Law as an instrument of social change


The conversion of Rome from republic to empire could not have been accomplished except by means of explicit legal decree buttressed by the doctrine of imperial sovereignty. Law, far from being a reflection of social reality, is a powerful means of accomplishing reality – that is, of fashioning it or making it.

  • The Soviet Union succeeded in making enormous changes in society by the use of law.
  • In Spain law was used to reform agrarian labor and employment relations.
  • China also managed to moderate through law its population growth and as a result devote more of its resources to economic development and modernization.

The law, through legislative and administrative responses to new social conditions and ideas, as well as through judicial re-interpretations of constitutions, statutes or precedents, increasingly not only articulates but sets the course for major social change. Attempted social change, through law, is a basic trait of the modern world. Many authors consider law as a desirable necessary and highly efficient means of inducing change, preferable to other instruments of change. In present-day societies, the role of law in social change is of more than theoretical interest. In many areas of life such as education, race relations, housing, transportation, energy utilization, protection of the environment, and crime prevention, the law and litigation are important instruments of change. Law plays an important indirect role in social change by shaping various social institutions, which in turn have a direct impact on society. [eg. Mandatory school attendance upgraded the quality of the labor force, which in turn played a direct role in social change by contributing to an increased rate of industrialization. The law interacts in many cases directly with basic social institutions, constituting a direct relationship between law and social change]. Social change through litigation has always been an important feature in the US. Whether the change produced by such action is considered ‘constructive’ or ‘destructive,’ the fact remains that law can be a highly effective device for producing social change.