If you’ve read “The Nut” or other parts of this book and find it a bit impractical, you might be more of a practical sort than a philosophical sort of person. This book is not written for practical folks, because voluntary law is not yet a practical reality. It is still in a very early development stage, and may remain in development for a great many years. In fact, it may never be developed; only time will tell. Many thousands if not millions of person-hours of human labor will be necessary to bring voluntary law into the mainstream, fully developed and ready for widespread use by practical people.
This introductory book wrestles with fundamental moral and economic questions raised by restructuring of society and law based on principles of individual sovereignty and equality. It’s about the unglamorous work of digging the foundations for a new social order. It is a book for dreamers and peaceful revolutionaries. It is written for the most impractical of all people: those who believe that is possible to engineer fundamental changes in how human society is organized, using tools of purely non-coercive persuasion. It’s written for nutty people. Most people are not nutty, most of the time. But everybody can be a little nutty, at least once in a while.
If you are one of those usually-not-nutty people, this chapter is for you. It will suggest a few practical things for you to think about. After that, you can put this book down, at least until you are “in the mood for nutty.” Not everybody has the time or inclination to change the world, but at least after reading this chapter, you will have a sense of some of the practical goals that the dreamers and revolutionaries aim to achieve. If you think those goals are worthwhile, perhaps you will make your own practical contribution to making them a reality, without worrying too much about all the philosophical stuff. Nobody can really know how far any of these ideas will go, but one of the neat aspects of voluntary law is its power to have a positive impact on human society, even if only practiced in the most limited possible way.
Once put into practice, the concepts in this book will provide practical products and services to improve the quality of all human life. For instance, the problem-solving club — another name for a voluntary law society. Imagine you can join a club that provides you with big discounts on your insurance and legal bills. Membership in the club not only saves you a lot of money; it also makes resolution of serious disputes with other club members much faster. For example, complex divorces and business disputes are handled in a matter of weeks instead of years, for a small fraction of the cost of a lawsuit. Now imagine that membership in the club is free. To join, all you have to do is to agree that you will resolve all your disputes with other members of the club according to a relatively simple, easy-to-understand rule book that can never be changed without your consent, and make your agreement a matter of public record. You can quit the club anytime you wish, but then you will lose all of the benefits of membership. Imagine the club is very large and influential, yet has no dues, no officers, and is designed so that it cannot be owned or controlled by anyone.
Because membership and status of members in the club is a matter of public record, being a member of a club also provides you with access to a reliable “friend-finder” service. Imagine you can find other members of your club in every city, all over the world, using a free computer search. Imagine that you can also see a “reputation score” for every member of the club, based on how well the member has maintained her reputation as a trustworthy member of the club who faithfully follows the club’s rulebook. Perhaps you get reputation information by paying a small fee to a reputation service, or perhaps by using a free advertising-supported reputation service. Imagine that you can use the freely available membership information and reputation services to find new friends, customers and service providers around the world. Imagine that by building a reputation as a good and faithful club member, you can attract customers for your business and be successful, regardless of what university you went to or who you have political connections to. Imagine that new customers seek you out as a fellow club member, or as a member of a respected neighbor club, and having a good reputation as a club member is as good as gold.
Imagine that there was not just one club for you to choose to join, but many different clubs, together making up a sort of spontaneous, decentralized “freedom tree.” All of the clubs run the same basic way; they each just have a different rule book for resolving disputes. Some of the clubs have very well-known rule books and millions of members, others have rule books that although publicly available to everybody are not widely read, and have far fewer members. Some clubs have not changed their rule book in a great many years; other clubs change their rules from time to time, causing splits in their membership because not all members choose to follow the new rules. Imagine that your children or grandchildren can learn about the major clubs and the differences in their rules before they are twelve years old, and can rely on the information they learn as a child about the major branches of the “freedom tree” throughout their lives, because the club rule books do not need frequent updating. Imagine that the rule books of all the major clubs are accurately translated into every major world language. Imagine that you are free to change club membership as your views or life situation changes, or to start a new club by creating a variation on an existing rulebook. If you are really talented and dedicated, imagine you can write a whole new rulebook for a new club.
The spread of problem-solving clubs can create a new basis for toleration of different viewpoints, both inside of political boundaries, and across them. Imagine that the members of all of these problem-solving clubs recognize and respect the legitimacy of members of other clubs, in a manner similar to how citizens of nations respect citizens of other nations. Imagine that widely accepted, fair rules exist for resolving disputes between members of different clubs, based primarily on the rule books adopted by the people in the dispute and the time at which they joined the clubs. Imagine that people of different religions and beliefs use these rules to live consistently within their own beliefs while tolerating and doing business, if they choose, with members of other clubs that hold to different beliefs.
