The power principle
The Power Principle specifies that there must be: a one agency per unit of geography (a “monopoly”); b that is charged with authorizing the use of force (“power”); and that c the monopoly itself must be preserved by force (“coercively”).
Hence what I call the Power Principle involves a belief in the need for a “coercive monopoly of power.”
The justifications of power
The Power Principle may rest on any number of different grounds. In fact, most differences among competing political philosophies concern only disputes about the way in which the belief in the need for a coercive monopoly of power should be justified. However numerous these justifications may be, they seem to take two general forms: negative and positive.
The negative justifications of power
Power for negative purposes can be identified with the Right. This approach specifies that a coercive monopoly of power is needed to preserve “civilization” and prevent social chaos; that without a coercive monopoly of power, people will give in to their animalistic side and engage in a social “war of all against all.” Thus, it is argued that, to avoid such social degeneration, a central authority must outlaw certain kinds of conduct: The forcible interference with person and possessions should be prohibited, to be sure, but also included should be sexual conduct (for example, prostitution, pornography, homosexual conduct, and extramarital sexual relations), conduct that encourages “anti-social” beliefs (for example, religious “cults,” unacceptable books and music, manners of dress, and public assembly), and behavior that is “destructive of values” (such as drug and alcohol consumption, gambling, pool rooms, video arcades, and rock and roll).
The image that best describes the world the Right sees as ultimately resulting from the absence of a coercive monopoly of power is one in which people are fornicating in public places with heroin needles hanging from their arms. To prevent this there must be a boss: a President, a Congress, a Supreme Court, or a Moral Majority.
The positive justifications of power
The power of the Left is to ensure some positive concept of justice. According to this view, resources must be distributed among individuals in society according to some formula or, to use Nozick’s term, a “pattern.” Resources must be held, for example, according to some criterion of need, desert, or desires, or all holdings must be “equal” or “efficient”that is, distributed to their highest valued use. It is argued that without a coercive monopoly of power, actual distributions of resources will not be in accordance with the mandated pattern or principle.
Thus, in addition to prohibiting the forcible interference by some with the person and possessions of others, we must “regulate” economic transfers between individuals (e.g., by labor regulations, antitrust regulations, price or rent controls, and licensing schemes in various occupations), other social interactions (e.g., by quotas and affirmative action), consumptive activity (e.g., by food and drug regulation and the regulation of automobile design), and above all we must redistribute income (e.g., by tax and “welfare” laws). The image that best describes the world that the Left sees as resulting from the absence of a coercive monopoly of power is one in which unreconstructed Scrooge-like characters enslave or exploit helpless Cratchets and Tiny Tims at below subsistence wages in small, cold (or hot), dark rooms. To prevent this from happening, there must be a boss: a President, a Congress, a Supreme Court, or The People.
I have deliberately drawn each of these views as broadly as possible, so as to include most people somewhere. While ideologues exist on the Left and the Right, in the real world most people are “in the middle” in that they hold some mixture of these two general views. None of this is to say that all of the policies described above are unjustified or wrong or that these categories are inviolable. (Notice that the positive concern for efficient allocation of wealth is now associated with some on the Right. And recently something amounting to a new wave of puritanism on the Left can be observed emanating from the feminist movement.) Rather, the point is: a that the belief in the correctness of these policies usually results from subscribing to one of these world views or some mixture of each; b that both positions view the natural result of individual choice to be bad; and c that both views arrive at essentially the same means, a coercive monopoly of power, to pursue their fundamentally different ends.
Problems with the power principle
So what? What is wrong with implementing a coercive monopoly of power to solve the myriad problems of society? Some important answers to this question lie beyond the scope of this article or the expertise of its author. However, the Power Principle contains certain inherent defects that, while not unknown, are normally ignored, probably because a coercive monopoly of power is so widely thought to be necessary that any difficulties it creates, even those of the most fundamental and serious nature, must simply be accepted as inevitable problems of social life. I shall here consider four difficulties: The first three are practical while the last is a moral one.
Practical problems with the power principle
Believers in the Power Principle base their support on some version of the following factual assumption: Human beings are either essentially corrupt or corruptible, or they will, if given a chance, try to gain unfair advantage over each other. The sources of this belief are as varied as the believers. They range from the biblical notion of “original sin” to a “scientific” view of individuals as ruthless welfare maximizers. Whatever the source, adherents to the Power Principle conclude from this assumption that there must be a coercive monopoly of force to prevent this attribute of human behavior from creating the various social problems described in the previous section.
The practical problems with the Power Principle arise not because this assumption about human conduct is necessarily false. In truth, it is a quite plausible account of one tendency of human behavior. Rather, problems arise because the Power Principle is incapable of solving the problem for which it was invoked.
Indeed, the Power Principle cannot work because of the very problem it purports to solve.
An understanding of the practical problems with the Power Principle must begin with the observation that adherents to the Power Principle always invoke it for some purposes, but not for all purposes. They invariably claim that only certain purposes and not others can and should be effectively pursued by means of a coercive monopoly of force. (Only a committed totalitarian would maintain that such a monopoly should be used for any purpose whatsoever.) The problem for adherents to the Power Principle, however, is to show how the monopoly, once it is created, will be used to achieve only the “appropriate” ends. Not only has no society that has resorted to the Power Principle ever been successful at so limiting its use, virtually all have ended in tyranny; there are several good reasons why no society could ever be successful in the long run.
Who gets the power? Let us assume that it is true that human beings are either essentially corrupt or corruptible or that they will, if given a chance, try to gain unfair advantage over each other. Advocates of the Power Principle are immediately faced with a difficulty: Who is to get the power? Whoever it is must be a human being, so whoever is put in charge will be (by assumption) “essentially corrupt or corruptible or will try to take unfair advantage over others.”
It would seem, therefore, that the proposed solution to the assumed problem is nothing short of folly. For the human beings who are put in control of the monopoly would have a far greater capability for corruption and advantage-taking than they would have as ordinary citizens. Whatever corruption or advantage-taking these people engage in is likely to be far greater than they would be able to engage in if deprived of their power. And by granting some a capability for greater gains from corruption and advantage-taking, the incentives for such conduct are greatly increased, thereby increasing both its frequency and its severity. In other words, given their capacity for corruption and advantage-taking, bad human beings are more dangerous with power than without it. The Power Principle, then, appears to immediately aggravate the very problem it was devised to solve.
Even if we soften the starting assumption so that it now specifies that only some human beings are essentially or potentially corrupt and then posit that only the good human beings will be put in charge of the monopoly, we still need a practical way of distinguishing the good people from the bad people. We have to specify those people who are to decide who gets the power and how to obtain and disseminate the information needed for them to distinguish the good from the bad. Some might argue that electing rulers for fixed terms is the best way to make such decisions. Even assuming that this method produces the correct initial allocation of power, however, it runs afoul of several further problems.
