Justice Without State

justiceYou always know you’re venturing into interesting territory when you arouse defenses like “Because!,” “You’re an idiot,” or “Everyone knows…”

Such are the defenses that pop up when touching the concept of justice separate from the state. It was, in my experience, something of a verboten subject, considered ridiculous and rude at the same time. It was – again in my personal experience – something that everyone just “knew” was impossible and which they also knew was dangerous.

And yet, they had no real reasons upholding their opinions. Certainly they struggled to assemble reasons once I said, “I don’t think so” (humans are really good at that), but it was very clear that the decision was made first and the facts assembled second.

I was thrust into this subject quite a few years ago, as cypherpunk projects ran into the reality that humans are unfinished creatures and sometimes end up in disputes with each other. Once cyberspace appeared, quite a few of us realized that it was a kind of terra nova, the first new continent opening since 1492. (1606 for Australia.) We wanted to do something good with it, something better than the territorial overlords were doing to humanity.

To give you some feel for the moment, here is a passage from J.P. Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, published in 1996:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

So, with a separation imperative in mind, we were confronted with the fact that some kind of law or justice service was necessary. And so, I began digging into the subject.

What I Found

I learned that justice without state was common throughout history. And more than that, it seemed to have worked quite well over long periods of time. That seems utterly impossible to any mind that has gone through the modern school “curriculum,” but the facts remain, no matter how many knees may jerk at the thought.

Here, briefly, are some of the instances I found:

The Greek reset and the early Hebrews

At about 1200 B.C., nearly every civilization in the Eastern Mediterranean was plucked out by the roots. (Egypt just barely survived.) Then, for some 400 years, government was all but absent, and the cultures reset. This is commonly called the dark ages of the Greeks.

During this period, Greek law was nonexistent, and justice was handled almost on a family level. We haven’t a great deal of written matter from the Greeks, but we do from the early Hebrew civilization, which thrived during this window of time.

The early Hebrews – for some number of centuries – were a tribal anarchy, with no state at all. Aside from religious rules, their “laws” amounted to don’t lie, steal, or kill; don’t oppress the weak; don’t speak derogatorily of others; don’t take revenge; and don’t hold a grudge. And they were far more interested in justice than in law. For example, we find these passages in their earliest writings:

Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy.

Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.

Early medievals

After the fall of Rome, Europe had its reset period. And during this time, the many towns of Europe all developed and enforced their own justice. As historian R.H.C. Davis writes:

Even the law might change from village to village; a thirteenth-century judge pointed out that in the various counties, cities, boroughs, and townships of England he had always to ask what was the local customary law and how it was employed before he could successfully try a case.

Historian Chris Wickham explains what these people did, then provides a nice example from a French town:

When disputes were dealt with, it was the villagers who reached judgment; they also acted as oath-swearers for the disputing parties, as sureties to ensure that losers accepted defeat.

In one notable case of 858 in the plebs of Treal, [a man named] Anau had tried to kill Anauhoiarn, a priest of the monastery of Redon, and had to give a vineyard to Redon in compensations, as an alternative to losing his right hand; here, six sureties were named, and could kill him if he tried such a thing again… most judgment-finders and sureties were peasants; the villages around Redon policed themselves.

So, even the hard case of attempted murder was dealt with quite well by the locals of a “Dark Ages” town in rural France. There is absolutely no reason to believe that we couldn’t do as well.

The Vehm

By about 900 A.D., the people of Westphalia (now Germany) were operating their own justice system, even though there were (at least intermittently) princes in the area who wouldn’t like it. Running what they called “Vehm” courts, they issued warnings to troublemakers, issued warrants, and occasionally had to execute someone.

The Vehm did have secret trials but only as necessary. Their meeting places were always known to the locals, and they never used torture, even though the princes did.

The Vehm was taken over by the state in 1180 A.D.

Lex Mercatoria

The great medieval trade fairs had their own system of justice called the Lex Mercatoria or Law Merchant. Separate from state justice, it operated quite well over a long period of time. Eventually, however, the states took it over and more or less rolled it into their systems of law.

Jewish self-rule
As historian Paul Johnson writes in A History of the Jews:

The Jews always ran their own schools, courts, hospitals and social services. They appointed and paid for their own officials, rabbis, judges… Wherever they were, the Jews formed tiny states within states.

Under less-than-hospitable conditions, Jewish self-rule, including the provision of justice, thrived from the fall of Rome until just the past few centuries.


