Future of Voluntary Law, Introduction To Voluntary Law (Book)

Practical Notes For Practical Folks


If you’ve read “The Nut” or other parts of this book and find it a bit impractical, you might be more of a practical sort than a philosophical sort of person.  This book is not written for practical folks, because voluntary law is not yet a practical reality.  It is still in a very early development stage, and may remain in development for a great many years.  In fact, it may never be developed; only time will tell.  Many thousands if not millions of person-hours of human labor will be necessary to bring voluntary law into the mainstream, fully developed and ready for widespread use by practical people.

This introductory book wrestles with fundamental moral and economic questions raised by restructuring of society and law based on principles of individual sovereignty and equality.  It’s about the unglamorous work of digging the foundations for a new social order.  It is a book for dreamers and peaceful revolutionaries. It is written for the most impractical of all people: those who believe that is possible to engineer fundamental changes in how human society is organized, using tools of purely non-coercive persuasion.  It’s written for nutty people.  Most people are not nutty, most of the time.  But everybody can be a little nutty, at least once in a while.

If you are one of those usually-not-nutty people, this chapter is for you.  It will suggest a few practical things for you to think about.  After that, you can put this book down, at least until you are “in the mood for nutty.”  Not everybody has the time or inclination to change the world, but at least after reading this chapter, you will have a sense of some of the practical goals that the dreamers and revolutionaries aim to achieve.  If you think those goals are worthwhile, perhaps you will make your own practical contribution to making them a reality, without worrying too much about all the philosophical stuff.  Nobody can really know how far any of these ideas will go, but one of the neat aspects of voluntary law is its power to have a positive impact on human society, even if only practiced in the most limited possible way.

Once put into practice, the concepts in this book will provide practical products and services to improve the quality of all human life.  For instance, the problem-solving club —  another name for a voluntary law society. Imagine you can join a club that provides you with big discounts on your insurance and legal bills.  Membership in the club not only saves you a lot of money; it also makes resolution of serious disputes with other club members much faster.  For example, complex divorces and business disputes are handled in a matter of weeks instead of years, for a small fraction of the cost of a lawsuit.  Now imagine that membership in the club is free.  To join, all you have to do is to agree that you will resolve all your disputes with other members of the club according to a relatively simple, easy-to-understand rule book that can never be changed without your consent, and make your agreement a matter of public record.  You can quit the club anytime you wish, but then you will lose all of the benefits of membership.  Imagine the club is very large and influential, yet has no dues, no officers, and is designed so that it cannot be owned or controlled by anyone.

Because membership and status of members in the club is a matter of public record, being a member of a club also provides you with access to a reliable “friend-finder” service.  Imagine you can find other members of your club in every city, all over the world, using a free computer search.  Imagine that you can also see a “reputation score” for every member of the club, based on how well the member has maintained her reputation as a trustworthy member of the club who faithfully follows the club’s rulebook.  Perhaps you get reputation information by paying a small fee to a reputation service, or perhaps by using a free advertising-supported reputation service.  Imagine that you can use the freely available membership information and reputation services to find new friends, customers and service providers around the world.  Imagine that by building a reputation as a good and faithful club member, you can attract customers for your business and be successful, regardless of what university you went to or who you have political connections to.  Imagine that new customers seek you out as a fellow club member, or as a member of a respected neighbor club, and having a good reputation as a club member is as good as gold.

Imagine that there was not just one club for you to choose to join, but many different clubs, together making up a sort of spontaneous, decentralized “freedom tree.”  All of the clubs run the same basic way; they each just have a different rule book for resolving disputes.  Some of the clubs have very well-known rule books and millions of members, others have rule books that although publicly available to everybody are not widely read, and have far fewer members.  Some clubs have not changed their rule book in a great many years; other clubs change their rules from time to time, causing splits in their membership because not all members choose to follow the new rules.  Imagine that your children or grandchildren can learn about the major clubs and the differences in their rules before they are twelve years old, and can rely on the information they learn as a child about the major branches of the “freedom tree”  throughout their lives, because the club rule books do not need frequent updating.  Imagine that the rule books of all the major clubs are accurately translated into every major world language.  Imagine that you are free to change club membership as your views or life situation changes, or to start a new club by creating a variation on an existing rulebook.  If you are really talented and dedicated, imagine you can write a whole new rulebook for a new club.

The spread of problem-solving clubs can create a new basis for toleration of different viewpoints, both inside of political boundaries, and across them.  Imagine that the members of all of these problem-solving clubs recognize and respect the legitimacy  of members of other clubs, in a manner similar to how citizens of nations respect citizens of other nations.  Imagine that widely accepted, fair rules exist for resolving disputes between members of different clubs, based primarily on the rule books adopted by the people in the dispute and the time at which they joined the clubs.  Imagine that people of different religions and beliefs use these rules to live consistently within their own beliefs while tolerating and doing business, if they choose, with members of other clubs that hold to different beliefs.

