Conflict of Laws, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book)

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

Balance of Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coexistence, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book)

Coexistence With Other Legal Systems

catsandcrows
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

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Conflict of Laws, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book), Voluntary Law

Modularity and Conflicts Between Voluntary Laws

Califonia Codes
Modularity is a familiar feature of law, under whatever authority it is developed. Depending on the history and culture out of which law arises, it is conceived as being divided into different, non-overlapping subject areas. These subject areas are then codified, reflecting the cultural expectations out of which the law arises. The division into different subject areas is useful for efficient administration of justice, among other things. Legal specialties can evolve, and by the economic force of comparative advantage operating through division of labor, more efficiently resolve legal questions. Subject divisions are also used for political purposes, to enable favored entities to capture particular areas of law while leaving other areas open to greater competition. Although resistant to political capture, voluntary law shares a potential for modularity with other forms of law, and can also be divided into subject areas.

Were this all that could be said about modularity, it might be of relatively scant interest. Within the field of voluntary law, however, modularity looms large as a tool of importance for resolving legal conflicts. Voluntary law is capable of exploiting a much more finely-grained and sophisticated modularity than we are used to seeing in traditional legal systems, for new purposes. These purposes include efficient conflict resolution among arbitrarily large sets of conflicting laws. To illustrate, suppose a million different strains of voluntary law are in use by a billion different persons speaking a hundred different languages. That’s a lot of variety. In such an environment, a jurist might practice law for a lifetime without ever encountering a dispute involving exactly the same sets of laws.

How could a jurist manage to be expert in such a great variety of laws? Wouldn’t such a system be prohibitively inefficient and expensive? Not necessarily. It all depends on the information tools available. If the million different voluntary laws can be translated into a uniform logical language to create expressions that can be mapped onto a hierarchy of finely-grained subject areas, the process might go something like this: The claimant identifies the law on which the claim is based. The defendant identifies affirmative defenses. The jurist, assisted by automatic translation algorithms, translates the submitted laws into the uniform logical language. Once the submitted laws are translated, the jurist assisted by automatic mapping algorithms maps the laws into the subject area hierarchy. Broader, more general laws may map into more than one subject area category, and more particular laws into fewer areas, or into only one subject area. Using the subject area hierarchy, the jurist identifies the corresponding laws adopted by each of the adverse parties, and any earlier laws adopted by the parties in the same subject areas. If there are no corresponding laws found, the jurist may determine that one of the parties is an outlaw in the subject area and inform the parties that the case cannot proceed unless the parties agree on the law to be applied. If corresponding laws are found, the jurist applies a conflict of law analysis, for example TROTWET, to identify the applicable laws of the case.

What might cause a million different voluntary laws in a hundred different languages to be capable of translation into a uniform logical language? No special cause is needed; the capability is inherent in the semantic character of language itself. Some expressions may be more easily translated than others. Economic pressure would cause most laws to be expressed in a readily translatable form, because choosing such forms saves resources (e.g., money) without putting any constraints on what may be expressed. Providers of services for conveniently selecting and publishing adoption of voluntary laws would, under market pressure, offer services enabling virtually any law to be expressed in a form that can readily be translated and mapped onto a standard hierarchy of subject areas. If they did not, other providers would eventually replace them.

Some laws may include semantic content that is not found in other laws, which therefore cause the law to be mapped to a unique subject area. For example, the laws of Amazonian jungle tribes might include concepts with no equivalent meaning outside of the Amazon, such as laws relating to things or events that are peculiar to that river basin or culture. Laws that exist in a unique subject area cause every person not adopting the law to be an outlaw in the subject area. To avoid inadvertently falling into an outlaw status, a prudent traveler might prepare for a journey by researching unique subject areas that are predominate along the planned trail, and adopting suitable laws in those subject areas beforehand. In the alternative, a reasonable traveler, if unexpectedly sued under a unique law in a place where the unique law is customary, might agree to resolution of the dispute under the customary law instead of taking chances on extra-legal resolution in a strange location.
If a law in a unique subject area is not customary, a defendant sued under the odd law would have little incentive to agree to resolution under it, and might happily remain an outlaw in the odd subject area.

To use a rather silly example, suppose “Jester” adopts an odd law that any person found with more than a tenth gram of lint in their navel must pay a fine to the discoverer of the lint. He goes about the beach with a portable scale, discovering navel lint and serving notices of complaint to the bathers. No reasonable bather would bother responding to such a complaint, presuming Jester is alone or nearly alone in adopting what is truly an odd law. The reputation of an outlaw stings only when the subject area is customarily a subject of law. Depending on Jester’s law and actions, some might respond by suing him for something akin to malicious prosecution, invasion of privacy, or assault. Navel-gazers like Jester gain nothing but notoriety and increased risk of liability by complaining over legal oddities. However, to be socially fashionable, funny, or for other non-economic reasons, some might choose to respond to news of Jester’s odd exploits by proactively adopting their own laws on the subject of navel lint, for example, defensive laws expressing that no fines or other liability shall be assessed for navel lint, regardless of amount, or retributive laws assessing fines for examining the navels of others without express written permission. Given the ease with which voluntary laws can be adopted, and the character of wit at play, a degree of harmless frivolity should be expected to naturally arise. More significantly, as social consciousness evolves laws in subject areas initially thought to be odd may grow in popularity to become customary, and customary subject areas may grow to become odd.

It might be wondered whether a logical dilemma arises when a broadly-written law spanning several subject areas is asserted against a defendant (or conversely, a broadly-written affirmative defense is raised against a complainant) who holds more particular laws categorized in separate subcategories. Which of these more particular laws should the jurist select as the opposing law? There is actually no dilemma, assuming the jurist analyzes the case under TROTWET. If the complainant’s law is broader, the complaint must be decided under the particular subject area of defendant’s law that is most applicable to the facts of the case. Therefore the complainant’s broader law will apply only if it results in less liability than defendant’s law, under the facts of the case. Conversely, if the defendant’s law is broader, one of complainant’s laws that is applicable under the facts of the case will apply only if resulting in less liability than defendant’s law. If laws held by the same party in different subject areas are equally applicable to the case and result in exactly the same liability, it makes no difference which is applied. The same analysis applies for affirmative defenses, the only differences being that the most applicable one of complainant’s more particular laws will govern the choice of law when the complainant holds more particular laws, and as between complainant’s and defendant’s laws, the affirmative defense that results in the greatest liability for the defendant is the chosen law.

As illustrated by the foregoing, modularity in voluntary law provides the important function of enabling efficient conflict resolution among adopted laws of arbitrarily large diversity, guides development of law by motivating the development of standard subject area hierarchies and readily-translatable forms of expressing laws, and facilitates social experimentation both in defining new legal subject areas and phasing out archaic subject areas. It cannot be imagined beforehand what forms these evolving new aspects of voluntary law might take, in any but the vaguest form. It is hoped that these words will help others glimpse the potential for amazing new forms and expressions of law that will only faintly resemble the oppressive laws of the present day, and that will enable the light of justice to shine more brightly than possible ever before. Modularity has other uses in harmonizing with non-voluntary legal systems, which will be discussed later.

