I shall here put forward a thought-experiment with the aim of demonstrating firstly that entering into voluntary slavery is a legitimate choice, and secondly that the justice systems of the UK and US amount to slavery. The question of whether voluntary slavery can be a valid choice has always been a tough and divisive issue for libertarians. Some libertarians, in thinking that freedom is the ultimate aim, do not see how entering into slavery voluntary could ever be a valid choice. My position is not only that voluntary slavery is a valid choice, it is that to contract oneself to slavery and to not fulfil that contract, is to truly resemble slavery. This will be a deeply theoretical article, the kind of which philosophers are consistently criticized for. However, I feel that it serves the libertarian purpose well to immerse ourselves in the theory at the centre of our beliefs, so that we can better understand the all-encompassing philosophy that I believe libertarianism is.
Our thought experiment takes place in a newly established settlement, Freetown, the inhabitants of which decide to live under radical-libertarian free-market principles. They leave nearly all areas of the economy to the free market, including the justice system. In their private justice system, one can give consent for the judge and jury to confiscate life, liberty and property in the event of a crime. The benefit to the citizen of this consent is that they gain the protection of the law. One would in all likelihood consent to an authority that can confiscate life, liberty or property in order to benefit from the protection of the law.
Let us consider what happens when a person goes to court as the defendant in Freetown, and they stand accused of theft. The evidence is produced, ably explained and meticulously examined. The defence and the prosecution are each given their chance to state their case, and they do, with the help of highly capable lawyers. The jury spend days deliberating before finding the defendant guilty. The judge then returns a sentence of 5 years in prison.
An inevitable problem of any justice system is that it sometimes gets the verdict wrong. In this case, they got the verdict wrong and the defendant was in fact innocent. Despite his/her pleas, the defendant is forced to serve his/her sentence. However, despite this being regrettable, it is moral and correct. Since the person consented to the power of the justice system, they must stand subject to it, whether they like the results or not. It is important to note that when the person gave consent to submit to the authority of the justice system, he was aware that sometimes mistakes are made, as are all members of the public.
My argument is that this form of justice system amounts to voluntary slavery, and that one is being inconsistent by simultaneously supporting free justice and not supporting the ability of one to consent to voluntary slavery. When one consents to slavery, one accepts that they might have their possessions confiscated at any time, and that they could also lose life, liberty and property, all without any good reason, and that the person deprived lacks any ability to resist. The same is true when one consents to the free justice system found in Freetown. In both systems that you consent to, you are throwing yourself, your life, liberty and property at the whim of someone else’s preferences, or at the whim of a group of people. If they so choose they can preserve your possessions, life and liberty, even enhance them, but if they so choose they can also destroy it all. Yes, the probability of loss might be different in each scenario, but since when have libertarians ever sought to control peoples choices based on probabilities? The principle in both systems is exactly the same.
Of course, if you accept my argument thus far, you must also accept that as free justice is morally equivalent to voluntary slavery, as is mandatory justice the moral equivalent of mandatory slavery.
The libertarian reading this might now be very worried. They might fear that if it is true that justice in a free society amounts to voluntary slavery, then the whole libertarian ideal of a free society will collapse, as we will all have to submit to moral slavery in order to have any justice system. Either then, the libertarian must abandon attempts to establish any justice system at all, mandatory or voluntary, or they must accept slavery. I suggest they choose the latter.
One can actually submit to slavery of one form or another with no moral problem at all. I find the whole concept of the voluntary slave to be a contradiction in terms. If one agrees to behave in the fashion of a slave in one way or another, then they are merely fulfilling a contractual obligation, an obligation with the same moral value of any other contract. Freedom is partly defined by the ability to make free contracts of any nature with anyone. Freedom is preserved through contracts being upheld.
Therefore, if one makes a contractual agreement to behave as a slave, then that person would actually be upholding freedom by acting as a slave. Also, a person who chooses to act as a slave has made a choice, for which they must be held responsible, in exactly the same way one is held responsible for the payment of a bill. A person who has the choice of a course of action, and who is held responsible for their course of action, as is the case in Freetown, is a free person living in a free society. A person who has their choices restricted and yet is held responsible for those choices, as in the UK and the US, is not free and is living in tyranny. In this way, a person who chooses to live as a slave is more free than a person living under an system that does not permit him to live as a slave, however counter-intuitive this might seem.