Dependents, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book)

Children and Other Dependents

Different voluntary laws are in some sense “compatible” when consistent with the three pillars as defined earlier: personhood, voluntariness, and publication.  A logical system for resolving conflict of laws follows by rational deduction from these core principles.  There may be incompatible systems of voluntary law; for example, those that use an incompatible definition of person.   Here a distinction must be made: systems that define personhood based on some arbitrary characteristic (for example, color of skin, language, eye color, beliefs, etc.) are not systems deserving of interest.  They may arise and exist as backwards curiosities, but will not thrive in the face of universal definitions of personhood that rest on the corporeality of the individual, possession of a moral sense, and the capacity to understand, adopt, and follow rules governing resolution of conflicting rights or claims on a reasoned basis.  There may exist debate about these fundamental prerequisites to personhood, and when they apply.  Some issues of such debate were touched upon in an earlier chapter.  Interesting real-world problems do arise, however, over treatment of “temporary” non-persons, such as minors or mentally disabled persons, treatment of collective entities, animal rights.  More exotic questions such as artificial or alien life may deserve a little attention as future possibilities.

Speaking of fetuses, infants, children, or others incapable of looking after themselves, when is intervention justified in a caretaker-dependent relationship? What law should be applied to justify intervention, when the subject is incapable of adopting her own law?  An ancillary question concerns what actions are justified when no legally responsible caretaker can be found for such a person.  If every dependent person (or potential person) has an uncontested caretaker, who treats the dependent in a manner consistent with prevailing customs, legal controversies do not arise.  Legal questions can arise chiefly when dependents are abandoned, are the subject of caretaker disputes, or are treated in a way that those willing to take defensive measures regard as abusive.

For purposes of voluntary law, we may divide dependency questions into two essential classifications: those in which the dependent was at least at some relevant time capable of functioning as a legal person, and those in which the dependent has never acted as a person in the legal sense and is reasonably regarded as lacking the capacity to do so for all relevant times.  There may be, of course, controversy or doubt as to which class a person belongs to, or gradation along a spectrum from incapacity to capacity.  Nonetheless, exploration of the legal middle ground depends from the opposite classifications that define its boundaries.   We shall explore how voluntary law might work in the gray, intermediate zone between clear legal capacity and clear incapacity, after first considering how dependency works in the end conditions.

“Relevant times” means those times relevant to the legal question at hand.  For example, in considering the validity of a power of attorney, the relevant time is that time when the power was granted.  At some time afterwards, the grantor may be completely incapacitated (e.g., may be suffering from a severe brain disorder).  The subsequent lack of capacity may not be relevant to the validity of the power, depending on its terms.  For further example, the relevant time for an aborted fetus is the time up until abortion and death of the fetus.

A dependent relationship between two legally capable persons may take the form of a contract or agreement, a grant of power, a temporary agency or rendering of assistance or other circumstances in which one legally capable person depends on the actions of another.  These relationships are easy to analyze.  In a wholly voluntary law society, any controversies arising out of such dependencies are treated under the laws adopted by the participants, using some rational system for resolving conflicts of law, such as TROTWET.  The capacity of a person to act in the adoption of law may be an issue in certain cases, just as is it conventionally for purposes of contracts, criminal intent, testamentary capacity, and in other cases.  There are many different possible factual scenarios.  For example, a dependent who previously adopted a first law ‘A’ and later ‘B’ might have the adoption of either ‘A’ or ‘B’ challenged.  If there is sufficient evidence that the adoption was not made intentionally by the dependent while being in a mentally capable state, the adoption of law might be nullified by judicial action.  For example, a later adoption of law ‘B’ might be nullified and the dependent’s law therefore might be considered to be ‘A’ and only ‘A’.  If the adoption of law ‘A’ is also nullified, the dependent may fall into the status of a dependent outlaw, similar to a child who has never adopted any law.  Treatment of dependent outlaws will be considered below.

First, however, consider the possibility of conflicts between the law of a non-outlaw dependent and the law of another person who acts as a caregiver.  Such conflicts may come into play, for example, when the caregiver brings an action to spend assets belonging to the dependent for the dependent’s care, or for a declaration of property interest in the dependent’s estate.  Conversely, another acting as a guardian under the dependent’s law might bring an action to recover damages from a negligent or abusive caregiver, or to seek termination of the caregiver relationship.  In the sense used in this essay, a “guardian” should be understood as nothing more than a self-appointed  legal representative who asserts the dependent’s law on behalf of a dependent.  A “guardian” is not appointed by any jurist, and has no special powers to act on behalf of the dependent.  In bringing a case before a jurist, the guardian bears the risk that the jurist will not interpret the applicable law in a way that favors the guardian, just as any other litigant.

Consider the result if the property claim or asset request is permitted under the caregiver’s law but not under the dependent’s, or vice-versa.  In either case the claim will fail, under TROTWET.  Naturally, this will create a shortage of payment for continuing care, if the dependent has not previously executed an agreement permitting the caregiver to spend the dependent’s property for the dependent’s care.  Unless some legal action can be taken, a dependent who is incapacitated and unable to act on his own behalf will be deprived of the benefit of his own property.  On the other hand, if the dependent’s law clearly preserves the estate to the detriment of continued care in the situation at hand, the jurist cannot assume that the dependent would prefer that the estate be wasted for continued care and not be inherited by an heir.  In these cases, the legal effect of adopting a clear law on the question would be similar to the granting of a “durable power of attorney” or a “do not resuscitate” order, under the law of many U.S. states and other places.  No person should be required to waste their estate on extraordinary care for the last days of life.

In case of action by a legal guardian under the dependent’s law against a caregiver, consider what happens if the recovery is permitted by the law of the dependent but not the caregiver, or vice-versa.  In either case, the recovery is not permitted.  Such an outcome can easily be guarded against before the disability arises, either by appropriate adoption of law or appropriate selection of a caregiver or class of caregiver, by the future dependent.  For example, the dependent’s law might provide that no person can be regarded as the dependent’s appointed caregiver whose law does not adhere to specified minimum standards for caregivers.  Thus, a person acting as an invalid caregiver would be vulnerable to claims of a general nature, e.g., trespass or assault, for care of a non-emergency nature.

Finally, we consider the treatment of dependent outlaws, of which the largest but not exclusive class consists of children.  Dependency of a legally incapable outlaw on a legally capable society member raises various possibilities for determination of law.  One possibility is to treat the relationship wholly under the law of the legally capable person, while treating the legally incapable person as an outlaw like any other.   Under this approach, the poor dependent person in the relationship would be deprived legal recourse for abortions, infanticides, child abuse, euthanasia, kidnappings, and all manner of horrors heaped upon her.  She would be treated under voluntary law as if she had consciously chosen to be an outlaw, despite lacking ability to escape by adopting a law.  Such an approach would create incentives for abuses against children and other dependents.  It is not worthy of serious consideration.

Another possibility is to apply the law of the caregiver, as if it were also adopted by the dependent.  This is the nearest choice.  Nearest perhaps, but applying the law of the caregiver to the rights of the dependent invites abuse by unscrupulous caregivers.  At the same time, abuse is no less likely if a third person with some interest in the outcome of a dispute is empowered to craft the law governing the relationship between the caregiver and the dependent outlaw.   For example, a rational parent would prefer to have no legal obligations to his children, and would be content to perform the duties of parenting under purely moral obligations such as felt by the parent’s conscience.  Conversely, a rational person in the business of child protection (without state intervention, of course) would recognize the essential need for a standard of legal protection of children, to enable the activity of child protection to be legally recognized.  Both classes of persons are capable of abuses, as well as good deeds.

There is really only one solution consistent with equal rights under natural law: to presume the child is person of good conscience who would not adopt a law against her self-interest, if she were capable of adopting any law.  The alternative, to regard the child or other dependent as entitled to no more rights than the property of the caregiver until emancipation, is contrary to nature: children are plainly not equivalent to livestock, being of the same kind as those who care for them.  Children are the fabric of future society, destined (with luck) to become equal participants in a society based on personal sovereignty and adoption of law.  Livestock and other animals incapable of language do not share the destiny of children, and belong to a different class of being.  In a system of law based on personal sovereignty, it is inconceivable that any child or immature person could be regarded as nothing more than the property of another.  That is not to say that the relationship between a caregiver and a child cannot resemble a bilateral property interest, in some respects.  Such a resemblance is indeed possible, as we shall see.

The question at hand is which law to apply to a dispute involving the rights of a child, when parties in conflict disagree about the law to be applied.  There will always be some conflict between persons in such disputes, because a dependent (not emancipated) child will be incapable of bringing her own case.  Put another way, a person of any age capable of bringing his own case, if it is truly his own without any legal claim of dependence on another, deserves to be regarded as a person with all the rights and responsibilities of self-sovereignty.

Conflicts touching directly on dependent children will often take the form of custodial disputes between estranged parents or relatives, and less frequently, allegations of parental abuse by child protection agencies, whether in the person of interested family members or neighbors, or as organized benevolent societies.  Other cases may involve a dispute between the child and an adult.  For example, the property rights of the child may be at play, or damages for an alleged wrong committed by or against a dependent child.   We shall consider the first class of disputes first.

Assessing the weaker tool is based on comparing the burdens that a law places on the sovereign parties to a dispute.  The underlying principle is that one cannot impose legal burdens on another that are not consented to, and that one would not accept for oneself, if the tables were turned.   However, this principle does not hold when the object of the claim revolves around the rights of a dependent person who has not selected any of the laws to be assessed.  If there is to be a weaker law selected, the analysis must not fail to consider the perspective of the dependent person, who has brought no claim.

Lacking any adopted law from the perspective of the dependent, if the dependent is to be regarded as a person, the jurist is compelled to consider what law a reasonable person in the circumstances of the dependent would adopt regarding the disposition of her rights, knowing that all the burdens and responsibilities of that same law would be applied to her if she were to someday become a parent.  This imaginary law cannot be fabricated from nothing; it must be supported by credible evidence and be developed objectively by a neutral, unbiased jurist.  It must not be standardized or imposed by some authority on community norms.  On the contrary, the law that is imputed by the child must be reasonable, contextually appropriate and customized to the child’s individual circumstances, as determined by an independent, neutral and unbiased jurist.

Such an imaginary law might resemble norms of the community to which the child and her family belong.  It might also bear a resemblance to the laws held by the disputants in the case.  Finally, the stated preferences of the dependent child and her siblings, if she or they are capable of expressing any, cannot be ignored in the determination of such an imaginary law, provided that the preferences are drawn out in a balanced and unbiased way by a neutral counselor, or estimated in some objective way from statements of similarly situated persons (e.g., siblings or fellow travelers).  For each person chooses law that fits their psychological preferences and is compatible with the community in which they are raised, and will raise their own children.  When a dependent outlaw is incapable of choosing his own law, a jurist must do it for him, from the perspective of the dependent.  Such a job will never be perfectly accurate, but nonetheless the justice of such estimations can be measured against standards such as suggested above, which is all that any law can do.

For example, circumcision may be considered conventional and desirable in some communities, and merely abusive in another.  Suppose a pair of parents circumcise their child for cultural or religious reasons.  Suppose that a grandparent who considers circumcision to be a grave form of child abuse unless medically necessary sues for guardianship of the child.  Assignment of caretaker responsibility for circumcision is clearly justified under the law of the grandparent, but not recognized by the law of the parents.  We might be tempted to recognize the law of the parents as the weaker tool, because it provides no remedy (change of guardianship) for the conduct complained of.  But what if a severer form of trauma had been complained of? Can we really accept an absence of any legal remedy for caretaker abuse?  Justice requires vision from the perspective of the child, so that the law that places the least burden on the child is the weaker tool. That would leave us wondering how to determine the “least burden,” in a circumstance without any lawmaker and thus, no justification for applying the weaker tool in the first place.  More simply, we cannot rely on the natural balancing of interest normally provided by the Rule Of The WEaker Tool in an action that directly impinges on the dependent outlaw, because the consequences of holding a weak tool do not fall on the law maker, but on someone else – the child, who holds to no law.

Accordingly, the jurist must identify the law that the child or other dependent outlaw would most likely choose were it capable of reasoning through the benefits and burdens involved.  This is a high degree of discretion, but a jurist who cannot reason persuasively and fairly in accord with the sensibilities of those who come to judgment will not be long in business.  Suppose the child lived in a community where circumcision was considered to be as ugly and depraved as most today would consider cutting off of noses and ears, the parents who circumcise their child would likely suffer some penalty, such as paying for reconstructive surgery and loss of, or restrictions on, their caretaker status.  Conversely, if the child’s community feels that circumcision is a desirable mark of honor or social belonging, there would be no remedy despite the opposition of the grandparents.

How can a jurist determine a law to be imputed to a fetus, or to an infant?  Just as in other cases; except that statements of these dependents cannot be taken into account, because they are incapable of speech.  Therefore the imputed law is mainly based on prevailing norms in the child’s community and the adopted laws of the persons at issue.  In the case of a fetus, there is plainly no closer person to the fetus than the mother, so the laws of the mother cannot be lightly disregarded, and will likely prevail in the vast majority of cases.

What if a community believed it necessary to sacrifice children to some god or demon?  If this were a community standard, must a jurist enforce it?  This is a nonsensical question.  A group of people who sacrificed children to the gods would not be a voluntary law society; it would be a group of outlaws who deny voluntary cooperation and use irrational fear and violence to oppress less privileged classes.  Such outlaws would not submit to the jurisdiction of a voluntary law jurist, and the question would never arise.  Nonetheless, somewhere between child sacrifice and circumcision lies a spectrum of parental behavior about with reasonable people might vehemently disagree.  Corporeal punishment provides a good example: to some, corporeal punishment is an inexcusable crime, no matter how implemented; to others, is it a useful if not necessary means of discipline. When disputes arise about corporeal punishment of a child, a voluntary law jurist will weigh the three factors of community norms, interested caretaker beliefs, and dependent statements (perhaps among other reasonable factors) to determine the limits of corporeal punishment in particular cases, and what remedies to apply when the limits are exceeded, as if crafting the law that the dependent would craft for herself if she could.  The judgment would be tailored to the individual circumstances of each case, including the underlying conduct, identities, and laws of the parties, community norms at the time, the age and statements of the defendants, and so forth.

The respect to which the judgment would be given would depend mainly, as always, on the strength of good reputation of the jurist, and the thoroughness and neutrality with which the record indicates that the case has been examined.  Results would not be perfectly consistent (nor have perfectly consistent results ever been achieved by any system of justice), but on the whole would tend towards greater justice than is possible when imposing a uniform rule on controversial questions.  Voluntary law permits diverse and conflicting opinions to coexist, with pressure towards uniformity coming mainly from the grassroots.  It is not an instrument for imposing uniformity against opposition.  Anyone publicly holding to a controversial law, however, will do so at the risk of her relationships with her community.  There can be social pressure to conform, but no aggressive coercion requiring it.

