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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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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Due Process, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book), Voluntary Law

Due Process and Judgments

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Due process is at the heart of any legal system. It is what differentiates the rule of law from the arbitrary exercise of power, requiring legal process as a precondition to all coercive actions to restore property, exact revenge or punish damnable behavior. Voluntary law shares this basic attribute with idealized statist legal systems. It differs from statist legal systems in how due process is defined. Lacking any central authority, definition of due process in voluntary law emerges out of the power and responsibility of each individual to publish their chosen law. Failures to apply due process are recognized by comparison to minimum standards that are defined by the participants in the voluntary system.

For most civil dispute resolution, and absent an undue amount of meddling by governments, due process is easy. As due process provided by government courts has often failed to meet public demands, for those litigants able to afford alternatives, numerous private organizations have sprung up to provide it. Such market-based arbitration services have created their own rules for due process, directed at resolving disputes using a form of legal process agreeable to their clients. At least for clients possessing comparable economic power in the market for arbitration services, such privately made and voluntarily accepted rules for legal process are deemed fair and efficient.

Disputants under voluntary law are no less free to select a particular resolution service or set of private rules in advance of a dispute arising, for example as part of a contract. In other cases, litigants may elect to submit non-contractual disputes to private process, for various reasons. Resources for private due process already exist in many places, which are capable of resolving disputes under voluntary law, and willing to do so, for a fee. Voluntary law members may make use of these existing resources. The rules under which a case is decided make no difference to a private arbitrator. The private judge is as happy to decide the case under the rules of Mickey Mouse as under California law. The California courts may treat a private judgment rendered under the law of Mickey Mouse differently from one purporting to comply with California law, or may regulate private judges, but these aspects concern coexistence with state law, and are subjects for a different chapter.

A bit of housekeeping: this book refers to a voluntary law judge (or in the broad sense, a panel of judges) as a “jurist,” and a state-regulated private judge (or panel of judges) as an “arbitrator.” These labels are a bit “arbitrary” – pardon the pun – and merely serve to make distinctions when necessary. There is nothing to prevent a jurist from also being an arbitrator, or an arbitrator from also being a jurist; but not always at the same time. In a thriving voluntary law ecosystem, a great many jurists will not be arbitrators; some may choose to be.

Jurists are by definition ruling only on the published choices of the litigants, outside of state-based laws, and may be assigned to different judicial tasks depending on the applicable due process rules. For example, some jurists may operate more like a common-law judge, overseeing courtroom procedure and leaving the development of evidence and legal theories to the competing parties or their advocates. Others may operate more like civil-law investigative judges. Still others may operate more as mediators or peacemakers. Some may resemble or act as members of a jury. There are no particular constraints beyond the choices and expectations of the participants and other stakeholders, economic factors in the marketplace for judicial services, and basic elements of due process. New and more efficient ways of fairly resolving disputes may be developed and flourish in the environment of freedom from central authority that voluntary law provides. On the other side of the coin, the lack of central authority and established laws governing due process creates risk at the early stages of voluntary law development that should be recognized and managed.

Whatever task they are performing, jurists operate under rules determined entirely by the community of voluntary law members whom the jurists serve, without deviating from voluntary law. Accordingly, a state or other authority can have no power to determine who may, or may not, act as a jurist, or what due process under voluntary law must consist of. When a jurist breaks voluntary law to comply with a state or other collectively-determined law, she is no longer acting as a jurist, but as an arbitrator. If the jurist is able to rule on a case while complying both with voluntary law and with applicable state laws, any distinction between arbitrator and jurist is without a difference.

When the defendant and claimant agree on the choice of jurist, and do not contest the propriety of the process used by the jurist to arrive at a judgment, due process is easy. The voluntary choices of competent litigants are simply respected, without question. Not every case will be so easy. Problems arise when the litigants do not agree on the selection of a jurist or legal process, either because of disagreement or some mental incompetency. This chapter suggests some solutions to these fundamental problems of jurisdiction, venue and conflict of due process rules, which are not inconsistent with the basic principles of voluntary law. Other problems arise when a litigant alleges that the jurist was not neutral, did not follow the agreed process or erred in application of the law, and therefore arrived at an improper judgment. These problems are treated in the next chapter on juristic quality and appeal. Some less fundamental aspects of due process, for example, justice for the poor and judgment on unopposed claims, are discussed in Chapter Six.

