1. What is voluntary law?
“Voluntary law” is a new, made up term that refers to voluntarily adopted rules in any system of dispute resolution characterized by:
- No claim against another is legally enforceable unless the claim is permitted by a rule that has been voluntarily adopted, and not superseded by later adoption of a conflicting rule, by each defendant prior to the time when the events giving rise to the claim occurred.
- The identity of any person who has adopted a rule of voluntary law, the rules each such person has adopted, and the time when each such rule is adopted, is recorded and such record is publicly discoverable.
- A publicly discoverable set of rules is defined for just resolution of conflicting laws in the context of any arbitrary dispute, based principally on the content of the laws that are in conflict, and the times at which adopted by the parties to the dispute.
Voluntary law as promoted by VLDA is limited to natural persons. By definition, no corporation or state can adopt a voluntary law. Hence, any particular voluntary law cannot be recognized as “law” by state-based governments. For more details, please read the posts on our home page.
2. What is a voluntary law society (VLS)?
A VLS is any society subject to a defined body of voluntary law, in which membership is voluntary and personal to each member. Membership is not exclusive (meaning persons may freely belong to different VLSs), nor hereditary, nor determined by residence within territorial boundaries, nor by factors other than by voluntary expression of assent, unmotivated by coercion or fraud. A VLS is not generally a club in the sense of having a structure or qualifications for membership. Such clubs would not be forbidden from existing in a VLS, but a VLS is simply that group of rational, natural persons who voluntarily and expressly adhere to a common body of law. One joins a VLS simply by making a publicly accessible record adopting a particular published set of laws from a certain date until further notice.
3. How are laws made in a voluntary law society?
A VLS may make law in any method that the authors of its laws prefer. So who would these authors be? Any person writing laws that at least one person wants to adopt. Perhaps most such legislators would exist in independent organizations of a not-for-profit nature, perhaps in profit-seeking enterprises, or perhaps both types of organizations may be sources of good and useful laws around which VLSs would coalesce. Or perhaps most legislators would be individuals. There are no limits on who may express prospective laws; only limits on who may adopt them into law. Only natural persons can adopt voluntary laws, and only for themselves.
4. What if a VLS made really bad, unfair laws?
Everybody gets to vote with their feet. All that is required to change your own voluntary law is to make a record of public declaration. If a person finds that a particular set of laws is unacceptable and cannot be changed by whatever process the VLS affords, that person may easily “migrate” to a different VLS with laws more to their liking, and avoid dealing with people who adhere to unacceptable sets of laws. Of course, switching a VLS is not without consequences, nor could obligations created under one set of laws be escaped merely by renouncing previously adopted laws. No reputable justice court would allow someone to escape an obligation voluntarily accepted under a first set of laws merely by renouncing the old laws in favor of a new set of laws under which the obligation would be unrecognized. In such cases, it would be elementary for the new law to apply only to the creation of future obligations.
5. Why would anyone bother to join a VLS?
The essential reason to join a VLS is to gain access to the goods, services, and other benefits of belonging to a voluntary community with established rules and decentralized mechanisms for dispute resolution and reputation monitoring. Initially, just a few people will join VLSs because they have a philosophical interest, enjoy reading and writing voluntary laws as a hobby, see participation as a way to find like-minded people, or for other personal or ideological reasons. As voluntary laws grow and become better developed, private organizations may find them useful for dispute resolution and suggest that their members subscribe. Business people may join as a way to advertise and attract new business, and may find that VLS members make better customers who are less likely to sue them in government courts, and more likely to settle disputes efficiently using voluntary law. Likewise, consumers may find that businesses that make use of voluntary laws can provide better levels of service and, if reputable VLS members, are more trustworthy. Some businesses, for example sellers or service providers that provide good and services that are in demand but deemed illegal by governments, may refuse to do business with anyone who is not a member in an acceptable VLS. Over time, more and more services would be available to service voluntary law members, and more ordinary people would hear about the advantages of being a VLS member and decide to join.
Anybody can make and publish their own voluntary laws, but most people would leave law making to experts or specialists. By so doing they would inform others that they are responsible, fair-minded law-abiding people, without having to assume the burdensome task of defining a reasonably complete set of laws for the modern world. Without such assurances, nobody would do business with them. A person may declare before dealing with others that “I am a law unto myself and I renounce all other laws!” and so shall it be. Such a person is likely to be rather lonely and may find even bare survival difficult. In a free market of laws, we may expect a relatively concise number of standardized legal codes to emerge with well-understood differences between different standards, most of which differences could be resolved using standard conflict resolution modules. Many if not most people would prefer to adopt a standard, well-accepted law, at least for commercial transactions, so as to obtain access to larger markets. But nobody would be forced to do so, and more idiosyncratic VLS communities would exist side-by-side with larger, more standard VLS communities.
6. What about people who do not join any VLS at all?
If two or more parties find themselves in a dispute prior to which no party has made a prior express declaration of law, such parties must either agree on a common law for resolution of the dispute or resolve their dispute lawlessly. A person who has not joined any VLS cannot be forced to do so. Unless and until such a person voluntarily joins, a dispute with such person cannot be brought before a voluntary law court. It must be thrown out, if brought. So what happens? In today’s world, the VL outlaw can be sued in a court that claims the right to impose laws involuntarily, namely, a government court of some kind. If in the future no such government courts exist, disagreements with a VL outlaw would be resolved lawlessly. If only VL courts exist, a VL outlaw can find no legal protection until joining a VLS. It would be relatively cheap and risk-free to extract restitution from an outlaw, without any fear of legal repercussions. The outlaw’s only defense would be by force. Nobody would choose to be so vulnerable, when it could easily be avoided just by adopting a set of laws to the person’s own liking. Minors and mental incompetents would fall under the law of their parents or guardians until obtaining the status of capable person (e.g., adulthood).