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Conflict of Laws, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book), Voluntary Law

Resolving Conflicts Between Voluntary Laws

Weaker tool 3

People by nature hold different moral and cultural preferences, often very deeply so.  In a system that enforces the principle that no law is legitimate unless previously voluntarily adopted by the person on whom it is enforced, people holding to different voluntary laws therefore must coexist.  These people are not separated from one another by territorial boundaries.  Conflicts between people holding to different laws are  inevitable, in such systems.  If two persons cannot agree on the law to apply in a particular case, or a way to settle disagreement on the applicable law, they are foreclosed from access to the law.  Generally accepted “default” conflict of law rules are fundamentally useful, in the absence of any particular agreement on the matter.  This chapter discusses some of the possibilities and advocates for one approach to resolving conflicts believed to be optimal in both moral and practical senses.

Voluntary law without any universal conflict of law principles is feasible, but would restrict operation of each law to a single society of people who have adopted the same law.  The power of voluntary law to expand beyond the narrow scope of traditional private law and eventually displace current collective monopoly forms of governance depends in large part on widespread understanding and acceptance of universal (or “nearly universal”) principles for resolving differences between the voluntary laws brought by parties to a dispute.

In addition to conflicts between voluntary laws, conflicts may also arise between voluntary law and state laws.  The former type – voluntary law conflicts – are capable of being resolved entirely within voluntary legal systems.  The latter type concerns coexistence with state systems, which is a different subject entirely and treated in a different chapter.

In a legal system with no territorial authorities, wherein each person is free to choose her own law,  is it possible for rules resolving differences between laws to exist that both prevent the imposition of laws on those who reject them, and do not undermine justice?  This can be approached as a problem of game theory.  Superficially, it might seem that no fair solution could exist.  The possibility for unresolved conflicts of law is a stumbling block that might prevent many from considering voluntary law as a viable legal system.  But it takes just a little thought to see that the conflict problem in voluntary law can be solved by logical consideration of personal incentives in the context of social behavior.  It just requires thinking about law in ways that most people are not accustomed to.

The inquiry into a suitable solution begins with the  standard of justice.  Justice requires reciprocity, meaning that each are judged under the same measure as each would judge others. That whatsoever a person metes out, is meted back.  The opposite of reciprocity is hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy exists whenever people would apply different rules to the conduct of others than they would apply to their own.  Hypocrisy undermines justice.  If everybody follows the same law, which is always applied with perfect justice and uniformity, hypocrisy cannot exist.  Under an authoritarian system, it can be pretended that the same law is imposed on all. This is a logical solution to hypocrisy, although horribly idealistic and impractical. Those in power are never subject to the same laws they impose on others, either openly by making laws that will never be applied to themselves, or secretly by corruption. In a system of voluntary law societies, the fiction and fantasy of equal justice under one standard law is rejected.

Instead, members of voluntary law societies will sometimes face the dilemma of choosing the law to apply in a dispute between persons who hold to conflicting laws, without consideration of any overriding territorial authority contrary to the published voluntary choices of the parties. Under the basic principle of voluntaryism, we must generally apply the defendant’s law to prevent the defendant from being judged by a law she did not adopt.  This might be called the principle of “Defendant’s Law.”  The claimant has no right to expect that others must follow his law, but only that the defendant should follow the law that she has openly adopted.  The requirement to apply the defendant’s law opens the door to opportunistic adoption of law in pursuit of hypocritical ends, by overly clever prospective defendants.  For example, a person who owns no property of a certain type may refuse to recognize property of such type held by others, up until the person acquires such property, and which time the person adopts a law respecting the property type.

To disincentivize opportunistic adoption of law by persons set on reaping a harvest of hypocrisy, defendant’s rule can be tweaked to impose the most severe law — the “Law of Greatest Liability” — adopted by the defendant at any time since just before the legal complaint at issue first arose.  Defendant’s “choice” should not be based on an opportunistic selection made with a particular claim in mind. Instead, the choice should be determined by which law or laws the defendant has adopted at any time since just before the earliest event giving rise to the claim, or since some other earlier time.   For example, a person who changes their law to recognize a new class of property or other rights that the person previously trampled on might open herself up to claims based on the new law for her past conduct back as far as the applicable statute of limitations reached.  If so, anyone planning to change their adoption to recognize a new class of rights would take care to avoid infringing those rights for a sufficient period of time before such change.

These two principles, combined as “Defendant’s Law of Greatest Liability” rule are a serviceable start.  This rule creates disincentives for opportunistic adoption of lenient laws to escape liability for planned evil deeds.  Some potential for unfairness or abuse remains, however.   Under this rule, persons adopting more severe laws are vulnerable to being sued by those who have made themselves invulnerable, or less vulnerable, by adopting less severe laws.  Allowing claimants to hold others to more severe standards than they hold themselves would create too much pressure for all to adopt laws of minimal or no liability.  If all did so, the usefulness of the law for proscribing appropriate remedies for wrongs would be undermined, and the law’s ability to provide incentives for legal settlement instead of extra-legal direct retribution would be destroyed.

To avoid this outcome, claimants may be barred from enforcing any law of greater liability than the claimant has adopted. This might be called a “No-Hypocrisy” rule.  Such a rule would prevent people from reaping the benefits of a law that they themselves do not recognize. The No-Hypocrisy rule holds, in other words, that if (and only if) the “Defendant’s Law of Greatest Liability” results in greater liability than the “Claimant’s Law of Least Liability,” then the dispute must be decided under the “Claimant’s Law of Least Liability.”

Generally speaking, applying the “Defendant’s Law of Greatest Liability” and “No-Hypocrisy” rules together is almost logically equivalent to simply applying the law of least liability between plaintiff and defendant in any given circumstance, but not exactly so. For if the plaintiff’s “law of least liability” results in greater liability than the defendant’s “law of greatest liability,” then the defendant is held to the law of greatest liability adopted by defendant during the relevant time period, which may result in greater liability than some less severe law adopted by defendant during the relevant time. Nonetheless, except for the foregoing circumstance, it will usually be the case that the least severe law held by claimant or defendant during the relevant time period will be the law applied.

It is therefore convenient if not completely accurate to refer to this system for resolving differences between laws as the “Rule of The Weakest Tool.”  Each party to a dispute may bring “offensive” weapons, that is, laws that entitle the party to some form of legal relief, sometimes called “positive laws.”  The claimant brings a claim based on some law adopted by the claimant, and the defendant will either have some some law covering the same issues, or will not recognize the legal right claimed by the other party entirely.    Each party to the dispute may bring “defensive weapons,” sometimes called “affirmative defenses,” that provide exceptions to positive laws.  Under the Rule of the Weakest Tool, the jurist examines the positive laws and affirmative defenses brought to the conflict’s “weapons pool,” excluding all but defendant’s strongest positive law, claimant’s weakest positive law, defendant’s weakest affirmative defense, and claimant’s strongest affirmative defense from the pool.  In many cases, the parties will not bring multiple weapons of the same type to a conflict.  In such simpler, more typical cases, the jurist’s job is easier.  There is less or nothing at all to exclude from the pool, which simply contains the applicable laws from each party.

