This article was published in the Spring 1995 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation

Imagineering Freedom: A Constitution of Liberty

Part III: Virtual Cantons

by Roderick T. Long


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In the previous installments of this series, I have set out the reasoning behind those provisions in my Virtual-Canton Constitution that deal with the structure and powers of the Federal Administration, my hypothetical Free Nation's equivalent of national government. I now turn to the heart of my Constitution: the section on the Virtual Cantons themselves, the Free Nation's equivalent of local government.

The Virtual Cantons, which give my Constitution its name, are modeled on the godhordh of old Icelandic law. (See my "The Decline and Fall of Private Law in Iceland," in Formulations, Vol. I, No. 3 (Spring 1994).) In effect, the Virtual Cantons function as Swiss-style cantons (or states, or provinces, or districts) for purposes of representation in a federal system, except that they are defined solely by voluntary membership rather than by geographic territory.

I have made the case for Virtual Cantons elsewhere at some length; for present purposes, let me simply quote some of my main points:

I envision the Virtual Cantons as serving two functions: representation and "local" government. In previous installments we've examined the first function; the current section focuses primarily on the second. (Text in bold is from the Constitution; normal text is my commentary.)

Below is an outline of the entire Constitution. This article reviews the material from the section 1.5 through section 1.5.9. 


Part One: Provisions Subject to Amendment

1.1 The Government of the Free Nation [1.1.1-5]
1.1.1 --- 1.1.2 --- 1.1.3 --- 1.1.4 --- 1.1.5
1.2 The Federal Legislature [1.2.1-17]
1.2.1 --- 1.2.2 --- 1.2.3 --- 1.2.4 --- 1.2.5 --- 1.2.6 --- 1.2.7 --- 1.2.8 --- 1.2.9 --- 1.2.10 --- 1.2.11 --- 1.2.12 --- 1.2.13 --- 1.2.14 --- 1.2.15 --- 1.2.16 --- 1.2.17
1.3. The Federal Executive [1.3.1-8]
1.3.1 ---1.3.2 --- 1.3.3 --- 1.3.4 --- 1.3.5 ---1.3.6 --- 1.3.7 --- 1.3.8
1.4 The Federal Judiciary [1.4.1-16]
1.4.1 --- 1.4.2 --- 1.4.3 --- 1.4.4 --- 1.4.5 --- 1.4.6 --- 1.4.7 --- 1.4.8 --- 1.4.9 --- 1.4.10 --- 1.4.11 --- 1.4.12 --- 1.4.13 --- 1.4.14 --- 1.4.15 --- 1.4.16
1.5 The Virtual Cantons [1.5.1-9]
1.5.1 --- 1.5.2 --- 1.5.3 --- 1.5.4 --- 1.5.5 --- 1.5.6 --- 1.5.7 --- 1.5.8 --- 1.5.9

Part Two: Provisions Not Subject to Amendment

2.1 Provision for Amendments [2.1.1-2]
2.1.1 --- 2.1.2
2.2 Bill of Rights [2.2.1-18]
2.2.1 --- 2.2.2 --- 2.2.3 --- 2.2.4 --- 2.2.5 --- 2.2.6 --- 2.2.7 --- 2.2.8 --- 2.2.9 --- 2.2.10 --- 2.2.11 --- 2.2.12 --- 2.2.13 --- 2.2.14 ---2.2.15 --- 2.2.16 --- 2.2.17 --- 2.2.18

Proposed Addendum

Part Three: Amendments

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1. 5 The Virtual Cantons

1.5.1 In becoming a Citizen of the Free Nation, one also chooses membership in a Virtual Canton. The Virtual Cantons are not geographically or territorially defined entities, but free associations of Citizens. There shall be no fewer than one Virtual Canton for every n7 citizens, and in any case no fewer than n8 Virtual Cantons in total. Members of one Virtual Canton may change their membership at any time to that of anotheranton, without change in residence.