How do you maintain power in the hands of the good? Let us assume that the problem of who gets the power is somehow solved; that a way is discerned to select only (or mostly) the good people to hold power. Perhaps an election is held and the electorate makes the correct choice among potential rulers. A second practical problem now arises: How do we keep the evil people from eventually wresting control of the monopoly from the good? Remember we started with the assumption that all or perhaps many people are corrupt or will try to take unfair advantage over others, for which reason we need a coercive monopoly of force. However, the solution provided by the Power Principle solution creates an enormously attractive target of opportunity for those people in society who wish to take advantage of others, which might be called the “capture effect.”
Maybe some of the bad people excluded from power will be content to try to privately exploit their fellow human beings. Inevitably, however, at least some of the more entrepreneurial of these people will recognize the enormous profit potential that would be derived from controlling the monopoly and publicly exploiting others. All that would be required to reap these profits is a strategy for capturing positions of power from those who currently possess it. The number of such strategies would be great. One obvious strategy that has been employed often especially in societies where rulers rule for indefinite periods, is simply to take over the monopoly by force. This strategy, however, entails considerable risks for those who would employ it. A much safer approach would be to assume the posture of a good person and get into power in a legitimate way (assuming that some such option exists). Or, alternatively, good people in power could be corrupted through bribery.
This last tactic reveals yet another very serious flaw in the power approach: the “corruption effect.” Power itself has a corrupting influence. People who start out as good can become advantage-takers simply because, as monopoly holders, the temptations to do so are great and the risks of being caught are small. So, even assuming power has been allocated to good people, these people may not remain good for long.
The inherent instability of the Power Paradigm can be analogized to that of the policy of mutual assured destruction. Once a sufficiently serious mistake is made, the game is up. With nuclear weapons we risk the destruction of the planet. With the Power Paradigm we risk the institutionalized and legitimized misuse of power. Given the perquisites of power, bad rulers can be locked in place requiring nothing short of a revolution to remove them. What is the likelihood of forever making the correct choices in this winner-take-all game of picking rulers?
Another, most serious problem of a system of elections is that it must give rulers a very short-run perspective. Rulers, especially those who rule for fixed terms, have no way of capturing the long-run benefits of their policies. Good rulers will not survive to see the long run unless their policies appear to be working in the short run. Bad rulers must plunder while the plundering is good.
Finally, the balloting solution to the problem of who gets the power is itself undercut by our initial assumption that human beings are essentially corrupt or corruptible. For only human beings vote. A unanimous vote is a practical impossibility but, if anything less than unanimity is required to elect a ruler, the majority can (sooner or later) be expected to vote out of corrupt or advantage-taking motives. Saying that a constitution will solve this problem the problem of “the tyranny of the majority”is also unrealistic. Judges must interpret and enforce a constitution, and judges are also human beings, with the result that they would form a “tyranny of the judiciary.”
The legitimacy of the power holders. Having failed to solve the problem of corruption and advantage-taking, the Power Principle exacerbates the problem still further by what might be called its “halo effect.” A coercive monopoly of power would not be (peacefully) established unless most people in society were convinced that the creation of the monopoly of power is the right or expedient thing to do. Therefore, those who wield this power will possess not only power but something that may be more helpful to their pursuit of advantage-taking than power alone could ever be: They will have legitimacy. That is, their use of power will be perceived by most to be at least presumptively justified.
This “halo effect” obviously makes the assumption of power by the wrong people even more dangerous than just giving them a monopoly would be, because, for a variety of reasons, many good people will hesitate to oppose the “duly constituted authority.” Perhaps they do not know the facts of the situation and therefore presume that those in power are correct, or perhaps they can see some personal advantage to a particular use of power against another, or perhaps they fear the consequences of “civil disobedience.” Whatever their motives may be, this natural conservatism greatly increases the potential for corruption and advantage-taking .
It can be seen from this brief discussion that the Power Principle cannot solve the question of who gets the power without setting up an infinite regress (of sorts) of enhanced incentives for corruption and advantage-taking. The reason for this is that the weakness of human beings is exacerbated by a monopoly of power, but there is no other species that can be put in control of the monopoly. Therefore, one must forever propose “higher” authorities to ensure that subordinate authorities remain honest. One could posit that God (or a group of gods) would divinely rule the human rulers. I shall not here consider the practical problems with this approach.
The source of the unending problem with the Power Paradigm is its hierarchical and vertical approach to the problem of corruption and advantage-taking. No matter how high you build your hierarchy of power, there is simply no one to put on top of the hierarchy who will not himself be potentially corrupt. The answer to human corruption must, therefore, lie elsewhere. The next version of the Power Paradigm, though flawed, suggests that a more promising avenue is a non-hierarchical or horizontal approach to power.
Federalism and the Separation of Powers as a solution to these problems with the Power Principle. One attempt to deal with the problems created by the Power Principle is to create an oligopoly or a “shared” monopoly of power. This scheme preserves a monopoly of power but purports to divide this power among a number of groups, each having limited jurisdiction over the others. So, for example, there might be a division of powers between groups of people known as “state officials” and others called “federal officials.” Or there might be a separation of powers between some people called “legislators” and others called “judges” or “executives.”
The object of such schemes is to create so-called “checks and balances.” This is a good idea. The problem with the Power Principle is not the recognition of the legitimate use of force or power itself. Those who reject the Power Principle are not necessarily pacifists, that is, they do not reject any right to use force under any circumstances. Rather, the root of the problem with the Power Principle is its adherence to a monopoly allocation of power with all the attendant problems discussed above. It is this that the Federalist and the Separation of Powers strategies are trying to address.
A formal separation of powers is unquestionably an improvement over other versions of the Power Principle, witness the experience of the United States, but eventually similar results are reached (though these results may not develop as quickly or be quite as severe.) This is because this scheme, for all its advantages, still preserves the unearned legitimacy of power and coercive barriers to entry. However many power centers are created, they remain in control indefinitely, short of a revolution.
Even in the beginning, since each has the other by the throat, no one is willing to squeeze too hard. Eventually entrepreneurs of powermaster politicians, judges, executives, or outsiders called “special interest groups”figure out a way to teach those who share the monopoly that it is in the interest of each to cooperate with the others in the use of force against those who are outside the monopoly. This process may take some time, but gradually what is originally conceived of as “checks and balances” eventually becomes a scheme more aptly described as “you don’t step on my toes and I won’t step on yours” or “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” And, when this result is reached, the Power Principle continues to provide these rulers with the legitimacy that makes corruption and advantage-taking all the easier.
