Advantages of law in creating social change

In many instances, the state of the art of social change endeavors is not methodologically sophisticated enough to distinguish clearly among casual, necessary, sufficient, and contributory conditions to produce desired effects in society. The advantages of law as an instrument of social change are attributed to the fact that law in society is seen as legitimate, more or less rational, authoritative, institutionalized, generally not disruptive, and backed by mechanisms of enforcement.

Legitimate Authority

A principal advantage of law as an instrument of social change is the general feeling in society that legal commands or prohibitions ought to be observed even by those critical of the law in question. To a great extent, this feeling of obligation depends on respect for legitimate authority and the perception of power. Webber says that there are three types of legitimate authority:

  1. Traditional authority bases its claims to legitimacy on an established belief in the sanctity of traditions and the legitimacy of the status of those exercising authority. The obligation of obedience is not a matter of acceptance of the legality of an impersonal order, but rather a matter of personal loyalty [Rule-of-elders].
  2. Charismatic authority cases its claim to legitimacy on devotion to the specific and usual sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual and the normative patterns that are revealed or ordained. The charismatic leader is obeyed by virtue of personal trust in his or her revelation or exemplary qualities [Moses, Christ, Mohammed, Gandhi].
  3. Rational-legal authority bases its claims to legitimacy on a belief in the legality of normative rules and in the right of those elevated to authority ti issue commands under such rules. In such authority, obedience is owed to a legally established impersonal order. “Rational” people “voluntarily” make a “contract” that generates the impersonal legal order.

The binding force of law

Law is binding because most people in society consider it to be. Some consider the content of the law to command obedience, which, in turn, is seen as a compelling obligation. The law achieves its claim to obedience, and at least part of its morally obligatory force, from a recognition that it receives from those, or from most of those, to whom it is supposed to apply. Even when laws are against accepted morality, they are often obeyed. The extermination of more than six million Jews in Nazi Germany, clearly the most extreme instance of abhorrent immoral acts, was carried out by thousands of people in the name of obedience to the law. Milgram contends that the essence of obedience is that individuals come to see themselves as instruments for carrying out someone else’s wishes, and they therefore no longer view themselves are responsible for their actions. Under certain conditions many people will violate their own moral norms and inflict pain on other human beings, and that succinctly underlines the notion that most people willingly submit to authority and, by extension, the law.



Sanctions for disobedience to the law are surely among the primary reasons that laws have binding force. “The law has teeth; teeth that can bite if need be, although they need not necessarily be bared.” Sanctions are related to legal efficacy and are provided to guarantee the observance and execution of legal mandated to enforce behavior.