Due process in the context of voluntary law raises distinctly different issues than due process under territorial governments. Unlike territorial monopolies on governments, participants in voluntary law systems need not be unduly concerned with protection of litigants from the overwhelming monopoly power of the state. Instead of struggling over what the definitive, proper standard of due process should be for government, voluntary law societies must deal with the question of how to deal with conflicting standards for procedural due process, and members’ failure to specify a standard.

Much has been written about procedural due process under statist models. The present introduction can neither fairly cover that legal landscape, nor begin to fully develop the even richer possibilities under voluntary law. Within the more limited scope of this introduction, a list of procedural due process elements by a respected statist judge makes for a worthy comparison. Federal Judge Henry Friendly once provided such a list: a unbiased tribunal; a notice of proposed action and grounds asserted for it; an opportunity to present reasons why the proposed action should not be taken; the right to present evidence, including the right to call witnesses; the right to know opposing evidence; right to cross-examine opposing witnesses; the right to a decision based exclusively on the evidence presented; an opportunity to be represented by counsel; a record of the evidence presented, and written findings of fact and reasons for the decision, prepared by the tribunal; a right of appeal; and at least for criminal trials, a right of public attendance. Henry J. Friendly, “Some Kind of Hearing,” 123 U. Pa. L Rev. 1267, 1310-11 (1975). Whatever the merits of such lists, they depend on beliefs that state-organized tribunals acting on matters of state interest can be unbiased, and that a state monopoly over judicial process is either desirable or necessary.

That is, those who place trust in state sovereignty assume that the first item in the list – neutrality – can be provided by authority of the state, at least if made sufficiently responsive to public opinion. Statists therefore are prone to busy themselves with identifying and debating the factors that procedural due process entails, and which the state should purport to implement uniformly. Indeed it is not hard to think of other items to add to such a list, and debate the exact form such factors should take. For example, factors such as a right to a jury trial, statement of applicable law, a convenient forum, a source of law independent of the tribunal, might be added to Judge Friendly’s list, in some form or another. However long or detailed such a list becomes, in actual practice each item is tainted beyond repair by bias in the tribunal. If the tribunal is biased, all other factors become mere props in a theatrical display for providing an appearance of due process where it cannot possibly exist. Naturally, no mechanism is better suited for ensuring that bias is inserted into due process, than one in which all right and authority, including judicial authority, is centralized in a monopolistic actor. Such centralization and subjugation of judicial authority to a central power source guarantees that the judges thereby empowered will never rule against whatever source grants them their power. The more centralized state judicial power becomes, the less neutrality can possibly be exercised, and the more fruitless theoretical discussions of due process factors are rendered.

On the other hand, if the tribunal is truly unbiased, wise in the understanding of applicable law, and seeking to do justice according to it, the tribunal may be trusted to flexibly adopt whatever due process tools serve the interests of the case. In the hands of a competent and neutral jurist, lists of due process factors are merely items in a flexible toolset for quality control. The particular tools in the toolset may vary from case to case, depending on the preferences of the parties. Voluntary law imposes no particular requirements on due process other than that 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. This law of conflict resolution applies to differences in standards for procedural due process, just as with substantive rights. Similar balancing principles, such as TROTWET, may be called into service, to deal with cases where the parties adhere to different rules of procedural due process. These principles are subject to a special precondition: just adjudication in every instance requires a neutral jurist competent to apply the applicable substantive and procedural laws, and determine what the evidence shows. The jurist cannot be biased or arbitrary. The law must be applied in a neutral and reasonable manner, or it is no law at all.

Fortunately, voluntary law maximizes the chances that adjudication will be both neutral and competent, by denying particular grants of judicial authority to any person or collective. Instead, any person desiring to be recognized as a jurist must earn a reputation for neutrality and competence in the application of law, by serving the needs of litigants in an open market. This open market is highly regulated by its openness to all providers, lack of entrenched market positions, and transparency provided by sharing of reputational information among law enforcers and litigants. Jurists who are unable to settle disputes efficiently and render durable judicial opinions are quickly flushed out by and replaced by more competent jurists. By definition, voluntary law prohibits any capture of the market for legal services, and by enforcing competition in the market for juristic services provides a reasonable basis for assuming, in the general theoretical case, that a sufficient supply of neutral and competent jurists will be available.