Right now, arbitration – more properly known as alternative dispute resolution or ADR – is thriving as an alternative to state justice, which has become so expensive and cumbersome as to be impractical. This is true for high-end commerce, for labor disagreements, and down to the level of disputes among construction contractors.

ADR works very well and is far less expensive than government justice. It is restricted only by governments, who enforce specific limits.


Right now there are quite a few Internet arbitration providers. They stand in a fairly murky area, but the states haven’t clamped down on them yet. I haven’t had any experience with them, but so far as I know, they provide good service.

And Compared to What?

Whenever something new comes along – like providing justice outside of state power – people instinctively look for flaws in it. Then, finding even one, they leap to the conclusion that “it won’t work.”

The truth, of course, is that the current systems of law are full of flaws from end to end. They are corruptly applied; laws are bought and sold; they are insanely expensive; and they are unforgivably slow. And perhaps worse, they change with every new session of the legislature.

So, if we are to take perfection as a standard, state-provided justice fails, and very, very badly.

Why All the Hate?

Having given you a quick overview of non-state justice, the question remains as to why modern people are so biased against the very concept. To answer that question, at least partly, I leave you with a short passage from Carl Jung’s The Undiscovered Self:

[I]n order to turn the individual into a function of the state, his dependence on anything beside the state must be taken from him.

Paul Rosenberg

18 thoughts on “Justice Without State”

  1. I enjoyed this article. And will have to read “The Undiscovered Self” by Carl Jung. Jung’s quote could also apply to society’s dependence on “modern” medicine and pharmaceuticals including toxic vaccines (one in the same). Unfortunately the state, as well as the majority of media outlets are controlled by big phara and promote society’s dependence on their drugs and medical protocols. Most citizens are blind to the fact that a holistic approach could provide much better results and a healthier society while reducing costs. And that much of the circulating information is false and controlled.

  2. Evidently, the people who take over and make an effort to legitimize state powers are the people whom we logically need to fear!

  3. I would like to see a system of justice and national defense like that practiced in ancient Israel in the time of Judges, before the time of Kings. Read I Samuel 8 to see what God said about the people’s request for a king. Be careful what you wish for!

  4. Another great article, Paul..
    There never was an Irish state until the 20th century, yet there were Irish laws that may predate Roman law, but was not written down until perhaps the fourth century.
    “Many leading facts of Irish history have been quite satisfactorily
    ascertained to the extent of three hundred years before Caesar’s time.
    It would, however, be difficult to lay down a connected and
    consequential narrative until about A.D. 250, in the reign of King
    Cormac. This was the time at which some of the laws we are about to
    consider were reduced to their present form, though they had existed in
    some other form long before. Those laws, as well as the laws comprised
    in the greater collection made two centuries later, had probably
    existed, as laws, a thousand years before Cormac’s time… Hence they were good; if not perfect in
    the abstract, yet good in the sense that they were obeyed and regarded
    as priceless treasures, not submitted to as an irksome yoke. And the
    presence or absence of popular sympathy with law I take to be a true
    test of the quality of that law and the very touchstone of good
    government. Originating in the customs of early settlers in times beyond
    the reach of history, these laws grew in volume and in perfection down
    to the time mentioned; after which, though continually applied, though
    copied, re-copied, and commented upon, little of substantial value was
    added to them. They prevailed over the whole country until the arrival
    of the Anglo-Normans, and they prevailed over the whole country except the Pale until the beginning of the seventeenth century.”–http://www.libraryireland.com/Brehon-Laws/Ancient-Law-2.php
    Note that there were Irish “kings,” but they did not rule in the sense we think of where those other kings held “sovereign authority” over their subjects. Irish law imposed more obligations on its kings than privileges, and they were subject to the law.
    Another consideration: The state is currently the source of most of the violence in the world today, and given the axiom that violence only begets more violence, it may be directly and indirectly responsible for virtually all of the violence. Because the state has institutionalized, systematized, incorporated the latest technology and made ubiquitous three of its most violent practices–taxation, war and criminal justice,–elimination of the state promises to eliminate violence to such an extent that the need for criminal law will be similarly reduced.