If a law is imputed by a jurist to a dependent person, is that law then subject to moderation under TROTWET or other conflict resolution principle?  Generally, the answer is no, assuming that the dependent is not a party to the action.  Most actions involving dependents, except those in which the dependent is close to capable status (e.g., is a teenager) will be brought by a guardian against a caregiver.  Suppose, for example, a guardian’s law provided for payment of the guardian’s reasonable expenses by the caregiver, if corporeal punishment by a caregiver is found to be abusive.  Suppose that the caregiver’s law provides no such remedy, even in the event of abuse.  If there were no dependent involved no damages would be assessed, but the caregiver would be vulnerable to attacks motived by vengeance as has been explained previously.  Because the controversy revolves around the rights of the dependent outlaw, TROTWET does not apply.  If the jurist determines that the dependent’s law requires payment by the caregiver for the guardian’s protective services, that will be the law applied.

The case of the intermediate-capable dependent is answered by the solution to the pure dependent:  the statements of the dependent are given more weight in judicial determination of its law, as the dependent approaches the full capabilities of independent personhood.  The teenager has more rights and responsibilities than the toddler.  The other factors diminish in importance.  Once the full capacity is personhood is reached, the jurist no longer determines the person’s law; the jurist merely reads and interprets what the person has adopted.  Determination of capacity in the intermediate zone works like a sliding scale.  These determinations may not always be exactly correct, but neither will they be far from a just result, and results in aggregate should tend towards justice.

A fully capable person may be recognized by the absence of any claim of dependency on another.  If a precocious youngster is able to articulate and understand his own law, but not to support himself by his own wits and labor, he is not fully capable.  His abilities and statements will be given weight, but to the full weight afforded to a voluntary law adopted by a capable and independent person.

If voluntary law can be imputed to the dependents of voluntary law society members, can voluntary laws also be imputed to the children or other dependents of outlaws?  In a philosophical sense, yes.  But in a practical sense, generally not.  Regimes outside of voluntary law will have their own rules governing dependent persons, or will be lawless.  In either case, there is no basis for bringing any adult person involved with the dependent unto a voluntary law forum.  If an abandoned child of an outlaw somehow comes before a voluntary law forum, and a society member appears as an interested caretaker, the justifications for providing the dependent with the benefit of voluntary law are as valid as for the child of any society member.  It is permissible to make provisions for the dependent within voluntary law, where the society of outlaws has broken down.  It is equally valid to return the dependent to the society of outlaws, if there is no caretaker willing to bear the risk of caring for a dependent of outlaws.

Providing dependent outlaws with the protection of an imputed personal law might sometimes create a relationship of mutual servitude between a caregiver and a dependent.  The caregiver might be deemed to owe a legal duty of care to the dependent, while the dependent may owe a duty of obedience to the caregiver.  Such obligations, however, will rarely if ever be involuntary, so long as the caregiver’s sincerely held choice of law is given its due weight in the analysis determining the law to be applied.  Voluntary servitude does not offend classical libertarian principles.  Voluntary law, however, may provide a means for guardians to legally enforce obligations of care under circumstances when the caregiver seeks to renounce obligations that he or she has previously undertaken.  Likewise, legal enforcement of the duty to obey may be exercised in the case of dependents who wish to receive the benefits of the caregiver’s duty of care.  If a dependent is able to emancipate himself or herself from a caregiver, she is always free to do so, consistent with classical libertarian principles.  However, a caregiver who by adoption of law has undertaken a duty of care to a dependent child can be legally required to honor that duty until the time of emancipation.

Promissory estoppel as known in the common law of contracts may exist when the promises of a person create detrimental reliance by another.  This concept may be extended to “promises” implied by publicly adopting a law. Suppose, by example, that a prospective father adopts a law under which he recognizes a legal obligation to support any natural offspring or adopted child until the age of eighteen or until emancipated, whichever is earlier.  While holding to this law he attracts a mate, who bears him a son.  Suppose the father then renounces his earlier law and adopts a new law without any legal obligations for child support.  If it can be shown that the mother relied on his law providing for an obligation of support in deciding to mate with him, the father may be said to be estopped from escaping the duty he had previously proclaimed openly.  Under voluntary law, the analysis can be directly based on the relevant time for the applicable law; there is no need to make a specific finding of estoppel, although it may be implied under such facts.   The relevant time for choice of law can be found to be the time that the son is conceived, because all the obligations of the father arise from the act of inseminating the mother under conditions in which he held to a law that obligated him to child support.  So long as the mother held and holds to a law obligating her also to child support, she has a legally enforceable claim for child support against the father.  If the mother hypocritically disclaims support obligations, she cannot claim more from the father than she is willing to provide herself.

Thus, when both parents acknowledge an obligation of support, voluntary law may provide similar but hopefully more efficient and individually tailored outcomes than we are accustomed to under some state-imposed family laws.  When one or both parent have by adoption of law disclaimed child support obligations at the time a child is conceived, voluntary law will provide a different outcome.  If one parent only has adopted support obligations while the other has disclaimed (or has not adopted) such obligations, the parent without obligations cannot enforce obligations against the other parent.  A guardian may step in to enforce the dependent’s rights against the supporting parent only, under the dependent’s imputed law.  In such case support would be paid in trust to the dependent only, not to the other parent.  Naturally, any person considering parenting a child would be prudent to investigate the law of the other parent before proceeding to conception.

If both parents disclaim or do not acknowledge support obligations at the time of conception, can a guardian of a dependent child legally enforce support obligations on the child’s behalf?   It will depend on the circumstances, but in general the answer is no.  But neither will any parent be able to prevent the guardian from intervening and assuming caretaker status.  Under an imputed law analysis, no rational person in a state of dependency would accept any claim or duty of obedience to a person who disclaims all duties of support.  Thus, if both parents disclaim support from before conception, they will not have any legal right to assume the exclusionary privileges of a caretaker with respect to the child, unless they adopt the attendant obligations of child support in a timely manner.  If imputing law to a child has any consistent result, it is certainly this: there can be no parental rights where there are no acknowledged parental obligations.

The extent of those obligations may vary based on voluntary law.  Nothing requires an absolute obligation of support, regardless of consequences.  For example, the parent’s law may provide that they are not legally required to sacrifice their survival for the survival of the child, or to do without basic comforts or medical care to provide every possible opportunity to the child.  Elegant expression of such limits may be left to the unlimited creativity of the writers of voluntary law.  Perhaps some will be inspired by the ancient Golden Rule, and provide that the duty of care owed by the caregiver to the dependent, or the parent to the child, is equal to caregiver’s duty to care for herself, neither greater nor less.

Being without legally enforceable support obligations to a helpless dependent does not equate to no obligations at all.  Nearly everyone’s law will include some duty of care to helpless persons.  For example, if a person faints suddenly in the middle of the road, most would recognize a legal duty of others to exercise due care to avoid running them over.  These principles are well known in tort law, sometimes expressed as a duty to not create an unreasonable risk to others. While some may disclaim such basic social obligations, they would be foolish to do so, both because it would greatly harm their reputations, and put them at greater risk of harm from others.  In the case of the helpless infant or child, such widely recognized duties would ensure that the parents locate a willing caretaker for the child before abandoning it, at least under normal circumstances in which some willing caretaker can reasonably be found.  Since there is no legal penalty for abandoning a child so long as a willing and capable caretaker can be found, the parents would not fear legal repercussions, and could openly seek a caretaker to assume responsibility.  In normal times, willing caretakers could easily be found.   Under circumstances of extreme stress, such as during widespread prolonged famine or military attack, legal duties of support have little meaning anyway, and difficult choices must be made.

When the dependent outlaw commits some harm against another, what is the law applied?  For this particular class of problems, there will be little controversy in selecting the weakest law from law of the caregiver and the law of the injured person, using a TROTWET analysis.  In most cases, the laws at play will call for restorative damages that the caregiver in the dependent relationship would be liable for anyway.  Few would disclaim such liability, lest they also lose timely recourse for harms committed by the children of others.  However, if the prevailing law does disclaim liability for the caregiver, liability for damages would fall to the child, under the law of the child as determined by the jurist.  Collection of the liability could be postponed until the child is reasonably able to earn money for paying a judgment.  The child would be eager to repay its debts, if it wished to participate as a reputable member of the larger society.  The child would find it difficult to establish a good reputation without showing that it has paid, or is in process of repaying, for debts arising from its own misconduct.  In the case of the most serious offenses, for example, murder, the fate of the child will depend on the findings of the jurist and the three principal factors previously discussed: community norms, the involved persons adopted laws, and the perspective of the dependent.  The child may receive a lighter penalty for her dependent status, or not: the outcome will depend on the context of the case.

In the case of abandoned dependents, a similar analysis applies.  The imputed laws of the dependent are paramount, and the role of the jurist in identifying the law to be imputed is magnified.  Capable parties in such action will be those with an interest in the welfare of the dependent, and any accused of shirking their responsibilities.  There will always be at least one party acting as a guardian, or the matter will not appear before a jurist.  If there is no parent or family member interested and able to take on the obligations of a caregiver, this role will be assigned to a friend of the family or even to a stranger, based on the determination of the jurist.  In any prosperous society, there will be intense competition for caregiver roles of young, non-disabled children, because of the social security afforded by the caregiver-dependent relationship.  In the absence of the state, one’s prosperity and security in old age may come to depend on one’s social status, of which membership in a large extended family will be an important part.

Even older dependents or disabled dependents will not lack options, which may be better that what can be provided by state central planning.  Older children without caregivers will arrive in such a condition by a diverse array of events, for example, a long period of undiscovered abuse by a caregiver, a rare tragedy wiping out the child’s family, or misconduct on the part of the dependent causing them to be abandoned.  Likewise, disabled children will suffer from diverse disabilities.  The point being that there are no “one size fits all” solutions to these unfortunate situations and each case needs to be considered on its own merits.

Consider some of the various possibilities.  In the case of disabled dependents whose caregivers lack the financial means, but not the will, to care for the disabled dependent to the extent the law imputed to the defendant requires, contributions for support can be solicited from various charitable sources.  Such charitable sources would certainly exist in a voluntary law society, in which a good reputation is more desirable than gold.  Some such sources would be involved in research for curing or coping with the disabled conditions, and others would support such care out of their general charitable mission.  If the caregivers lack both the means and the will to provide care, the situation would be much the same, with the exception that caregiver privileges could be assigned to another person.

In the case of a rare tragedy wiping out a dependent’s caregivers, new caregivers could easily be found.  Such stranded dependents are nearly as desirable as young children, and in some cases more desirable, because they may have a record of prior good conduct that reduces the inherent risk of accepting responsibility for a dependent.  In a voluntary law society, slight needs come with slight responsibilities, and every good deed enhances the reputation of the giver.  Many would find themselves blessed to provide care for such unfortunates.

The older dependent with a record of misconduct would face the least favorable options from the short-term perspective of the dependent, but even these options would be better than can be provided by a state under centralized political authority.  With a young offender, there is a greater chance of rehabilitation than an older person.  In a free society, markets will exist to meet the natural demand for managing troubled teens in a way that produces positive outcomes.  The most difficult teens are often the brightest and most energetic, and institutions with effective programs would produce their share of illustrious alumni.  Most of these alumni superstars would support the institutions that helped them in their time of need.  Not only so, many wealthy parents with difficult teenagers would pay dearly to send their children to such institutions.  These institutions for human development of troubled youth would compete to take in troubled youths who lack caregivers of means, because doing so enhances their reputations for success as well as for compassion, and adds to the talent pool for development of successful, motivated alumni.

Where caregivers of means are available, a jurist may require them to send the dependent to an institution, and to pay the institution’s tuition charges, per the law imputed to the dependent.  Caregivers may ignore a jurist’s ruling without fear that their child will be kidnapped by the institution, with rare exceptions when safety of the community requires that a violent youth be deprived of freedom for a while even against the caregiver’s wishes.  In most cases, however, the caregiver will consent to temporary incarceration of a youth with a record of harming others, to manage liability for the harm that the dependent youth may do to others in the future, and for the youth’s own protection.  If the jurist is of good reputation, and the dependent decides of her own will to attend the institution, the caregiver will receive an invoice for the tuition that cannot ignored without damaging caregiver’s credit rating or creating a risk of collection action.  On the other hand, if the caregiver forcibly prevents the dependent from attending the institution, the caregiver will be liable for any resulting damages that accrue to the dependent, or that the dependent inflicts on others, during the remainder of its dependency.  Accordingly, whenever a guardian has sued for an order admitting a dependent to an institution for restoring the reputation of a youth, diligent caregivers will work assiduously with the jurist to identify a solution that complies with the law imputed to the dependent and is mutually satisfactory for all people involved in the controversy, if possible.  Jurists in these cases would likely come to resemble family counsellors possessing a degree of social power to motivate cooperation from the family members appearing before them.

The principle of imputed laws for dependent outlaws can be applied to treatment of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia under voluntary law.  These subjects will be considered in a following post.

It may not take a village to raise a child, but the environment in which a dependent is raised, including its “village,” may become a factor in the determination of the laws that should be applied to achieve justice in the dependent’s case.  The call for objective determination of the law of the dependent arises naturally from the bedrock of personal sovereignty.  This determination will require the insights of neutral, informed, compassionate and wise jurists.  Caregivers are generally the most important pillars of their dependent’s community, but in no case are they to be considered tyrants over their dependents, lest the core principle of personal sovereignty for every person be subverted.

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Conflict of Laws, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book)

A “Weaker Tool” Basis For Discerning The Strongest Property Law

Balance of Tools

Resolving conflicts of law in voluntary law society may lead to the introduction of a legal quality that is at once both strange and familiar: “stringency” of antecedent conditions for property claims, for the purpose of determining which of conflicting property laws is the “weaker tool.” It might be compared and contrasted to testing the validity of property claims.  Validity of property claims is a familiar quality in present-day legal systems, related to whether or not the claimant has satisfied proscribed antecedent conditions for making a property claim. Validity remains a factor in voluntary law as well, because it will remain necessary to determine that a claimant has satisfied applicable antecedent conditions.  In some cases, however, the voluntary law jurist will face the additional burden of determining which set of conditions to the property claim is weaker, in cases where conflicting property laws with different antecedent conditions are at play. The more “stringent” the condition, the “weaker” the rule is, by inverse proportion. The weaker the rule, the more likely it is to be applied.

