Thank you Mr. Barnes for engaging in the dialog in a profound way.  You stimulated my thinking; actually opened up a whole new area or way to think about things.

Thinking and writing (and OMG talking!) about voluntary (a.k.a.personal) law as if it were a topic relevant to libertarians is a bit like four blind people feeling up an elephant on a moonless night out far from the  lights of human cities, somewhere on the wide savanna.  Not only is it pitch dark, there are piles of dank, slippery elephant dung strewn about, the poor sods are blindfolded and each has stumbled across a different part of the leviathan.  One, feeling the truck yells “Watch our for the constrictor!”  A second, brushing against the ear, reassures “It’s just a banana leaf.”  A third encounters the side and reports, “Hey guys I think I found a cave.”  A fourth blinded wanderer is impaled by the tusk, and does not say anything that will be repeated here.  This retelling of the old Indian parable about the four blind man reporting on the different natures of the elephant was brought to you by the Element of Farce, with support from a Dash of Allusion.  And by, A Need To Make A Point, hopefully with art by inserting the only difference of logical significance: our wanderers did not expect to run into an elephant, and hadn’t even figured out that they had run into the same animal before the parable ended.  The Indian blind men, at least as I remember hearing the tale, knew they were supposed to be inspecting an elephant.

Be patient, there is a point in here somewhere.  Voluntary and personal law can be thought of as a branch of social philosophy in the broader category of voluntaryism or social theories based on non-aggression, that intersects with the philosophy of law.  Voluntaryism is itself a minor branch of social philosophy relative to its competitors that are much more popular these days, which make use of aggression as an organizing principle.  The point is, by discussing concepts like voluntary law we are pretty far out on the dark savanna of ideas, talking about concepts that are not widely discussed or well-defined.  The principles we are getting at are as old or timeless as creation, but the conceptual framework is unfamiliar.  It is to be expected that experiences will vary from different perspectives, and we may not even realize that we are just experiencing different aspects of the same leviathan.  And we are guided as much by intuition as by sight.

The point I have been tirelessly pushing is that the essence of every moral legal system is personal.  Law is at its highest essence is personal.  It is the laws that you uphold that are the ones you should be judged by.  And that it is possible to build communities and networks of communities based on this principle.

Voluntary law can and should be used by communities.  The critical point is how particular rules become enforceable laws within communities. There is absolutely no external difference between a community of persons who hold to the same law because they all unanimously agree that that the law is acceptable, and a community upon which the same law is imposed by some subset of the group, be it a majority, an elite, or whatever.  The differences are internal.  In the first, everybody agrees that the law is acceptable, there is a lack of tension, and much greater confidence that one’s neighbors will follow the law.  In the second, there are bound to be some people who disagree with the law, so there will be greater tension, and less confidence.  The philosophy of non-aggression is about getting communities closer to the first state of harmony without using aggression.  Those who hold to non-aggression believe that aggression doesn’t work, is morally wrong, or both, for building communities of harmonized laws.

And another thing.  One can be a member of communities that hold to different laws, and therefore any person can hold to distinct sets of law.  A person may adopt one set of laws for resolving disputes with members of a first community, and another set of laws for resolving disputes with members of a different community.  Tying this to the idea of contractual republics, voluntary law is not only personal, it is also a  form of covenant between members of the same community.  Where two or more people are transacting subject to same voluntarily accepted law, there is a sort of contractual republic formed, which may be transient in nature and be limited to the boundaries where the law of the two is in agreement.  One could even belong to different communities that hold to conflicting laws.  The only question in that situation is what law to apply when dealing with a third person.  Voluntary law suggests it would be a really good idea for everybody who rejects aggression to have a more general law defined that works with any other voluntaryist who accepts the same set of principles for resolving differences between voluntary laws.  For resolving such differences, voluntary law suggests using The Rule Of The Weakest Tool – TROTWET.

Identifying general principles and not just a set of specific rules is also fundamental to voluntary law.  Like natural property rights, moral laws arise from the person.  A neat thing about voluntary law is its worst limitation: it only works with other voluntaryists.  One cannot respect personal laws without rejecting aggression as a way of harmonizing laws.  Conversely, one cannot hold to non-aggression without recognizing that, if aggression cannot be used for harmonizing law, then every person must have the right to define their own law.  In a manner similar to how all reasonable people are libertarians, they just don’t know it yet, all libertarians recognize the sanctity of personally defined law.  Some just don’t know it yet.

Last point: It is the hierarchical logical structure of a well designed voluntary law system that enables its use with different communities.  At lower levels, there are more specific rules.  There are more general rules above those.  There is no lower limit to the number of levels, so long as each level is personally adopted by all on whom it is enforced, and its adoption is without coercion or fraud.  Each person’s personal legal code can be simultaneously as simple as their most general principle, and as potentially complex as their DNA.  At the apex of this wonderful potential complexity is the most general principle, which is for voluntary law is essentially the Golden Rule or the non-aggression principle.  This general principle at the apex is what separates voluntary legal systems from all others.

So the first step in implementing voluntary law for people to just adopt a principle consistent with non-aggression as their most general principle of law, publish that fact and live as though it is an enforceable principle by which their own actions will be judged. To facilitate order in complex large societies of strangers, more detailed rules will be useful.  When large numbers of people recognize their personal right and responsibility to publish their own personal rules, so that others who also hold to non-aggression can make use of them, new orders will spontaneously emerge, without any bloody revolution or turmoil.  We have the power to build an orderly society, just by honoring the personal laws of those who reject aggression.

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Photo credit to Peter Rohleder, some rights reserved under Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0