Since club rules are determined by individual selection, the rules tend to be quite stable and quite succinct. Contrast that to other forms of government, where new rules, regulations and laws are continually passed and imposed on the populace. The stability and succinctness of club rules makes it easier to assess the legal risks of various transactions between members of the same club, and even between members of different clubs. Imagine that this stability and clarity leads to the development of expert legal systems that are available online. Imagine that for answers to legal questions concerning club members, you can consult an automated legal oracle regarding your legal rights and obligations, and avoid the need to hire an expensive lawyer.
Imagine that the problem solving clubs become so popular and effective,that virtually everybody eventually joins one. Imagine that when this happens, wars between nations and terrorism become politically infeasible, because so many politicians, soldiers and civil military contractors are club members and do not want to ruin their reputations by killing or injuring other club members without justification. Imagine that when people realize that war is no longer possible, governments of the world evolve into voluntary, fee-for-service organizations serving the general public.
These are some of the practical services that voluntary law may bring about for you or your descendants. All of them are about making your life experience richer, deeper, safer, and more prosperous. All of them are aimed at enabling and protecting your personal empowerment within a community of equally empowered persons. All of them will make you happier and better off, without making anyone else worse off. Perhaps only some of these things are possible. Of course, the more distant, pie-in-the-sky outcomes do not need to become a reality to make voluntary law worth investing in now. Such outcomes are conceptually possible, but are not inevitable. Even if voluntary law does not become widely adopted enough to provide the greatest possible benefits, it can still provide benefits for a minority of people who choose to invest in it.
Another point: this is not an academic book. Like an engineering plan, this book straddles the practical and the theoretical; it is both plan and propaganda for social engineering. Although a great debt is owed to the academics who have written volumes about economics, non-aggression, anarchy and law, and so forth – great academics and visionaries like Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Ludwig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and many, many others, little or no time is spent tracing the historical development of the concepts underlying this book. No claim is made to originality, except for this one thing: the particular definition of voluntary law advanced in these pages, and the application of that blueprint as an invitation to begin building another, non-exclusive piece of the coming social order.
Changes in human society depend both on new technical capabilities and new ideas about what is humanely possible. Consider, for example, the development of the airplane. Human flight required both technical advancement in engines, and development of engineering concepts of the airfoil, making lift and drag quantifiable and predictable based on the characteristics of an airfoil and airspeed. It required both advances in enabling technologies, and new ways of thinking about flight. Similarly, the development of voluntary laws rests on advancement in wireless communications and computing technology, and new ways of thinking about law.
A better analogy to voluntary law may lie the development of open-source public registries, pioneered by Satoshi Nakamoto in the release of the Bitcoin application. This technology enabled the development of voluntary, decentralized trading networks centered around exchange of a stable electronic currency, by making it infeasible for governments to disrupt the public registry. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin represent but one application of block chain technology. Already, this technology is being applied in ingenious ways in other applications harnessing the power of decentralized voluntary networks. One such application, released in 2014, goes by the name of Bitnation, and is directed towards dispute resolution services within a voluntary network. Presently, Bitnation uses existing state-made laws, but is fully compatible with using stateless, voluntary laws. When such laws become available and are of acceptable quality, it is likely that networks such as Bitnation will make use of them.
Social networks like Bitnation are focused on providing an infrastructure for providing dispute resolution, enforcement and insurance services based on any law chosen by disputants. This book is concerned with a more foundational aspect — development of new and superior laws for the voluntary networks of tomorrow. As you read this book, you may come to understand why new laws are necessary, or at least, highly beneficial to voluntary dispute-resolution networks. You may come to understand why it is that existing laws, developed by and for state-based legal systems, are not optimal or even appropriate for dispute resolution in voluntary societies. And you may come to be persuaded that rules for dispute resolution within voluntary law societies need to have certain essential qualities to form a basis for coherent, workable laws within a voluntary framework.
New social orders require robust and coherent conceptual foundations. This book is directed at building up those foundations, by engaging you in a dialog about the nature of law in human society. It is hoped that positive engagement with this dialog will lead to a growing agreement about foundational concepts underlying law for voluntary networks. Such agreement will, in turn, lead to the development of conceptually sound rule books, which can be published and promoted as practical tools for providing dispute resolution services within voluntary networks. As these tools are adopted for use in existing and new service infrastructures, voluntary law will in time become a practical and widespread reality capable of providing the practical benefits that are spoken of, and more. Onward!