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What is This Thing Called Law?
by   Richard   Rieben
April 18, 2005.
I have been contemplating the historic differentiation between morals and customs (personal or group standards of living), on the one hand, and the boundaries of individual autonomy (rights, political boundaries), on the other.

And the question in my mind is what, then, is this thing called law? Is it the same as the moral or ecclesiastic edicts of a given clan or religion (from which, in a territorial sense, it derives historically)? Or is there a different kind of "law" which pertains solely to the boundaries of individuals (their rights or sovereign autonomy), what I refer to as their "political boundaries" (distinguished from how they choose live) ... and such that this concept of law is wholly the matter of mutual respect for differing "ways of living" and/or moral codes?

This is my essential thesis: That the only kind of law which is appropriate to the species in general is mutual respect for divergence in all matters at the level of the individual, regardless of the social or religious moral codes of various groups.

If I am referring to "law" in this manner, and understanding it in this manner, then all that is relevant is respect for the chosen beliefs and values of others (in abundant variety).

If various groups intend to judge their members by their moral codes, upon the voluntary subordination of the members to such codes, then that is up to them exclusively. For the rest of the species (external to that group – geographically or otherwise), the "law" of respect is the only pan-species law that does not change from person to person.

It may be vaguely referred to as the "law of tolerance," but that implies certain modern and moral implications which are not necessary. It can be argued that it is a law of tolerance, but its definitive characteristic is that it is a respect for the free choices of others (which, as choices/actions, do not violate – disrespect – the autonomy or rights (freedom of action) of anyone else).

I continue to evolve this idea and to wrestle with troubling aspects of both anarchy and panarchy, for I essentially believe in the necessity of a universal principle of mutual respect for individual boundaries, defined by the principle of reciprocity itself, rendered as a kind of "over-law" regardless of any other, chosen, moral or social codes of behavior.

This kind of "law," as noted previously, I refer to as an exclusively "political" law (in the original meaning of the term political – as the philosophical branch understanding and defining the boundaries between individuals). And perhaps this is a peculiar use of the word "political," though I suspect it is merely exact – and therefore unusual.

Panarchy seem to be arguing for a plurality of governments without territorial jurisdiction for their moral edicts/codes. My thought on extraterritoriality, however, is that a non-territorial code of respect is needed as a universal principle (and in some sense a universal application). Such that no man would be judged by any moral edicts/codes/laws excepting by voluntary consent, having explicitly subordinated himself to such judgment.

Further, with an over-law of mutual respect, the concept of territory would be moot, excepting where a group chooses to partition itself off from the rest of the unpartitioned world. Of course, presently, we live in a massively partitioned world ... and to define or contemplate an "outside" to this world is hard to imagine (Somalia, perhaps?)

Therefore, I see "governments" as territorial enclaves or collectives – and the rest of the world as living in various ways under some form of the principle of mutual respect.

My thought is that the overriding principle is a kind of universal law, pertinent to individuals in lieu of government or territory. It is my single caveat from anarchy, that we need a minimalist application of this principle, which would require neither government nor territory, but individual agreement – leaving those who wish to form territorial governments free to do so (wherein they may then feel smug in their nationalism, as all but a handful of the world's population presently feels).

I am not sure how this would work. I have been sketching an idea of it at contractforliberty.com ... but it requires somewhat less, rather than more, legalese.

The world in which the historical concept of extraterritoriality exists is that in which territorial enclaves are established, each with its own rules, and in which the rules attach to the group members when visiting other territories. This is a nice sort of group-to-group tolerance. However, this tolerance is not typical of groups, by their very definition, but is an overriding principle of the human species – it is very difficult for groups to hold on to this concept, as history amply demonstrates.

To amplify this distinction between groups and individuals, I will distinguish between two different types of human association, thus: Society is one kind of composition of human association, and polity (pertaining to the boundaries of individuals, defined by their rights) is a very different kind of human association.

I do not deny the formation of social associations – of incalculable diversity. This is inherent to human nature, and essentially healthy. What is not healthy is when social groups gain political clout and proceed to enforce social laws over the people. Social mores, customs and such must always be freely chosen. And the imposition of such matters upon individuals by force is the definition of tyranny ... regardless of degree or scope.

However, in the separate and distinct arena of polity (concerned not with morality, but specifically with the boundaries of individual sovereign autonomy – rights), there is a universal law, the law of reciprocal respect for the sovereign autonomy of one another. There really is no other political law than this. And to confuse and muddle this law with social mores, customs and edicts (as has been done since the dawn of time), is to misunderstand what is at stake – and also to misunderstand the composition of liberty.

If the law of polity is the overriding law of the species – that is, respect for the strictly political boundaries upon recognition of the sovereign autonomy of every individual – then groups, under that law, are free to form and evolve and change upon the voluntary participation of individuals. Whether these groups are regionally formed (as to custom and mores in a given region), they are, under the political law of respect, barred from enforcing themselves upon any individual (without thereby disrespecting – violating – that individual's sovereign autonomy).

Now, if groups, upon the "power urge" of sufficient members, devise to become politically and territorially distinct, then they will proceed to repudiate the law of respect, usually in exchange for some compromise – promising respect "plus benefits." This is the composition of the planet's present territorial governments – and they are all con games. Look to Frederic Bastiat's The State for details of this travesty.

The popular meme is to think of a "government" as political, whereas it is only perhaps 10 to 20 percent "political," in a compromise package that, in balance, is bound up with the imposition of a social agenda (morals, customs, edicts, hierarachy, domination, expansion, etc.) by force. This "package deal" is the con.