Therefore, the main due process issues in voluntary law arise out of conflicts between due process rules of disputants, and cases wherein one or both disputants fail to adopt any cognizable due process rule. To solve these problems logically, the significance of personal adoption of rules for legal process, in a legal system lacking central authority to establish due process rules, must first be understood. Consistent with personal sovereignty and voluntariness, a person adopting a particular set of due process procedures is telling other users of voluntary law what minimum process she will follow when prosecuting her own claims, and what she will likewise accept as sufficient if exercised against her. She cannot dictate to another what process must be followed when prosecuting a claim against her. Such dictatorial powers would undermine voluntariness, as expressed by the principle of Defendant’s Law introduced in the preceding chapter. The question for conflict of due process scenarios therefore boils down to this: what is the significance of judgment rendered after some due process that is less than acceptable to the defendant? What are the risks to persons enforcing such judgments? What difference does it make if the defendant has cooperated in the hearing of a case according to due process rules other than her own, without expressly waiving objections to the process used?

First and foremost, how can a claimant avoid all the uncertainty and headaches posed by these questions? Quite easily. Simply follow the defendant’s choice of due process rules, if she has made one prior to initiation of the action. If she has not made any choice, and if she will not agree to a reasonable process of law for resolving the dispute at hand, follow a standard set of rules that are conventional for persons in the circumstances of the defendant, based on the advice of a neutral and respected jurist. Do either of these, and avoid serious challenges to the desired judgment on due process grounds.
The defendant cannot hold others to a higher standard than he holds himself. That’s an expression of the No-Hypocrisy principle. Therefore any person who expects to ever find himself in the position of claimant will take care not to adopt overly-onerous due process rules. Even if restrictive due process rules are later abandoned in favor of a more liberal, prosecution-friendly set of rules, any hint of opportunism in the change will taint the changeling’s reputation and right to use the more liberal rules. If there has been any detrimental reliance by a defendant on a claimant’s prior adoption of stricter due process rules, the claimant cannot justly exploit any benefit of the more liberal rules against a defendant. In the usual case, there is no such benefit to be had from one’s own rules when pursuing a claim anyway, because it is defendant’s due process rules that receive priority consideration.

Moreover, a claimant who ignores his own stated due process rules to prosecute a case against another with more liberal due process rules blatantly commits a foul of hypocrisy, which will render any resulting judgment unenforceable. The principle of No-Hypocrisy cannot be ignored for due process rules without throwing the dispute resolution system into imbalance. These imbalances include encouraging any who are likely to be claimants and unlikely to be defendants to adopt overly restrictive process rules, at little personal risk. The imbalances further include requiring different process rules to be followed in cases involving cross-complaints where the parties have adopted different rules. If the No-Hypocrisy principle is applied, both the complaint and the counter-complaint will be decided under the more restrictive set of process rules, in a sort of TROTWET outcome. If the No-Hypocrisy principle is not applied, the claim and counter-claim are made subject to different and perhaps even conflicting process rules, raising difficult if not insoluble complexities for jurists, parties, and anyone who must evaluate the validity of the resulting judgments. These imbalances should be avoided.

Application of the No-Hypocrisy principle to due process rules does, however, raise the question of who should pay for the incremental cost of following a claimant’s more demanding due process rules, in cases where the defendant has adopted laxer rules. The answer is clearly and justly the defendant, because it is the defendant in this situation who holds the power to waive the claimant’s process rules and allow use of a less rigorous process. The defendant will make such waivers when she perceives the waiver to be in her own best interest. For example, if the stakes are not too high and the risks of losing are considerable, she may waive application of the No-Hypocrisy principle and allow a less expensive process to be followed, to reduce her exposure to litigation costs. Conversely, if the stakes are high and the risk of loss uncertain, and she therefore chooses to hold the claimant to claimant’s own higher standard, it is just to hold her responsible for resulting costs, if she loses despite the more rigorous process.

Voluntary law, resting as it does on recognition of the person as the sole and exclusive moral justification for sovereignty, demands foremost consideration to restitution over other forms of justice. Although restitution is not necessarily the exclusive principle of justice in voluntary law, an injured claimant cannot be restored to her original state without it. Nor can one negligently accused recover his losses unless the burden of legal process is shifted to the losing claimant. If only for the purposes of the present chapter, it may be assumed that in the general case, the loser will pay the process costs. More thorough treatment of “loser pays” has been done elsewhere and its application within voluntary law deserves more detailed consideration than can be given in an introductory book. It is mentioned here as a general principle of restitutionary justice that comes into play when considering balancing of conflicting due process rules. It is not presently proposed as an unbendable rule for all cases, whether or not such status is deserved. On the contrary, cost-shifting rules such as “loser pays” are well within the voluntary power of each person to choose.