Since club rules are determined by individual selection, the rules tend to be quite stable and quite succinct.  Contrast that to other forms of government, where new rules, regulations and laws are continually passed and imposed on the populace.  The stability and succinctness of club rules makes it easier to assess the legal risks of various transactions between members of the same club, and even between members of different clubs.  Imagine that this stability and clarity leads to the development of expert legal systems that are available online.  Imagine that for answers to legal questions concerning club members, you can consult an automated legal oracle regarding your legal rights and obligations, and avoid the need to hire an expensive lawyer.

Imagine that the problem solving clubs become so popular and effective,that virtually   everybody eventually joins one.  Imagine that when this happens, wars between nations and terrorism become politically infeasible,  because so many politicians,  soldiers and civil military contractors are club members and do not want to ruin their reputations by killing or injuring other club members without justification.  Imagine that when people realize that war is no longer possible, governments of the world evolve into voluntary, fee-for-service organizations serving the general public.

These are some of the practical services that voluntary law may bring about for you or your descendants.  All of them are about making your life experience richer, deeper, safer, and more prosperous.  All of them are aimed at enabling and protecting your personal empowerment within a community of equally empowered persons.  All of them will make you happier and better off, without making anyone else worse off.  Perhaps only some of these things are possible.  Of course, the more distant, pie-in-the-sky outcomes do not need to become a reality to make voluntary law worth investing in now. Such outcomes are conceptually possible, but are not inevitable. Even if voluntary law does not become widely adopted enough to provide the greatest possible benefits, it can still provide benefits for a minority of people who choose to invest in it.

Another point:  this is not an academic book.  Like an engineering plan, this book straddles the practical and the theoretical; it is both plan and propaganda for social engineering.  Although a great debt is owed to the academics who have written volumes about economics, non-aggression, anarchy and law, and so forth – great academics and visionaries like Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Ludwig Von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and many, many others, little or no time is spent tracing the historical development of the concepts underlying this book.  No claim is made to originality, except for this one thing: the particular definition of voluntary law advanced in these pages, and the application of that blueprint as an invitation to begin building another, non-exclusive piece of the coming social order.

Changes in human society depend both on new technical capabilities and new ideas about what is humanely possible.  Consider, for example, the development of the airplane.  Human flight required both technical advancement in engines, and development of engineering concepts of the airfoil, making lift and drag quantifiable and predictable based on the characteristics of an airfoil and airspeed.  It required both advances in enabling technologies, and new ways of thinking about flight.  Similarly, the development of voluntary laws rests on advancement in wireless communications and computing technology, and new ways of thinking about law.

A better analogy to voluntary law may lie the development of open-source public registries, pioneered by Satoshi Nakamoto in the release of the Bitcoin application.  This technology enabled the development of voluntary, decentralized trading networks centered around exchange of a stable electronic currency, by making it infeasible for governments to disrupt the public registry.  Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin represent but one application of block chain technology.  Already, this technology is being applied in ingenious ways in other applications harnessing the power of decentralized voluntary networks.  One such application, released in 2014, goes by the name of Bitnation, and is directed towards dispute resolution services within a voluntary network.  Presently, Bitnation uses existing state-made laws, but is fully compatible with using stateless, voluntary laws.  When such laws become available and are of acceptable quality, it is likely that networks such as Bitnation will make use of them.

Social networks like Bitnation are focused on providing an infrastructure for providing dispute resolution, enforcement and insurance services based on any law chosen by disputants.  This book is concerned with a more foundational aspect — development of new and superior laws for the voluntary networks of tomorrow.  As you read this book, you may come to understand why new laws are necessary, or at least, highly beneficial to voluntary dispute-resolution networks.  You may come to understand why it is that existing laws, developed by and for state-based legal systems, are not optimal or even appropriate for dispute resolution in voluntary societies.  And you may come to be persuaded that rules for dispute resolution within voluntary law societies need to have certain essential qualities to form a basis for coherent, workable laws within a voluntary framework.

New social orders require robust and coherent conceptual foundations.  This book is directed at building up those foundations, by engaging you in a dialog about the nature of law in human society.   It is hoped that positive engagement with this dialog will lead to a growing agreement about foundational concepts underlying law for voluntary networks.  Such agreement will, in turn, lead to the development of conceptually sound rule books, which can be published and promoted as practical tools for providing dispute resolution services within voluntary networks.  As these tools are adopted for use in existing and new service infrastructures, voluntary law will in time become a practical and widespread reality capable of providing the practical benefits that are spoken of, and more.  Onward!