Stringency is a measure of the personal difficulty with which a property claim may be initially established over a resource. Stringency is not dependent on whether or not the resource is unowned, or subject to property claims by others; its magnitude is assessed in the same way for original claims and for claims made by adverse possession. Stringency relates purely to what actions are required by a person in connection with the resource to be claimed, and the length of time such actions must be performed, to establish a valid claim.  Stringency cannot be used to compel anyone to recognize a type of property that they have not chosen to recognize voluntarily.  Stringency is an objective measure that must logically exclude any consideration of difficulties associated with transfers of ownership, or else it would be impossible to make valid gifts of property. More fundamentally, it would be impossible to evaluate stringency of the condition based on the law itself, as every antecedent condition, and hence every property claim, would require an inquiry into the price paid to obtain from a previous owner. Nor can stringency depend on the subjective emotional state of the first person to establish a property claim. To be useful as a legal standard, stringency must be an objectively determinable standard that depends on the difficulty of first establishing a claim, by the first person to make the claim based on the law in question.

Stringency may be thought of a linear scale extending from zero to infinity. At the zero end of the scale is the claim of a person over her own body. The body precedes formation of the legal person; once the legal person emerges from the organized system of matter making up the body, the person is not required to take any action to make a claim of ownership over that system of matter. Ownership of the body by the person is automatic, because in a natural sense the body “owns” the person residing in it, who utterly depends on the body for existence. Although the stringency of the condition for the person is zero (and hence, the law of self-ownership in a TROTWET analysis is infinitely strong), no other person depends to a greater degree on another’s body, and hence no other person can have a more valid claim over another’s body. Self-sovereignty as the foundation for voluntary law must be exempt from application of TROTWET.  At the infinite end of the stringency spectrum are tasks that cannot be completed no matter how long or energetically they are carried out, such as landing on a planet that is moving away faster than it is possible to travel toward it. In between zero and infinity lies the universe of things over which a person may make a claim of property.

Stringency is objective, but not purely quantitative. It may have quantitative aspects, such as time, space, mass, or quantity of information. In general, the longer, more continuously, more repetitiously, or rapidly a particular task must be carried out to establish ownership, the more stringent the condition. The smaller the volume of space, the amount of mass, or quantity of information over which the claim extends per “unit of action,” the more stringent the condition. The more causally related the task is to a beneficial use of the resource claimed, and the more beneficial the use, the more stringent the condition.  A task is, to be clear, a type of intentional act directed at an objective.  Finally, all intentional action is personal by definition, and can only be performed by the corporeal body of a person. Action can of course have effects beyond the body, but action itself is merely corporeal. In addition, the action must be objectively verifiable, so it can be proven to have occurred. Although thought may be a form of action, it is not, absent some outward expression, objectively verifiable.

Stringency may be evaluated objectively based on the foregoing principles, and used to determine the “weaker tool” as between competing claims to the same property, based purely in the conflicting property laws of the parties and without regard for the strength of remedies attached to violations of the property right. In other words, a stringency analysis can be used to determine, when two or more people who have adopted conflicting property laws claiming the same property, which law is to be applied for purposes of determining who is the more legitimate owner.  Stringency is not relevant to determining the remedy to be applied for a violation of the property right.  For selecting the remedy, regular TROTWET analysis can be used to identify the law with the weakest remedies.  Some examples will be helpful to illustrate stringency analyses in operation.

Consider, for example, conditions for a claim over vacant land. Alice’s law states that any person who performs 100 sit-ups within an hour on a piece of vacant land establishes ownership over a 100 meter radius of the spot where the sit-ups were performed. Bill’s law states that any person who walks entirely around a perimeter of the same plot of vacant land at least once per day, for thirty continuous days, owns all the vacant land within the perimeter. Cindy’s law states that a person who builds a house on vacant land and sleeps in the house for every night for a year owns the house, the land it sits on, and any land adjoining the house that is cultivated by hand-held, manually powered tools operated personally by the claimant on which a harvest of at least one cabbage (or energy equivalent) per square foot of land is reaped by the owner in the homestead year. Doug’s law is the same as Cindy’s, except that it requires performing the actions after building the house for three consecutive years. Edward’s law is the same as Doug’s, but allows the cultivation to be performed by any sort of tractor and tools, so long as personally operated by the owner. Frank’s law states that any vacant land enclosed by a barbed-wire fence of at least three continuous strands on poles four feet high belongs to the person who builds the fence. Georges’ law is the same as Frank’s but specifies a stone wall at least one foot wide and three foot high.

If any two of Alice, Bill, Cindy, Doug, Edward, Frank or George disagree about ownership of the same parcel of land, how should a jurist determine which antecedent conditions should be applied? For simplicity of example, consider that the conditions apply only in the case of vacant land, and no pre-existing ownership claims by any voluntary law member exist. Also assume that all of the parties’ laws agree about documentary conditions such as registering the property claim in a public registry, and there are no disputes over proper notice of the property claim. In other words, assume all other conditions are equal.

Supposing all seven different property laws were at play, a jurist might rank them as follows, from most stringent (weakest tool) to least stringent:

1. Doug: Hand labor for cultivation and harvest is required on over the entire land surface claimed, plus the house must be built and resided in. All of this labor is closely related to the utility of the land for sustenance, and involves work performed directly on the land itself. Moreover Doug’s law requires the labor to continue for the longest amount of time before ownership is established.

2, 3. Cindy or Edward: Does Cindy’s requirement of manual cultivation by hand tools outweigh Edward’s longer time requirement? Which is easier per unit area, farming cabbages for one year using hand tools and manual labor only, or farming for three years using modern farm equipment? To answer this question, a jurist might admit evidence on the amount of personal labor required to cultivate and grow cabbages per unit of land, by hand versus by modern machinery. If modern machinery reduced the amount of labor needed by more than 2/3, the jurist might decide that Cindy’s law contained more stringent conditions, because it required more labor in one year than Edward’s law did in three. Other factors might include the extra two years of residency required by Edward’s law, plus the greater capital cost of machinery as compared to hand tools. How a jurist would consider such other factors in a stringency balance is, to say the least, uncertain. The outcome would depend on the circumstances and quality of the parties’ respective advocacy and no attempt to predict a certain outcome in the absence of an actual disagreement is particularly useful. Nonetheless, it might seem unfair to consider the capital cost of tools as closely related to ownership of land. Although the cost of tools is certainly closely related to ownership of the tools themselves, it is at least one step removed from ownership of land to which the tool is applied. Therefore a jurist might assign a relatively low weight to the use of expensive tools.

4. George: Building a stone wall around vacant land does not have a lot to do with the utility of vacant land, but at least it involves erecting a structure on a geometrically significant part of it.

5. Frank: It is easier to build a barbed-wire fence than a stone wall.

6. Bill: It is easier to walk around a plot of land for thirty days than to build a barbed-wire fence around it.

7. Alice: 100 sit-ups is a relatively trivial task, and has no real nexus to the surrounding 100 meters of land.

To the extent that any of the property claims of these seven overlap, the most stringent condition applicable to the area in dispute would be the one applied to determine the first rightful owner. Doug would not necessarily be deemed the rightful owner. Instead, the first person to fulfill the conditions specified by Doug’s law would be the rightful owner. What happens next would depend on who the claimant is. For example, if Doug is bringing a claim against Bill to prevent him from walking through his land, whether or not Doug is entitled to the remedy he seeks will also depend on the respective exclusionary privileges of the different laws. If, for example, Bill’s law does not recognize a right to exclude others from walking across open farms or fields, Doug will not be able to obtain any legal remedy to prevent him from doing so. Neither could Bill prevent Doug from walking across Bill’s farm lands.

What if a claimant relies on the actions of robots under his control, or paid agents? Jurists who understand the root of voluntary law in personal sovereignty would limit stringency assessments to personal actions of the owner. Actions of a paid agent would accrue to the benefit of the agent. If the agent successfully establishes a property claim, the agent might convey the associated property right to his employer. Since stringency requires personal action, a person who hires employees risks destroying the validity of his property claim, and the more employees hired to establish a claim over the same natural resource, the more uncertain the outcome would be. If a person is unable to perform the labor needed to establish a property claim, under a stringency regime the person is best served by hiring a single reliable agent to establish the claim, under a contractual obligation to convey the property to his employer once earned.

If the claimant’s law allows for extending the reach of his action using machinery (robotic or otherwise), he risks diluting the stringency of his antecedent conditions in exactly the manner of Edward discussed above. Application of stringency under TROTWET tends to preserve the natural law basis of property in voluntary law societies, by favoring personal action directed towards extracting the utility of the natural resource over which competing claims are directed. Seniority is not a factor in stringency analysis, enabling latecomers to supersede earlier claims if left alone to labor on undefended property. Thus, stringency might provide results analogous to state laws providing for adverse possession, in some circumstances. Claims over unused and undefended resources will always be less stringent than claims over resources in active use and regularly patrolled.

Stringency is not limited to real property or other natural resource claims. It might conceivably arise in other contexts as well. For example, when assessing competing claims to intellectual property, conception, originality, inventiveness, creation, publication, production, use, sale, and other acts are all factors that might be considered in assessing relative stringency of competing claims to a particular intangible asset. Those who disfavor intellectual property might put their preferences into effect, by adopting laws with relatively high stringencies and no or low penalties, and vice-versa. With respect to personal property, stringency might become a factor in disputes between different people involved in manufacturing the same product. To assess the relative degrees of ownership of a finished product, the most stringent standard for establishing ownership among the parties in dispute would be applied. Nonetheless, stringency is expected to be most importance in relation to claims over real property and other natural resources, over which competing original claims over the same property are more likely to occur. Competing original claims are less likely over personal or intangible properties, which owe their existences to corresponding acts of labor. The acts that create personal or intangible properties will always provide the most stringent basis for related property claims, with disagreements arising primarily out of factual questions such as who performed the creative acts or was granted ownership of the creations by contract.

Natural resources exist independently of any acts performed by persons. Thus, a natural law basis is needed for assessing competing claims based on conflicting laws over such resources. Stringency analysis provides a basis for choosing the law that governs original claims over natural resources, in a manner analogous to TROTWET in the context of positive law claims and affirmative defenses. Indeed, stringency may be viewed as an expression of the same principle of conflict resolution – the law of the weaker tool – in the specific context of conflicting laws for establishing ownership over preexisting resources.

The requirement of “stringency” resembles the natural law basis for property, which roots all property rights in self-ownership of the body and the products of one’s own bodily labor.  Stringency, however, is not itself property law, and does not define what property is.    Instead, stringency testing is proposed strictly as a conflict of law principle between competing property claims over the same subject, for that subset of cases wherein those making the competing claims hold to different property laws.  Being merely a principle for resolving conflicts of law, it cannot be used to impose uniform antecedents for property claims on all members of society.  Instead, it operates on the same ethical principles as natural property law to check the assertion of more expansive property claims against less expansive claims legitimized by more stringent requirements for antecedent labor.  As such, it allows for nearly unlimited variety in the definition of private property within voluntary law societies, while governing competition between different property laws within those societies according to very old and well-established natural law principles.

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Coexistence, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book)

For The Statist: Fear Not Voluntary Law

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gerwinfilius/15371877608/

Military Parade

Recognizing that very few, if any, confirmed statists will read anything posted at this site, it might be wondered why there is a post addressing them.  One reason is to help you, the voluntarist, understand how gently you may be able to approach your statist neighbors regarding the experiment of voluntary law.  Essentially nothing is demanded of them except forbearance from operating in totalitarian modes of government.  Another reason is to convince you that there is nothing that fundamentally prevents the vigorous establishment of voluntary law societies in the world of today.

To the statist, voluntary law seems unfeasible because it lacks any claim of authority or exercise of superior power. In a word, it seems idealistic. The moral statist view may be summarized as one or both of: (a) a paternalistic belief that law should be developed by intellectually and morally superior elite, and not unenlightened folk who are aware only of serving their own narrow, short term desires, or (b) a pragmatic belief that enforcement of law requires the existence of a predominate police power in any given area. Because voluntary law is not directed to establishing either of these qualities, the statist believes that it cannot provide social order superior to statism.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the statist beliefs are true. More exactly, suppose that speculations and debates over the theoretical necessity of the state to an orderly society are not particularly fruitful, and it is desired to plead nolo contendere on these questions.   If you believe in a big, authoritarian state without any moral justification, you will not read this essay or visit this website. But perhaps you are a minarchist who suspects that a little bit of state power may be necessary, or perhaps you are agnostic on the question of the necessity of state. Either way, no attempt will be made to convert you here. For the purpose at hand, it is unnecessary and counterproductive to engage in debate over whether or not the existence of states is desirable or necessary. It is sufficient to accept that if there is a moral justification for the state, it must rest in some net benefit or good provided by the state to its subjects.

Debate on the question of the necessity of the state is a fruitless distraction, for the simple reason that the practice of voluntary law is, to state the obvious, entirely voluntary. Nobody will ever be forced to practice individual self-sovereignty, and much less so in any specific way advocated by this website. Those who are practicing voluntary law ask nothing of you but that you let them alone to try their experiment in personal self-sovereignty, without imposing conditions that doom the experiment from the start. The only relevant question for the statist is whether or to what extent the state should ban the practice of voluntary law. Here it will be argued unreservedly that those practicing voluntary law should be given the maximal possible freedom to operate, as a matter of good statecraft. That is not to admit that the state has a moral right to exist. Only that for those who believe it does, it would be a very bad idea to ban the essential practice of voluntary law, for both practical and moral reasons.

Voluntary law needs only a few essential human rights to operate, and all of these rights are often cited as justifications for states. The first essential right needed is freedom of speech. First of all, for voluntary law to become established, the state must tolerate teaching of the idea of personal self-sovereignty. It must not ban the teaching or promotion of voluntary law from its schools, parks, libraries, bookstores, prisons, homes, computer networks, or anywhere else writings and other recordings are distributed or viewed. It seems almost silly, at this writing in California, to consider that the state might ban the teaching of personal self-sovereignty. Yet one can image places where such a ban would be happily implemented: totalitarian North Korea, or strict theocratic states such as ISIS and perhaps less authoritarian places where little value is placed on free speech. If one believes that the killing or imprisonment of people for expressing a philosophical or religious idea is justified, this essay is not for you. On the contrary, it is hoped that the ideas of personal self-sovereignty will escape your attention until it is far too late to extinguish them by force.

Voluntary law also needs an environment wherein every member is free to voluntarily publish their own personal code of honor. Such right of publication is also firmly rooted in the right of free speech. Publication of personal codes of honor can hardly be banned without banning all private expression of ideas. A moral state cannot allow the statement of an idea, while banning its subjects from expressing a personal adoption of the idea, i.e., from saying “I believe . . .” The latter sort of expression falls not only under protections for freedom of speech, but also freedoms of religion and association. If anything, personal expressions of belief deserve higher protections than mere philosophical writings. Outside of totalitarian states wherein individuals have no rights at all, there is little doubt that the state should, and will, tolerate individual expression of person honor codes.