For positive law, the weaker law is the one that, when applied to the facts of the case, would result in the lesser liability for the defendant.  For affirmative defenses, the weaker law is the one that results in greater liability for the defendant;  that is, the weaker defensive law is the weaker shield.  From the case’s “weapons pool” the jurist selects the weakest positive law, and the weakest affirmative defense, as the law of the case.  Where the weaker of two laws is unclear at the outset of a case, the case may be tried under both laws and the weaker law identified after liability under both laws have been calculated.

A refusal by the defendant to recognize the positive right claimed by the claimant will negate that right entirely, assuming that the refusal complies with “Defendant’s Law of Greatest Liability” and with the requirements for effective adoption of voluntary law.  The refusal need not be expressly stated.  It may be inferred from a silence of sufficient clarity on the right in question.  For example, a statement that no property right can be attached to information of any kind is as effective as a law that recognizes rights to tangible property only and is completely silent on all other types of property right, when it comes to negation of intellectual property law claims.

Under the Rule of the Weakest Tool, all parties have an incentive to adopt sufficiently severe laws to afford themselves reasonable remedies for infringement of the rights they care about.  When people adopt laws that provide for reasonable penalties, they provide an incentive for those they have wronged to seek legal remedies instead of extra-legal remedies.  Having stated the rule, some examples will help illustrate its operation.

Suppose, for example, that Cain adopts a law in which there is little or no penalty for murder, and then murders Abel (who, like all of his family, has adopted a law with severe penalties for murder).  In such case, Abel’s family can legally find no justice or satisfaction under Cain’s law. They may, however, extra-legally murder Cain in retribution, without putting themselves at any greater risk of legal liability than Cain. Anyone bringing a legal action on behalf of the slain Cain would be limited to the “law of least liability” adopted by Cain during the relevant period, which is the time from just before Cain murdered Abel until Cain was himself murdered by Abel’s avengers. It’s quite easy to see why Cain could not rationally expect that adopting an overly lenient law would be of any personal benefit in securing his own safety and happiness.

Such would be true, unless by some extraordinary means Cain is immune from being murdered. Acquiring such immunity may be presumed impossible without the intervention of a state or similar evil.  When an aggressor is practically immune to retribution (for example, by being “judgment proof”), the “impossibility problem” is at work.   The impossibility problem primarily comes up in the context of property claims but not, in any practical sense, in the context of claims for bodily or personal harms.  Impossibility of retribution may be a problem even for personal safety, where state or state-like (e.g., organized crime) powers grant practical immunity from extra-legal retribution.  But this is a problem caused by state aggression; it is essentially a problem of dealing with outlaws, and is not a problem between people who follow the principles of voluntary law.

The more interesting problem that exists more squarely within the context of voluntary law is that of differing property rights.  In this area, voluntary law provides new and flexible solutions to age-old problems rooted in property claims. The impossibility problem is a present reality for claims based solely in property rights, for the simple reason that not everybody holds the same types of property. While virtually everybody has personal property of some kind, some may own no real property (e.g., land), or no “intellectual property.” Consider, for example, the case of copyright. Creators of books and so forth might prefer the ability to make claims against those who copy their works without permission.  Some consumers of creative content, on the other hand, might generally favor no such penalties for copying the works of others. Under the principle of reciprocity, there is no way for a content creator to enforce a copyright claim against someone who refuses to adopt copyright law.  The prior chapter pointed out how the publication requirement nonetheless provides the content creator with certain protections from those who refuse copyright laws, because voluntary law society members who reject copyright laws must identify themselves. Whether that outcome is good or bad, it provides an example of the impossibility problem at work.

What about people who reject all real property claims, even personal property claims?  Again, the publication requirement provides a check against insincere adoption of property laws.  Suppose Willy the Wanderer adopts a law that rejects all real and personal property laws.  Such a person is inviting theft – actually, such person does not recognize theft as a possibility.  Willy therefore cannot be charged with trespass or theft, but neither can obtain protection of the law for any belongings that others may desire, and will be left only with things that nobody else wants.  If you do not want Willy sleeping in your house, lock the door — he will be unable to acquire the tools to break and enter.  If you find him sleeping in your unlocked garage, he cannot be charged with an offense under voluntary law.  You might have to lure him out with the promise of a hot meal, and then secure the garage, if you please.  If he defends his possession of the garage with force, he is breaking his own law, and if he threatens you in the process it may well excuse you from bodily harm to Willy caused by your actions in self-defense.  If you evict him from the garage with force, you will be responsible only to the extent you have physically harmed his person in the process, without justifiable excuse.  Is this balance of rights and obligations such a bad outcome?  Does it not leave legal room for the the homeless to exist in the undefended spaces, with their personal dignity intact?  Is it not in large part how the humane parts of the world work, anyway?  This extreme hypothetical is actually fairly easy.  Few people would go to the extreme of Willy the Wanderer in their choice of law, but the small minority who did would be free to wander at the risk only of their personal property.  And most sensible wanderers would respect personal property rights, at least.

The best law to be applied when an affirmative defense is raised is not quite so clear. Should the defendant be allowed to raise all the affirmative defenses allowed under the defendant’s law? Or should the defendant be limited to those affirmative defenses that are permitted under claimant’s law? As formulated above,the Rule of The Weaker Tool deprives defendants of their chosen affirmative defense, limiting them to the claimant’s affirmative defense if it is weaker than theirs.  This apparent deprivation of the defendant’s voluntarily adopted law is not what it seems.  The following example illustrates why.

First, a little background. An affirmative defense is like an excuse that excuses defendants from responsibility for their actions. For example, self-defense or defense of others can be an affirmative defense to battery or murder. Necessity can be an affirmative defense to trespass. Many other affirmative defenses are possible.

Affirmative defenses may be distinguished from positive laws on the basis of which party has control and responsibility for choosing and proving the elements of the action at hand. If the claimant is required to select and prove that all requirements are satisfied, the action is a claim under positive law. If this responsibility is on the person defending to escape liability for the claim, the action is an affirmative defense.  It is evident that the distinction is procedural, suggesting this exact distinction may not always apply depending on the chosen procedural rules.  Nonetheless, it should be fairly clear in almost every case whether or not a law is being used offensively as a basis for a claim, or to defend against the claim of another.  The incentives will be the same regardless of hair-splitting over how best to arrive at the proper classification.

Which law should determine the affirmative defenses to a claim, claimant’s or defendant’s? Let’s start with a couple of counter-examples based on the same rule as for positive laws: we shall suppose, for the sake of illustration, that defendant’s affirmative defense applies, unless applying claimant’s affirmative defense would result in less liability for defendant. Let’s see how this approach plays out in a couple of scenarios.

Scenario A: Fanatic, who has adopted a law stating that any harm committed to prevent an imminent abortion is justified defense of others, hides in an abortion clinic and injures Sawzall, an abortion doctor, just as Dr. Sawzall is about to perform an abortion. The doctor seeks a legal remedy for the attack, and had previously adopted a law that does not recognize the defense of a fetus in cases where an abortion is elected by the mother. Fanatic raises his intended defense under the rule of defendant’s law  for affirmative defenses, and the doctor is unable to recover for his injuries.