The separation of powers strategy is a good idea, but one that is not taken quite far enough. What is needed is the recognition of genuinely separate powers within the same geographical area, a horizontal division of power with as little unearned legitimacy attached to each agency of force as possible. Such a system would provide real checks and balances. How such a system might function will be discussed in Part Two of this article.
The moral problem with the power principle
The moral problem with a coercive monopoly of power can be briefly described: The Power Principle posits a fundamental inequality of human beings. Those in power are thought to have qualitatively different rights than those who are not, that is, rulers have rights that subjects may never possess. By virtue of their monopoly status, at the very least they allegedly have the right to put competitors out of business, a right that is denied to other so-called “private” citizens. And most power schemes accord them the right to collect “taxes” to fund their activity, that is, to seize the property of others by force without the others’ prior consent or wrongdoing, another right that is denied all people. Many grant them the right to obtain “conscript” or semi-slave labor for certain purposes such as war-making or jury selection.
Some schemes even accord those in power such arcane rights as the right to specify that people must accept monopoly script in return for their labor or property, known as “legal tender” laws, and the sole right to run certain businesses, such as the delivery of writings and packages, the driving of buses, or the picking up of garbage. Other schemes accord them the right to grant monopoly “franchises” to sell grain or to provide television or telephone services. Some give them the right to restrict access to certain occupations. Anyone who becomes a taxi driver, lawyer, or hairdresser without the approval of those who hold the monopoly may be fined or imprisoned. The potential that these powers have to induce the corruption and advantage-taking described above is here quite obvious.
In the next section I will try to give content to the claim that all persons have rights and also trace what the contours of these rights might be. But even if such a proposition can never be affirmatively demonstrated (although I am not suggesting that this is in fact the case), those who advocate a coercive monopoly of power to solve the problem of corruption and advantage-taking bear a heavy burden of proof. They must demonstrate that some people rightly hold power over others. The pursuit of this justification has spanned centuries, indeed, millennia of political theory. Thus far this claim remains unjustified. No moral theory attempting to justify a legal hierarchy among healthy adult human beings, such theories as “divine right,” “social contract,” or “natural law” has yet succeeded in doing so.
Adherents to the Power Principle have devised a rather peculiar way of dealing with the problem of human corruption and advantage-taking. They advocate giving some human beings a monopoly on the use of force, thereby elevating some human beings to a higher moral and legal status than others.
But no one can be sure to whom to give this monopoly. And, assuming that the initial allocation is made correctly, the alleged solution creates an irresistible target of opportunity for anyone in society who wishes to exploit another, and who is clever or ruthless enough to devise a way of capturing the monopoly that has been created. The monopoly also poses grave temptations to the good to become less than good, in short, the alleged solution to the problem of corruption is itself a most potent corrupting influence. Finally, in this scheme those who possess the monopoly, as a practical matter, are presumed to employ it properly, thus enhancing the ability of some to use the monopoly to take advantage of others.
While the shared monopoly concept gradually succumbs to the same problems as the pure monopoly concept, it succeeds both in highlighting the genuine problem with the Power Principle, the creation of the coercive monopoly of force, and the genuine solution to the problem of corruption and advantage-taking: a non-monopolistic system of force which could provide genuine checks and balances, but of a far more sophisticated variety than can be provided by any constitution. And the moral problem of inequality inherent in the Power Principle points the way to another facet of a genuine solution: an effort to craft a scheme of rights and obligations that all people can equally claim.
One must be careful to avoid attributing historical inevitability to the grave problems posed by the Power Principle. The argument presented here is that the Power Paradigm is inherently unstable and pernicious, as compared with a non-monopolistic legal order.
The liberty approach
A non-monopolistic legal order
A possible objection to the view [of law] taken here is that it permits the existence of more than one legal system governing the same population. The answer is, of course, that such multiple legal systems do exist and have in history been more common than unitary systems.
What kind of legal order is consistent with the rights and remedies described in Part One of this article? Two constraints on our choices immediately present themselves.
First, the legal order must be financed by noncoercive means. The confiscation or extortion of one person’s rightful possessions to finance the defense of that person’s rights or those of another is itself a rights invasion. Second, the jurisdiction of each court system cannot be a legal monopoly. It would be inconsistent with the rights and remedies of the Liberty Approach to impose legal sanctions on someone solely because he has attempted to provide judicial services in competition with another person or group since such an attempt would itself violate none of the rights specified by the Liberty Approach. I shall consider each of these constraints in turn.
Non-coercive sources of funding
There is no reason why either a law enforcement agency or a court system cannot charge for its services, in much the same way as do other “essential” institutions, such as hospitals, banks, and schools.
Each business requires expertise and integrity, and institutions engaged in such activities must earn the trust of the consumer. Hospitals, banks, and schools, however, rely primarily on fees charged their customers, though payment of these charges can be made in a variety of different ways.
The very large and largely unanticipated expenditures for emergency hospital care are financed by insurance arrangements, by conventional credit and, of course, by cash payments. Banks raise the bulk of their revenue from the difference between the interest they charge borrowers and the interest they pay depositors, and where this differential is narrow, service charges may be imposed as well. Schools which do not receive tax receipts rely largely on tuition payments made by parents and students out of savings or from the proceeds of long-term loans. A significant portion of both educational and health services is subsidized by private charitable contributions.
It takes no great imagination to envision competitive law enforcement agencies providing police protection to paying subscribers, especially in a society where streets, sidewalks, and parks are privately owned. (Park and road owners could, for example, bundle the provision of protective services with their other transportation and recreational services.) Such a system would probably include agreements between agencies to reimburse each other if they provide services in an emergency to another firm’s client. Competitive court systems could utilize many of the same techniques as hospitals to fund their services: insurance, credit, cash, and charity. Prepaid legal service plans or other forms of legal insurance are also possible and, where permitted, sometimes are available even today.
In addition, court systems could profit by selling the written opinions of their judges to law firms (or to the various retrieval services on which lawyers rely). Such opinions would be of value to lawyers and yield a profit to the court system which sold them only to the extent that they are truly useful to predict the future actions of these judges. So to fully profit from such publications, each court system would have to monitor and provide internal incentives to encourage its judges both to write and to follow precedential decisions.
At present, attorneys bill clients by the hour or collect a percentage of the damage awards they succeed in obtaining. They also work pro bono, that is, they donate their services in the interests of justice. Except in unusual cases, however, those who successfully bring or defend lawsuits in the United States today cannot recover their legal fees from those persons who either violated their rights or who wrongfully brought suit against them.
