History of Law

Various definitions have been assigned to the vast concept that is law. To some people, law is an unqualified human good without which the society would be in disarray.

To others, law is a sham and is used as an ideological tool to serve elites. Perhaps both of these approaches are valid depending on the perspective that we take. Nevertheless, there must be one approach of the two that is weightier based on the history of law than the other. This discussion seeks to find which of the two makes more sense based on real historical evidence.

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Law being vast in nature may not have a single definition. However, we may agree that the concept of law was first established with the main aim of bringing order to society by defining what is considered wrong and right based on societal norms.

Thompson who has been referred as the father of the history pioneered an argument that law is an unqualified human good arguing that the society would not know any good without law. This argument which first put across a couple of decades back has been the subject of discussion among many scholars.

Thompson was historian who fought against oppression of a class people which was considered inferior. The working class during the 18th century was such an oppressed lot and this was because the laws in existence then seemed to favour those who were aristocrats of the society.

Although Thompson at first appeared as though he was lodging a criticism for legal parameters, he did make his stand on several occasions arguing that the law protected the society from the government which was likely to use the same laws to manipulate the people. He argued that the laws have ensured that the public has rights which if violated by the government could provide a redress to the people.

The government is limited in its actions since the law empowers the people and therefore the government has to be extremely cautious in its actions.

On the other hand, the law has been viewed as a sham and an ideological tool that serves only the elites in the society. This approach is equally true and especially in countries where the leaders are dictatorial and authoritarian. A case in point is Indonesia where leaders have come up with stringent laws and policies with the aim of exercising unmitigated, uncontrolled and unquestionable powers on the people.

The Middle East is yet another example where leaders have used the rule of law as their tool to remain in power while ruling people in a controlling manner to the detriment of the society. The uprising that has been witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and now Syria is a reaction to leaders who have used the rule of law for their own personal gain and at the expense of the majority of the people in the society.

It is only governments that use the law as a tool of controlling their own population to the advantage of the leaders but also international organisations have also used the law to manipulate individual countries.

For instance, third world countries may be in need of donor funding from western countries. The western may impose some policies which the recipient of the funds must comply with even if they are deprived of some of their rights. Failure to comply will lead to the withdrawal of the much needed funding for development in third world countries.

Looking at the two approaches, the approach by Thompson that the law is an unqualified human good seems to carry more weight. This is because everybody is under the law. The requirement is that every person; the society and the government, the leaders and individuals must obey and adhere to the laid down rules.

Usually, whenever the government appears to use the laws to manipulate the public, it is normally a violation of the same laws. Therefore, if every institution in the society including the government was to be disciplined, then the ultimate goals of ensuring that the law is unqualified human good would stand unshaken.

Strengthening the judiciary which is expected to keep both the society and the government in check and ensures that no violation of the laid down rules goes unpunished should be the ultimate goal of every society.

While the same courts under which the judiciary falls have some laid down rules which govern their operations, to a great extent, these courts and the judges who preside the courts have inherent power known as discretion to depart from some of the already laid down rules and arrive at a different decision to ensure that the justice is manifested.

Law is indeed a tool that every society needs to maintain order, sanity and consistency. Without law, people would not know what is right or wrong and would therefore do as they wish wished. This would see a society in chaos and disarray and this would hamper greatly the process of development


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