Once these two things are allowed, there is nothing to prevent the formation of voluntary law societies within non-totalitarian states. Such states need only concern themselves with identifying private activities of society members that fall under state regulation in some way, just as they would with any other subject. It is therefore pertinent to consider whether the state should ban any essential services that may further the implementation of voluntary law.

A healthy voluntary law society requires a number of essential services. One of the more fundamental services is a registry of members and their adopted laws. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have now proven that public financial registries – even in an area that would otherwise be jealously protected by state laws – cannot practically be banned. So laws against registries are unlikely to be enforceable. Moreover, voluntary law registries do not relate to finances or financial transactions, and are not implicated by laws regulating a state’s permitted private financial registries. Instead, voluntary law registries are more like social networks such as dating sites, multiplayer gaming sites, Facebook, and similar databases where users can share personal information. Accordingly, even centralized registries both should, and will, escape extraordinary regulations, and will be free to operate outside of the few areas governed by totalitarian governments.

Similarly, reputation-checking services should likewise have the right to exist in most areas, subject to state laws governing privacy and defamation. Since reputation checking databases can be limited to publicly-available information and exist to collate truthful, factual data, regulations regarding privacy and defamation should be manageable by well-run services. For example, administrators of such databases may offer perquisites to members who give express consent to certain information being maintained in the public reputation checking database. A moral statist can have little real objection to such services, which should be protected by basic human rights of freedom of speech and association.

Another essential service is neutral dispute resolution services (e.g., arbitration) based on personal honor codes. This is no different than conventional arbitration in one respect, dealing with private resolution of civil disputes outside of state courts. Such arbitration is well established in most of the world. Only the question of licensing and the effect of arbitral awards are at issue.

Private dispute resolution under voluntary law is quite different in another respect: such arbitration does not necessarily purport to involve the law of a state at all. Hence, in the eyes of the state, what is at issue is not “law,” but a sort of game of honor played by game rules. Any involvement of state law is incidental to the game played. For example, it may be possible that the facts under which a claim arises under voluntary law would also support a claim under state law. If the underlying claim is civil in nature, the state has no reason to oppose private dispute resolution, whatever the rules applied, so long as the outcome is mutually respected.

Voluntary dispute resolution based on personal honor codes might be compared to traditions such as “handshake” or unwritten agreements. If parties to such agreements choose to honor them, such activity falls outside of state regulation, and it may refuse to hear civil claims based on unwritten agreements in its courts.  Similarly, the state need not (and would not) recognize the “honor code game” as having any legal significance in its own courts, and in many cases no state recognition will be solicited. In the cases where state recognition of an award is desired, it may easily be obtained by agreement of the parties.  If the parties respect the voluntary judgment, the state need never know of its existence in the first place. At most, it may see evidence that some transaction has occurred, such as a change in ownership of titles, or evidence of some payment being made. The state would have no reason to inquire into the motivations for such transactions, any more than with any other economic transaction that comes to its attention.

It is when parties do not respect the voluntary law process that difficulties may arise. For so long as the state and voluntary law societies coexist, there is always a possibility that a party dissatisfied with his prospects under voluntary law will seek to have the matter adjudicated under state law. This reality is not a reason to oppose resolution of disputes under voluntary law. It is a simply an outcome that can be expected to occur in some percentage of cases. The adjudication under state law will not be recognized under voluntary law without the consent of all involved parties. Conversely, judgments under voluntary law will not be recognized under state law, without the consent of all parties. There is a nearly perfect symmetry in this arrangement.

The symmetry is broken in at least one case: one’s reputation under voluntary law is harmed by disregarding voluntary law process in circumstances when it should apply, in favor of pursuing a claim under state law against another member without that member’s consent.   In contrast, a failure to pursue a civil claim under state law in favor of a claim under voluntary law will, in the ordinary case, not create any detriment to reputation, even for the pure statist. The only detriment is an eventual extinguishing of the state law claim under the applicable statute of limitations, or the like. By this asymmetry, voluntary law forums may come to be used for some disputes even by people who are not voluntary law members, because of greater judicial efficiency.

If the underlying claim implicates state criminal law, the state may be expected to entangle itself with the voluntary process. For example, public employees of the state will guard their exclusive claims to criminal jurisdiction that provide the basis for their continuing compensation. However, in practice, claimants will not bring voluntary law claims in jurisdictions that create a significant risk of state criminal prosecution for themselves or for any participant. Such claims would be brought in safe jurisdictions, or not at all. Consider, for example, the pronouncement of a judgment of death or involuntary servitude by a voluntary law jurist. In some states, such a pronouncement may be regarded as criminal incitement.  In addition, if the jurist is aware of and withholds information concerning a state law crime from state police, the state may regard the jurist as an accessory after the fact. Thus, if such a judgment were obtained, it would be from a jurist who for one reason or another does not fear enforcement of the criminal law. Likewise, judgments in disputes involving contracts illegal under state law will be carried out by jurists who have by one way or another protected themselves against criminal enforcement for hearing such disputes or pronouncing judgment on them. Whether or not state laws do, or should, make the pronouncement of such sentences or the hearing of such cases illegal is a complex question, highly fact-specific, and beyond the scope of this essay.

Competent jurists operating in view of the state would certainly be well-educated as to which activities are considered criminal or illegal in the places where they operate, or risk being quickly and rudely put out of business.  We might suppose some jurists will find ways to operate out of the state’s view, but doing so successfully will depend on the degree to which their clientele can be trusted to not expose them to state persecution.  For example, a jurist might endeavor to operate an online judicial service through a secure site, maintaining dual, carefully separated identities for purposes of the state and voluntary law society.  Parties appearing before such a jurist might never know the identity by which the person is known to the state.  In general, dealing through online identities creates interesting problems related to the rights of fictional persons, in any case in which there is no verifiable one-to-one correspondence between an online identity and a natural person.  It has already been posited that fictional persons have no right of self-sovereignty and therefore cannot sue under voluntary law.  Further consideration to practical arrangements will be given later.

State involvement in enforcement of arbitral awards based on personal honor codes will be a matter generally left to the parties of a dispute. It may be available by consent of the parties, as in any other dispute. Of course, states would not recognize judgments under voluntary law as having any legal effect, without some action taken to legalize them. Such recognition will neither be needed nor wanted by anyone in general. To the extent state recognition of a voluntary law judgment is desired and possible in specific cases, such legalization can be arranged by contracting in a manner consistent with both personal honor codes and the law of the state in which the contract would be enforced.

However widespread publicly adopted personal honor codes become, adoption of a particular code will not provide any affirmative defense to a violation of state civil or criminal law. This is self-evident. Recognition of voluntary law by the state is neither necessary, nor expected, nor wanted. Voluntary law is not “law” in the sense of a diktat of a state, and has nothing to do with the laws imposed by force, any more than the rules of the Game of Monopoly do.

What does all this mean?  Simply that political and social conditions necessary to enable the development and practice voluntary law already exist in most of the developed “free” world.  All that is asked of a statist is to restrain the state from totalitarianism, to allow private associations to exist, and to respect a reasonable degree of personal privacy and free speech rights.  Few statists will have any disagreement with observing such restraint, and those that do cannot be blamed if voluntary law fails to attract members and real economic activity.

If you are a philosophical statist advocating for the state on moral or empirical grounds, you should not be opposed to experimentation regarding alternative ways to provide more just and orderly societies. One of the objectives of voluntary law is to prove, by experiment, that social order based in the self-sovereignty can provide enough benefits to justify its existence, with or without coexisting with any order imposed by dominion and authority. In order to allow this experiment to proceed, the possibility of both success and failure must be allowed. If all such experimentation is simply banned, the philosophical statist loses any empirical, scientific justification for her position. On the other hand, tolerating experiments in voluntary law in a mode of coexisting with states may provide the statist with evidence for proving, that in the end, statist solutions may be a better answer to the problem of providing a just society, given the limits of the human condition. In the case of the state, failure means being supplanted by a stable, stateless solution of proven superiority, however long that takes. The experiment may take centuries to complete, during which states and voluntary societies must coexist. In fact, voluntary societies have nearly always coexisted with states to one degree or another. It hardly takes great toleration to admit another type of voluntary society, and one that makes very light demands of the state, at that.

You statists do not have to believe that voluntary law is an experiment likely to succeed, or one in which you will choose to participate. You need only be gracious enough to allow that voluntary law societies should be permitted to exist to the extent they can, just as any other voluntary activity between consenting adults that does not put others at risk of harm. Fear not; there is nothing for you to fear from widespread institution of voluntary law, or of any other social institution operating on the principles of openness, voluntariness, peace and honor.

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Photo Credit to Gerwin Filius “Military Parade”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gerwinfilius/15371877608/

Under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Historical Commentary, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book)

Just A Bit Of Reflection

Just A Bit Of Relection

Just A Bit Of Reflection

This essay compares voluntary law with what has been done or proposed before, pointing out sundry similarities and distinctions. No attempt is made to provide a historical treatise of any kind.

Sometimes people who are newly considering voluntary law will classify it as “just like” something that has existed before. “Oh it is just like the law merchant” some might exclaim. Or, “it is just like” any number of private law institutions, such as Canon Law or Jewish Law, “just like” British common law, Keltic traditions, or various tribal forms, or “just like” some specific past or postulated future form of anarchy. In a way, they are right! Voluntary law grows out of and shares attributes with various legal systems that arose out of voluntary (or partially voluntary) communities. It also resembles at least one contemplated future form of social organization: anarcho-capitalism. But voluntary law should not be confused with these prior institutions or ideas, and is distinctive in its own ways.

Alexander II

There are of course an overwhelming number of historical examples of voluntary communities forming and establishing their own dispute resolution or justice systems. Many of these examples are related to various religious or moral systems. Many others relate to guilds or professions. Still others relate to particular causes, interests or pursuits. Some are purely pragmatic, such as brigands, gangs, and mafias, and do not eschew aggression to serve their ends. Others seek to implement less aggressive forms of social organization, whether for pragmatic, philosophical, or for both purposes. Whatever their nature or purpose, most such voluntary societies have managed to coexist within the dominion of legal systems established by nations or empires; a minority have sought to exclude use of any other legal system; some have sought dominion over others; some were in fact examples of nascent territorial governments. So numerous and well-known are the examples, that it is unnecessary to identify any specifically here.

A useful distinction may be made between an empire, nation, territorial government or tribe, any one of which confers membership by accident of birth or subjugates by conquest, and a voluntary society that requires some intentional action on the part of the member as a precondition of membership, and does not impose membership on any unwilling person. As it relates to the genesis of justice systems within societies, this distinction is not of foremost importance. Nations and various voluntary societies are alike in how their justice systems evolve: first a community forms, and as the community grows and becomes better defined, a justice system is developed; after becoming customary, the system is by diktat or in all practical effect imposed on all the community’s members. Every community member either lives with the justice system, with all its warts and wrinkles, or leaves the community. No individual member of the community is permitted to define her own law. Law making for the community is monopolistic. There is only one authoritative source of law for each community, once the justice system is entrenched.

Discourse With Natives

Discourse With Natives

In contrast, the genesis of justice systems in a voluntary law society is different: first laws are defined; then they are adopted and published by individuals, only then can communities be formed once two or more people have adopted and published compatible laws. The community persists for so long as the two or more people do not revoke their prior adoptions. In other words, a voluntary law society consists by definition of that set of people who have personally adopted compatible laws, regardless of whether or not each of the people have any relationships with each other or even know of one another’s existence. There is no monopoly on law making. Instead, there are as many potential sources of law as there are people in the community. The community does not exist except by adoption of compatible laws. Community coalesces around compatible laws, instead of laws coalescing from authority structures of existing communities. Laws are compatible either by being the same, or being reconcilable by a mutually accepted set of principles, such as TROTWET.

Constitution of Athens

Constitution of Athens

Constitutions, bylaws, and sets of moral (e.g., religious) precepts provide examples of preceding laws, which are sometimes defined prior to organization an associated group. A nation or voluntary association may adopt founding organizational documents before it is deemed to have formed. Such organizational documents set up a structure and process for further rulemaking by some subset of the association that is formed, for example, by its elected officers or by some process that often ultimately depends on electoral majorities. Republics and democracies are examples. Corporations and other collective associations provide other examples. Although constitutional republics and democracies may be preceded by organizational documents, they make territorial and temporal claims of sovereignty that sweep in subjects who never agreed to the original founding documents or to the layers of law added afterwards. Any resemblance to voluntary law is faint indeed. Except for a handful of “founders,” the sovereignty of the state extends to vastly more people than have affirmatively assented to its constitution.

Moreover, while citizens sometime swear to uphold the constitution of a state, such acts do not amount to statements of personal principle, generally speaking. More often than not, the oath is required as a condition for access to some office, agency, or license offered by the state. If the ritual oath is refused, the opportunity that it accompanies is lost. Whether or not one has taken the ritual oaths has no bearing on any person’s fundamental rights or responsibilities under the law of the state to which the oath is sworn. Instead, such oaths are ritual acts that accompany and solemnize the assumption of state office or license. In contrast, under voluntary law the act of public adoption is the primary, if not sole, determinant of the declarant’s legal rights and responsibilities.

Florida's 37th Governor

Florida’s 37th Governor

Another example of antecedent declaration may be found in corporate founding documents, which come before formation of state-recognized organizations. The founding documents inform members of the structure of the organization, but are also a requirement of an external legal system. For example, a California corporation cannot be defined without adopting a bylaw that is consistent with California law. By organizing under the law of a state, the entity effectively adopts the corporate law of the state it forms in, for resolutions of disputes between its various members. While the association of stakeholders that is centered on corporate entities is normally entirely voluntary, the scope of the bylaws is limited to matters that affect the body as a whole, such as its proper purpose, its manner of government, rights and responsibilities of members, shareholders, or other stakeholders, and other organizational matters. Corporate bylaws are of limited scope, and are deemed binding on the organization as a whole and its offices, instead of being personally applicable. Corporate bylaws provide only a very dim analogy to voluntary law.