7. How would people know which law has been adopted by those they do business with?
Any way that works, of course. But one distinct possibility is through a public registry linked to personal identities. Two persons contemplating entering a transaction could easily, quickly and discretely check the registry to see which VLS (or VLSs) the other party belongs to. This would enable each party to determine the legal risks of doing business with that person. Some people may choose to display certain symbols to indicate membership in particular VLSs, and no reasonable method of communication is likely to go unused.
8. Could people belong to more than one VLS without creating irresolvable conflicts?
There are many ways that would be possible. For example, through modularity of laws, a person may declare herself a member of VLS#1 for family law, VLS#2 for commercial transactions, and VLS#3 for tortuous and criminal conduct. There may occasionally arise conflicts between different modules, but authors of published legal systems may be expected to anticipate conflicts that can be foreseen and develop legal approaches for resolving such conflicts. A person might unintentionally or intentionally subscribe to different VLSs with expressly contradictory, irreconcilably different laws. In a system of competitive law-making, such occurrences would not normally arise in the absence of negligence or malice on the part of either the law-maker or the law-adopter. In most such cases any additional harm created by the ambiguity of publicly adopting logically irreconcilable positions would be borne by the negligent or malicious party.
9. What if members of a VLS forced people to join, stay or agree to their laws?
Then, by definition, it would no longer be a VLS. It might be a monopolistic government of some kind (monarchy, plutocracy, democracy etc.), or some other beast.
10. So who enforces these voluntary laws?
Voluntarily selected enforcement agents. Generally such agents would refuse, out of concern for their reputations and fear of malpractice liability, to take any enforcement action unless a judgment was first obtained from a reputable justice court. Reputation-certifying agencies might track and certify justice courts, enforcement agencies, voluntary law codes and individuals, using a variety of different metrics. Enforcement costs might be covered by independent insurance, subscription fees, use fees, fees contingent on damage recoveries, or some combination of the foregoing. Law enforcement to protect the poor and indigent might be provided by charitable organizations, mutual aid societies, contingent fee recovery mechanisms, and other means.
11. Isn’t this all just a pipe dream?
Not at all. These are numerous examples of private justice courts, enforcement agencies, legal systems, insurance companies and certifying agencies already at work in the world. So many in fact that it hardly seems necessary to provide examples here. In addition, the fact of interstate and international commerce proves that conflicts between different legal systems can be resolved without adopting a unitary law.
12. So how are VLSs any different?
See FAQs #1-2 above. VLDA was founded to promote the development of VLSs, with the goal of teaching and persuading people that governments claiming territorial monopolies on enforcement of law are unnecessary, and therefore inexcusable evils. The VLDA’s principle focus is on publishing hypothetical sets of voluntary laws. Once enough people understand the utility and practicality of voluntary legal systems, it is theoretically possible that similar laws will be put into practice by voluntary consent among increasingly larger numbers of people, and old-fashioned governments will either fade away or transform themselves into different voluntary market organizations operating under a VLS model. Whether or not it will ever happen, or how long it might take, only time will tell.
13. Is it legal?
The VLDA, either in this blog or elsewhere, does not provide legal advice regarding compliance with government laws, or any kind of service whatsoever. That said, the development of voluntary law enjoys, at least in the United States, the very strong free speech protections provided by the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Determining whether or not practicing any particular set of personal laws will come into conflict with the laws of the U.S. or any other traditional monopolistic government is beyond the scope of what we do. While the risk of conflict or illegality may be commented on in selected instances, the absence of such commentary does not mean that practicing the personal law will be free of illegality. Anyone practicing any of the laws published here (if any) assumes all the risk of doing so. The VLDA and all contributors to this blog make absolutely no warranty of any kind regarding any information published here.
14. How do VLSs differ from anarcho-capitalist societies?
Certainly, voluntary law draws heavily from theoretical ideas proposed for anarcho-capitalism, which might along with anarcho-syndicalism be considered its closest philosophical relatives. Both voluntary law and anarcho-capitalism renounce any central authority with power to make laws within collectively-defined borders (e.g., national boundaries). However, voluntary law differs from anarcho-capitalism in several important respects. First, voluntary law posits that no fundamental property right exists except each person’s right to own and control his or her own body. Other property rights can exist, but arise only by voluntary mutual consent between persons. In contrast, anarcho-capitalism recognizes other fundamental property rights, although debate exists as to what these rights consist of and how they arise. Accordingly, for example, anarcho-capitalism permits monarchy so long as the monarch holds a valid property claim to the land ruled over and does not hold subjects captive unless for violation of the monarch’s valid rights. Monarchy is not possible under voluntary law unless every one of the monarch’s subjects agrees voluntarily (without application of force or fraud) to be subject to the monarch’s rules. Second, voluntary law recognizes no law as morally valid or enforceable unless voluntarily adopted by the natural person to whom it is to be applied, and deprives every fictional entity (e.g., all corporations and governments) from participating in voluntary law as if it were a natural person. In contrast, anarcho-capitalism permits corporations and other collective fictions to make and enforce laws, so long as not claiming sovereignty over any territory the collective does not own.
15. But what about . . .?
Please submit any sincere unanswered questions you may have by posting a reply. Trolls wishing to argue that voluntary society is unworkable will not be responded to here. There are plenty of other forums at which such arguments may be aired.
Blog posts regarding voluntary law may be perused at our home page.