In contrast, a Liberty Approach requires restitution to compensate as completely as possible for all the determinable expenses which result from a rights violation. Therefore, in a legal system that adheres to a Liberty Approach, the loser of a lawsuit must be liable (at least prima facie) for the full legal costs of the prevailing party. In the absence of such a rule, the innocent party would be made to absorb some of the costs of the other party’s wrongdoing. And such a legal rule would also serve both to protect innocent persons from the expense and injustice of baseless lawsuits by increasing the costs of losing weak cases, and to help pay for meretricious winning lawsuits brought by people who could not otherwise afford the legal costs.
Moreover, it is important to note that consumers using such institutions as hospitals, schools, and banks must now pay both for the services of doctors, bankers, and teachers and for the overhead of the facility (the hospital, the bank, or the school) where these professionals practice. With the legal profession, however, we are accustomed to privately paying for lawyers, while providing the capital and labor used by lawyers, courts and court personnel by tax receipts. This “public good” arrangement encourages overuse by some until court backlogs and overcrowding create queues that substitute for prices or fees to clear the market.
Some people worry that allocating court resources by means of a market price mechanism will unfairly reward the rich. But the system as it now exists rewards those litigants who are better able to wait out the imposed delays and penalizes those who for any reason require a fast decision. Who is more likely to be in each group, the wealthy, or the poor, a company or an injured consumer, the guilty or the innocent? Remember also that in a Liberty Approach, the loser would have to reimburse the prevailing party for court costs, including costs caused by delaying tactics. The most likely result of adopting a competitive legal order with market-based pricing is that all legal costs would be greatly reduced from their present level, and successful litigants would be able to keep a higher proportion of whatever damages awards they recovered.
In short, the financing of legal services is neither a very different nor a more serious problem than the financing of many other public services that rely only minimally, if at all, on tax revenues and that sometimes even now must compete against tax-subsidized competition to survive. Whatever problems may exist in providing indigents with legal and judicial services exist as well with hospitals and schools. But such problems do not justify taxation as a means of providing these services to everyone, whether indigent or not, nor, as was suggested above, must these services be provided in kind.
No jurisdictional monopoly
The argument that law enforcement and adjudication are so important that they must be provided by a coercive monopoly is ironic. If one had to identify a service that is really fundamental to social well-being, it would be the provision of food. Yet no one (in this country) seriously suggests that this service is “too important” to be left to private firms subject to the market competition. On the contrary, both theory and history demonstrate that food production is too important to be left to a coercive monopoly.
The more vital a good or service is, the more dangerous it is to let it be produced by a coercive monopoly. A monopoly post office does far less harm than monopoly law enforcement and court systems. And a coercive monopoly might go largely unnoticed if it were limited to making paper clips, that is, the inferior and/or costly paper clips inevitably produced by such a monopoly might not bother us too much. It is when something really important is left to a coercive monopoly that we face potential disaster.
Moreover, upon closer examination the seemingly radical proposal to end the geographical monopoly of legal systems is actually a rather short step from the competitive spirit to which we have been, and to some extent still are, accustomed. In the long history of English law, royal courts competed with merchant courts; courts of law competed with courts of equity. “The very complexity of a common legal order containing diversely legal systems contributed to legal sophistication.” Even today, the federal system in the United States preserves a degree of competition between state and federal courts. We are accustomed to the idea of “checks and balances” among governmental power centers that is said to be embodied in the constitutional framework. And private adjudication and arbitration organizations routinely compete with government courts for commercial business.
In evaluating the merits of a nonmonopolistic legal order we must be careful always to take a comparative approach. It is tempting but ultimately fruitless to compare any proposal to an ideal that no other possible legal order could more closely achieve. When comparing the realistic prospects of a legal order made up of diverse legal systems with those of a monopoly legal system, the advantages can readily be seen.
Without a coercive monopoly, actual or potential competition provides genuine checks and balances. In a competitive legal order, an individual excluded from or oppressed by one legal system can appeal to another; an individual shut out of a monopoly legal system cannot. People are extremely reluctant to “vote with their feet” by leaving a country because doing so means abandoning one’s friends, family, culture, and career. And yet people do so if things get bad enough. By having the choice to shift one’s legal affiliation without having to incur the substantial costs of expatriation means that things do not have to get nearly so bad before a change in affiliation occurs.
Contrary to contemporary preferences for a unitary legal system, it is the pluralism of the Western legal order that has been, or once was, a source of freedom. A serf might run to the town court for protection against his master. A vassal might run to the king’s court for protection against his lord. A cleric might run to the ecclesiastical court for protection against the king.
Law will remain supreme in a society if, and only if, a unitary legal system does not develop.
Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the Western legal tradition is the coexistence and competition within the same community of diverse jurisdictions and diverse legal systems. It is this plurality of jurisdictions and legal systems that makes the supremacy of law both necessary and possible.
The modern monopolistic conception of a unitary legal system threatens this vital diversity.
Moreover, while we are accustomed to thinking about a single agency with a geographical monopoly such as county government providing both the judicial system and the police agency to enforce its orders, in a competitive legal order no such combination is either likely or desirable. Wholly different skills and resources are needed to efficiently render just decisions than are needed to efficiently enforce such decisions as are rendered by a court.
For instance, an efficient judicial system must accumulate and organize the historical information and legal analysis needed to do justice between contending parties, and it must also demonstrate to the relevant social group that justice is being done. A successful court system must fulfill at least two distinct functions: the justice function and the fairness function. The justice function consists of devising and implementing reliable means of accurately determining facts and law. The fairness function consists of convincing the practicing bar who must recommend where to initiate lawsuits, the litigants who must suffer the consequences of this choice, and the general public who must acquiesce to the enforcement of legal judgments in their midst that the procedures it has employed have produced justice. A legal system will not provide a service worth paying for if it fails to fulfill either function. Additionally, some kinds of procedural safeguards may be mandated not only by market demands but by principles of justice as well.
Efficient law enforcement, on the other hand, involves the least costly use of coercion: a to protect people from harm; b to seize and sell property in satisfaction of judgments by a “recognized” court; or c to administer a system of productive enterprises where persons who are either unable or unwilling to make payments from regular earnings can be employed under controlled conditions and paid market wages from which reparations are deducted until their debt to the victim is satisfied. It is implausible that a single agency would provide any two of these services. The fact that an institution performs one of these functions well would seem to be unrelated to its ability to effectively perform any of the others. It is even more implausible that a successful law enforcement agency would also most efficiently supply judicial services.