Scenario B: Luckless owns no property of significant value and adopts a law permitting poverty as an affirmative defense against continuing trespass. He then takes up residence in Rich Brother’s spare vacation house. Rich, of course, has adopted a law that does not recognize poverty as an affirmative defense to trespass but does recognize defense of property as an affirmative defense against claims based on coercive removal. Rich Brother cannot legally evict or obtain any damages from Luckless, who successfully raises poverty as affirmative defense to the claim of trespass. This is so, even if Luckless recognizes Rich Brother’s underlying property claims. Under Luckless’ rule, poverty is a complete defense depriving the property owner of any legal remedy for the trespass.

The result is the same as if Luckless had adopted a law that does not recognize rights in excess real property. Under the Rule of The Weakest Tool, Rich’s trespass claim would fail because his property right in the vacation home would not be recognized as valid under Luckless’s law. Either way, Rich has no legal remedy. Rich’s only option, apart from tolerating Luckless, is to physically remove Luckless extra-legally and plead the affirmative defense of defense of property in case Luckless brings a claim for damages based on the removal action. Rich can use any method he likes to carry out the extra-legal eviction, supposing he has adopted a law in which defense of property is a complete defense to any claim of excess force. So if Rich Brother shoots Luckless in both legs and throws him out the third-floor window, tough luck for Luckless. If Luckless were to sue for the violent removal, Rich Brother would obtain the benefit of both his positive property law and his affirmative defense, and escape all liability.

The foregoing examples illustrate the problem of impossible problem at work, working obvious injustice and incentivizing predatory behavior. Fanatic will never perform an abortion and therefore has no concern about the fetal defense excuse ever being raised against a claim he might make. Luckless owns no property and likewise has no reason not to adopt poverty as an affirmative defense to claims based in property; conversely, Rich has no reason not to adopt defense of property as an absolute affirmative defense.

For comparison, let’s see how the Rule of The Weaker Tool plays out in another scenario involving affirmative defenses.

Scenario C: Assume Defender, who has adopted a law stating that any harm committed to prevent abusive injury to a child is justified defense of others, becomes aware that Abuser has imprisoned Abuser’s own children and is beating them bloody every day. Defendant executes a daring rescue, freeing the children, but unavoidably injuring Abuser and destroying part of his home in the process. Abuser seeks a legal remedy for the attack, having long adopted a law that does not recognize defense of others as an affirmative defense, in cases where person being defended against is a parent of those being defended. Under the Rule of The Weaker Tool applied to affirmative defenses, Defender therefore cannot raise his intended defense, and must compensate Abuser for his injuries and property damage. Meanwhile, assuming Defender recognizes the affirmative defense of self-defense, Defender cannot recover from Abuser for any injuries inflicted by Abuser in reasonable self-defense.

This may not seem to be a very satisfactory result, but is not at all as bad as it seems. The hypothetical intentionally portrayed Abuser as unsympathetic to play with the reader’s emotions, to encourage clarity of thought. What if Defender mutilated everybody who so much as raised their voice to their children? Applying claimant’s rule of affirmative defense simply creates incentives for Defender to exercise care while rescuing children. Abuser may not deserve to be treated with care, but that is not the point. The point is that a legal system that permits Defender to effectively appoint herself judge, jury and executioner upon the general public will create an unbalanced and hazardous society.  The law should certainly not prohibit Defender from her meritorious deeds in defense of others, but should also provide her with incentives to act with care while doing what she perceives as good.

Of course, Abuser cannot claim a right to abuse anyone including his own children against their will under voluntary law, because such a law would clearly violate the principles of personhood and voluntaryness.  Abuser may therefore be held fully liable under claims brought on behalf of his freed children. The issue is limited to whether Abuser may exploit the Impossibility Problem to deprive Defender of her affirmative defense, when she seeks to defend Abuser’s children.

Suppose the Rule of The Weaker Tool still applies, and the tables are turned: Abuser attacks to defend Defender’s children (assuming Defender has become an abuser). Shall voluntary law permit Abuser to gain the benefit of Defender’s affirmative defense? The No-Hypocrisy Rule would say no. Because Abuser has adopted a law that would result in greater liability, Abuser cannot receive the benefit of Defender’s affirmative defense that would result in less liability, if sued by Defender.  Abuser must be judged under the same affirmative defense that he would permit for those he makes claims against, unless doing so would permit the claimant to enjoy greater benefits than afforded by claimant’s own law on affirmative defense.  In other words, when raising an affirmative defense, defendant must do so under claimant’s law, unless defendant’s own law provides a weaker affirmative defense than claimant’s.

These examples illustrate how reciprocity, without hypocrisy, creates incentives for people to adopt laws of affirmative defenses that will not deprive them of a similar defense if ever needed.  They illustrate the benefits of the Law of The Weaker Tool applied for affirmative defenses as well as positive laws, with the meaning of “weaker tool” suitably adjusted. This should prevent injustice and predation in personal injury cases, where impossibility of reciprocity is not a problem.

In property cases, where impossibility of reciprocity is a common problem, the effects of the proposed rule should be examined. To that end, it is helpful to revisit Scenario ‘B’ discussed above: Luckless versus Rich Brother. Under the Rule of The Weaker Tool, if Rich Brother sues Luckless, who recognizes Rich Brother’s property right to his spare home but has adopted poverty as an affirmative defense, Luckless is limited to Rich Brother’s affirmative defenses which do not include poverty. Rich Brother can therefore obtain an order to legally evict Luckless from his vacation home.

However, if Luckless has adopted a positive law that does not recognize any property interest in, say, any home not resided in for at least 50% of the time in any given year, Rich Brother will lose unless he resides in the home for at least half of the time. Supposing Rich Brother loses on positive law and decides to evict Luckless extra-legally by drugging Luckless and transporting him 1000 miles away while drugged (and then changing all the locks on the vacation home). If Luckless subsequently sues Rich Brother for kidnapping and coercive drugging, Rich Brother will be unable to raise his affirmative defense based on defense of property, assuming Luckless does not recognize defense of property as an affirmative defense to kidnapping. So Luckless will be able to recover appropriate penalties from Rich Brother for his brutish method of removal. Next time, Rich Brother will be more clever about how he gets Luckless to leave.

Unlike claims that are controlled by claimants, the defendants are in control of affirmative defenses.  Thus, the Impossibility Problem coupled with applying Defendant’s Law for affirmative defenses would create incentives for using extra-legal remedies, without any risk of legal liability. This is problematic, to say the least. The power to select one’s own affirmative defenses cannot be allowed to create incentives for extra-legal remedies. If voluntary law creates incentives for extra-legal remedies, it will quickly lose legitimacy and cease to exist.

The foregoing contrasting examples illustrate how the Rule of The Weaker Tool creates incentives for reasonable behavior.  In the first hypothetical, Rich Brother could not evict Luckless even if both Rich Brother and Luckless had adopted laws recognizing property rights in vacation homes, because Luckless was entitled to his affirmative defense of property. Conversely, if Luckless had adopted a law that did not recognize Rich Brother’s positive property rights, Rich Brother would have had no incentive to perform the extra-legal eviction in a reasonable manner, because Rich would be entitled to his affirmative defense based in defense of property. The power to select one’s own affirmative defenses should not create incentives for extra-legal remedies or predatory conduct.

