Historically, law served many purposes. It helped to maintain the status quo, protect minorities and political opponents, and promote social justice and orderly change. Though different nations and legal systems serve these purposes differently, most aim to keep a nation or state peaceful. Authoritarian governments often oppress political opponents and minorities, and colonialism often imposed peace and order. European nations like Britain, France, and Spain forged empires around the world and enacted many pieces of law to maintain that order.
The word law means “rule” or “regulation.” This is a broad term that includes all kinds of action, whether rational or irrational. Laws also define what a community will not tolerate, and can enjoin citizens to live by them. John Austin’s definition of law describes it as “a collection of rules that a politically superior man has established to govern himself and others.”
When it comes to the nature of law, there are several primary categories. There are legal traditions, which have historically marginalized certain groups. But there are exceptions to these traditions. Common law, for example, has been used to protect monopoly rights for powerful corporate owners. The same holds true for other types of property. A monopoly on land may be unjust, and the right to own land may not be guaranteed. But a state’s constitution may allow for different types of ownership.
Another kind of law is called arbitrary. Arbitrary law refers to laws made by legislators based on their own will, rather than a natural law. A tariff law for example, may be high or low, and is arbitrary. Arbitrary laws, such as tariff laws, are opposed to immutable laws. When a state imposes such laws, it violates the rights and property rights of its citizens.