The word “law” is most commonly used with reference to what the Oxford English Dictionary calls “the body of rules… which a particular state or community recognizes as binding on its members.” It also refers to statements of fact or truth that are based on observable patterns of physical behavior, as in the “law of gravity” and other “scientific laws.” These two uses of the term—a body of rules and an established scientific truth—are related. Liberal legal systems, including U.S. law, claim to be grounded in universal truths, even as they create bodies of rules specific to a particular society or community. The dominant story about the U.S. legal system, as told from the perspective of its founders and those who govern, is that it exists to establish and preserve freedom, equality, and certain individual rights. Law, in this account, is the neutral arbiter of fairness and justice. The background assumption is that law codifies a set of agreed-upon reasonable limits on human violence or disorderly behavior and that citizens freely submit to the legal system in order to be protected from the violence that would occur without enforcement of rules.

This essay may be found on page 158 of the printed volume.

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