Historical Commentary, Judicial Precedent, Voluntary Law

Honor, Not Laws

Honor Not Laws

Honor Not Laws

Some of my friends hope for a self-organizing society, where order prevails without territorial monopolies on the making or enforcement of law, and aim to achieve that self-organizing society by the art of persuasion, not of coercion. Tossed on a sea of statists, these who eschew coercion are apprehensive of giving anyone the power to make laws in any defined form. Once rules are written down, they fear, lawyers and courts will follow and subtly force their double-dealing systems of oppression on everyone. Ordinary people will once again be trod upon by an elite class hiding behind a wall of lawyers, and the law will be what it traditionally has been: an instrument to preserve and multiply the power of the powerful, among other things.

Fear not voluntary law, mates! Voluntary law is not what you suppose it to be. Voluntary law is perhaps the only legal system capable of avoiding the rise of an elite class served by legions of lawyers and lawmakers, all in the service of a violent, monopolistic state, which you so rightly fear. Your intuitive human sense against written codes of laws is a snare. It will inexorably lead to the very system of oppression that you fear. Such fears may be reasonable on pirate ships and the like, where the captain is the final arbiter of all disputes and does so only for a relatively small crew, but not for complex human societies comprised of millions of members, and not in view of the history of law.

Let us suppose, for argument’s sake, that it is best to not write down any rules, and let people work out their differences however seems best. What then to do when agreement cannot be reached on a just resolution? There are only two possibilities to resolve the dispute, plus the option of leaving it unresolved.

The first possibility is a contest of some sort. The parties in dispute engage in some arbitrary contest by which a resolution of the dispute is decided. Pistols at fifty paces, drawing lots, chess, poker, drive-by shooting, trial by water, trial by fire, whatever. The common thread is that the contest that ends the dispute has no predictable relationship to the dispute itself. Instead, the resolution is arbitrary. In the absence of any predetermined, non-random process for dispute resolution, there is no predictable cost or consequence to violating the person or property of others.

In the absence of social conventions enforcing a random process for dispute resolution by contest, contests will tend to their natural end point: the party with the greatest power always wins. Might makes right. This method of ending disputes cannot provide anything resembling justice. It can only allow power, by whatever means exercised, to work its will, or provide random outcomes. Even if a dispute resolution system in which disputes are resolved by the flip of a coin were better than what passes for justice today, does anybody seriously think that randomly-determined contests can be the basis of a justice system that promotes respect for the property and persons of others? Certainly not. Rules (written or not) are necessary for providing justice in human society. No real controversy surrounds this deduction. At issue is whether such rules should be written, or left unwritten.

The second possibility for dispute resolution without written rules is to submit the matter for resolution to a mutually acceptable judge, who will try the controversy and render a decision that is not based on any written rules. Robert Heinlein described something of this sort in his novel, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Each judge applies her own standards, which can be either arbitrary or consistent with the judge’s past decisions and/or community norms.   If arbitrary, the effect is no different than a contest of the random sort. If consistent, the decision must be an expression of an unwritten rule. If a rule is unwritten, it can and will also be written, as the number of community members grows and its economy becomes more sophisticated. Thus, an unwritten judge-based system tends, through the process of scaling up to large communities, to become a system of judge-made written law.

In fact, law making by judges is at the root of many legal systems today. Civil law in Europe traces back to ancient Roman law, which was in its early days entirely defined by competing jurists. Common law in England and its former domains traces back to rules defined by various judges, albeit only those supported by the reigning monarch or other lord. According to the Book of Judges, ancient Israel was ruled entirely by judges until adopting monarchy. No doubt many other historical or mythical examples could be found.

A pattern can be discerned in this human behavior: First, rule making, as an aspect of dispute resolution, is naturally left to those most expert at it (the judges). The most popular judges rule according to community norms. As the community evolves and grows, independent judging diminishes and is replaced by judicial collectives that enforce standards, introduce written rules, and suppress competition.   Later, war-making entities (monarchies, states, republics, empires, etc.) bring existing judicial collectives or independent judges into submission, incorporate them into their war-making apparatus, and often take from them part or all of their rule-making power. So a call for a judge-based system without written rules is, at essence, a call to turn the evolutionary wheel of human society back to its origins.

There is reason to be suspicious of such calls. One cannot go home again; de-evolution of societies and species may occur in reaction to the collapse of their sustaining ecologies, but do not amount to progress. Instead, de-evolution merely sets the stage for what has occurred before to be repeated. History has proven that judge-based systems always evolve, with growth of the communities they serve, into state-sponsored and controlled legal systems such as are known and despised all too well today. Instead of re-inventing ancient judicial systems, the rational alternative is to invent and build rule-based systems that are not susceptible to subversion by states.