As important as the balance maintained by a competitive legal order are the constraints provided by the requirement that legal systems contract with their clientele. Deprived of the power to tax and the power to coercively impose their services upon consumers, legal systems which must depend upon market-based fees and prepaid insurance would have to be comparatively more responsive to the needs and desires of their consumers than agencies with the right to collect their revenues at gun point. The fact that individuals and firms respond to the incentives provided by competition is acknowledged to be true in every other area of human endeavor. Human nature does not suddenly change when one gets a job providing law enforcement and judicial services.
Where opportunities for better service are perceived by entrepreneurs, the capital markets permit enormous amounts of money to be raised in a short period of time, either to purchase existing firms which are mismanaged, to start a new firm, or to diversify from one area of law enforcement into another. Each legal system would be constrained by the knowledge that alternative systems exist, in much the same way that individual states in a federal system are constrained in how they make corporation law by the knowledge that it is always possible for companies to reincorporate in another state without moving their assets. Even a rumor of unreliability can be expected to shake the biggest of companies.
In short, there is an increased likelihood that a competitive legal order would be far more responsive to the consumer than a coercive monopoly. In fact, when one seriously compares the potential responsiveness of each system, many readers may concede the point and offer the opposite objection: Competing jurisdictions would most-likely be too responsive to their customers, and this would inevitably lead to injustice and serious conflicts among agencies, creating serious social disruption. What is to prevent one judicial organization from fighting with or ignoring the rulings of another? Why should any organization heed the call of another? These are serious questions deserving serious answers, but first some perspective is needed.
We now have fifty (state) court systems in the United States, each with its own hierarchical structure, plus twelve Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals. There is no general right to appeal from the decision of any one of them to the Supreme Court of the United States. (With few exceptions, the Supreme Court of the United States must choose to accept a petition for review.) And the situation is, in fact, still more diverse. For within each state, there are often numerous appellate court jurisdictions from whose judgment one has no general right to appeal to the supreme court of that state. (Again, with few exceptions, the supreme courts of each state must choose to accept a petition for review.) Moreover, the federal as well as many state appellate court districts are divided into “panels” of judges, who are randomly assigned to hear cases arising from the same jurisdiction. Add to this diversity the many municipal court systems and courts of limited jurisdiction, such as bankruptcy courts, and the image of a unitary court system begins to blur.
The abolition of geography-based jurisdictional monopolies would mean only that jurisdictional conflicts would arise between persons who had chosen different court systems by contract, rather than as now between persons who have decided to live in different places. Where two disputants have chosen the same court system, no jurisdictional conflict is presented. Where individuals have chosen different systems, conflicts between the two disputants would be governed by the same type of preexisting agreements between the court systems that presently exists between the court systems of states and nations.
Extended conflict between competing court systems is quite unlikely. It is simply not in the interest of repeat players (and most of their clients) to attempt to obtain short-run gains at the cost of long-run conflict. Where they have the opportunity to cooperate, in even the most intense conflicts, warfare for example, participants tend to evolve a “live and let live” philosophy. Most successful lawyers do not today go to any lengths to pursue a given client’s interests: they must live to fight another day and to preserve their ability to effectively defend other clients. Likewise, it is not in the interest of any judge or court system to use or threaten force to resolve a legal or jurisdictional conflict in any but the most serious of circumstances.
Courts and judges have therefore, traditionally found peaceful ways to resolve the two questions most likely to lead to conflict when multiple legal jurisdictions exist: Which court system is to hear the case when more than one might do so? And which law is to be applied when more than one law might be applied? Much of the court-made law of “civil procedure” addresses the first question, and an entire body of law called the conflict of laws has arisen spontaneously (that is, it was not imposed by highest authority) to provide a means of resolving the second of these two questions. As one commentator wrote:
What is the subject matter of the conflict of laws? A fairly neutral definition is that the conflict of laws is the study of whether or not and, if so, in what way, the answer to a legal problem will be affected because the elements of the problem have contacts with more than one jurisdiction.
How much greater the incentive to cooperate would be if competing judicial services did not have access to a steady stream of coercively obtained revenue, that is, by taxation. Those contemplating such a conflict would know that the resources available to fight would not exceed those on hand and those which people were freely willing to contribute to the fight. Unlike national governments, they could not obtain by coercion, that is by draft, personnel to enforce their judgment.
A “renegade” judicial system or law enforcement firm, no matter how financially well endowed it might be as compared with any single rival, would undoubtedly be dwarfed by the capital market as a whole. Imagine the Cook County Sheriff’s Office fighting all the other sheriff’s offices in the region, state, or country with only the resources it had on hand. (Actually, the jurisdictional dispersion of a non-monopolistic legal order makes McDonald’s declaring war on Wendy’s and Burger King a far more apt analogy.)
The argument that we need court systems with geography-based jurisdictional monopolies does not stop at the border of a nation-state. Any such argument suggests the need for a single world court system with one Super-Supreme Court to decide international disputes and its own army to enforce its decisions. After all, the logic of the argument against a competitive legal order applies with equal force to autonomous nations. Yet, although governments do go to war against one another, of course, they can tax their populations and draft soldiers, few people favor the coercive monopoly “solution” to the most serious problem of war. Rather than invoking the Power Principle that would mandate the creation of a hierarchy, most people favor the use of “treaties” or agreements, contracts, if you will, between nations to settle their conflicts. That is precisely how a non-monopolistic legal order should and would resolve their conflicts as well.
To better understand the case for a non-monopolistic legal order and the deficiencies of a monopolistic system, posit what most people fear would happen if a unitary international “one-world” court system and police force were adopted. The same fears should apply with equal force to a national monopoly court system, except for the fact that some people have the ability to flee if a single country becomes too tyrannical. The abolition of geography-based jurisdictional monopolies would simply strengthen the constraints on tyranny by making alternative legal systems available without leaving home.
In sum, conflicts between court systems whose jurisdictions geographically overlap present no huge practical problem. It is more reasonable to expect a never-ending series of “little” problems around the edges. Information must be shared; duplicated efforts avoided; minor conflicts settled amicably; and profit margins preserved. As with any other organization, the normal problems confronting business and political rivals who must constantly strike a balance between competition and cooperation would have to be managed. How these edges would be smoothed would sometimes require ingenuity. There is no good reason, however, to refrain from seriously pursuing this alternative to the Power Principle.
Imagining a non-monopolistic order
It is no easier to predict the formal organization and division of labor of a future legal order than it is to predict the formal organization of the personal computer market ten years from now. (Of course, ten years ago the challenge would have been to predict the very existence of a personal computer market.) Difficulties of prediction notwithstanding, some speculation is needed, for without a conception of what such a legal order would look like, few will be inspired to move in the direction of a Liberty Approach. However, rather than attempt the impossible task of comprehensively assessing the limitless possibilities that freedom makes possible, let us instead imagine that somewhere today there exists the legal order that I shall now describe.