Let us consider some more examples of property law conflict resolved under the Rule of The Weaker Tool.  Suppose one person (Lysander) adopts a law that adverse possession requires open and unchallenged use for a continuous period of three years. Another person (Murray) adopts a law requiring only one year of open and unchallenged use. Murray openly squats unchallenged on Lysander’s land for 2 years, at which time Lysander sues to evict Murray. Murray countersues to claim Lysander’s title.  Applying the Rule of The Weaker Tool to Lysander’s claim, Lysander wins, because adverse possession is an affirmative defense.  Murray is therefore not entitled to his affirmative defense and must use Lysander’s more stringent standard, under which his adverse possession is not long enough to be effective.  However, even if adverse possession could be advanced as a positive law by Murray, he also could not gain title under the the Rule of The Weaker Tool.  Applying the Rule of The Weaker Tool to Murray’s claim, Lysander wins either way. Therefore, Lysander can legally evict Murray if Murray is relying solely on his affirmative defense of adverse possession, and Murray cannot obtain Lysander’s title. If Murray wishes to challenge Lysander’s title, he must find a different basis for doing so.

For example, suppose Murray adopted a law that did not recognize any property claim to fallow land plots of one acre or more, that have gone unused for five years or longer.  Lysander claims hundreds of acres of land, all wild and unused.  Murray fences off five acres within Lysander’s claim and cultivates a farm, basing his right to do so on the positive right of property recognized by his law.  Lysander takes notice and sues Murray for eviction.  Lysander’s claim fails under the Rule of The Weakest Tool, because under Murray’s positive property law, Lysander does not have a legitimate claim to the land Murray has improved.  Conversely, if Murray sues Lysander for title, Murray’s claim fails under the Rule of The Weaker Tool, because Lysander’s property law is weaker with respect to the property claim that Murray would enforce.  That is, Lysander’s law is the weaker tool in the second context, because it results in less damage to Lysander property claim.  Lysander therefore cannot legally evict Murray, but neither can Murray gain title that is superior to Lysander’s.  Just as illustrated by some of the examples involving Rich Brother and Luckless, differences in substantive real property laws can result in stalemates wherein one party cannot legally evict and the other cannot gain superior title.  Murray nonetheless retains an inferior claim which may be recognized so long as the five acres he has fenced off do not go unused for more than five continuous years.

Such stalemates are a feature of voluntary law, not a bug.  Although stalemates might sometime cause inconvenience, in the main they embody an organic balancing between inordinately large or inappropriate property claims by an elite few and the natural property rights expectations of the masses.  Conflicts such as Lysander and Murray experienced do not happen in a vacuum.  Such conflicts occur in a social context with different numbers of people adopting laws on different wavelengths of the property rights spectrum.  The reasonableness of one’s stated position on property law will be judged within prevailing community attitudes, which although allowing for variation and ways of relieving tension between conflicting laws, will render outlying positions practically unenforceable.  To illustrate, suppose Lysander appoints himself as sole supreme emperor and owner of the universe.  By publicly adopting such a law, Lysander has accomplished nothing more than announce to the world that he is a fool not to be regarded seriously.  He has adopted a law that by the Rule of The Weaker Tool renders unenforceable in every conceivable instance.  The more grandiose a claim under voluntary law, the less enforceable it is.

These examples illustrate a foreseeable side effect of voluntary law, including among other things the Publication requirement and conflict resolution such as the Rule of The Weakest Tool: a leveling of property rights or other rights claimed under law, due to pressure from the Impossibility Problem. Voluntary law under the Rule of The Weakest Tool, if widely adopted, may be expected to push enforceable property rights close to a minimum of what the vast majority of people deem acceptable. That minimum will tend to lie at the maximum of what the vast majority of people can realistically hope to own. It will become impossible under voluntary law for durable classes divided between property owners and non-owners to arise. Whenever great inequities arise, those who lack any realistic hope of acquiring a specific class of property will adapt by adopting laws that do not recognize the impossibly remote property claims of the elite. Under the defendant’s rule, the elitist property claims will thereby be rendered practically unenforceable.

These examples only scratch the surface.  Conflict of law is a complex and interesting area of voluntary law, with limitless possibilities flowing from simple principles under different circumstances.  Some issues have not been addressed above, for example problems with determining the “weaker” tool when the remedies afforded by different laws are different in kind, i.e., of different types that are difficult to compare.  Detailed discussion of such more advanced topics may be left for the future.  The great jurists will be those able to cut through all the complexities of the different laws brought, and consistently do evident justice that respects and balances the respective choices of the parties.  Rules such as the The Weaker Tool are not meant to be the final word, or to foreclose all debate on the question of just conflict resolution.  The Rule of the Weaker Tool may, however, represent an idealized optimal solution to the problem of finding a fair and stable balance between the rights of claimant and defendant, within the confines of solutions that are not based on politically-drawn territorial boundaries and other impositions of laws without consideration for the personal choices of each party.

Must the alternatives to resolving conflict of laws be limited to a choice of either defendant’s law or plaintiff’s law? What about some combination of plaintiff’s and defendant’s law, or choosing a third law?  Other conceivable solutions, for example averaging of damages from different laws or random selection, would plainly fail to provide the same incentives for decent and reasonable behavior afforded by the rather straightforward Rule of The Weaker Tool.  Certainly, parties to a particular dispute are always free to agree on some other way to resolve differences between laws they have adopted.  In addition,  the possibility of universal conflict of law rules does not preclude members of different voluntary law societies from adopting a common set of conflict of law rules different from the universal set. Where all parties to a dispute have previously adopted the same conflict of law rules, there is no need to use the universal set.  If all parties to a dispute cannot agree to use the same conflict of law rules, the universal set provides the only option for resolving the dispute without forsaking voluntary law entirely.  The universal set of conflict of law rules therefore needs to be neutral, fair and workable enough to gain widespread acceptance as the conflict resolution rule of last resort for any person who would live according to voluntary law.

Variations in the universal set can be tolerated without too badly undermining voluntary law systems, to the extent such variations are confined to boundaries that are discernible and not easily disregarded. For example, dispute resolution services located on the Moon might apply different conflict of law rules than similar services on Earth. Such differences could exist without injecting an intolerable amount of uncertainty into inter-personal relations, so long as constraints on travel between the Moon and Earth (a) make it easy for Moon people to avoid contact with Earth people, and vice-versa, and (b) make the probable forum for resolving disputes between Moon people and Earth people, in any particular circumstance, fairly predictable. Without a substantial degree of separation between adjudication forums that apply different default conflict of law rules, the practical effect of adopting a particular set of voluntary laws may become much less predictable, undermining incentives for adopting them.

In the absence of any conflict of law rules, the options for resolving conflicts in which the parties cannot agree on the law to be applied are limited to extra-legal remedies or appeal to a non-voluntaryist authority. Either of these options breaks the system, rendering voluntary law ineffective and inferior in this respect to authoritarian legal systems.  More fundamentally, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Without generally accepted conflict of law principles, the decentralized, atomistic nature of voluntary law will lead to division.  Difficult disagreements will arise over which laws to apply in disputes between members of different voluntary law societies.  These differences may become every bit as bitter and divisive as political fights over moral preferences in statist institutions, and will tend to drive people with different beliefs apart instead of encouraging peaceful acceptance and commerce despite differences in world views.  Only time will tell if or how universal conflict of laws will evolve in voluntary law, but one possibility is for majority communities of voluntary law societies to emerge holding to their own “almost-universal” conflict of law principals, with minority voluntary law societies either using minority conflict resolution rules, or isolated without any consensus conflict rules.

