This articles discusses lawlessness in the context of a polycentric legal structure. This is important because polycentrism is in some ways efficient, so societies are expected to tend to adopt that structure. Seasteds follow this structure.
As an interesting side note: Transitioning from a geographic state to a polycentric geography isn’t technically hard. State land could be evenly distributed to the population, and those with money could purchase land from those who would rather have money than land. The issue is socio-political, or about convincing humans to do so, rather than about the technical difficulty of total devolution.
Now, after total devolution, or in the case of seasteading, there need be no declared law at all. Consider this similar to car insurance, where car insurance isn’t legally required. Many people will voluntarily purchase it while others will prefer not to outlay cash in the consumption of adjudication and enforcement services.
David Friedman suggests that polycentric law would devolve into an enforcement game, and I largely agree. On the other hand, those who consume enforcement services are likely to prefer a payout over the satisfaction of the news that their offender has been clubbed. For this reason, an offender wouldn’t need a defense agency so long as they are willing to pay normal prices for committing offenses. In addition, some private adjudication and enforcement agencies will exist on-demand, so that subscriptions aren’t necessary. During the period between perceived offense of any kind against any person, some folks simply won’t subscribe to any laws in particular. This is a special case of polycentric law which can be called total lawlessness.
Both total lawlessness and ordinary polycentric law may fit a biblical concept of lawlessness. In the case of ordinary polycentric law, there is law on hand at all times, but there are multiple overlapping and conflicting sets of law with no always-dominant or always-binding particular set of law. In many, and perhaps all, cases where two legitimate and opposite legal commands exist, without any clear dominance or comparative authority, the individual seems free to behave according to either law. That is, there is effectively no law.
There’s another case where there is effectively no law, even if a dominant law is declared. That is in the case of non-enforcement. In the United States, the President is the Chief Executive. Presidents have constrained the ability to enforce laws according to the budget available. Presidents are able to prioritize enforcement of existing laws in order to execute their responsibilities to an imperfect degree in the face of budget and other constraints. This ability to prioritize and in many cases qualitatively define the enforcement of the law is called Executive Discretion. It has become a precedent that a President may use this discretion to entirely halt enforcement of certain laws with which they disagree. This effectively removes the law. This is more than a technicality. The President is endowed with the authority to govern and their decision to effectively nullify a law that Congress has passed can be viewed through a biblical lens as efficaciously altering the law of the land.
So we now have five cases of lawlessness:
- Laws exist, but they are unenforced. There is no official statement of their nullification.
- Laws exist, but they are unenforced. They are somehow officially declared null by a member of the government.
- Multiple sets of laws exist, but they conflict and none is clearly dominant.
- The law literally does not exist over a geographic area.
- Legal ambiguity exists but there is an expected pattern of enforcement. Rebelling against that expectation is the breaking of the law, not its absence, but perhaps the man of lawlessness is better theologically conceived as the man who breaks laws rather than one to which no law applies. Perhaps he could be both, but that doesn’t seem obvious to me in the current legal system nor in a polycentric system.
Let’s return to the case of total social lawlessness and notice one more thing. Notice that the individual which is highly legally ensured may be precisely the individual that commits a large number of offenses. Their highly paid enforcement and adjudication contracts provide for them to defeat competitors in the court of law or the battlefield. They gain economies of scale and positive network effects due to the number of firms they employ. These firms agree not to internally conflict prior to their ever being an offense. When an ambiguous case arises, much of the industry is already laboring to prevent the wealthy individual from being technically liable. In other words, they may commit what the Bible considers to be offenses of the moral law, but they may do so without liability according to the legal system of the land.
On the other hand, the individual with no cash outlay towards personal military or adjudication retainer may have elected to such behavior because they are a super nice person that gets along with everyone and it is effectively wasted money to pay people to defend them against a court situation, something they don’t expect to arise. In this case, who is the man of lawlessness? The member of society with literally no law to follow, or the one who is effectively guiding the industry of law as a tactic to enable arbitrary behavior? I believe there should be more theological debate in this regard. I also wonder if the lawmaker in the current system, as in the polycentric system, is also relatively likely to act out of accord with what they perceive as improper moral or technical law. This possibility has to do with our law enforcers as well as our lawmakers, and I believe there is already some data on the subject.
Lastly, I will point to the common-sense concept of law. This is the fifth case of lawlessness and it really is a misnomer to call it lawlessness at all. It is open rebellion against the enforcement of the law, not some absence of law. This approach works in the current situation where the law is uniform and it also works in a polycentric context when a member of society can reasonably anticipate which law would be upheld in a conflict. Notice that this interpretation doesn’t consider breaking unenforced laws to be unbiblical. Perhaps that makes it a clear candidate for a rejected interpretation, or perhaps it makes it more viable. I think there should be more debate in this area. If everyone speeds a few miles per hour and no one is ticketed, is it really speeding? Or is the law of the land slightly different than the sign at the side of the road?