Experts in rule-making are useful as are experts in any other activity, but is not necessary to give legal experts the power to impose the rules they write on others. Let them write as many rules as they like, but let each individual decide whether or not to adopt any written rule. Make the adoption of rules within the sovereign power of the individual, and only the individual, as a moral foundation of society. Wrest the judicial and legislative branches out of the obscenity of empire, and give the exclusive power to adopt laws to that unit of society that can never be collectivized: the self-sovereign individual. By all means deny judges, insurance companies, governments and all other persons and entities, the power to impose laws on others without consent.

But note this: laws within the sovereign power of the individual must be discoverable by others in advance of their application, or such laws are without meaning or practical application. Thus, laws within the exclusive sovereign power of the individual must be expressed in written form. The written law should therefore not be feared. It should be embraced. It is only the imposition of law (written or not) without prior consent that is rightly to be feared and abhorred. An oppressor may wield the sword, but that does not make sharp edges any less of a useful and necessary tool for many peaceful activities.

A society organized on the moral principal of self-sovereignty in the area of law making has never existed before. Arguably, it has never been technically feasible, until now. Now it is. Advances in computing and communications technology have placed it within reach, perhaps for the first time in human history.

Not only so, states and empires as they exist today have formed many crevices and niches within which the seed of legal self-sovereignty can take root and grow. Voluntary law can exist today without much controversy in many places, and coexist for a time with older, less enlightened systems. To those who scorn self-sovereignty as a pale and impractical dream, it is either a meaningless fantasy or merely another system of civil dispute resolution to fit within a statist framework. Let statists be statists. Voluntary legal systems, once functional, will provide services and teach moral principles in spite of ignorance and scorn. Once enough people understand how a self-organized legal system based on the moral principal of self-sovereignty can work, older systems will inevitably be discarded as barbaric and immoral. This genie will not be put back in the bottle.

It is not a time to be hesitant. It is high time to leap aboard the vessel of self-sovereign voluntary law, sail it to new legal shores, and discover what new world awaits.

Conflict of Laws

Why So Much on Conflict of Laws?

Cart Before HorseVLDA has not even published a single substantive law, why is it so busy developing conflict of law rules?  Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? Fair questions.  But one cannot understand voluntary law, if one does not understand the importance of plausible universal conflict of law principles to the basic premise of voluntary law.

Voluntary law is based on the premise that no law is legitimate unless previously voluntarily adopted by the person on whom it is enforced.  Because people by nature hold different moral preferences, often very deeply so, alternative laws and groups of people holding to different voluntary laws (i.e., different voluntary law societies) that are not separated from one another by territorial boundaries must coexist.  The accident of one’s location cannot be a controlling factor in determining the law to be applied.

In this environment, conflicts between people belonging to different voluntary law societies are inevitable.  Since there is no universal substantive law, there needs to be default conflict of law rules (also called “universal” rules) for selecting the law to be applied to inter-society conflicts, in the absence of any prior agreement on the matter.

The need for default 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 default set.  Where all parties to a dispute have previously adopted the same conflict of law rules, there is no need to use the default set.  The need for a default set exists because there is no way to guarantee that all parties to a dispute will agree to use the same conflict of law rules.  In such cases, the default set provides the only option for resolving the dispute without forsaking voluntary law entirely.  The default set of conflict of law rules therefore needs to be neutral and sound enough to gain widespread if not universal acceptance as the rule of last resort for any person who would live according to voluntary law.

Variations in the default 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 laws may become much less predictable, undermining incentives for adopting voluntary laws.

In the absence of default or previously agreed-to 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 pluralistic 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.

So it’s important to conceptualize practical and morally compelling conflict of law rules as a foundational issue.  Once the foundation has been laid, the focus will shift to building the matrix of voluntary law that will stand on the foundation, which consists of the core principles and the universal conflict of law rules already developed or now under development.

The VLDA does not want to invest in a system of voluntary laws that is vulnerable to divisive politics, or that is notably inferior to authoritarian systems in any respect.   Therefore it seeks to demonstrate, at the outset, that a system of voluntary laws can make use of a universal system of conflict of laws, without being exploited by evil doers or accidentally producing results that incentivize evil behaviors.  The goal is to satisfy reasonable expectations in disputes between people holding different moral preferences and different laws, based on the fundamental principle of reciprocity.  Results may be different from, and hopefully better than,  results from authoritarian legal systems.  All differences are illuminating.

The most difficult issues in universal conflict of laws for voluntary law societies have been discussed in sufficient detail to create confidence in the plausibility of VLDA’s mission.  There are only a few loose ends to wrap up, and then it will be on to the next job of constructing the matrix of laws.  Meanwhile, new and surprising things about voluntary law are being learned all along the way.

Dispute Resolution

Libertarian Dispute Resolution

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

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

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