In this hypothetical world, the vast majority of people who work or who have spouses or parents who work are covered by health insurance arrangements (like those provided in our world by such companies as Blue Cross/Blue Shield). In return for a monthly fee, if they are ever sick they receive medical attention by simply presenting their membership card to an approved doctor or hospital. In this hypothetical world, many people also carry a Blue Coif/Blue Gavel card (“Don’t get caught without it!”) as well. If they ever need legal services, they present their card to an approved lawyer and court system. Of course, as with medical insurance, not all kinds of legal actions are covered and there may be limits to some kinds of coverage; and not everyone makes use of this type of system.
Others belong to a “Rights Maintenance Organization” (or “R.M.O.”). These firms keep lawyers on staff as salaried employees (rather than as partners) providing “preventative” legal services. Costs created by needless or hopeless litigation are said to be more tightly controlled than is possible with conventional legal insurance arrangements, and this permits an R.M.O. to offer more coverage for a lower premium. Legal disputes between members of the same R.M.O. are very expeditiously handled internally. And when it is necessary to go to an outside court, the R.M.O. will pay the court fee (having arranged group discounts for its members in advance). On the other hand, the freedom to pick your own lawyer within an R.M.O. is necessarily limited, and this feature will not satisfy everyone. Another drawback is the fact that the client is more dependent on the R.M.O.’s determination that a lawsuit is cost justified than is a client who has coverage by Blue Coif/Blue Gavel.
Large retailers (like Sears) who sell insurance (Allstate), investment (Dean Witter), and real estate (Coldwell Banker) services also sell legal services, as do some bank and trust companies. Most offer in-house revolving charge accounts as an alternative to insurance and other kinds of credit arrangements. Law firm franchises dot the landscape with well-lit (some think garish) “Golden Scales of Justice” signs prominently displayed at street-side. Located in shopping malls and along busy streets, these firms advertise nationally and specialize in high volume (some say homogenized) practices, handling routine legal matters at standardized fees. (They accept Blue Coif/Blue Gavel and major credit cards.)
Such mass merchandising is not for everyone. Many clients still prefer the personal touch and custom-tailored work of solo practitioners who thrive by providing a more individualized approach. Some of these independent lawyers offer more specialized expertise than the chains; others try to be “generalists” and claim that they can spot interrelated legal problems that the lawyers who only handle certain kinds of less complicated legal matters often miss. Most large companies with commercial legal problems prefer the elegance, prestige, and economies of scale of large, traditionally organized high-rise law firms. (Some things never change.)
Other means of financing lawsuits besides insurance are also available. A few credit card companies offer extended payment plans when used for legal services. Contingency-fee-based entrepreneurs (who, like everyone else, can and do advertise widely) serve many who cannot or choose not to advance the money for legal services. (However, to help minimize the number of improvident lawsuits, some court systems have established rules restricting such practices in a manner similar to the rules established in our world by private stock and mercantile exchanges.) Such legal entrepreneurs are a bit more risk averse than they are in our legal system since, if they lose, their clients will be liable for the full legal expenses of the other side. Still, they provide an important service to many who could not otherwise afford legal services.
The judicial order mirrors the diversity of the legal profession as a whole. There are well-known and well-advertised national judicial centers, with regional and local offices, that handle the bulk of routine commercial practice. (These firms sometimes attempt to satisfy the fairness function by hiring lay jurors to decide simple factual matters.) There are small firms that handle specialized legal matters like maritime cases and patent or mineral disputes. (These firms almost never use lay jurors, but rely instead on panels of professional experts who receive retainers from the company.) And there are thousands of individual judges who hang out a shingle in neighborhoods after registering with the National Registry of Judges and Justices of the Peace, which requires of its members a minimum (some say minimal) level of legal education and experience. Many of these judges share the ethnic heritage of the community where their offices are located. Many of these judges are multilingual.
Individuals and businesses tend to avoid judges and judicial systems which lack some significant certification of quality. The Harvard Law School Guide to the American Judiciary, for example, is one useful source of information (but it is occasionally accused of being somewhat elitist). Who’s Who in the American Judiciary, published by a nonacademic publishing firm is another. Others prefer the annual guide published by the Consumers Union (it accepts no advertising). Still others prefer the Whole Earth Catalog of Judges (though it usually is a bit out of date). The Michelin Guide to International Law Judges uses a five-star rating system. Even with all of these publications providing information about the legal system that is unavailable to us in our world, newspapers and television “news magazines” never seem to tire of stories about judicial corruption. Such exposés sometimes lead to reforms by the various rating agencies.
To attract business most judges obtain enforcement of their judgments by subscribing to services offered by police companies. Otherwise only the moral authority of their rulings would induce compliance. Since all law enforcement agencies are legally liable to those who can prove to the satisfaction of a special appellate system that an erroneous judgment had been imposed upon them, no enforcement company will long maintain a relationship with an unreliable judicial agency or an unregistered judge. (Some judges even advertise to law enforcement firms and the general public: “Judgment affirmed or your money back!”) Until a few years ago, several large judicial agencies owned their own police company (more on this development in a moment).
Surprisingly, however, not every judge utilizes the services of an enforcement agency. The American Association of Adjudicators (AAA) does not promise enforcement but only a fair and just decision. All parties must contractually agree to binding adjudication in a form recognized as enforceable by other courts who do have enforcement arrangements and who will only on rare occasions fail to summarily honor an AAA adjudicator’s decision. Other judges don’t rely even indirectly on law enforcement agencies. In some discrete communities like the diamond trading community in our world whose judges apply a variant of Jewish law, social sanctions are all that are required to effectively enforce judgments.
The enforcement agencies themselves tend to specialize in what we call criminal or civil cases. The distinction between these areas is not considered to be a theoretical matter, but turns instead on the differing enforcement problems that necessitate a division of labor. Those firms specializing in “criminal” matters either catch criminals or provide work to those who may not be able to earn enough to satisfy the judgment against them if left on their own. The “civil” agencies must be adept at sorting through paper arrangements to locate assets that can be legitimately seized and sold to satisfy judgments. Occasionally, when a civil agency is done with a convicted defendant, the case must be turned over to a criminal agency to collect the balance. To be sure, conflicts between enforcement agencies have arisen. Most have been quickly resolved by the agencies themselves. Some have required other agencies to intervene.
In addition, all law enforcement agencies subscribe to one of two competing computer networks that gather and store information about individuals who have been convicted of offenses (in much the same manner as government police departments and private credit rating agencies share information in our world). Such services provide their clients with near instantaneous information about individuals and firms that they might be contemplating doing business with (something like the information that local Better Business Bureaus in our world claim to provide) and persons whom they might consider excluding from their property.