Faced with the costs of overly protective due process rules as outlined above, the only reasonable people who will adopt extremely protective due process rules are those who know, or firmly believe, that they will never need to bring an action against another, nor will ever lose a suit brought by another and thereby be responsible for the costs of suit. Such persons will either be those who, for spiritual reasons, renounce all legal process and material possessions; or those whose extra-legal powers are so great that they see no need to follow any legal process, ever. Both such classes of persons will be outlaws by nature, and will not bother with the niceties imposed within voluntary legal systems, least of all subscribing to elaborate defensive process rules.

On the other hand, the voluntary law member who adopts overly non-protective due process rules is taking on risk with no commensurate benefit. Imagine, for example, a standard that appoints the claimant as sole jurist and requires submission by all defendants who cannot prove the falsity of the claim by verified video records. Such a person is declaring “open hunting season” on himself, at least by anyone with similarly lax process rules. In return, the only benefit received is the ability to pursue similarly litigious people in a sort of feeding frenzy. There may be a few people who enjoy this sort of high-adrenaline existence. If such people exist, their adoption of very loose standards will keep them well occupied litigating against each other. Their loose rules will provide them no benefit when bringing a claim or defending against a claim by another with more reasonable rules, under the principle of Defendant’s Rule.

There is, however, a great benefit to a person for adopting process rules that are efficient as well as just. Doing so will enable the person to waive more restrictive process when in the position of defendant it is prudent to do so, to avoid exposure to excessive litigation costs. Meanwhile, the efficient process is also available when pursuing a claim against others with similarly sensible rules. Care needs to be taken that justice is not sacrificed to efficiency, but voluntary systems will reward selection of just and efficient process rules, and allow development and discovery of such process rules through an environment of unrestricted innovation. This innovation will undoubtedly limit the ability of legal service providers to generate unnecessary fees. Such an outcome would be an unmitigated good. Economic and “game theory” pressures will tend to drive most people to adopt process rules that are believed just and efficient. These rules may be fairly sophisticated, and allow for different processes to be used for different types of cases – in a sort of analogy to distinctions between civil and criminal procedure in statist legal systems.

Selection of a jurist and forum for resolution of a dispute are aspects of due process rules. Voluntary law members will be discouraged from specifying overly narrow conditions for selection of a jurist and forum, lest they be held to those conditions when pursuing others, under the No-Hypocrisy rule. A further disincentive is provided by the same social pressures applicable to public adoption of substantive laws: members will not want to mark themselves as overly difficult to deal with. Overly lax requirements will likewise be avoided, for the same reasons as overly lax process rules. Exactly which requirements should apply to jurist and forum selection are unknown, and are free to develop and evolve under the same pressures favoring fairness and efficiency as other due process rules. Nonetheless, it is interesting to contemplate what transpires when claimant and defendant cannot agree on a selection of jurist or forum, whether or not the disagreement is reasonable. There are two basic situations: first, the claimant selects a jurist or forum that does not reasonably comply with the applicable process rules. A competent jurist will not willingly accept the case under such conditions, as it would sully the jurist’s reputation to render a judgment that is facially invalid. Second, the claimant selects a jurist or forum that does reasonably comply with the applicable process rules, and the defendant unreasonably objects. In the second case, a competent jurist will dispose of unreasonable objections, and preserve the validity of the process. In the first case, it may sometimes happen that no jurist or forum is available to hear a case. In such cases, the claimant may publish the claim and wait for the market to provide a suitable jurist and venue. There can be little doubt that current and prospective legal service providers would monitor published claims carefully, and rush to satisfy any substantial market demands.

Despite market pressure towards juristic economy, conflicts between process rules may nonetheless arise in the “great middle” between conflicting parties with different cultural or practical beliefs about what constitutes fair and efficient justice. The task of evaluating different process rules may therefore not infrequently fall to a voluntary law jurist. If defendant and claimant cannot otherwise agree on a set of due process rules to follow, the jurist must examine the different rules brought by each, and determine which of these is the more burdensome to claimant and more protective of defendant.