    1. Excerpt from your post:
      not submitted to as an irksome yoke
      On one of the “legal eagle courtroom dramas” I saw way back when, the judge thundered from the bench, “The law shall not be a burden!” It sure sounded good on tv. I just wish that would be practiced. Now the “swarms of officers who eat out our substance” are natives!
      Last but not least, the Irish King was himself subject to the law. I am very pleased to find the following language in the Louisiana State Constitution (where I happen to reside). Under “Origin and Purpose of Government” the following words are to be found:
      All government, of right, originates with the people and is founded upon their will alone.
      Hence, the law is the will of the people. It is not something to which the people merely give begrudging consent. It is not “an irksome yoke”. And if the King is subject to the law, is he not subject to the will of the people?
      The Constitution’s “titles of nobility” language is a stab in the right area, but it is not practiced.
      DC Treybil

      1. Appreciate your comment and thanks for the link to the speaker.
        The (English) judge was being driven to distraction by the Irishman before the bench. Finally, unable to take it anymore, he almost screamed, “Why in God’s name do you Irish always answer a question with a question?”
        The Irishman promptly responded, “Do we now, your honor?”
        I doubt if the Constitution could be reformed to my liking, but it would certainly help if added to the Bill of Rights was this: “#11 Initiation of the use of force is prohibited under all circumstances by citizens and agents of government.” Of course it would be soon enough ignored as is #10.now. People ruling other people by force and coercion is the problem. Such power inevitably corrupts those who wield it, and no Constitution can cure the problem.

        1. I am reminded of what a history professor once said, “Roman Emperors often wrote their own constitutions. But, even then, they promptly discarded or ignored them when they proved ‘inconvenient'”.
          The constitution is not the source of the problem. Nor will changing it “fix” the problem. The source of the problem is man – homo sapiens.

  5. Justice is first and foremost a feeling.
    When everything is at least about half right, justice is synonymous with happiness.
    But when things go far awry in the course of human events, as they are all too want to do, some remedy that won’t make things worse is called for.
    And don’t wait for Dr. Sam Becket to show up “and make that right which once went wrong”. That doesn’t seem to be part of the plan.
    Occasionally, offering to cut a baby in half leads to a desirable outcome. It’s a most peculiar planet we all inhabit!
    Consider the following excerpt from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”:
    let us suppose a small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of the earth unconnected with the rest, they will then represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought. A thousand motives will excite them thereto, the strength of one man is so unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfit for perpetual solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and relief of another who in his turn requires the same. Four or five united would be able to raise a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but one man might labour out the common period of life without accomplishing anything; when he felled the timber he could not remove it; hunger in the mean time would urge him from his work, and every different want call him a different way. Disease, nay even misfortune, would be death, for though neither might be mortal, yet either would disable him from living and reduce him to a state in which he might rather be said to perish than to die.
    There is surviving and then there’s thriving, according to the gospel of Garth Brooks (Standing Outside the Fire).
    And I think that is akin to Paine’s use of the words “perish” and “die” in contrast to each other.
    But I wish mostly to point out that Justice has survival value, in a very real biocentric sense of the word. Imagine how easy it would be for mishandled conflicts to dissolve the happy union of the group proposed by Paine. And is not what is true of this small hypothetical group of 5 also true for much larger groups?
    The highest form of Justice is the Justice that arises when everybody gets it about half right or better most of the time.
    That is the form of Justice that is synonymous with happiness.
    Once things go awry, the best that can be hoped for is not to make things worse with the selected remedy.
    DC Treybil

  6. Those HEBREWS and Semitic Jews were taken over by the FALSE (KHAZAR) Jews of Europe who invaded Palestine.
    Until they arrived , SEMITIC (Hebrew?) Jews. Christians AND Muslims, lived worked and did business together, reasonably peacefully
    A perfect example of which I speak. Note especially the video near the bottom of this article: http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/mapstellstory.html
    Even the ancients understood:

    “Plunderers of the
    world, when nothing remains of the lands to which they have laid waste by
    indiscriminate thievery, they search out across the seas. The wealth of another
    excites their greed, and its poverty their lust for power. Nothing from the rising
    to the setting of the sun can satiate them. They alone are as compelled to
    attack the poor as they are the wealthy. Robbery, rape, and slaughter they
    falsely call empire; and where they create a desolate waste, they call it
    — Calgacus, Calcedonian Chieftan in N. Britain, About 85 AD

    1. We’re not playing this game. The Khazar crap is ignorant and obsessive. And the driving need to post it at every opportunity is unhealthy.
      This is an ugly waste of time and energy, concealing nascent hate.
      Take it elsewhere.