While it does not directly concern the legal order, some may be interested to learn that most common areas in this world are as accessible as private shopping centers and other commercial and residential developments are in ours. Smaller parks, however, tend to be for the exclusive use of those neighborhood residents and their guests who pay annual fees; larger parks issue single admission tickets and season passes. People who do not use the parks at all are free to spend their money on other goods and services.
Intercity highways charge tolls. Urban commuter highways issue license plates that vary in price (and color) depending on whether or not they can be used during “rush hours.” (Price rationing has eliminated regular traffic jams. For example, as with long distance phone service, usage between 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. is heavily discounted.) Tourists can obtain temporary permits at outlying toll booths. Some firms in this world are now experimenting with electronic systems that monitor highway usage with rates that can more precisely reflect such factors as distance, time, and dayand send monthly bills to users. With road use subject to market pricing, competing private train and bus firms seem to do better in this world than in ours, where road use is rationed by gas prices and a queue.
All new commercial and residential developments must build their own roads, and all leases and land titles include both contractual rights of access and stipulated maintenance fees. Ownership of formerly public streets has been assigned to road companies. Stock in these companies belongs to those who own commercial or residential property adjacent to the streets, and these property owners also receive contractual rights of access and egress. These companies have continued to merge and break up with one another until their sizes and configurations are economically efficient.
(Aside: What now follows is a worse case scenario offered only to show the stability of such a legal order. What makes the story particularly unlikely to occur in a non-monopolistic legal order is that its ending would be so easily foreseeable.)
Some years ago, one quite serious problem with the legal system did develop, however. About ten years after the monopoly legal system was ended, “TopCops,” one of the country’s largest law enforcement agencies (commanding about one-third of the national market in protective services) merged with Justice, Inc., one of the largest court systems. Many observers were quite disturbed by this development, and the other judicial companies and law enforcement agencies also became concerned. Since the merger violated no one’s rights, no legal action against this new institution could be taken. The fears, however, turned out to be well founded.
Initially the operation of this organization appeared to be unobjectionable, but after a time rumors began to circulate that when subscribers to TopCops came into conflict with subscribers to other agencies, Justice, Inc., sided with TopCops in some highly questionable decisions. In response to these rumors, both the Chief Judge of Justice, Inc., and the corporate president of TopCops denied that any lack of fairness existed, and they publicly promised an internal investigation. Still the rumors persisted and took a new turn. Officers of TopCops were said to have been accused of committing crimes, but Justice, Inc., rarely if ever found for their accusers.
Unbeknownst to the general public, in response to these rumors a secret task force was formed by a consortium of major rival enforcement agencies and court systems to devise a strategy to deal with the problem. (It was thought at the time that secrecy was important so as not to shake the faith of the general public in the legal structure as a whole.) The following policies were quietly adopted and implemented:
First, no subscriber of a court system belonging to the consortium would submit to the sole jurisdiction of Justice, Inc. This had not been the usual practice formerly because avoiding duplicate legal actions saved costs for both sides.
Second, all decisions of Justice, Inc., that were in conflict with a decision of a court belonging to the consortium were to be automatically appealed to a third court system according to the appellate structure established by the Cambridge Convention (of which Justice, Inc., was a member).
Finally, no decision of Justice, Inc., that conflicted with that of a member court would be recognized and enforced by a member law enforcement agency.
Smaller court systems and law enforcement agencies quickly got wind of the new policy and began emulating it. The immediate consequence of these actions was a drastic increase in the adjudication and enforcement costs incurred by Justice, Inc., and TopCops. A backlog of cases began to develop, and the rates of both companies eventually had to be raised. As a result, subscribers began switching to alternative services. A major faction of the board of directors of TopCops resigned when the board refused to adopt any significant reforms. Instead, the remainder of the board voted to sever their affiliation with the Cambridge Convention and began to search for alliances with other companies. (The true reason for this apparently irrational behavior was discovered only later.)
Several small enforcement companies and even one medium size company were induced to affiliate with TopCops, forming the Confederation of Enforcement Agencies. It was rumored that some had been intimidated to affiliate. These alliances, however, did little more than make up for the steady drop in both subscribers and revenues. At its zenith, the entire Confederation controlled about a third of the enforcement market about the same share of the market that TopCops alone had previously controlled.
In response, the Cambridge Convention formally severed relations with the members of the Confederation and went public with its factual findings. Notwithstanding, the Confederation’s public protests, its already jittery subscribers began to repudiate their contracts in large numbers. The Confederation first announced that it would no longer give pro rata refunds for subscription fees. When resignations nonetheless persisted, the Confederation announced that because they were a result of “unfounded panic,” it would not recognize them as valid until the “rumor-mongering” of the “Cambridge Cartel” ceased.
Then a new and frightening story broke. It was learned that the board members of TopCops who had pioneered these developments were secretly affiliated with members of the remnants of the old “organized crime syndicate.” Since all victimless crimes, crimes involving drugs, gambling, prostitution, pornography, and so on, had long ago been abolished, the syndicate’s power and income had drastically declined. It obtained what income it received primarily from organizing and attempting to monopolize burglary, auto theft, and extortion activities. Of course, even these activities were not as profitable as they had once been because preventative law enforcement efforts had greatly increased, and the corruption of law enforcement officers had become much more difficult. Hence the scheme to infiltrate TopCops was hatched.
A search by independent investigative journalists of the court records made available by the consortium revealed that the syndicate-affiliated criminals had received unjustifiably favorable treatment by Justice, Inc. With this news, the Cambridge Convention communicated the following extraordinary order to all law enforcement agencies and to the general public:
No order of Justice, Inc. is to be recognized or obeyed. Free protection is to be extended to any subscriber of TopCops who is threatened in any way. Any victim of a burglary or auto theft whose case had been adversely decided by Justice, Inc., is entitled to a rehearing, and all previously acquitted defendants in such cases are subject to immediate re-arrest and re-trial. All TopCops employees are to be placed under immediate surveillance.
With this action, Justice, Inc., was forced to close its operations because of lack of business. The remainder of TopCops’ honest subscribers repudiated their affiliation, and scores of burglars and auto thieves were placed under arrest. (Several of TopCops’ employees turned out to have been acquitted burglary and auto theft defendants.) Without a cash flow, and with the risk of personal liability now present, TopCops’ employees began quitting the company in very large numbers. Since TopCops had been a national organization, it did not have a single location that was strategically defensible, so there was little armed resistance to the law enforcement actions of the consortium members. In most instances, TopCops facilities were within a few blocks of other agencies. Within a matter of weeks, the TopCops organization had been disbanded and its assets auctioned off to provide funds to partially reimburse persons whose rights it had violated. Soon, offices formerly operated by TopCops were reopened for business as new branches of other established companies.
