-only mistake. ... If you read ... F.A. Hayek, you know that the early lawgivers were not people who made law. They just wrote down the existing practices. This is what people are doing in Shasta County. It's 'discovered law.' 'Made law' starts to come in later."
The Idea of a Private Law Society, by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Mises Daily, 28 Jul 2006
Discusses the problem of social order, i.e., rules to regulate the use of "everything scarce so that all possible conflicts can be ruled out"
"The idea of eternal and immutable law that must be discovered will disappear and be replaced by the idea of law as legislation — as flexible state-made law. ... However, this democratic equality before the law is something entirely different from and incompatible with the idea of one universal law, equally applicable to everyone, everywhere, and at all times."
The Servile State Revisited, by Joseph Sobran, The Wanderer, 5 Jun 2003
Ponders David Hume's observation as to the ease with which "the many are governed by the few"
"In Christendom — now derisively called the Middle Ages — it was believed that everything had its natural limits, including law. A human or 'positive' law could not be the mere whim or will of the ruler; it was expected to conform to natural law. Not that this principle was always honored, far from it; but it was acknowledged. ... Today, as C.S. Lewis observed, law has become the unbounded will of the State, which is 'incessantly engaged in legislation.'"

Cartoons and Comic Strips

Defining the Law ..., by Wiley Miller, Non Sequitur, 2 Jul 2012
People who hate us claim there isn't any difference ..., by Ted Rall, 5 Oct 2006


Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769, Vol. 1, by William Blackstone, 1769
Partial contents: Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals - Of the King's Revenue - Of People, Whether Aliens, Denizens or Natives - Of Master and Servant - Of Husband and Wife - Of Parent and Child - Of Guardian and Ward - Of Corporations
Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769, Vol. 2, by William Blackstone, 1769
Partial contents: Of Property in General - Of the Title to Things Real, in General - Of Title by Purchase, and First by Escheat - Of Title by Occupancy - Of Title by Forfeiture - Of Property in Things Personal - Of Title by Gift, Grant, and Contract
Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769, Vol. 3, by William Blackstone, 1769
Partial contents: Of the Redress of Private Wrongs by the Mere Act of Parties - Of Courts in General - Of the Cognizance of Private Wrongs - Of Injuries to Personal Property - Of Trespass - Of Process - Of Pleading - Of the Trial by Jury
Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769, Vol. 4, by William Blackstone, 1769
Partial contents: Of the Nature of Crimes, And Their Punishment - Of Principals and Accessories - Of High Treason - Of Offences Against the Persons of Individuals - Of Offenses Against Private Property - Of Arrests - Of Commitment and Bail - Of Process
Law's Order: What Economics Has to Do with Law and Why It Matters
    by David D. Friedman, 2000
Partial contents: What Does Economics Have to Do with Law? - Efficiency and All That - What's Wrong with the World - Defining and Enforcing Rights - Of Burning Houses and Exploding Coke Bottles - The Economics of Contract - Marriage, Sex, and Babies
Related Topic: Economics
Simple Rules for a Complex World
    by Richard Epstein, 1995
Partial contents: Introduction: Too Many Lawyers, Too Much Law - Cutting through Complexity - The Simple Rules - Autonomy and Property - Torts - The Rules in Action - Professional Liability for Financial Loss - Conclusion: The Challenges to Simple Rules
The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State
    by Bruce L. Benson, 1990
The Law, by Frédéric Bastiat, Sheldon Richman (Foreword), Walter E. Williams (Introduction), Foundation for Economic Education, 1850
Translated by Dean Russell. Partial list of headings (added by translator): Life is a Gift from God - What is Law? - A Just and Enduring Government - The Complete Perversion of the Law - A Fatal Tendency of Mankind - Property and Plunder

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Law" as of 25 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.