      1. You are either being DISHONEST or you are terribly uninformed. I know you too well to believe you are uninformed.
        There is more than adequate proof, via DNA and Archeology, of what i say, AND by Jewish doctors and professors, which I am certain you are aware of, but since you are sounding like a follower of the TALMUD, in this particular rebuttal of my comment, I believe I know your REAL motive…..and so do many more people today, THANKFULLY
        You can deny but you cannot CHANGE the TRUTH
        Take care now

      2. STOP telling me I am wrong and PROVE me wrong and further WHICH of my facts imply HATRED???
        Are you saying it is okay to criticize all religions and all countries EXCEPT Judaism and Israel?

  7. My observation is that individuals become slaves to their ways of thinking, and then think that nothing is possible without the State. Everyone needs to get past their outmoded ways of thinking about issues of how they become mind-numbed robots whenever the activities of the State are discussed.
    Apparently, too many of these robots still hold the activities of the State as being sacrosanct and exempt from criticism. And everyone else is left to suffer, as the State enlarges at our expense. And the withering of out freedom.

  8. the word “state” as in that pesky Second Article of Ammendment (the phrase “security of a free state”) simply means any group or society of people living in proximity and forming some sort of pollitical (of people) unit. In almost every example you cited in the article (very interesting and informative by the way) the “city within a city” or the town or the tribe or the whatever sort of people grouping is, in reality, a state in the true sense. As the nation Israel (a rather large and cumbersome “state”) sojourned about the desert, the tribes, family groups, etc, took care of justice at the local level, in the main. The king or judge was rarely called upon. The “elders in the gates”, those men of wisdom and long life experience were the ones to stand in judgement of any disputes or charges of evildoing. It was in informal system, yet worked wel. Yes, the Decalogue, and later the Mosaic Laws, were common, but transgressions were handled on a small and local level, and justice meted out… recompense for theft, damage, or other wrongdoing, at times indentured servitude for debtors, land disputes were handled, and so forth. There were numerous laws, but all together they boiled down to don’t harm your neighbour. Serious crimes could only be established by the testimony of two or more witnesses WITH CLEAN HANDS (which is why the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus to judge had to be released… every one of those men had dirty hands and knew it, and He busted them).
    The examples from early France and Ireland and Westphalia are all, at root, simply smaller “states”.
    These days, when the FedGov is “the State” which shall not be questioned, bears near-supreme power (the Supreme Court is not supreme over the rest of this “state”, but simply the highest COURT in the land.. but that word “supreme” has gone to their heads and they think they are gods and above all. Justice will never be served by them… except possibly on accident. The present court system IS buried under the pomposity and complexity, mainly as a job security system, a very font of corruption. How can those already overpaid lawyers get rich if a man can simply stand at the bar and explain to the judge and the jury OF HIS PEERS (how often is THAT true?) what happened, present his witnesses, and question the prosecutor’s…. which civil servant is dedicated to the administration of JUSTICE (pardon me, I nearly choked on that one…) rather than manufacturing evidence, suppressing other, managing proceedings so as to benefit himself, the privatised incarceration system, the other lawyers, etc…..
    The bible does declare that God established the “civil magistrate” (the elders at the gate? some judge, appointed by the king, wise men chosen by their peers, etc?) for the purpose of bearing the sword (punishing) those who do harm to others. Without a victim there IS no crime. Yes, that means the drunk driver has not committed a crime until/unless he HURTS someone.. but then he bears the full weight of his action and will not be freed until full recompense has been paid. And the millions now in prison for simply having a small quantity of some “controlled substance” so declared by FedGov which have NO AUTHORITY to do so never should have been apprehended let alone prosecuted. Much of the problem in our “justice” system stems from the insane concept of the government making of itself a victim and thus gaining the position of having been “harmed” when no such thing happened. Most of what we call “justice” today is
    naught but a system of revenue generation targetting ordinary people and all who pay taxes. Freeways were posted at 70, 75, 80, or whatever the driver felt was safe, until the manufactured “fuel crisis” came round in the ’70’s and the hotel and motel lobbies campaigned for the 55 mph national speed limit (under what constitutioinal authority no one ever explained to ME). So what was legal and normal one week was the means of exacting the dhimmi from the man who has driven that road for years the same way. Justice? No, FedGov need to butt out, or BE butted out, of all law enforcement excepting for treason, the ONY crime named and defined in the federal Constitution. Al the rest falls to the several states.

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