The entire unhappy episode had taken not quite six months to unfold, but some important lessons were learned. First, the initial euphoria surrounding the abolition of the archaic monopoly legal system was tempered. People realized that a non-monopolistic legal order was no panacea for the problems of law enforcement and adjudication. Diligence was still required to prevent injustice and tyranny from recurring. Second, the Cambridge Convention announced that in the future it would not recognize any court system created or purchased by a law enforcement agency. Court systems were still able to administer a small enforcement contingent, but strict guidelines were formulated for such arrangements. Third, organized burglary, auto theft, and extortion rings had been dealt a serious financial blow. (They still persist, however.)
Finally, after all the turmoil and talk of “crisis” had subsided, most people came to realize that their new legal order was far more stable than many of the “old guard” who had grown up under the ancient regime had expected it to be. The entire unhappy incident had unfolded in a matter of months and had been successfully and largely peacefully resolved. And this realization extended to members of the law enforcement community as well, making any future forays into aggressive activities much less likely than ever before.
Conclusion: Beyond justice in a free society
We are now in a position to provide new answers to the three problems of power that were posed in Part I of this article.
Who gets the power? Those court systems whose jurisdiction people agree to accept and those law enforcement agencies to which people are willing to subscribe.
How do you keep power in the hands of the good? By permitting people to withdraw their consent and their financial support from those who are perceived to be corrupt or to be advantage-takers and letting them shift their support to others who are perceived to be better. The potentially rapid swing of resources and the ability of law-abiding organizations to organize their resistance to aggression can help assure that swift preventative measures will be smoothly implemented.
How do you prevent holders of power from receiving undue legitimacy? No non-monopolistic court would have any special legal privileges. Stripped of the legitimacy traditionally accorded rulers, private court systems would be constantly scrutinized to detect any self-serving behavior. Their legitimacy would depend solely on their individual reputations. While a tradition of integrity would heavily shape a reputation, an effective court system would need to ensure that its current practices and policies did not jeopardize its reputation in any way.
Two final questions remain to be addressed. First, how can we expect that the substantive rights and remedies suggested by a Liberty Approach will be the law adopted by a non-monopolistic legal order? After all, these rights go far beyond the simple abolition of monopolistic legal jurisdictions. As a practical matter the answer is quite simple. It is hard to imagine a society that did not adhere to some version of the rights and remedies prescribed by a Liberty Approach ever accepting a non-monopolistic legal order in the first instance. In other words, a societal consensus supporting these rights and remedies would seem to be a precondition for ending the monopolistic aspect of our legal system. Moreover, the inherent stability of a competitive system is likely to preserve this initial consensus. In the last analysis, where no consensus about liberty and individual rights exists, it is unlikely that a coercive monopoly of power will do much to prevent violations of these rights violations from occurring.
Second, while acknowledging that only a summary description of a Liberty Approach has been presented here, even the most open-minded reader is likely to have a lingering doubt. There may remain a sense that a Liberty Approach even if it operated as advertised, may somehow not be enough; that to achieve the kind of society to which we aspire requires more than the rights, duties, and legal order of a Liberty Approach.
In an important respect, I think that such a doubt is entirely justified. A Liberty Approach alone is not enough to ensure that a good society will be achieved, a world with culture, with learning, with wisdom, with generosity, with manners, with respect for others, with integrity, with a sense of humor, and much more. A Liberty Approach neither includes such values in its prescriptions nor seems to assure that by adhering to its prescriptions such a world will be attained. So what does a Liberty Approach have to offer to those who share these values?
Lon Fuller once distinguished between two moralities the morality of aspiration and the morality of duty:
The morality of aspiration is the morality of the Good Life, of excellence, of the fullest realization of human powers. [A] man might fail to realize his full capabilities. As a citizen or as an official, he might be found wanting. But in such a case he was condemned for failure, not for being recreant to duty; for shortcoming, not for wrongdoing.
Where the morality of aspiration starts at the top of human achievement, the morality of duty starts at the bottom. It lays down the basic rules without which an ordered society is impossible, or without which an ordered society directed toward certain specific goals must fail of its mark. It does not condemn men for failing to embrace opportunities for the fullest realization of their powers. Instead, it condemns them for failing to respect the basic requirements of social living.
A Liberty Approach, if correct, is a morality of duty. It purports to specify what justice is and how it may best be pursued. It is not an entire ethical system for achieving a good society. Adherents to a Liberty Approach seek to identify “the basic rules without which an ordered society is impossible.” They believe that to legally require any more than this, to attempt to enforce a morality of aspiration as we would a morality of duty, will ultimately undermine both projects. They do not deny that more than justice is important. Nor do they deny that the pursuit of justice will be influenced by the extent to which people adhere to a morality of aspiration. But they believe no less firmly that the framework of justice provided by a Liberty Approach offers humankind the best opportunity to pursue both virtue and justice.
If the morality of aspiration is not enforced by a coercive monopoly in a Liberty Approach, then what kind of institutions would enforce it? In a society that rigorously adhered to a Liberty Approach, the so-called “intermediate” institutions that have traditionally bridged the gap between individual and State schools, theaters, publishers, clubs, neighborhood groups, charities, religious and fraternal groups, and other voluntary associations would continue to serve their vital function of developing and inculcating values. But in a completely free society, they would do so unburdened by the forcible interference of third parties that is made possible by an adherence to the Power Principle. Because they are noncoercive, these institutions, like the market process, are inadequately appreciated by many. But it is no coincidence that totalitarian regimes invariably strive to regulate, co-opt, subvert, and ultimately to completely destroy these institutions.
Are such voluntary institutions enough? We have no way of being sure. But, as I have repeatedly stressed here, a system based on the Power Principle offers no guarantees either. Even an ideally wielded coercive monopoly of power is only as “good” as the persons wielding the power. But power corrupts those who wield it, and virtue is its first victim. Our values come not from coercion but from the exhortations and examples set by countless individuals and groups.
The rights, remedies, and legal order specified by a Liberty Approach will not end all injustice. There will always be injustice, just as there will always be corruption and advantage-taking. But although a Liberty Approach offers no guarantees, it does enable us to better pursue justice in a free society by providing a clear idea of what we are pursuing and how we may best pursue it without undermining our precious freedom in the process. For those who believe in liberty and justice for all, a Liberty Approach may be an idea whose time has come.
Make use of the following additional resources to expand knowledge and understanding of the topic covered in this unit.
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