Membership organizations with dispute resolution systems provide a closer analogy to voluntary law. Voluntary trading groups like time banks, online auction or trading groups, cooperatives, fraternal organizations, labor unions, churches and other religious congregations, and many other types of voluntary organizations provide some form of dispute resolution rules, often accompanied by a code of conduct. Indeed, depending on their organizational rules, membership groups may blend smoothly into voluntary law and coexist with it, as has been noted above.Odd Fellows

Some voluntary associations aspire to provide a full range of legal services for their members. One recent example is BitNation. BitNation is distinctive for its reliance on decentralized blockchain technology to meet the communication needs of its membership. It is also unusual for advertising itself as an alternative to the territorial nation-state. As of this writing, members of BitNation agree to use “British Common Law” to resolve disputes among themselves. It is unclear what this will mean in practice, for example, what forms of British Common Law are acceptable, and what sort of due process is required in different circumstances. It is nonetheless a step in the direction of voluntary law, and may lead to development of technologies that enable formation of truly voluntary law societies in the future. It may itself evolve into implementing voluntary law by at least two pathways. For example, were BitNation to recognize the principle of personal sovereignty and join a consortium of “bit nations” each with its own distinct law and with a sort of “inter-bit-national” law that recognized basic principles of voluntary law and provided conflict of law rules, the consortium and each of its members would be a voluntary law society. In an alternative, BitNation might adopt principles of voluntary law and allow its own members to express and be judged by their own various personal honor codes or laws. Currently, however, BitNation has only one authoritative source of law, albeit vaguely defined.

Previous voluntary membership groups lack any recognition of personal sovereign power to make and adopt one’s own law, without being expelled from the membership society. Uniquely under voluntary law, retaining the benefit of the community does not require that any person be judged by the law of another, so long as a set of rules for resolving conflicts of law are agreed to.
Other distinctions with voluntary law may include the limitation of membership in the group to a set of specially qualified persons. In contrast, membership in voluntary law society is equally available to all persons who possess the philosophical attributes of a person able to make and follow laws. Voluntary law draws the boundaries within which the benefits of community can be enjoyed as broadly as logically possible, and is scalable to a society of practically limitless size. Another distinction may include a limited scope of dispute resolution. For example, Robert’s Rules provides a process for resolving disputes over conduct at a meeting, or malfeasance towards the organization. Few membership organizations enforce rules beyond the scope of the limited purpose of the group. In contrast, because the ultimate sovereignty is personal, voluntary law places no limits or requirements on the law, beyond the three pillars. It can be as comprehensive or as limited as each person desires.

Voluntary law society does not easily or naturally arise from a state of nature. Empirically this is true; voluntary law has never managed to evolve straight from nature and has never been practiced on a large scale. Arguably, it has been practiced in some unspoken ways in families and small communities, to some extent; but it is not remarkable unless and until it can be extended to large societies of strangers. Scaling up will require things like legal registries and reputational networks based on compliance with self-adopted laws. These niceties – such as records of personal laws and neutral reputation networks — cannot easily be developed where every day involves a struggle for survival. Institutions such as reliable record keeping systems and a sense of equality are not “natural”; they have evolved and become more prevalent as the idea of the state has evolved from one resting on the power and property of a monarch, to technological socialist democracies and republics that rest on some theory of public benefit. Although pervasive in their regulation of human affairs and relentless in preservation of their own power, these more modern forms of the state generally acknowledge basic human rights such as freedom of speech and thought, equality of persons, and the right of free association. It is within an established framework of basic rights and a sufficient information infrastructure that institutions of voluntary law, such as publication and adoption of law and reliable reputational records, can take root and grow. Capital surpluses and leisure time that exist in some state-governed territories may also facilitate experimentation with new forms of self-governance. Voluntary law is not so much an enemy of the state as it is an evolved descendant of it, with the potential to replace monopolistic territorial governance, if found useful by adequate numbers of people.

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Empire Builders

It is sometimes difficult for people to imagine that a generally well-ordered society can exist with diverse and conflicting laws, despite the well-known examples that exist even today. This skepticism is not logically justified. Nations, states, and provinces often enact conflicting laws, and the law to be applied in cases involving people from different jurisdictions, or places subjected to overlapping claims of authority, is not always clear. A well-established branch of law exists for the purpose of sorting out such conflicts of law, and it is not hard to find a lawyer or judge aware of basic principles involved. In the world of territorial governments, conflict of law principles rest firmly on underlying principles of territoriality. There are other systematic ways of resolving legal conflicts without relying on territorial boundaries, however. A large portion of this book is dedicated to explaining one such system, TROTWET. Existing conflict of law systems show that a single unitary set of laws is not a prerequisite for a well-ordered society operating under due process of law.

Czar's Borderland Pirate

Czar’s Borderland Pirate

Many communities are not formally organized, but observe customs and basic principles that preserve basic order and make malfeasance punishable. Such communities might be called “organic anarchies.” There are many documented historical examples of organic anarchies, usually in frontier areas: the sixteenth century Anglo-Scottish borderlands; nineteenth century North American so-called “Wild West;” as well as many tribal areas in Southeast Asia, the Amazon, and Africa, to name a few. In these frontier areas far from the reach of kings, republics and empires that tend to form in richer agricultural areas, legal customs develop organically. In some cases, judges or tribunals develop to resolve disputes according to established custom. These organic anarchies are precursors to a state – not as matter of logical necessity, but as an empirical fact of history. Everywhere (or nearly everywhere) such conditions have prevailed, the dispute resolution processes of the frontier have eventually been assimilated into a state of one kind or another. It may be that such anarchies can persist in remote places indefinitely, and counter-examples of backwards evolution from a state to anarchy may perhaps be found. But even if lawless frontiers re-emerge in areas previously ruled by states, the anarchy will persist for only so long as the conditions that prevent the emergence of a state prevail.

It may be debated whether the social criteria that give rise to the state are mainly psychological, or rest on economic factors. Some say government as we know it is merely mass psychology at work, as argued in The Most Dangerous Superstition by Larkin Rose, or as used to advance the story in the fiction of And Then There Were None by Eric Frank Russell. Others argue that the idea of the state arose out of the rise of capital surpluses, for some fundamentally economic reason. Regardless, the laws and customs of even anarchistic frontier areas are based on territorial boundaries, however loosely defined. If one resides in such areas, one will be subject to the prevailing customs, regardless of one’s views on their morality or sagacity. There is no personal sovereignty over law making, in such societies. Thus, frontier anarchies are also distinct from voluntary law.

Hypnotized Hen

Hypnotized Hen

Looking more to the present, movements that resemble voluntary law are easier to spot. One such movement is the development of standard copyright licenses by the nonprofit organization “Creative Commons.” People who wish to license their copyrightable content for use without payment of a royalty, subject to certain conditions such as attribution, may do so by referring to one of the standard licenses published by Creative Commons or any competing license, for example a “copyleft” license. Such references to standard licenses resemble an adoption of law under voluntary law. However, there are some differences: a copyleft license is form of contract, and for all present-day copyleft licenses, the underlying law is that of a state. Copyleft provides no stateless alternative for resolution of disputes arising under its licenses.

Voluntary law was inspired by anarcho-capitalism, so it is no surprise that it resembles anarcho-capitalism in many respects. For example, one form of anarcho-capitalism written of by Pete Sisco, “contractual republics,” emphasizes the right of any two people to specify every condition of an agreement between them, including defining a code of law under which the agreement must be interpreted. Essentially, this is freedom of contract as we know it today, but untethered from regulation by a state. Under anarcho-capitalism, without universal respect for the same property rights, there is no legal basis for resolving competing claims. For example, competing claims between hunter-gatherers who do not recognize titled forms of land ownership and farmers who rely on a system of land titles cannot be resolved except by force, with one or the other view prevailing. Accordingly, being generally peaceful people who wish to avoid violent conflict, anarcho-capitalists will argue passionately about the most optimal or best property rights rules to follow. In contrast to anarcho-capitalism, voluntary law rejects any universal notion of property beyond self-sovereignty, instead relying on equality of persons, personal sovereignty, and publication of each person’s personal code of honor as the basis for society. Conflicts are legally resolvable even when the parties do not recognize the same property rights.

Berkman Addressing the Anarchists July 11, 1914

Berkman Addressing the Anarchists July 11, 1914

Like anarcho-capitalist societies, contractual republics would rely on a universally applied property rights regime. The citizens of each contractual republic, by virtue of holding to the same common agreement, will naturally hold to the same view of property rights. Different contractual republics may recognize different property rights, but there is no legal mechanism for resolving disputes arising out of fundamental disagreements over property rights, or other legal conflicts. Also, contractual republics use a different mechanism for defining laws: agreement of at least two people instead of independent public adoption. Hence, changing one’s law entails a sort of breach of contract in every case. Contractual republics might therefore be somewhat less adaptable in their ability to adjust laws to suit changing conditions and beliefs, than voluntary law societies.

Equivalent results may be realized by contractual republics and voluntary law societies, under some conditions. For example, results may be very similar where at least two conditions are satisfied: first, where everybody holds to the same definitions of property rights; and second, where the system of cooperating contractual republics is sufficiently diverse to provide a life-sustaining republic for every firmly-held minority viewpoint on legal rights and obligations. Where these conditions are met, contractual republics and voluntary law societies may converge on the same outcomes. In every other case, they may be expected to diverge substantially, and every other case might be the norm. It is doubtful whether these two conditions can ever be met, in reality. Much more could be said about differences and similarities between voluntary law and various forms of anarcho-capitalism, but this introduction will not endeavor to say it all.11222227364_22be3d2ca8_z

Voluntary organizations for developing standards, codes and rules are well known in many contexts. Open-source application development groups and technical standards committees provide some examples. It might be said that open-source software developers have blazed a trail for “open-source” voluntary law development. There are many similarities between open-source code development and voluntary law development. In both cases:

• The “code” is open for contribution from anyone who can write useful, reliable code.
• Community leaders review contributions and publish standard versions, but non-standard versions or “forks” are not prohibited.
• Individuals produce and use customized variants and add-ons.
• Community acceptance and network effects determine the adoption rate of any given version, variant, or add-on.
• Community activity creates an eco-system that supports economic transactions around freely distributed codes.

288px-Opensource.svg_12The very well-tested open-source model is ripe for adaption to development of voluntary laws. The success of the open source movement has proven that code writers can be incentivized to produce complex, useful code for reasons other than direct payment for code-writing services. Thus, there is reason to hope that the voluntary law model may likewise be economically feasible. Besides these similarities, there are some differences to consider. For example:

• Voluntary law development adapts to changes in normative preferences, and less so to changes in technology and aesthetic preferences as in open-source coding.
• There is diminishing incentive for continual development as the law matures, in contrast to technological development that often feeds more technological development.
• Harmonization between legal systems is a critical concern for most legal communities, while software communities are more self-focused.
• Software programming requires special technical knowledge that most people lack, but any thoughtful person can write a law.
• Successful laws must accommodate and bridge disparate normative preferences, unlike computer programs.
• Voluntary laws tend toward simplicity and stability the longer development proceeds, in contrast to software that tends to grow and become more feature-laden.

None of these differences make voluntary law less economically feasible or less likely than open-source software development. On the contrary, the anticipated tendency for voluntarily selected legal codes to stabilize and simplify, and the lack of need for special technical skills, suggests that the long term economic costs of code development for voluntary law will be much less than for open-source code development. Conceivably, well-developed and diverse sets of voluntary laws can be developed for the entire world, and translated into numerous languages, for much less than the combined total of open source projects active today; perhaps even for less than a single large international open-source coding project. The reason it has not happened is because people do not believe that writing and publishing personal codes of honor has any useful value. The thought of everybody picking their own law is too new and too strange of a concept. Very few people have ever considered the possibility, and few that do think it a useful idea. But once voluntary law has been convincingly demonstrated, and its utility is proven, voluntary law can be adopted very rapidly. The economic barriers to widespread adoption are practically nil.Coding Freedom

No prior system makes personal sovereignty the basis for law making, assigning all authority and responsibility to the individual. Whatever each person chooses is their own law, to be applied to their own conduct. This is not a boast made on behalf of voluntary law. It is a check on your reading comprehension. At most, prior voluntary associations require voluntary delegation of law making power to some subset of the association, e.g., a majority of members, a committee, a founder, or group of elders. Voluntary law is revolutionary in that aspect of declaring each person sovereign over herself, and only herself. In another aspect, voluntary law is evolutionary and firmly rooted in the past. It freely permits and will make use of rules and methods for dispute resolution and due process of law that have proven useful through the ages, while making use of newer developments such as open-source coding and encrypted public registries such as block chain (Bitcoin) technology. It is new, but not that different.

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Coexistence, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book)

Coexistence With Other Legal Systems

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Voluntary law is based on the most granular possible social unit: the person. As such, voluntary legal systems are uniquely suitable for co-existing with competing legal systems, while being uniquely difficult to eradicate. There is no head to cut off. Nor does the person who adopts a voluntary law require any action from any person who chooses not to participate. Those who choose to participate must place their reputations at stake, but only within the society defined by voluntary law.

Voluntary law reaches only persons who are voluntarily within its society of laws. Outside of that society, anything whatsoever may exist: a republic; a democracy; an empire; a petty dictatorship; a socialist paradise; a fascist totalitarian state; lawless anarchy, a prison; a school; a plantation of slaves; a land of the free; a spiritual paradise that needs no laws; or hell itself. Voluntary law societies can co-exist with all these other things. The only essential requirement for the voluntary law society to exist is for two or more people to comply with its essential principles in their dealing with one another. Coexistence with non-voluntary forms of society and law, or with states of nature is potentially complex. Only a few of the more salient issues and aspects are touched on here, as is appropriate at this early stage, before anyone is using voluntary law on a large scale.

A principal aspect of coexistence concerns the modularity of voluntary rules. One is not necessarily entirely within, or entirely outside of, voluntary law society. One can be within voluntary law society for one set of rules, while being an outlaw with respect to other sets. Examples of this modularity at work have been provided earlier. Adopting voluntary law for limited purposes might leave fellow society members without recourse under voluntary law for forms of aggression outside of the applicable law’s reach. Such limits are inherent in voluntary law, and many examples have already been discussed. The compensating principle, as has also been discussed, is that whatever actions of a person that are not actionable under that person’s voluntary law are publicly known to other society members. A person with unreasonable laws may thereby be avoided and shamed.

If conflict regarding an excluded topic of law arises under unavoidable circumstances, the people involved are no worse off than if neither had adopted any voluntary law. For example, suppose a couple has adopted compatible voluntary laws in the area of family law. One of the couple has not adopted any voluntary laws providing remedies for breach of contract, nor any more general principle that is applicable. In these circumstances, neither one of the couple can bring a contract claim against the other. If a breach of contract occurs between them, they can either settle it outside of voluntary law, agree on a law to be applied for purposes of the dispute, or leave it unresolved. Selecting any of these three alternatives will not damage their reputations as society members. In contrast, if a dispute involving family law arises, and one fails to comply with the applicable voluntary law to resolve the matter, that person’s reputation will be at risk.