In many cases, protective burden may be directly correlated to economic cost. For example, three jurists are more protective than one, and about three times more expensive. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is more protective than preponderance of the evidence, and more expensive to prove. Lengthy and complex discovery rules are more protective, and also more expensive. It is difficult to think of more protective practical rules that are less expensive than laxer counterparts. Consider some impractical counter-examples: suppose one rule states that three jurists be used, all of whom must be unpaid volunteers, and the conflicting rule requires only one jurist and is silent regarding payment. In that case, the rule specifying one jurist is less burdensome, even if payment is made, because the example as stated does not require that the jurist under the second rule be paid. Supposing the second rule requires a minimum payment to the jurist, the answer is less clear.

These are the sorts of questions that may be analyzed and argued by professors in the law schools of the future, if voluntary law is ever adopted in a widespread manner. Entire schools of thought may develop to resolve these questions. Or not; perhaps these problems in practice will be few and readily solved, due to social and economic pressures for adoption of reasonable due process rules, a tendency for parties in conflict to agree on ad hoc process rules in most cases, or for other reasons. Nonetheless, the basic approach of adding up and comparing the total economic costs of different due process rules has an appealing simplicity and practicality that may encourage its use to resolve conflicts in process rules. Detailed approaches can and perhaps should wait for actual cases, before being developed much further. Conflict of process rules is peculiar to voluntary law, and there are few or no close analogs in traditional systems, which consistently apply the process of the forum claiming jurisdiction over the dispute. Therefore, new approaches will need to be developed to satisfy the demands of voluntary law.

Having considered an overall scheme for resolving conflicts between process rules in some detail, let us revisit the questions posed earlier in the chapter. What is the significance of judgment rendered after some due process that is less than acceptable to the defendant? Under the rule of Defendant’s Law, such judgments are not valid, presuming that “less than acceptable” means “not compliant with defendant’s publicly adopted process rules.” What are the risks to persons enforcing such judgments? If the non-compliance is or should have been apparent to the enforcer, the enforcer will be liable for negligently or maliciously enforcing a facially invalid judgment. What difference does it make if the defendant has cooperated in the hearing of a case according to due process rules other than her own, without expressly waiving objections to the process used? If the defendant has had an opportunity to object to the process followed, and has not raised any objection, this might or might not be considered as equivalent to express waiver, depending on local juristic customs or the stated voluntary law of the defendant. If the customs or stated laws clearly require an express waiver of defendant’s process rules, the claimant who proceeds without obtaining such waiver does so at his own peril.

What about failures to adopt any due process rule?  If the defendant has neglected to specify any due process standard, it is much more difficult for her to reasonably complain about being subjected to a legal process not too her liking.  If both parties have neglected to adopt any due process rules, they will have to agree on a process for resolving the dispute at hand, or forgo access to a legal resolution.  Virtually everybody will adopt default process rules, once these realities are understood.  There is no reason not to.  If the failure is due to some mental disability, this is a special case.  Treatment of mentally disabled people is discussed in Chapter Six, but the solution lies along the lines of delegating legislative power for the disabled person to an advocate, such as a parent, spouse, guardian, or partner, capable of adopting an appropriate law on the disabled person’s behalf.

To summarize, the power to accept or reject due process rules remains within the sovereign power and responsibility of each person, under voluntary law. Expert jurists may sometimes develop and promote due process rules, and may even require their customers to accept their rules as a condition of hire in particular cases. Nonetheless, due process law remains within each individual’s sovereign power. This power, exercised in a decentralized unencumbered free exchange of laws and legal services, may be expected to lead to development of more just and efficient processes for administration of justice.

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Dispute Resolution

Libertarian Dispute Resolution

This news is a bit old, but still relevant.  Kudos to George Donnelly for attempting to resolve a dispute using libertarian principles.  Read about it here.  Related story here.

This sort of voluntary process lacks key elements, without which it cannot be effective.  Namely, a discernible community of some consequence from which to eject outlaws, an applicable set of laws for resolving the dispute based on libertarian/agorist principles without entangling any statist institution, and some effective and fair process for ejecting outlaws from the community if needed, after judgment on the dispute has been rendered by a credible, neutral dispute resolution service.

VLDA is dedicated to developing and promoting the aforementioned laws.  The rest will follow, or is already here.

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