In our times state is the sole upholder of social control and conformity, and the principal means at its disposal is law. Since law is enforced by State, force is present. Roscoe Pound explains law as social control through systematic application of the force of a politically organized society. In a lighter vein Bertrand Russell remarks that the good behaviour of even the most exemplary citizen owes much to the existence of a police force. Much earlier, Durkheim was the first sociologist to show that law is the means to enforce the collective conscience or collectivity which makes society an entity by itself, almost God.
Law is closely associated with morality and religion. Legislation always rests on social doctrines and ideals which have been derived from religion and morality, and judicial decisions always rely on the fundamental moral ideas of society expressed as reason, natural law, natural justice, and equality and, in more recent times, as public policy or public interest litigation as in India.Law, therefore, rests upon moral sentiments derived from religion and is influenced by institutional arrangements of society; and it brings about, by its precision and sanction, such a degree of certainty in human behaviour that cannot be attained through other types of social control. On occasions, law enforces social attitudes and contracts which initially were those of a small minority of reformers. In Russia, law has established new morals of behaviour which were originally the aspirations of small group of revolutionaries. In democratic societies, too, social reformers played an important part in influencing social behaviour, later on approved by law.
One more characteristic of law is the changed outlook towards punishment. As societies are becoming more confident of their powers to maintain order as a result of rising material standards, declining class differences and spread of education and extension of rights, more and more stress is being laid on the willing cooperation of people with state and its law. This development has been further augmented by studies in sociology and psychology which have shown that crimes are projection of society rather than the results of individual violation. That is why the new discipline, called criminology, has developed as an applied branch of sociology.
Lastly, law as it is today, does not primarily deal with individuals alone. Very often it regulates conflicts between individuals and groups as well as between individuals and large organisations whether public or private. The role of property in social life has been modified by the changes that have accrued in the relations between the employer and the worker through the abolition of the crime of conspiracy, the recognition of collective bargaining, social security and direct limitations on the use of private property, all through legislation.
The law as it exists today partly contributes to social change. As already remarked above, the change in the role of property has led to a great social change in man's social behavior. Secondly, individual initiative is no longer on the premium in modern societies. Mammoth organizations and corporations undertake the vast socio-economic activities of modern times. Taking into account these changes, American sociologists have introduced expressions such as the 'Other-directed man' and the organization man. As the social complex of modern communities is transforming itself, law, too, is keeping pace with them in making the interaction between the other direct man and the mammoth organizations or the corporations to be smooth and efficient.
In developing societies the role of law in contributing to social change is much more. In all countries there is a continuous rationalization of the existing law by modification, introduction of foreign codes, and systematic legislation in relation to customary and traditional law. The Indian Constitution is an embodiment of such monumental change. The philosophy governing social changes, implied as well as explicitly stated in the Constitution, is governed by the principles stated in the Preamble which are entirely secular and which bear the imprint of the leading minds of the world like the 18th century French philosophers, liberal thinkers of the 19th century, the Fabian socialists of the 20th century, and individual thinkers like Thoreau, Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi.
Although law has an important role in maintaining social order or conformity, there are a few weaknesses in the existing law. It no longer has charismatic qualities which it earlier had, although our courts resound with expressions like the Majesty and the sanctity of law, your Lordships and so on. Second, people do not feel collectively and directly involved when any law is violated. It is more in the form of keeping each individual in his limits. Lastly, law does not enable the criminal to be finally reconciled to society. Modern Law, as it has developed, is increasingly being separated from custom and religion. It is only when legislation and litigation, the two processes concerned with law, are harmonized that they take their appropriate place in social control.