At this nascent stage, nothing seems better suited for resolving conflicts between personally adopted laws than the Rule of The Weaker Tool.  Nor is there any room for serious doubt.  This Rule, if widely understood and adopted, is capable of facilitating commerce and mutual respect between people of different beliefs, without requiring that any person bow to authority higher than their own sincere moral lights.  THAT is a most remarkable invention.

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Conflict of Laws

Unopposed Claims and Legitimacy of Judgments

Kristin with Rat Small

A Claim With No Defendant

The conflict of law rules developed thus far depend mainly on the status of the parties as claimant (plaintiff) or defendant in determining which law to apply.  Usually, this approach works.  In every case, there is always somebody to request a judgment.  So if “claim” is defined broadly as “a request for judgment,” there is always a claimant.  And there is usually a defendant to oppose the claim.

However, some legal actions exist in which there is no person to oppose the claim.  Some examples include declarative actions such as adoption, conservatorship, guardianship, emancipation of a minor; the probating of a decedent’s will; and claims to confer title over unclaimed property.  Such claims may sometimes be opposed by someone other than the defendant; for example, a person acting in the the “public interest.”  In other cases, no opposition exists.  Absent some check, the ability to select the law applied in cases with no opposition would give claimants free rein.  Also, if there is an opponent but no identifiable defendant, should the opponent automatically be regarded as the defendant for purposes of choice of law?

In authoritarian legal systems, it is the responsibility of the designated authority to ensure that unopposed claims are well-regulated, and if necessary, opposed by a representative of the state.  In so regulating, state interest is paramount, typically followed by special interests and thirdly, public interest.  Lacking any imposed authority to oppose claims, must adjudicating forums in voluntary law societies grant all unopposed claims?

Clearly not, in a superficial sense.  If all unopposed claims must be granted, the adjudication would become a mere formality.  As such it would be unnecessary, and like all unnecessary expenses in a free society, avoided.  The more pertinent question is whether the forum must follow claimants’ law where no defendant exists. If all unopposed claims must be decided under claimant’s law, the adjudication still retains its judicial function.  However, the law that is applied will nearly always comply with the claimant’s selfish interests, which will tend to multiply up to the limit of provoking opposition.

Under the concept of legitimacy, opposition to unjust claims can and should come from the judges themselves, to preserve their hard-earned reputations.  In free systems such as voluntary law societies, judicial legitimacy must be earned, as there exists no authority to grant it.  In contrast, legitimacy in authoritarian legal systems is sometimes conferred partly by politics, always at least partly by exercise of coercive power, and usually partly by a claim to moral authority.  In other words, people grant legitimacy to judgments of government courts because of some mixture of (a) lack of effective power to oppose edicts of the courts; (b)  widespread beliefs that the courts usually do the right thing, coupled with rational ignorance or acceptance of judicial misdeeds; and (c) an assumed consent of a majority or powerful minority of the people to the power of the courts.  None of these factors applies in voluntary law societies, except (in a rather different sense) the last.

In voluntary law societies, people are initially skeptical of every adjudication forum, before its reputation is established.  Every forum must build its own reputation, and none can exercise coercive power in doing so.  Each forum can build its reputation in several ways.  For example, by performing high quality services (e.g., prompt, courteous, and accurate) and by issuing high quality judgments or settlements that are seldom or never successfully appealed (more on appeal in a subsequent post).  For further example, by issuing a lot of such high quality judgments and making a name for itself.  It may perhaps seek certification or approval from various consumer rating or certifying organizations, which must first establish their own reputations by not certifying or approving others too easily.  And so on.

An adjudicating forum that either is unproven or has a reputation for issuing poor quality or biased  judgments will find that its judgments are not respected.   And if its judgments are not respected, they will be much harder to enforce, if at all.  Because under voluntary law, there is no sovereign immunity.  Judges can be held liable for issuing non-neutral or negligent judgments, and law enforcers can be held personally liable for enforcing judgments that they knew or should have known were of poor quality.  Most neutral enforcers will therefore refuse to enforce any judgment that appears questionable or risky.  Claimants may attempt to self-enforce shoddy judgments issued by sham judges under their own influence, but not without risking liability both for their enforcement actions, and for improperly influencing the judges.

In voluntary law systems, the ability to hold law enforcers and judges accountable for their actions creates tremendous pressure for adjudicating forums to only produce opinions that will be widely regarded as legitimate under fundamental principles of voluntary law (non-aggression, equality of persons, and reciprocity).  Legitimacy will be supplied directly by acting in accordance with widely adopted moral and legal principles.

Some judges and enforcers may refuse to hear disputes or enforce judgements, without waivers of liability from one or more parties.  This possibility cannot resurrect anything remotely like sovereign immunity in a free and competitive marketplace for judicial and enforcement services, for several reasons.  First, claimants and especially defendants will refuse to grant liability waivers unless the judge or enforcer has gained their confidence, either by having an excellent reputation, and/or by some other means.  Second, competition for paying clients will put considerable pressure on those providing legal and enforcement services to provide suitable, insurable warranties as to the services provided.  If the quality of services are not good, and the service providers rely on waivers to avoid liability for the costs of correcting their own mistakes, business will go elsewhere.

Let’s see how legitimacy solves the problem of dealing with unopposed claims.  Take, for example, adoption.  Knowing that it can be held liable for allowing an adoption that is not in the interests of the person being adopted to proceed, the adjudicating forum will investigate  and refuse to render a judgment of adoption unless it found the request to be bona-fide and in the interests of the person being adopted.  But under which law?  After all, if there is no defendant, mustn’t the forum apply the law of the claimant, who might have adopted extremely lax standards for adoption?  In their present form, the universal conflict of law rules do not permit the hearing of a claim without any identifiable defendant.

We consider then a couple of alternatives.  First, if there is no defendant to the claim, judges of the adjudicating forum may be regarded as the defendant.  They are, after all, the parties whose reputations are at stake, as well as being potentially liable for negligent judgments.  This solution creates opportunities for forum shopping, subject to the constraints of legitimacy discussed above in that forum.  Judges applying laws widely viewed as violating the fundamental principles of voluntary law will find issuing such opinions to be much to their own detriment.  The constraints of legitimacy are powerful indeed.  This judge-based approach has the advantage of allowing every case lacking a defendant to be tried under voluntary law, if only a willing judge can be found.

In the alternative, the forum may look to the interests of the person who is most likely to be harmed by the claim, and apply the law of that person.  Consider, for example, an orphaned child.  A general rule may provide that, in the case of a minor who has not adopted any law because not yet gaining rational capacity, the law of the mother or some other party will be imputed.  It seems reasonable to look to the person most likely to be harmed, but this approach suffers from a few problems.  For example, it may be impossible or difficult to determine the person most likely to be harmed, such as in the case of a claim to previously unclaimed property.  In addition, even if such person can easily be identified, it may not be possible to determine that the person has ever adopted any voluntary law.  Therefore, difficulties arise both in determining which law to apply, and the necessity of turning some claimants away when no adoption of voluntary law by any person with a stake in the outcome of the judgment can be identified.

