One of the benefits of having a young daughter is that in the process of trying to educate her into an anarchist mindset I have to work through, and simplify, anarchistic theory myself. The other day I found us discussing the legitimacy of laws or rules. I refuse to follow some regulation simply because somebody somewhere decided that said rule should exist. Instead I choose to act in a manner I feel to be responsible. These two things often overlap, but not always.
The only laws a person is morally required to obey are those to which they’ve previously consented. Many people take this to mean that a person is free to do whatever they wish at any point, since they can choose right or wrong on a moment to moment basis. This, however, is clearly not the case. Situational ethics are a recipe for disaster, not only for society at large, but for the individuals practicing them as well. The fact is that people will often willing accept limitations on their actions in return for goods or services of some sort. For example, much as I despise doing dishes, I will gladly do so in exchange for someone else doing the cooking itself, and this has become the rule, or law, in our household.
Making the issue relevant to my daughter was not as difficult as it first seemed. At casual glance children must follow the arbitrary rules of their parents without their own consent. While this may arguably be true for toddlers and infants, it is not the case for older children. These children, in fact, give their consent to follow all rules established by their parents (or suffer the consequences for not doing so) in exchange for all that the parents provide the child: shelter, food, clothing, etc. Once the child is old enough to open the front door on their own they are free to withdraw their consent by simply walking out the door and finding some other way to acquire the goods and services they need.
It’s simple to carry on this example to imply that citizens of a given state also offer their consent to be governed due to their continued presence within that state’s boundaries. However, this is incorrect. Ignoring for the moment that some citizens are not permitted to exit the nation’s boundaries due to various limitations on the issuing of passports and the men with guns unwilling to let people board international flights or ships without “proper documentation”, there are still some glaring differences. The issue is not one of physical proximity, but rather the receiving of benefits that acts as consent.
A child depends on its parents to provide for its needs. Whether implicitly or explicitly it requests these goods and services. The government, on the other hand, provides no such goods or services to the majority of its so-called citizens. I neither ask for nor receive anything from the California or Federal governments. Yet they still insist that I follow some vague “social contract” that I’ve never signed or even been presented with. The assumption on their part is that I owe them something, but they provide nothing in return for this fealty.
Since I’ve never freely agreed to follow their laws, or even been coerced in to such agreement, I am under no moral obligation to do so. Should some representative of the government present me with a contract laying out what laws they would like me to follow and what services I will receive in return, I will happily give it all due consideration. Until then, I’ll continue to live a life of freedom and choose my actions without concern of their so-called legality.