Although law offers many advantages as an instrument of social change, it also has certain limitations. Awareness of these limitations helps to understand more fully the role of the law in social change. At the same time, these limitations need to be taken into account for the use of the law to bring about change.

We now live in a period when many people distrust government and when people disagree on fundamental social and moral issues. In such a period, it seems naive to suggest that the law is an expression of the will of the people. For the great majority of individuals, the law originates externally to them and is imposed upon them in a manner that can be considered coercive. In reality, very few individuals actually participate in the formation of new laws and legislation. Consequently, one of the limitations of the law as an instrument of social change is that elites tend to determine which laws are promulgated and which alternatives are rejected. As they do so, moreover, they take into account how this process may advance their own interests. Other limitations regarding law as an instrument of social change include the idea that laws cannot easily produce social change unless they conform to prevailing morality and values. We now consider several such limitations.

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