Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 3:7 (NET Bible). This aspect of the story of the fall might be interpreted as an allegory for the origin of state-imposed law as a sort of cover or justification for human behavior, which when viewed with open eyes, is undeniably shameful. Once humans were capable of distinguishing between good and evil, and hence capable of experiencing shame, they sought to justify naked aggression by cloaking it in the sanctity of authority, or authoritarian forms of law.
Little has changed since this development in human evolution. Follow any liberty-minded blog, social group, or media outlet and it won’t be long before grave and disturbing allegations emerge about unethical, morally obtuse and cruel conduct of government officials, police, judges, bureaucrats, lawyers, tax collectors, soldiers, and other lackeys of the state, both in the historical record and in the daily news. All too often, such allegations are true, or even a matter of official record.
All too often, the perpetrator of cruel and malicious deeds excuse themselves by saying “it’s the law.” Steal all a man’s possessions, and lock him in a cage for years for selling an illegal herb? “It’s the law.” Imprison a farmer for selling raw milk? “It’s the law.” Molest and thoroughly search every passenger of public conveyance, and seize any large quantities of cash discovered? “It’s the law.” Surveil and record every person in the land, without their knowledge or consent? “It’s for national security.” Sentence a whole people to slavery, and their culture to death? “The government said it couldn’t be avoided.” Pollute the genome of an entire planet? “It’s perfectly legal and patented.” Invade countries without provocation, killing and impoverishing millions in pursuit of geopolitical goals? “It’s a constitutional imperative.” So many laws, so much authority — and so much evil.
If the people who do such evil feel any pangs of conscience, they mollify themselves with the laws or state authority they feel bound to follow, no matter how immoral. No individual person feels any moral responsibility for the law itself, and very few have the power to influence its making. The law just happens, is controlled by those in power, must be obeyed, and excuses conduct that would otherwise be condemned.
Despite the dismal historical record of the state and its minions when it come to moral behavior, when challenged with the possibility of voluntary law, the reaction of some is to say “Who is to prevent people from adopting immoral, evil laws?” What a silly question!! The condemnation of one’s fellows! In a word, shame. Voluntary law strips away all the fig leaves and excuses of the law. It leaves individuals nothing which which to cover those most intimate moral choices which, if carelessly formed, might expose them to shame.
Voluntary law is made operational by individual, public adoption of law. Voluntary law is both public and personal by definition, at its most essential core. No person who claims to follow voluntary law can hide behind a law of a collective or higher authority. No collective or authority can adopt or impose laws; only individuals can, and only for their own selves. Any person who adopts voluntary law must do so openly. Every person must display their chosen law for all the world to see. And all who see it will know that the law is chosen voluntarily, without coercion or fraud. Each person must take care that their moral nakedness is not overly repellant to others.
If a voluntary law is evil, it is because the person has individually chosen evil, or has negligently chosen an evil law, or is morally obtuse. No person, therefore, will dare to adopt laws that are widely condemned by others. No person wishes to feel the sting of righteous condemnation from every person around them. To err is human, and temporary lapses to evil can be forgiven, if the evil is repented and its resultant harm compensated for. But a person who chooses a plainly evil law? Unless done by mistake, there is nothing to forgive. Such a person has simply chosen evil, and will rightly be condemned and avoided.
Under voluntary law, no employee of a collective can be excused by the law of a collective. No police action can be excused by the law of a state, no employee by the law of his employer. Each person agrees to be judged by the law they have voluntarily and personally adopted. Each person is individually responsible for the law they obey. It is not possible for wrongdoers to hide behind a duty or law imposed by a higher authority. There is no higher authority, except for ethics itself.
What happens when the population is evil, or deluded? If there is no controversy in a law, and the law is voluntarily chosen by all to whom it is applied, what basis is there to call it evil? Perhaps what seems evil to some is merely different, an adaptation to a different environment that seems necessary to others who are differently situated. Perhaps such moral differences are a necessary feature of life in any sophisticated social system, and are better accommodated than denied. Nonetheless, there is a possibility that certain types of moral divisions, such as divisions over the rights of children or animals incapable of choosing a law for themselves, may inevitably lead to extra-legal enforcement. For example, a division between voluntary law societies that permit infanticide and those who prohibit it may lead to forms of individualized or collective coercion against people who have properly advertised a different moral preference. Such instances are at the margins of voluntary law, and a preliminary analysis is here. Such divisions may inevitably lead to tragic outcomes, but the outcomes under voluntary law would almost certainly be substantially less tragic than outcomes under statist law, in similar circumstances.
What about the truly intransigent? Surely there will always be a few suicidal or self-hating persons who will adopt odious laws with the intent to offend. Must these troglodytes be tolerated? If such people accept the principle that they cannot enforce their odious laws on others without voluntary consent, then what is the harm? The harm is only to the person who voluntarily adopts the odious law. And if such person does not accept the constraint that no law is enforceable unless previously voluntarily adopted by the person on whom enforced, we are no longer in the realm of voluntary law. We are instead in the realm of the present day, the realm of imposition of law by force, the realm of the state and the fall of humankind.
Under voluntary law, therefore, shame is an important moderating force on public adoption of law, and consequently, on private behavior. Shame forces widely condemned moral preferences out of the entire system. Another moderating force on adoption of law is reciprocity. Reciprocity accommodates what are regarded as morally defensible differences in choice of voluntary law. Reciprocity prevents people from using the voluntary law as a predatory tool, while allowing each to live as much as possible within the framework of their own moral choices. Between shame and reciprocity, self-governing voluntary law societies may be far more highly regulated and well ordered than anything possible under authoritarian systems of law.