In another alternative, if there is an opponent to the claim that is not acting in the interests of an identifiable defendant, the forum could apply the law of the opponent.  This approach would not work in cases where no opponent steps forward.  Also, it would invite meritless opposition by opponents seeking to extort settlements from claimants, regardless of the merits of the claim or the opposition.  Merely predatory opponents are not restrained by any concern for maintaining legitimacy.  Also, applying the opponent’s law would be similar to applying defendant’s law for affirmative defenses, violating reciprocity and facilitating predatory behavior.

For these reasons, the judge or judges appointed to render a judgment should apply their own adopted law, but only in the limited case of claims not made against any person for which (a) it is not possible to identify any single person most likely to be affected by the judgment on the claim, or (b) if such person can be reliably identified and is incapable of adopting or refusing a voluntary law (e.g., an infant), it is not possible to ascribe adoption of any voluntary law to the person by any reasonable means (e.g., no family can be found).  It should be emphasized that this rule should not be applied when the claim is made against a specific non-disabled person who is unwilling to adopt any voluntary law.  Under the non-aggression principle, such non-adopters must be beyond the reach of voluntary law, and have the status of outlaws so far as recourse to voluntary law forums is concerned.

Let’s see how the judge-adopted rule would play out in another example:  A space miner wants to bring a claim for title to an unclaimed asteroid in a voluntary law forum.  The miner faces a choice.  The claim may be heard by Respectable Justice, who enforces rather strict requirements on asteroid claims, including proof of first discovery and use, and a diligent search for competing claims turning up empty.   Or, the claim may be heard by Dubious Justice, whose service motto is “No unopposed claim too audacious to grant!”  If the miner selects Dubious Justice, the claim is certain to be granted quickly and cheaply, but the resulting judgment will be invalid if there is any later challenge to first discovery or use.  If the miner selects Respectable Justice, the claim will require more time and money to obtain, but once granted is unlikely to be challenged due to Respectable’s reputation for diligence and fairness, and use of a law with more demanding requirements.

So which Justice will the miner choose?  If the miner is very confident in the legitimacy of the claim, Dubious Justice might be a rational choice because of its greater efficiency, in the absence of any significant risk that the judgment will be challenged.   If the miner is aware of competing claims or other legal challenges, it would be rational to select Respectable Justice, so that the matter is settled once and for all, and the investment in mining the asteroid can proceed without undue risk.  Actually, if the miner is funded by third party investors or lenders, or purchases insurance for any risk related to the claim of title on the asteroid, such parties may require the miner to use Respectable anyway, just to avoid any cloud on the veracity of the miner’s title.

So it is apparent that the need for an appropriate level of legitimacy imposes a discipline on claimants to select an appropriate forum for the matter at hand, without depriving claimants of cheap and fast judgments in easy cases.  There’s nothing at all wrong with cheap and easy justice for easy cases; in fact, it is greatly to be preferred to expensive and slow.  Applying the law of the judge is beneficial in these types of cases, where there is no identifiable defendant.  The claimant can pick an appropriate forum based on the level of risk involved, and the judge can manage the risks of hearing the case by adopting and applying appropriate laws, among other things.

What if the case is decided by a panel of judges?  Then the panel may apply any law that has been adopted by at least one member of the panel.   This can be left as a matter of agreement between the panel members.

Why require the judge to have adopted the law that is applied? To provide predictability for claimants in selection of forums.  In any event, the market would impel judges to advertise which law will be applied in cases for which no defendant exists.  Where the law pertains to claims lacking any defendant, there is little or no detriment to the judge in adopting a law that is advertised, because such law cannot be enforced against the judge personally.  Therefore, instead of making conflict of law rules more complex by introducing the new concept of “advertising a law,” it is expedient to keep these rules simple by specifying the adopted law of a judge as the law to be applied in cases lacking an identifiable defendant.

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Conflict of Laws, Reciprocity

Affirmative Defenses: The Difficult Choice

The Essence of Reciprocity in Voluntary Law

The Essence of Reciprocity in Voluntary Law

Choosing the law to be applied when an affirmative defense is raised creates a difficult choice.  Should the defendant be allowed to raise all the affirmative defenses allowed under the defendant’s law?  Or should the defendant be limited to those affirmative defenses that are permitted under claimant’s law?

First, a little background.   For those who don’t know, an affirmative defense is like an excuse that excuses defendants from responsibility for their actions.  For example, self-defense or defense of others can be an affirmative defense to battery or murder.  Necessity can be an affirmative defense to trespass.  Many other affirmative defenses are possible.

Affirmative defenses can be distinguished from positive laws on the basis of which party has control and responsibility for choosing and proving the elements of the action at hand.  If the claimant is required to select and prove that all requirements are satisfied, the action is a claim under positive law.  If this responsibility is on the person defending to escape liability for the claim, the action is an affirmative defense.

Which law should determine the affirmative defenses to a claim, claimant’s or defendant’s?  Let’s start with the same rule as for positive laws: defendant’s law resulting in the greatest liability applies, unless applying claimant’s law would result in less liability.  Let’s see how this approach plays out in a couple of scenarios:

Scenario A: Fanatic, who has adopted a law stating that any harm committed to prevent an imminent abortion is justified defense of others, hides in an abortion clinic and injures Sawzall, an abortion doctor, just as Dr. Sawzall is about to perform an abortion.  The doctor seeks a legal remedy for the attack, and had previously adopted a law that does not recognize the defense of a fetus in cases where an abortion is elected by the mother.  Fanatic raises his intended defense under the rule of defendant’s law of greatest liability for affirmative defenses, and the doctor is unable to recover for his injuries.

Scenario B: Luckless owns no property of significant value and adopts a law permitting poverty as an affirmative defense against continuing trespass.  He then takes up residence in Rich Brother’s spare vacation house.  Rich, of course, has adopted a law that does not recognize poverty as an affirmative defense to trespass but does recognize defense of property as a defense against claims based on coercive removal.  Rich Brother cannot evict or obtain any damages from Luckless, who successfully raises poverty as affirmative defense to the claim of trespass.   This is so, even if Luckless recognizes Rich Brother’s underlying property claims.  Under Luckless’ rule, poverty is a complete defense depriving the property owner of any legal remedy for the trespass.

The result is the same as if Luckless had adopted a law that does not recognize rights in excess real property.  Under defendant’s selection of law for positive claims, Rich’s trespass claim would fail because his property right in the vacation home is not recognized as valid under Luckless’s law.    Either way, Rich has no legal remedy.  Rich’s only option, apart from tolerating Luckless, is to physically remove Luckless extra-legally and plead the affirmative defense of defense of property in case Luckless brings a claim for damages based on the removal action.  Rich can use any method he likes to carry out the extra-legal eviction, because he has adopted a law in which defense of property is a complete defense to any claim of excess force.  So if Rich Brother shoots Luckless in both legs and throws him out the third-floor window, tough luck for Luckless.  If Luckless were to sue for the violent removal, Rich Brother would obtain the benefit of both his positive property law and his affirmative defense, and escape all liability.