The notion of trimming the State back to its purely political responsibilities (if anyone could even properly identify them), misses the point that the State – government – is a social construction before being a political construction. It is not amenable to such trimming. It cannot be made to work no matter what is done, because, by the cultural meme, this is what government bodies are, and must be.

My premise is that, given the overriding law, and its demonstrable effectiveness, and the evidence of degeneration (of liberty and well-being) within the territorial enclaves, very few people would make the choice of joining or submitting to territorial collectives with social governments. It just wouldn't make sense.

Our present world and our present programming (present company included) is geared to collectivism and that includes submission to collective governance. Groups are not viewed as free-wheeling associations, but as powerful, authoritative institutions which establish a sociopolitical context under which we live and from which we take orders. This is a cultural meme which is hard to leap out of.

The concepts of panarchy and extraterritoriality both seem to hinge upon the "freedom to choose one's masters" – that of being free to choose one social political group or another, but these are all enforcing a social agenda in a muddled formulation of social "law" and political law. As a body of law, all "group law" is compromised natural law.

I think that panarchy and extraterritoriality refer to, essentially, social contracts ... a freedom to choose one's own customs and morals, regardless of where one is located. I am not concerned with social contracts, only with the overriding "political" contract of reciprocal respect for individual sovereign boundaries.

This still may not make sense – to a lot of people.

I keep making stabs at alternatives. Within the libertarian community, I find collectivists who are committed to reforming governmental bodies (a hopeless cause, as noted), or collectivists who are pinning their hopes on some scheme of socially – or socioeconomically – anchored anarchy (ignoring the fact that social bodies – collectives – are the breeding ground for tyranny, unless they are prevented by a strong, universal political principle).

I don't doubt that a great many libertarians are sincere. However, they are running around in circles and not getting anywhere. Indeed, liberty continues to shrink the more they rally to its cause. All they are doing is perpetuating the state.

Most people – and most libertarians – are more comfortable working within their familiar cultural clan – parochial as that may be! – and they would rather be comfortable than successful in actually achieving liberty. That's a choice that I can do nothing about (i.e., people choosing to close their eyes and turn off their minds).

Few, if any, grasp the distinction between society and polity; most will contend that I am delusional. That, somehow, I am missing a few marbles.

I suspect that, had I not spent 10 years bicycling around the world – continuously – then I may never had grasped the essential nature of groups and governments – clan and the enforcement machinery. I am unrealistic to expect that other people be able to see such things.

So, to an extent, I am merely hitting my head against a brick wall ... because, based upon my own firsthand understanding, I cannot, will not concede that groups should possess any kind of political clout, nor be empowered with an authority to use force.

As the only "political" action pertains to the boundaries between individuals, it follows that the authority to enforce those boundaries exists only with individuals. Now, how to make that work is the challenge ... a contract between individuals perhaps? The necessary parameters suggest something like that.

The parameters of liberty require an essential distinction between the social and the political, and recognition that only individuals possess sovereign authority, which may not be delegated. This is the unpaved and unmarked path toward liberty. Other roads may be easier and more familiar, but they are merely perpetuating the memes of social governance, which holds no interest to me and no solution to the liberty conundrum.

I have evolved a better understanding of a non-territorial, non-governmental style of liberty. One which, however, still requires a form of nonsocial polity – that is, a practical agreement in regard to the strictly political boundaries of individual rights (autonomy). This isn't a "government" or political entity above the people, nor is the agreement local. It is predicated upon such an essential foundation of our humanity as to be universal.

Panarchists and pluralists argue for the freedom of sovereign groups. Well, good luck. And have fun. But this has nothing to do with liberty, which pertains to individual human beings – not to groups. Sovereign territories are, themselves, anti-liberty, by definition – of both concepts.

A correspondent, arguing for panarchy, noted:

"To each his own", is the ancient definition of justice.

My response: Indeed, but this merely points up our philosophical gap – as you perceive it as the freedom to choose political states, whereas I perceive it as the universal political principle which repudiates all other, further political states (sociopolitical convolutions).

Panarchists, polyarchists and pluralists make much of "international law." My guess is that this is a reference to the convoluted political, social and economic jumble of law that is accepted by nations dealing with one another. Think about it, though. International law hinges upon the existence of nations (sovereign territorial groups), whereas my concept repudiates groups as political entities, recognizes only individuals as political entities, and pertains to only one "law" therewith which is species-wide – not "international," but extra-national or universal.

Of course, if you respond that social groups are really nice things that we can use to our advantage, I will leave you to the Borg ... and to the memes of the modern world. I understand perfectly that, within those memes, you are being totally rational. However, the memes are screwed and a leap of inspiration is indicated.

There is only one law – the law of mutual respect between individuals. Everything else is social or economic rules, customs, mores, or voluntary contractual agreements. Social governments are inapt models for enforcing law (the strictly political commodity), and they are in active violation of this law when using force to impose the other rules upon the inhabitants of a territorial region.

There is only one venue for liberty – and one law. It may not take form as a contract (that's just my current proposition: a suggestion, a possibility, a potentiality). But liberty pertains solely to individuals, and rests solely with them. Society is out of the picture and so are governments – indeed, so are groups of any kind.

'Tis a challenge, undoubtedly. Take a leap out of your cultural comfort zone ...

For liberty.


copyright © 2005 by Richard G. Rieben