Modularity may be subject to hierarchical relationships within the structure of voluntary law. For example, a prudent person might adopt a rule providing for damages in case of all acts of violence, coercion or fraud, without adopting specific rules in some areas. This will inform others that the person is reasonable, without losing flexibility in specific areas.  General principles such as non-aggression will unavoidably come into conflict with laws imposed by some external source. Even narrower rules may sometimes similarly conflict with external rules. Coexistence therefore entails understanding how such conflicts may be treated under voluntary law.

Nearly every person who exists on Earth is accustomed to being made subject to a plethora of rules imposed by non-voluntary means. So far as voluntary law is concerned, all such rules are merely the proclamations of outlaws; and insofar as voluntary law extends can provide neither the basis for a claim nor a defense against one, without the consent of all parties involved. One cannot make one’s voluntary law identical to a state law by an act of adoption, because states by definition do not require the consent of every person who will be made subject to their laws. A so-called state that requires prior personal, non-coerced consent to every law written is no longer a state, but some kind of voluntary organization. It might even be a voluntary law society. The point is that personal adoption of the law of a state or any other non-voluntary law involves a logical contradiction, and is by definition a mere nullity, an act having no meaning whatsoever. That is not to say that substantive aspect of state laws cannot be borrowed from written precedents and adapted for voluntary purposes. This is to be expected, especially for rules based on old traditions sensitive to human needs. Any involuntary reach of such rules is negated entirely, as soon as the rules are adopted as voluntary laws.

A society member may belong to different voluntary communities that hold to different or even contradictory laws. Such contradictions may be treated as any other rule of outlaws, or publicly adopted within the framework of voluntary law. If conflicting rules are adopted as voluntary laws, the adopter should be careful to limit the scope of at least one of the sets of laws to members of the community in question. Otherwise, it will not be clear which law to apply in any given conflict. Consistent with principles discussed earlier, justice will require that any ambiguity will be construed against the adopter. In practice, this will result in the principle of TROTWET being applied whenever it is unclear which law has been adopted. Unfavorable ambiguity may be avoided by adopting the law only for members of a particular community, presuming it is possible to determine who the members of that particular community are. Even in that case, it may be desirable to specify a general law to apply in cases that do not involve any member of the community, lest some unfavorable law of the community be applied generally. Moreover, the person who adopts the law of a particular voluntary community, if not limited to a concrete text of certain date, is essentially appointing the community as his legislature. Such appointments are always unnecessarily risky, as has been discussed earlier. For these and similar reasons, prudent people might generally avoid adopting conflicting laws of different communities as their voluntary law, or delegating the power of adopting their law to communities that might act unpredictably.

Such caution will not leave the prudent society member without options. Instead, the member may preserve her personal sovereignty while participating fully in communities holding to conflicting rules, by participating in such communities as an outlaw. In other words, the prudent person might agree to abide by laws made in traditional ways by various communities (e.g., clubs, religious organizations, political parties, etc.) but regard these traditional community laws as being outside of their own voluntary law. Similarly, a person might comply with laws or diktats of a coercive government or criminal gang as a matter of expedience, without making compliance a requirement of their own voluntary law.

To avoid conflicts with voluntary law that dealings with outlaws might engender, the society member might agree to waive her rights under voluntary law, to the extent contradicted by the community rules, in exchange to corresponding waivers from all other members of the community. Making this sort of waiver outside of voluntary law insulates the society member from unintended consequences of accepting laws not under her personal control, and may become a popular option for reducing risks of membership in diverse communities. If the outside community does not include any other voluntary law members (i.e., all are outlaws), the waiver is without any meaning, because voluntary law provides no rights against outlaws anyway. In such circumstances, it is likely that no request for waivers would be made. Conversely, if some outlaw community or collective is requesting that a society member waive voluntary law for some limited purpose, this is a sign that voluntary law is alive and well. Such waiver requests indicate that the outlaw community includes among its members other voluntary law members, who fear liability that might otherwise accrue were no waivers given. Waiver requests increase the leverage and influence of voluntary law societies, and are an indication of expanding membership.

As noted, communities consisting entirely of outlaws have no need for waivers and will not request them. Such will be the relationship between the state and any voluntary law societies, at the outset. Outlaws affiliated with the state will make demands of society members, and society members will be unable to make any offsetting claims against the outlaws under voluntary law. Whatever actions the member takes to cope with such demands are entirely outside the province of voluntary law. Thus, no suggestions need be made here. People already cope with such demands, and may continue to do so as they see fit, whether or not they are members of any voluntary law society. But if a member of an outlaw organization is a voluntary law society member, such person may be subject to claims under voluntary law for their actions, even if the action is permitted or required by the law of the outlaw organization. Rule of outlaws cannot directly control outcomes of proceedings under voluntary law, but may influence outcomes in ways that will be discussed below.

Outlaws may ban the adoption of voluntary laws, but such bans obviously have no legal significance within voluntary law. Bans may discourage some from adopting voluntary laws, for those afraid to resist bans against expressing personal codes of honor. Such bans are nakedly totalitarian, however, and directly contrary to state laws protecting free speech. Therefore it may be expected that repression of voluntary law societies would take other, less obviously objectionable forms.

For example, tax collectors may declare that enforcement of voluntary laws requiring privacy in commercial transactions is illegal under state law. This might be enforced, for example, by the tax collector bringing some state-law charge against a voluntary law society member for bringing a claim against another society member based on breach of transactional privacy arising from a report of a private transaction to the tax collector. Such enforcement action by the tax collector would penalize or even criminalize private indemnity agreements. This may seem outlandish, but there is a tangible risk that certain outlaws may try to criminalize privacy or other obligations under voluntary law as instruments of some sort of criminal conspiracy, or on some other basis.

Other examples can easily be imagined, where state actors would certainly bring criminal charges for actions permitted under voluntary law. For example, a death sentence pronounced and executed with utmost probity under voluntary law would be sure to invite criminal charges against many involved, under the law of many states today. Every powerful state can be expected to defend what it claims as its exclusive authority. It is inevitable that some actions that are perfectly legal under voluntary law would subject society members to liability under the law of outlaws. Such persecution by outlaws will vary according to the circumstances under which the voluntary law society exists. Persecution is an external environmental factor, not an inherent aspect of voluntary law itself. Like any other external factor, voluntary law societies are free to adapt to predictable outlawry by adopting laws to deal with it such as make sense under the circumstances.

In a thriving ecosystem of voluntary law, solutions will no doubt be found that are not foreseeable or perhaps even conceivable today. Nonetheless, some productive approaches are not hard to foresee. Every positive duty under voluntary law lies primarily on the person adopting it, so any person who wishes to avoid liability under some state law may adopt a law that excuses compliance with the diktats of outlaws if reasonably necessary for a substantial defensive purpose. For example, an officer of a state agency might adopt a law that excuses herself from liability for lawful conduct under such-and-such agency rules. There are two ways to write such rules, as positive laws or as affirmative defenses. If written as positive law, the limit will exclude the officer from bringing claims against those who do her harm by conduct that that is required under the same external rules. If written as an affirmative defense, the limit will not be effective against a claimant who does not have a corresponding equally strong or stronger shield, under TROTWET.

Accordingly, most such limits would be written as positive laws, if possible.   Is it possible? Consider a voluntary law that authorizes a claim for theft, unless the theft was done in compliance with state law. Is the “unless done in compliance with state law” an affirmative defense, or part of the positive law? Such questions will be decided, if ever, by the voluntary law jurists of the future. To aid them, it is suggested that the distinction be made based on whether or not the rule authorizes a positive claim, even if subject to a limiting circumstance (e.g. that the theft not be in compliance with state law). Under that approach, the example given above is a positive law. Conversely, if every limiting circumstance is treated as an affirmative defense, limits could never be used for protection against those who disavowed them. Some who do not need compliance exceptions might not disavow them, for various reasons. For example, a society member may wish to signal compliance to lessen the risk of state-initiated persecution, to encourage others to adopt voluntary laws, out of admiration for the state rules, to enable use of the limit in claim proceedings, to shift the burden of proof for affirmative defense to the defendant, or for some other reason. It is impossible to predict what balances might be struck. Nonetheless, if every compliance exception were regarded as an affirmative defense, this might tend to discourage adoption of voluntary laws by some. Persons who need the comfort of a limit and are willing to accept it for their own claims, might not dare to adopt the underlying claim as law. This might create unnecessary disincentives for adoption of voluntary laws.

Some may find limits and exceptions based on external rules distasteful, but at least the officers who adopt them are being honest and open about the limits of their liability under voluntary law. Those who do not approve may refuse to do business with them. If a great many people find limits as adopted by our hypothetical officer repugnant, those who adopt such limits will face real pressure to discard them, or lessen their reach.

Moreover, although a limit on liability based on some external set of rules might seem less than satisfactory to somebody who suffers at the officer’s hands, it at least makes the question of compliance with the external rules subject to adjudication in a voluntary law forum. A society member who believes she has suffered harm at the hands of the officer due to actions outside the cited external rules may bring her claim under voluntary law. There the claimant may obtain a different result than could be obtained in the courts of the state. The claimant need only prove the underlying harm (e.g., theft or imprisonment) and that it was not executed in compliance with the applicable external rule. If possible to raise as an affirmative defense, the compliance would be the defendant’s burden to prove. Limits and exceptions based on external laws, like waivers, would be a sign that the scope and influence of voluntary law is increasing. Such limits and exceptions would create tangible incentives for good behavior by the agents or subjects of the state who adopt them. Adoption of such limits and exceptions as voluntary laws would serve to bring compliance with the external laws on which the limits or exceptions are based under the purview of voluntary law, where the processes and precedents of the state courts are not binding.

Bans and prohibitions might be written the other way. For example, a voluntary law might provide that its adopter may bring any proper claim, regardless of whether the underlying actions were required by an external law. In other words, a society member may disavow defenses based on external requirements. However, one member cannot write another’s law. Thus, a rule of “no theft, no exceptions” cannot trump a rule of “no theft, unless authorized by state law” held by another. Analyzed as positive laws, under TROTWET and all other things being equal, the “no theft, unless authorized by state law” is the weaker tool. Thus, the one holding the “no exceptions” rule could not enforce it against the person who preferred an exception. If all other things were not equal, for example if the “no theft, unless authorized by state law” called for heavier penalties, it would still be the weaker tool if applying the other rule results in less liability under the facts of the case. Determination of the weaker tool should always be done in light of the facts at hand.

If “no exceptions” and “unless authorized by state law” are analyzed as affirmative defenses, under TROTWET it might seem that “no exceptions” is the weaker shield and should be applied. However, “no exceptions” is not a shield; it provides no defense. Instead, it is the negation of a shield. It should therefore be disregarded. This leaves no shield. As between a shield and no shield, no shield is weaker. Therefore a simple “no theft” rule with no affirmative defense deprives one who holds to “authorized by state law” as an affirmative defense, as noted a few paragraphs earlier.

Many laws would always be accompanied by an affirmative defense. For example, self-defense might usually be recognized as an affirmative defense to murder. So it might not be unusual to see a law such as “no murder, except if necessary for self-defense” facing a law such as “no murder, except if necessary for self-defense or authorized by the state.” The latter law might be held by executioners working for the state, for example. If a society member holding the first law brings a claim of murder against the executioner (who surprisingly, is also a society member) for a state-authorized execution, the claim prevails only if the exceptions are analyzed as affirmative defenses. As written above, both appear as affirmative defenses. If the second law is written as “no murder that is not authorized by the state, unless necessary for self-defense,” the exception to state authority might be regarded as part of the positive law. To provide greater certainty on the issue of positive law vs. affirmative defenses, the executioner could adopt different types of claims based on death of a victim. For example, the executioner might adopt both “murder without authorization of state law” and “murder with authorization of state law.” The executioner might then adopt much lighter penalties for the latter offense. Both of these claims are clearly positive laws, but only the latter could be proved against the executioner for an execution authorized by state law. Making the latter claim would not place any great burden of proof on the claimant. The executioner would surely stipulate that the execution was authorized by state law, to avoid the charge with heavier penalties.

These hypotheticals lead to a few basic conclusions. Perhaps foremost is the observation that voluntary law can be practiced in conjunction with external legal systems, without sacrificing the independence of the voluntary legal system or breaking its underlying principles. In some cases, society members might adopt rules of voluntary organizations for limited or general purposes, but more frequently, rules of voluntary organizations would likely lie outside the scope of voluntary law. Rules of non-voluntary organizations must lie outside of voluntary law, by definition.   Even those under bondage to a non-voluntary authority may participate in voluntary law under terms that lessen conflicts between the demands of their bondage and that of their voluntary law. Those under bondage would seek to build exceptions for acts required by their bondage into their positive laws. Exceptions cast as affirmative defenses, however, would be useless except against claimants who also adopt them. Either way, such exceptions would bring compliance with state law under the purview of the voluntary legal system, in some cases. The converse is not true.   Any person not in bondage would have little reason to adopt laws that condemn exceptions to voluntary laws based on state authority. Free people are better served by simpler laws.

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Photo Credit to Raymond Zoller

Some rights reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License

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Enforcement, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book)

Enforcement of Judgments

“Enforcement,” broadly speaking, means the act of compelling compliance or obedience to some law, rule, or obligation. In voluntary law, just enforcement means compelling a person to comply with their own law, subject to due process of law. It means carrying out the sentence that the defendant has already declared appropriate for the proven offense, and nothing more. There are no predetermined limits how enforcement of a valid judgment may be accomplished. Any effective technique that is not contrary to the defendant’s law can be used. There is no central enforcement authority to control enforcers, or to protect them from claims of malpractice.

The lack of central enforcement authority does not mean that there are no practical limits on how law may be enforced. On the contrary, because enforcement powers are not vested in a privileged class and may be exercised by any willing person, the radical democracy of free communities operating according to principles of voluntary law will develop ruthlessly efficient mechanisms for preventing socially unacceptable forms of enforcement, while enabling the swiftest possible justice in almost every case.

To prove this point, little more is needed than observing that for enforcement to be legitimate under voluntary law, it must by definition comply with the voluntary law of the person enforced against. If an enforcement action breaks the applicable voluntary law, either a remedy exists under voluntary law for improper enforcement, or the transgression is the act of an outlaw who claims no protection under voluntary law. Socially unacceptable enforcement will be widely condemned, and against the law of most people. Widely condemned forms of enforcement can be used without consequences under voluntary law only against those who by their choice of law have made no objection to them, or against outlaws.

