The Role of Law in Social Transformation

Dr.  A. P. Singh#


Everything changes except the rule of change. And the life of a nation or a socio-political system is not an exception to this rule. They are essentially dynamic, living and organic systems. The political, social and economic conditions change continuously. Social mores and ideals change from time to time creating new problems and altering the complexion of the old ones. This change is not essentially always in positive directions, there could always be changes which are not desirable and are essentially negative in character. The vicissitude of life process moves in strangest of ways. But does that mean that human agency just does not have a part to play in this process of change? Does the change process happen independent of the will of human agent?The way law and state have been organized during last two hundred odd years does not give that indication. The law in the broad sense and the whole legal system with its institutions, rules, procedures, remedies, is society’s attempt through state to control this change process and give it a desired direction. This logic puts legal institutions and the state at the core of all social discipline. In theory the sovereign power, the ultimate, legal authority in a polity can legislate on any matter and can exercise control over any change process within the state. Indeed in a highly centralized political system, with advanced technology and communication apparatus, it is taken for granted that legal innovation can effect social change.[i] Roscoe Pound perceived the law as a tool for social engineering. Underlying this view is the assumption that social processes are susceptible to conscious human control and the instrument by means of which this controls is to be achieved is law.

In such a formulation, law is a short term measure for a very complex aggregation of principles, norms ideas, rules, practices and agencies of legislation, administration, adjudication and enforcement, backed by political power and legitimacy. The complex law thus condensed into one term is abstracted from social context in which it exists and is spoken of as if it were an entity capable of controlling that context. Pospisil remarks that “the law of western society traditionally is analyzed as an autonomous logically consistent legal system in which various rules are derived from more abstract norms.”[ii] These norms are arranged in a sort of pyramid derived from a basic norm or sovereign will such an analysis presents a legal system as a logically consistent whole, devoid of internal contradictions whose individual norms gain validity from their logical relationship to the more abstract legal principles implied ultimately in the sovereign’s will and in a basic norm. Needless to say that the legal systems in most Afro-Asian countries, which were colonies of the western systems until very recently, have been designed on these western paradigms with an understanding that whatever undesirable that they have in their systems in terms of outdated traditions, orthodoxies or social conventions that run against the western notions of rationalism, can be changed by way of the instrumentality of law.

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