Blogs > Liberty and Power > L&S: The Law and the State

Jul 10, 2005 2:39 pm

L&S: The Law and the State

Tom is beginning his talk on the orgins and nature of the law by reminding us that the"law" is not encompassed by the actions taken by the state. Rather the law includes all the sorts of contractual agreements and rules that govern our lives. He just used the word"enterprise" to describe the process of generating these rules. The law is"not a set of commands given by a supreme ruler," rather it's a service industry. Not surprisingly, he's now using Lon Fuller's wonderful definition of law: the enterprise of subjecting human conduct to the governance of rules.

Much like the way public choice gives students a framework for systematically understanding political activity, so does the Fuller insight give students a framework for thinking about the way in which rules, not just state-made law, serve to coordinate human choices. Tom is starting to use this insight to talk about"polycentric" law, or the idea that multiple forms of law can overlap within the same geographic area. Law need not be, and in fact is not, a monopoly within a specific geographic region.

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Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

I'm curious--is there any reason to use the term "polycentric" to describe what is basically anarcho-capitalism, other than the tactical reason of trying to avoid alerting mainstream people that what is being discussed is anarchy?

Roderick T. Long - 7/11/2005

Re Tom P.'s comment on "anarcho-capitalism," that's one reason I use "market anarchy," which at least eliminates one of the two ambiguous terms, and more comfortably includes both those market anarchists who've called themselves capitalists (e.g. Rothbard, Friedman) and those who've called themselves socialists (e.g., Tucker, Tandy). (I think "capitalism" is more confusing than "anarchism" because although both have negative connotations with many audiences, if you call yourself a capitalist many people will think they have a very precise understanding of what you favour -- basically, government favouritism toward big business -- whereas if you call yourself an anarchist people's preconceptions, while still negative, will at least be fairly vague, and you can disarm some of their expectations by talking about an "anarchist legal order.")

Roderick T. Long - 7/11/2005

I think polycentrism is a matter of degree while anarchy is more all-or-nothing. My anarcho-libertarian utopia is more polycentric than medieval Iceland (which still had a monopoly legislature, though no monopoly judiciary or executive), which was more polycentric than USA 1776, which was more polycentric than USA 2005, which is more polycentric than the average constitutional republic, which is more polycentric than the average dictatorship. Anarchy is polycentrism taken to the max.

Tom G Palmer - 7/10/2005

In addition to the tinniness of "anarcho-capitalism" (which takes two things that for many intellectuals have rather bad connotations to make a term even less likely to attract than the two separately), it's worth remembering that poly-centrism is still compatible with the existence of states. The term helps people to think of law in ways other than just "it's the command of a superior with the power to enforce obedience." Tom Bell adopted the term for his approach some time ago and he did so for very good reasons.

Steven Horwitz - 7/10/2005

What Sheldon said. And one can recognize that legal orders ARE polycentric and SHOULD BE polycentric, without necessarily being an anarchist. Tom explicitly says he's not an anarcho-capitalist.

Sheldon Richman - 7/10/2005

The term "polycentric legal order" seems highly appropriate in the context of Tom's lecture on law. Simply to use "anarchy" would communicate poorly. Many people have meant many different things by that term. "Anarcho-capitalism sounds specifically economic, which does not seem to be Tom's focus.