The introduction of a strict code of laws to govern the populace and its interaction with the central power puts an end to many abuses of power and translates immediately into a more stable society. The people express their gratitude by undertaking great works of culture in the empire's main cities - thus the first four of these receive a free cultural building.
Legalism is a great Policy for early development. In most early cases, the empire's first four cities will get a free Monument, and start expanding borders immediately! Not only that, but the Production can be contributed to build other buildings and/or units, instead of losing time to build Monuments. This is often an early game Policy (rushed towards by opening the tree, then adopting Oligarchy), unless the leader intends to build one of the early Wonders with Aristocracy.
- Detailed information on policy effect
The "free culture building" in each of the four cities will be the first in the culture chain that hasn't yet been constructed in the respective city – the chain being the Monument, Amphitheater, Opera House, Museum, and Broadcast Tower, in that order (the Temple replaces the Amphitheater in the base game). If the technology necessary to unlock that building hasn't been unlocked, it will appear once the research is finished.
For example, consider a city which has built a Monument already, in a civilization without Drama and Poetry. When unlocking Legalism, normally an Amphitheater would appear. However this takes place before the technology has been researched and without the technology, it cannot normally be built. As a result, no Amphitheater will appear immediately after the policy unlock, and will instead appear when Drama and Poetry is researched.
Buildings received from Legalism DO cost maintenance, but if a city already has any other culture buildings when the policy is enacted, the cost still applies to those buildings. If later culture buildings are not required, it may be advisable to rely on the free buildings from the policy and not build culture buildings, which will save gold in the long run. Alternatively, if the Monument is built early, maintenance will be instead saved on the more expensive Amphitheater, but there will be no immediate benefit until technology catches up.
Legalism is a policy in which the relationship between the ruler and his or her subjects is laid out in a series of laws, which both sides must adhere to strictly. If the law is fair and is properly enforced, the people will be content and the ruler's position will be secure. While this may seem to cover most governments that follow the rule of law, legalism almost achieved the status of a state religion in China during the Warring State Period.