To bolster the point, it may be observed that voluntary law requires a significant community of persons to be effective and enforceable. Absent any such community, voluntary law and its enforcement are merely rules without practical significance. Enforceability of voluntary law is not a static value, but increases with the size and influence of the community voluntarily subscribing to it. If a sufficiently significant community exists, provable non-compliance with voluntary law in the obtaining or enforcement of a judgment, whether by claimants, defendants, jurists, or enforcers will have consequences. Such noncompliance is tantamount to hypocrisy, to a refusal to comply with one’s own chosen law. Status as a hypocrite or fool is uniquely fatal to personal reputation. In severe or pervasive cases, the offender will be ostracized and deprived of opportunities to do any business with community members from a position of trust. Deprivation of reputation will truly sting.

There is no need to wonder how voluntary law will operate in the absence of community in which everyone’s personal reputation matters. Community is a precondition to operation of voluntary law, just as opposing teams, a ball, and a playing field are preconditions to operation of the game of football. Accordingly, it must always be assumed that enforcement of voluntary law occurs in a community of persons who adhere to voluntary law and are generally aware of how the law is being broken and enforced. In short, it must be assumed that reputation matters.

In view of the necessary assumption, it follows that enforcement must be performed in compliance with a valid judgment of a neutral jurist, or the act may cause the enforcer to be liable to the person enforced against. In essence, enforcement is an aspect of due process. So long as an enforcer follows the applicable due process rules and faithfully executes the judgment, performance of the service enhances her reputation and protects her from liability. If she ignores due process requirements, she puts herself at risk of a claim for damages and loss of reputation. Any person subject to voluntary law will therefore be well motivated to check that the judgment they have been asked to enforce is validly obtained and granted. In addition, such enforcer will be careful to exercise compulsion only to the extent permissible by the applicable voluntary law. For example, if the applicable substantive law does not permit a death penalty, the enforcer is not permitted to kill, nor would any valid judgment require an execution.

If an outlaw is hired to enforce a judgment, the outlaw has no enforceable liability under voluntary law, whether or not the judgment is valid. Instead, liability falls to the society member who has hired the outlaw. In addition, action may be taken against the outlaw outside of voluntary law. For example, suppose a claimant obtains a money judgment but the defendant lives in a place where a state government claims a monopoly on the power to place liens or levy accounts. The defendant refuses to pay the judgment regardless of the claimant’s entreaties, takes no steps to have the judgment overturned, and displays no concern about loss of reputation. As it happens, the jurist who hears the case is also a state-licensed arbitrator, and arranges the voluntary law judgment in a form that complies with state requirements for an arbitral award. The claimant therefore registers the award and obtains a state-enforceable judgment. She enforces the judgment by recording a lien against real property held by the defendant. If the recordation of the lien violates voluntary law, recourse under voluntary law is against the claimant who recorded it, not against the state for facilitating the recordation of the lien. Similarly, if the claimant hires an ordinary thug who is not a society member to beat up the defendant for non-payment of the judgment, there is no recourse against the thug under voluntary law, and only against the claimant who directed the thug to do violence. Other recourse may be taken against the state or against the thuggish outlaw, outside the province of voluntary law.

These examples illustrate why, at least for serious cases, most claimants will chose to hire professional enforcement help from a fellow society member. A professional enforcer will be more familiar with the applicable rules and better prepared to defend against malpractice claims. More importantly, the employment of a society member to handle the enforcement will shield the claimant from most enforcement liability, save perhaps for negligent hiring of an incompetent enforcer.

A professional enforcement system comprised of voluntary law society members can be funded by the offenders. To enable such funding, most offenses will carry a monetary penalty of some kind in restoration of the injury, even if some other penalty is also applicable. Whatever the form of penalty assessed, reasonable costs of obtaining a judgment and enforcing it may be added to the judgment. The amount of reasonable costs may be estimated in view of prevailing market conditions for cases of the type at hand, and assessed proactively or retrospectively by the jurist. Essentially, the offender may be required to pay for the police, the judge, and the lawyers on both sides. Although competent professional services are seldom cheap, costs should be more competitive than in monopoly systems.

Voluntary law therefore in no way disadvantages the poor claimant. On the contrary, a claim-funded open enforcement system creates incentives for vigorous enforcement against wealthy society members in proportion to the magnitude of their offense. It might seem, however, to advantage the poor defendant, and create incentives for poverty. Who would deign to enforce a judgment against somebody with no money, and no property? To the extent this is true, it is no worse than civil remedies in any other justice system. Instead, a social benefit is provided in that no class of taxpayers exists to be forced to pay for enforcement of costly criminal penalties against poor defendants, such as bare imprisonment.

There is no real distinction between criminal and civil law under voluntary law, which provides no state or other privileged lawmaker to discriminate between criminal and non-criminal harms by diktat. Instead, “crime” in voluntary law societies might come to refer to irrational, wanton acts of destruction, or merely to intentional harms; or the term may fall out of use entirely. For the most heinous crimes, provided the defendant’s law allows a penalty of death or bodily injury, we may expect enforcement to be funded if not carried out by the claimant’s family and friends, or perhaps by sadists who relish the opportunity for legally sanctioned hunting of humans. Prolonged criminal penalties such as imprisonment, however, would be lacking. It is not possible under voluntary law to tax your neighbors to fund a prison for those who have wronged you, based on some theory of social benefit. Community-funded prisons are not forbidden, so long as the funding is voluntarily obtained, but there are good reasons to think such prisons would almost never exist in any form that resembles prisons as we know them today. Prisons are not generally economical. It is more economical to simply exclude outlaws and persons of irredeemably ill repute from the benefits of community.

For imprisonment to exist under voluntary law it must be permitted by the defendant’s law. What poor defendant would adopt a law with such penalties? Poor people would certainly adopt voluntary law to the extent they desired to do commerce with society members, but absent such incentives they would be outlaws. If outlaws, they may be imprisoned by any person with the power and desire to do so, although exclusion would be the more usual remedy. If by adopting a voluntary law that provides for monetary payment instead of imprisonment a poor person can avoid the threat of prison or exclusion, there is no reason not to adopt a reasonable law. Nor would a poor person chose a law with no penalties. By virtue of poverty, a poor person stands to gain more from penalties than to lose, and would not want to forfeit opportunities to recover if wronged by someone wealthy. Therefore poor persons who are rational and aware, or merely well-counselled, would chose reasonable laws allowing for monetary judgments for most ordinary offenses, perhaps in reasonable proportion to wealth or earning capacity.

In a robust and diverse voluntary law society, some members might adopt laws that essentially allow them a lifestyle as transient opportunistic thieves, within specified limits. For example, such persons may adopt laws that permit the taking of surplus, unattended or discarded food or clothing without penalty, and camping in empty spaces, so long as done without violence, in the absence of a reasonable alternative under the circumstances, and not in excess of personal necessity. Even more affluent persons may adopt such laws, as a sort of fallback position in case of sudden unexpected penury, even if temporary. Legalized thievery beyond basic personal necessities will not generally exist, because such rules will serve no useful purpose for the thief. Adopting law that provides no penalty for theft in general would announce the thief’s vile intentions to the community, and make it much harder for the thief to retain possession of, or obtain any benefit from, his stolen property. A professional thief will more likely try to play the role of a principled outlaw (e.g., a servant of the state only), hoping to fool some of the people some of the time.

Judgments against impoverished society members would not be without value. A poor person unable to pay a judgment would suffer damage to their reputation. If the poor person values their reputation and desires to be a productive member of society, this creates a sort of profit opportunity for any intermediary who is able to arrange an earn-out. Prisons would be replaced by intermediaries who are able to supervise and motivate the earning of income without violating the law of the convicts under their supervision. The convicts would pay a percentage to their victims and another percentage to intermediaries, until earning out the debt. A poor member of a voluntary law society finding themselves on the losing side of a claim has essentially two options: agree to some sort of earn-out, or sacrifice her reputation indefinitely. Naturally reputation must have considerable value to the defendant, or the debt will go unpaid. As noted above, it must be assumed that reputation matters, or voluntary law becomes unenforceable.

There will be contexts where reputation matters much and contexts where reputation is of little concern. This fact does not make voluntary law societies any less valid than other legal systems. State-based enforcement to any just degree also depends on preconditions, such as non-corrupt and well-funded judicial and enforcement systems, which are often absent. Moreover, it might be questioned whether merely punitive systems that do not tend to repair the harm done by the perpetrator or enable their rehabilitation are consistent with justice at all.

The question for those who would promote voluntary law and make its enforcement possible is simple: how to make reputation matter more, and in more contexts. It should be apparent that there are many possible answers to this question, many of which may be implemented gradually. A few specific strategies will be suggested later. For now, suffice it to say that critical precursors for development of reputation-based enforcement systems include the development of a community (or communities) that have effective control over desired resources, and a robust record-keeping system tied to secure personal identities. Neither of these precursors is out of reach. In fact, private reputation and identity tracking systems are already commonplace in narrow contexts such as creditworthiness, online selling, and social groups. When developed fully and extended to general applicability, a reputation-based system will more efficiently and justly deter pathological conduct than the blunt instruments of imprisonment or threat of execution. The essence of law enforcement is a system for discovery and development of personal reputation within a community, and voluntary law is designed to facilitate this essence.

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Photo from Nicholas Raymond at freestock.ca, under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

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Appeal, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book), Judicial Precedent, Voluntary Law

Ensuring That Judgments Are Just

quality control

Standards for deciding whether or not jurists have done their job well and fairly are matters to be judged under the applicable rules of due process, which may be determined as outlined in this previous post. Despite knowing the applicable due process standard in particular cases, claimants or defendants are often dissatisfied with outcomes of judicial proceedings, for various reasons. Whether or not a rehearing, appeal, or some other adjustment process is available will vary in different circumstances under voluntary law. There are different ways to ensure judicial quality, and appeal is not necessarily the best. Certainly appeal is not the most efficient conceivable process. In the ideal case, all competently-rendered and just judgments would be enforced without unnecessary delay. Mechanisms for delaying enforcement, challenging judgments, and if necessary nullifying or modifying them should ideally be selectively available only in cases where there is a high risk of injustice. Where the risk of injustice is low, delays and challenges serve little purpose. If the marketplace is robust, inefficient administration of justice will successfully be avoided.

In statist systems, particularly common law systems recognizing binding judicial precedent, appeals are the primary mechanism for reversals of judgments. Such appeals function to maintain consistency between rulings of lower courts. The threat of being overruled on appeal prevents renegade courts from ruling contrary to the will of the highest court. Correcting injustice in particular cases is a secondary effect, and the dissatisfaction of litigants is merely a motive force, from the courts’ perspective. The statist court enjoys a monopoly on the provision of judicial services, which lessens its motives for caring about whether justice is done in particular cases. Instead, the statist court must be primarily concerned with avoiding giving offense to politically powerful players. Such powerful players might threaten funding for the court, instigate impeachment proceedings against judges, or (where judges are elected) fund the political campaigns of competing judges, for example. Hierarchical appeals courts exist for the benefit of the judicial system, and not for the benefit of litigants.

The motivation and operation of appeal is completely different in voluntary law. Judicial precedent does not exist. Voluntary law fills the gap left by the loss of judicial precedent, by empowering each person, and only each person, to define applicable law. Uniformity is maintained by the market forces that control the content of voluntary laws; that is, by action of individual choices made by each voluntary law member in the adoption of law. To the extent voluntary law contains ambiguities allowing for different results on similar facts, if ambiguities with real consequences persist it can only be because the people see such ambiguities as a desirable thing. If people want more specificity, they are free to adopt more specific laws. If a law is undesirably vague or indefinite, there will be public demand for more specific, definite laws. Poor or unworkable laws will be “upgraded” on an individual basis, as legal writers propose revisions which gradually grow in influence by individual adoption. Such upgrades may resemble software upgrades in today’s world, but with less pressure on users to upgrade and no single programmer in charge. Voluntary law is not licensed from some legal provider; each member “owns” their own adopted law in the public domain. Thus, there is no need for appeal to a higher court to maintain consistency or resolve ambiguities in law. Instead, the choices of each voluntary law member are respected, and each member has the power to guard against ambiguities as they see fit. There is no hierarchy of judicial power to serve.

The loss of binding judicial precedent doesn’t mean there can’t be influence, and reputation, and persuasive precedents. Such voluntary things will thrive and illuminate justice in voluntary law. The only authority will be what is most reasonable, durable, and true, in the context of the laws the disputants have bound themselves to. Clearly defective judgments will be unenforceable. Merely questionable ones will be subject to challenge at the point of enforcement, or before.

Under voluntary law, as in anarcho-capitalist legal systems, quality is enforced by voluntary exchange in a market for legal services that is highly regulated by prohibition of monopoly power. In the free market, it is reputation that matters most. Voluntary law, however, differs from anarchistic systems that permit law making by collective entities, and therefore exchange territorial democratic monopolies for vertically integrated collectives (e.g., corporations or cooperatives) that may resemble states without political boundaries. These collectives are sometimes described as “security agencies” with effective law-making power over the clients who voluntarily choose to use their services. Bundling of legal, insurance and enforcement services may be expected to occur under anarcho-capitalism as “traditionally” conceived, because of the economic advantages of power. For example, it might be supposed that ability of an anarcho-capitalist security agency to compete would rest heavily on its power to enforce its judicial decisions. A system of competing security agencies might reduce or eliminate bureaucratic inefficiencies of statist legal systems, but do little to provide justice for the poor or to provide separation between law making, judicial, and enforcement powers.

Basing police powers on the power to enforce claims exacerbates the privileges of the powerful, turns “might” into “right,” and incentivizes concentrations of police power. The minarchist reasons that monopolization of police power is inevitable, and that it is therefore preferable to subject police powers to democratic process than to permit them to operate solely under a property-rights regime. The anarchist reasons that whether or not monopolization of police power is inevitable, it is at least worth giving free-market policing a try. The anarchist will justify the experiment with reasons why a robust free market will suppress development of monopoly power. The state socialist believes that every market based on property rights is rigged in favor of holders of capital, and therefore state intervention is necessary to prevent markets from becoming instruments of oppression. State socialists and minarchists represent different varieties of statists. Anarcho-capitalists are sometimes called “propertarians” because they place faith in systems based on private property.

In contrast, voluntary law might be classed as a left-libertarian approach, or neutral position, because it neither justifies or forbids property rights, except for forbidding any person from owning another. Voluntary law prevents inequities in property distribution from subverting administration of justice, by empowering rich and poor alike to declare and be held responsible to their own individually chosen law. No entity holds law making power, except the individual natural person. Law-making by collective entities such as states, insurance companies or cooperatives, is not recognized. To the extent members of collectives follow a common voluntary law, such law is given effect only by the express adoption of such law by each individual member. In systems reserving the power to make laws to the individual, juristic service providers who welcome clients with a range of differing voluntary laws will enjoy a distinct competitive advantage over those who restrict their services to ruling on a single set of laws. Thus, to the extent legal cooperatives and collectives exist under voluntary law, their existence will depend primarily on economic efficiency, and they will render services under a diverse array of laws determined only by the individual preferences of their customers.