The foregoing examples illustrate the impossibility problem at work.  Fanatic will never perform an abortion and therefore has no concern about the fetal defense excuse ever being raised against a claim he might make.  Luckless owns no property and likewise has no reason not to adopt poverty as an affirmative defense to claims based in property; conversely, Rich has no reason not to adopt defense of property as an affirmative defense.

Unlike claims that are controlled by claimants, the defendants are in control of affirmative defenses.  Thus, the impossibility of reciprocity problem coupled with defendant’s rule of affirmative defenses creates incentives for using extra-legal remedies for perceived but legal wrongs, without any risk of legal liability.  This is problematic, to say the least.  The power to select one’s own affirmative defenses cannot be allowed to create incentives for extra-legal remedies.  If voluntary law creates incentives for extra-legal remedies, it will quickly lose legitimacy and cease to exist.

As an alternative, a conflict of law rule that applies claimant’s law might be considered; to avoid opportunism by claimants this should be “claimant’s law of least liability,” the logical converse to “defendant’s law of greatest liability.”  Let’s see how this plays out in the next scenario.

Scenario C: Assume Defender, who has adopted a law stating that any harm committed to prevent abusive injury to a child is justified defense of others, becomes aware that Abuser has imprisoned Abuser’s own children and is beating them bloody every day.  Defendant executes a daring rescue, freeing the children, but unavoidably injuring Abuser and destroying part of his home in the process.  Abuser seeks a legal remedy for the attack, having long adopted a law that does not recognize defense of others as an affirmative defense, in cases where person being defended against is the father of those being defended.  Under the rule of claimant’s law of least liability for affirmative defenses, Defender therefore cannot raise his intended defense, and must compensate Abuser for his injuries and property damage.  Meanwhile, assuming Defender recognizes the affirmative defense of self-defense, Defender cannot recover from Abuser for any injuries inflicted by Abuser in self-defense.

This may not seem to be a very satisfactory result, but is not at all as bad as it seems.  The hypothetical intentionally portrayed Abuser as unsympathetic to play with the reader’s emotions, to encourage clarity of thought.  What if Defender mutilated everybody who so much as raised their voice to their children?   Applying claimant’s rule of affirmative defense simply creates incentives for Defender to exercise care while rescuing children.  Abuser may not deserve to be treated with care, but that is not the point.  The point is that Defender cannot be permitted to effectively appoint herself judge, jury and executioner upon the general public, and must act with care even while performing meritorious deeds.

We may assume that under voluntary law, Abuser cannot claim a right to abuse anyone including his own children (such a law clearly violates the non-aggression principle and equality of persons), and may be held fully liable under claims brought on behalf of his freed children.  The issue is limited to whether Abuser may exploit the impossibility of reciprocity problem to deprive Defender of any affirmative defense based on defense of others for defending Abuser’s own children.  Suppose this result is permitted, and the tables are turned: Abuser attacks to defend Defender’s children (assuming Defender has become an abuser).  Shall voluntary law permit Abuser to gain the benefit of Defender’s affirmative defense?

The no-hypocrisy rule would say no.   Because Abuser has adopted a law that would result in greater liability, Abuser cannot receive the benefit of Defender’s affirmative defense that would result in less liability, if sued by Defender.  Abuser must be judged under the same affirmative defense that he would permit for those he makes claims against, but only if applying his own law of affirmative defense would result in greater liability than applying claimant’s law.  In other words, when raising an affirmative defense, defendant must do so under claimant’s law, unless defendant’s own law provides a weaker affirmative defense than claimant’s.

These examples illustrate how reciprocity and no-hypocrisy create incentives for people to adopt laws of affirmative defenses that will not deprive them of a similar defense if ever needed.  This should prevent injustice in personal injury cases where impossibility of reciprocity is not a problem.  In property case, where impossibility of reciprocity is a common problem, the effects of the proposed rule should be examined.

Let us revisit Scenario ‘B’ discussed above, Luckless versus Rich Brother.  Under the proposed rule of “claimant’s affirmative defense of least liability, unless resulting in less liability than defendant’s affirmative defense of greatest liability,” if Rich Brother sues Luckless, who recognizes Rich Brother’s property right to his spare home but has adopted poverty as an affirmative defense, Luckless is limited to Rich Brother’s affirmative defenses which do not include poverty.  Rich Brother can therefore obtain an order to legally evict Luckless from his vacation home.

However, if Luckless has adopted a positive law that does not recognize any property interest in, say, any home not resided in for at least 50% of the time in any given year, Rich Brother will lose unless he resides in the home for at least half of the time.  Supposing Rich Brother loses on positive law and decides to evict Luckless extra-legally by drugging Luckless and transporting him 1000 miles away while drugged (and then changing all the locks on the vacation home).  If Luckless subsequently sues Rich Brother for kidnapping and coercive drugging, Rich Brother will be unable to raise his affirmative defense based on defense of property, assuming Luckless does not recognize defense of property as an affirmative defense to kidnapping.  So Luckless will be able to recover appropriate penalties from Rich Brother for his brutish method of removal.   Next time, Rich Brother will be more clever about how he gets Luckless to leave.

It’s rather apparent that second rule creates more incentives for reasonable behavior than the first, in which defendants were permitted to use their own rules of affirmative defense.  In that first hypothetical, Rich Brother could not evict Luckless even if both Rich Brother and Luckless had adopted laws recognizing property rights in vacation homes.  Conversely, if Luckless had adopted a law that did not recognize Rich Brother’s positive property rights, Rich Brother would have had no incentive to perform the extra-legal eviction in a reasonable manner.  The power to select one’s own affirmative defenses should not create incentives for extra-legal remedies.

Read the comic at the header, it summarizes all of the above quite succinctly.   Jonny’s Conflicts of Laws has been updated accordingly.

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Conflict of Laws, Reciprocity

A Bit More On Why So Much

A central issue was neglected in the last post, relating to why conflict of law rules are of such importance and concern in the development of voluntary law.  Conflict of law is critical in voluntary law systems, because voluntary law systems are the only legal systems that permit each participant to choose their own law, guided by their own moral preferences and self interests.icrecreamwithcherry

One of the most fundamental questions concerning voluntary law is whether a system permitting self-selection of law can provide equivalent or superior justice to systems that impose laws through the exercise of power by an elite class of persons, a.k.a. statist legal systems.  In statist legal systems, although many laws are imposed in the self-interest of a governing elite and those who support them, some portion of the laws are imposed in the public interest.  Even a slave master may enforce rules forbidding the slaves from mistreating one another.   Statist systems must deal with the problem of limiting corruption of the law caused by self-interest of elite law makers, but are not faced with the problem of harmonizing self-selected laws because they do not permit such laws to exist.

The limiting principles on self-adoption of law in voluntary law systems are non-aggression, equality of persons, and reciprocity.  The primary purpose of conflict of law rules are to implement reciprocity so as to optimize fairness and stability of the system as a whole.  While each person can select their own law guided by their individual self interest, the general principle of reciprocity provides that when bringing a claim or raising an affirmative defense, each person is limited by the selection of law of the other party.

Despite the importance of the reciprocity principle, it should not be forgotten that the core voluntary law principles of non-aggression and equality of persons are also limiting principles on enforceability of self-selected law.  These core principles deserve expression in the form of a rule, and more attention to be paid in a later post.

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