Voluntary law also creates greater separation between enforcement and judicial powers than can be obtained under statist or anarcho-capitalist models. This separation is critical to maintaining the quality of judicial determinations. The separation is created not by diktat, but by each claimant’s demand for neutrality of the judicial forum, without which a durable and respectable judgment cannot be had. The enforcer who benefits by enforcing her own judgments cannot possibly be neutral. That some benefit exists is demonstrated by the enforcer’s willingness to enforce; every person may be assumed to generally avoid acting contrary to self-interest. Thus, performance of enforcement necessarily poisons the neutrality of all judgments.

In statist legal monopolies, separation of judicial and enforcement powers cannot exist to the same degree. The state cannot provide any truly independent alternative legal forum in which to challenge the neutrality of state judicial powers, which have become systematically enmeshed and entangled with the enforcers of their judgments and the legislators who craft their laws. In fact, the more systematic the entanglement becomes, the more likely it is to escape notice and foster acceptance of judgments colored thereby. Systematic entanglements protecting and legitimatizing loss of neutrality by courts and police are well-known in statist systems. These take the form, for example, of sovereign or qualified immunity rules that render state prosecutors, judges and police immune from most charges arising from non-neutral exercise of their supposed powers. Even if such immunities did not exist, claimants usually lack recourse to any independent and non-neutral forum in which to try charges of non-neutrality or other incompetence.

In any other anarchistic system that grants law making power to collective entities, by comparison, there are economic advantages to be had from vertical integration. Free-lance law makers, judges and enforcers cannot as effectively attract customers because their laws, judgments, and enforcement actions are less likely to be effective than those provided by integrated service providers whose branches actively cooperate with one another. If, despite the theorizing of minarchists it is indeed possible for competing “security agencies” to coexist and compete for customers, such agencies will resemble states in every aspect but the claim of monopoly over a particular territory. All will depend on relationships with preferred enforcers and law makers in the same collective family. As such, all will hesitate before condemning judgments of competing agencies on the basis of such entanglements.

Why so much comparing to different politico-legal systems, under the topic of appeal and quality of judgments? Because it is not obvious that the germ of voluntary law results in a system that differs so fundamentally from what has been tried or posited before. There is no inherent right of appeal in voluntary law, because there is no need. Basing the law-making power solely in the individual eliminates all collective power to make laws, and provides competitive advantages to jurists capable of ruling for diverse parties holding diverse laws. Such jurists depend almost entirely on their reputation for their livelihood, and will act vigorously to protect public perception of their neutrality. Under a reputational system, neither disputants nor jurists will ignore bias in jurists who ally themselves too closely with particular enforcers. Any enforcement agency allied too closely with the jurist who has rendered the judgment that it seeks to enforce will quickly face a claim by the losing disputant. Such disputant will bring the claim before a jurist who is demonstrably neutral with respect to the enforcement agency.

Moreover, a security agency as a collective has no power to adopt voluntary law. Claims based in bias will therefore be brought against the individual jurists and enforcers responsible for the allegedly biased judgment, or its negligent enforcement. Pursuant to TROTWET, such claims will in the usual case be based on the voluntary laws of individual jurists and enforcers involved, or sometimes on the weaker tools of the claimants. There is no sovereign immunity. If such jurists or enforcers have adopted voluntary laws that deny reasonable claims based in biased provision of judicial services or negligent enforcement, they have publicly declared themselves unfit, and will not receive the business in the first place. Neither will collectives whose members include such unfit providers receive any business. When each member of a collective is held to her own law, the role of the collective as a legal shield for its members is destroyed. Instead, the collective is restricted to its proper use of efficient resource and risk sharing.

In voluntary law societies, judicial service providers are deprived of essentially coercive advantages over competing forums. There is no real advantage to be had in the provision of judicial services, other than a good reputation. People are initially skeptical of every adjudication forum, before its reputation is established, and of every untried jurist. Every juristic forum must build its own reputation, and none can exercise coercive power in doing so. Each forum can build its reputation in several ways. For example, by performing high quality services (e.g., prompt, courteous, and accurate) and by issuing high quality judgments or settlements that are seldom or never successfully the subject of malpractice or negligent enforcement claims. A jurist may also seek certification or approval from various consumer rating or certifying organizations. In turn, the certifying agencies must establish and protect their own reputations by not certifying or approving others without justification.

An adjudicating forum that either is unproven or has a reputation for issuing poor quality or biased judgments will find that its judgments are not easily respected. Judgments that are not easily respected will be much harder to enforce, if enforceable at all, because enforcers will fear liability arising from negligent enforcement of defective judgments. Therefore, the judgments of a jurist who lacks a proven reputation will be subjected to additional questioning by diligent enforcers, which raises costs for the claimant. Provided their laws allow, jurists can be held liable for issuing non-neutral or negligent judgments, and law enforcers can be held personally liable for enforcing judgments that they knew or should have known were of poor quality. Most neutral enforcers will therefore refuse to enforce any judgment that appears questionable or risky. Claimants may attempt to self-enforce shoddy judgments issued by sham judges under their own influence, but not without risking liability both for their enforcement actions, and for improperly influencing the judges.

Voluntary law does not leave the dissatisfied party without options, in the case of an incorrect or unenforceable judicial decision. A dissatisfied party’s most fundamental option is to sue the jurist for malpractice. Most jurists would, under market pressure, adopt laws permitting such claims. Requirements for proving judicial malpractice might vary, but in the presence of free and open competition between judicial service providers, such requirements cannot be overly onerous. Reasonable standards might require the claimant to prove a failure of the jurist to comply with a professional standard of care, and consequential damages. The market would determine such requirements, as with all other rules in voluntary law.

Another option, in cases where a decision includes a purportedly enforceable judgment, is for the losing party to convincingly show that the judgment is fatally defective and unenforceable, to any and every enforcement service hired to enforce it. In cases where a losing defendant is facing immediate enforcement, enforcement may, in effect, be stayed by filing a malpractice claim against the jurist who rendered the judgment. This will put would-be enforcers on notice that the judgment is disputed, and reputable enforcers will wait to see how the challenge plays out before risking malpractice liability themselves. Like jurists, enforcement service providers will generally be subject to malpractice liability, but for negligent enforcement of a facially defective judgment, and not for the judgment itself. Redress against enforcers might require repeating the showing to different enforcement services if a public malpractice claim is not made against the jurist, and might be countered by hiring less reputable, more judgment-proof enforcers. Nonetheless, it will at least raise the cost of obtaining reputable enforcement services to enforce judgments, and may sometimes render judgments entirely unenforceable. Either way, such post-adjudication defense activity would create settlement pressure similar to that created by appeal under statist systems, and pressure for higher-quality juror decisions. In general, enforcer liability is an effective check against unjust judicial decisions, and one almost entirely lacking under statist systems.

Could a losing litigant endlessly forestall enforcement by endlessly suing jurists who repeatedly rule against him? In theory, yes; but in practice, customs such as “loser pays” and reputation scoring make this type of behavior self-defeating in most cases. Each subsequent loss would diminish the chances of eventual success and become increasingly costly. Lengthy sequences of “malpractice appeals” might be reserved for more desperate cases in which penalties are irreversible (e.g., a death sentence) and there is a real hope of additional evidence favoring acquittal coming forth later on in the process. In these rare cases, stalling by any means would be justifiable. However, where new evidence of innocence is to be presented, there is no claim of malpractice to bring. Instead, the relief lies in a retrial of the original claim, in light of the new evidence. Retrials for new evidence would accordingly be a commonly afforded right, and asserting a judgment in the face of new evidence rendering the judgment unjust would itself create a legal claim against the one unjustly asserting it. Laws permitting such claims would be adopted by most people as a matter of self interest and social pressure.

A losing defendant seeking to weasel out of a judgment might instead consider finding a sleazy, judgment-proof jurist to hold the original jurist guilty of malpractice. The difficulty with this approach is the decidedly short supply of jurists who are both sleazy and judgment-proof enough to rule unjustly, and credible enough to provide an enforceable judgment. In the vast majority of cases the sleazy malpractice judgment would be of little real value; being given little credit by anyone, it would not prevent the original judgment from being enforced against the losing defendant.

Under voluntary law, will malpractice liability become so great as to practically choke off the market for juristic or enforcement services? There is, after all, something unique about litigation as a service, at least as it is known today. At or before the conclusion of almost every case, there is at least one highly dissatisfied party. At least in the United States of America, all too often all parties are highly dissatisfied, angry at the lawyers and judges involved, and ready to lash out. What would prevent such realities from malpractice claims in almost every case? This question is empirical, and actual results would vary based on many factors, for example, the cultural and sociological environment in which voluntary law is adopted. But there are reasons to think that the emotional experience of the parties under voluntary law would be vastly different and more satisfactory than what many experience under state laws, and malpractice claims would be the exception, not the rule. First, nobody could be sued under a law they did not previously personally adopt for themselves. Obviously, defendants would have much less reason to be dissatisfied with the law being applied, as it would be in their power to avoid undesirable laws. Second, jurists would not be immune from malpractice liability. Immunity is an affirmative defense, and would therefore generally not be available under TROTWET. In addition, competition with other jurists would tend to lessen availability of limits on malpractice liability under positive laws, which could otherwise apply. Therefore, jurists would take pains to as much as possible see that all parties are reasonably satisfied. If it became necessary to rule against a party in the interests of justice, for example by excluding evidence that a party wished to bring in, the jurist would be more likely to explain to the injured party why the ruling was necessary and obtain at least grudging acceptance of it. Third, jurists would be more active in promoting settlements, out of which malpractice liability would be less likely to arise. Fourth, if malpractice nonetheless became an unduly large systematic problem for all jurists, jurists as a group would adopt more restrictive liability laws, lessening their exposure as a group. Fifth, jurists would not be barred from forming associations or other collectives for promoting standards and reducing malpractice risks they face as a group. Sixth, competition for customers would in general tend to increase customer satisfaction, as can be seen in every free market regulated mainly by competitive pressure.

In addition, to reduce risk of malpractice liability, groups of jurists may offer a system of “appeal,” or other quality control measure, as part of their services. Claimants selecting such service group might agree that judgment is not considered final until all appeals or other quality control measures offered by their group are exhausted. Claimants might be willing to bring their business to service providers offering appeal or other means of quality control to reduce the risk of poor quality, unenforceable judgments. Other than appealing a decision to a new jurist or panel of jurists, quality control measures may include, for example, services such as random audits of juror performance, quality ratings, customer service ratings, and other measures. Competing service providers may be expected to develop innovative and cost-effective ways to rapidly resolve disputes over the quality of their judgments and enhance their own reputations as neutral, fair and competent jurists.
Might claimants choose forums where no appeal or other quality control is offered as part of the service, to avoid risk of reversal of an initial decision, or just to reduce expenses? Certainly, but generally in proportion to the confidence of the claimant in her claim, or inversely in proportion to the size of the claim. Claimants might tend to select more reputable, comprehensive juror services for difficult or important cases, and cheaper, less comprehensive services for easy or less important cases. Statist systems offer similar options to the claimant, in the form of different general and limited (e.g., small claim) courts. Often, limited courts have corresponding limited or no right of appeal, even in statist systems.

Claimants might be tempted to hire claimant-biased jurists who have adopted laws that do not recognize any malpractice liability. Such claimants might expect a ruling in their favor, and wish to deny the defendant the benefit of an opportunity to sue for judicial malpractice for bias. Defendants may avoid such tactics by adopting due process rules that require the jurist to adopt reasonable malpractice standards. Under Defendant’s Rule, defendants may thereby render facially invalid any judgment from a jurist lacking reasonable recourse, putting all reasonable enforcers on notice that the judgment is unenforceable as violating defendant’s due process rule. In response, the claimant might hire enforcers who disavow all malpractice liability, either by adoption of contrary voluntary laws, or by being outlaws. These enforcers would have little reason to care about the validity of the judgment, as they could not be sued for enforcing it.

In cases where negligent jurists and enforcers place themselves beyond reach of malpractice claims, the defendant’s legal recourse would be primarily against the claimant. Such claimant, having already ignored defendant’s due process rights, would not be entitled to any more protective due process than he has afforded to the defendant, and would be legally responsible for negligent enforcement of those he hired. Such a claimant might have adopted a law that does not recognize any liability for improper enforcement or other abuse of process. Such claimants would be publicly declaring themselves miscreants, although putting themselves out of legal reach.

As in the example of Cain, who adopted a law with insignificant penalties for murder, the defense against such miscreants is to extra-legally do unto them what they would do unto others. For example, the predatory claimant who denies all liability for abuse of process makes himself a target, under TROTWET, for abuse of process at the hands of the same jurists he would use against others. Those who would abuse process against him would do so without risk of legal liability and at no loss to their own reputations, as they would rightly be perceived as merely punishing a predator. Likewise, jurists or enforcers who hide behind voluntary laws denying liability for malpractice would make themselves targets for negligent judgments or enforcement by others, and their punishers would not need to risk legal liability or tarnish their more sterling reputations.

On the other hand, if jurists or enforcers have placed themselves beyond legal reach by purporting to rule on or enforce voluntary laws while being outlaws themselves, the defendant may take any desired extra-legal retribution against them, without any fear of liability under voluntary law. In considering this possibility, put out of your mind the idea of an outlaw as a ruffian or bandit. An outlaw may be a perfectly honorable person who merely chooses not to operate under voluntary law at all, and instead operates exclusively under some other legal system, for example, state law. Suppose, for example, that an arbitrator who is not a jurist nonetheless renders a judgment under voluntary law that has been voluntarily submitted to her. Recourse against a defective job by the arbitrator would be limited to actions available under the applicable state law. A judge appointed by the state (such judge being another species of outlaw under voluntary law) cannot hear a case under voluntary law, because such cases must be decided using processes and rules that are entirely unrecognized by, and alien to, the state and all state law. Recourse would be had under the law of outlaws.

Finally, people may choose to adopt voluntary due process laws that require winning parties to submit to a re-hearing or appeal of a specified type, after a first judgment. Although such legally-granted rights of appeal, as other due process rules, will necessarily be limited by the Defendant’s Rule and No Hypocrisy Rule explained in the previous chapter on due process, they might sometimes apply. Like other quality control measured, the extent to which due process requirements for appeal would be adopted cannot be predicted, and may vary with time, place, and changes in personal preferences.  Whatever the particular outcomes, it can be said with confidence that appeal, review, re-hearing, malpractice claims, stays of enforcement and other quality control measures for judicial process will be present in voluntary law societies, to the extent demanded by their markets, free of influence from any collective possessing a power to make laws or provide a legal shield to jurists or enforcers.

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