The reason for a lower limit on the number of Virtual Cantons is to keep the Canton system competitive, and to prevent a small oligarchical Elite of Cantons from taking control. I doubt that the Canton system would really face such a danger, but libertarians have learned from long experience that in such matters it can't hurt to be too careful
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1.5.2 The political constitution of each Virtual Canton shall initially be chosen by majority vote of its members; subsequent Canton laws shall be passed, and measures for enforcement determined, in accordance with the provisions of that constitution. The constitution of and laws of each Virtual Canton shall be binding on its members, subject to the provision that such constitution and laws may not conflict with the Constitution of the Free Nation, and that free exit and entry must always beermitted. No Virtual Canton shall have authority over persons who are not its members, unless by prior agreement with those persons or with their Virtual Canton, except insofar as is necessary to protect against aggression the rights of its members to their persons and property. The method of determining a Canton's vote on proposed Amendments to theonstitution of the Free Nation (see Section 2.1) shall be determined by the constitution or laws of that Canton.

Here I'm trying to keep Federal micromanaging of internal Canton affairs down to a minimum. Incidentally, since the authority of the Cantons over their members depends on voluntary membership, which the member can terminate at any time, such authority does not run afoul of anarchist scruples.
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1.5.3 No Citizen shall be denied membership in a Virtual Canton, except on the grounds that he or she is already a member of another Canton. Plural Canton membership shall be permissible if authorized by the laws of the Cantons involved.

In this respect, the Virtual Cantons differ from the protective associations envisioned by advocates of market anarchism; for those associations are presumed to be free to reject prospective members for any reason they choose. As I've discussed before, my own preference is for precisely such a purely competitive system; but the Virtual-Canton Constitution isesigned to be a compromise between anarchy and limited government -- and as long as we have a government or even a quasi-government, it seems safer to guarantee a universal right of political participation.
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1.5.4 Any association of n9 or more Citizens may constitute themselves as a new Virtual Canton under the Constitution.

This provision serves as a guarantee of minority rights, as it guarantees minorities representation in the Federal Legislature. This also helps to keep the system competitive; for, as I argued in my article on Icelandic law (cited above), it was the lack of provision for creating new godhordh that ultimately transformed the Icelandic Free Commonwealth from a polycentric system into a monopolistic one.
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1.5.5 A Canton may dissolve itself in accordance with its own laws, unless such dissolution should bring the number of Cantons below the required number. In addition, any Canton whose membership falls below n10 shall be regarded as dissolved, subject to the same qualification.

The reason for a lower limit on Canton membership is to avoid a mass of one-member and two-member Cantons, all with full votes in Parliament. I may be wrong in thinking this is something that should be avoided; certainly modern communications technology would make it less unwieldy than it might initially sound. I would welcome input on this (as indeed on all provisions in this Constitution) from other libertarians.
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1.5.6 Disputes among members of the same Canton, if adjudicated under this Constitution, are to be adjudicated in accordance with the laws of that Canton, allowing or not allowing for Federal appeal as those laws may determine. Disputes across Canton boundaries are to be adjudicated as detailed in the section on the Federal Judiciary.

For the reasoning behind this provision, see my remarks on sections 1.4.6-8 in the previous installment (last issue).
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1.5.7 The manner of holding elections and referenda, both Canton and national, shall be determined by the laws of each Canton, except that the Federal Legislature may by two-thirds vote of each house make or alter such regulations with regard to the national elections and national referenda; but national elections and referenda shall in any case be universal, free, and secret.

The Federal Legislature is allowed to interfere with national elections only, since local elections are none of its business.

In the case of national elections, a petition of not fewer than n11 Citizens shall be sufficient to place a candidate on the ballot; and in elections for Federal office each ballot shall contain the alternative "None of the above is acceptable." In the event that "None of the above is acceptable" receives a plurality of votes in any election, the elective office for that term shall remain unfilled and unfunded.

This provision is self-explanatory. The language concerning the "None of the above is acceptable" rule is borrowed from the Libertarian Party Platform.
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1.5.8 No Virtual Canton shall, without the consent of the Federal Legislature, enter into any agreement or compact with aforeign power, or engage in war unless required by such imminent danger as will not admit of delay.

This language, on the other hand, comes from the U. S. Constitution, and is designed to secure the role of the Federal Administration as the foreign policy wing of the Free Nation -- the "outward face" of the libertarian homeland. (Note, however, that this provision as such does not rule out the waging of war by voluntary associations other than Cantons.)
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1.5.9 The average tax burden within a Canton shall rise no higher than n12 percent of the income of the average Citizen of that Canton, this figure to be determined or approximated by statistical methods involving no compulsory disclosure of information on the part of Citizens.

Although "taxation" in my system is voluntary, the political structure outlined in this Constitution is enough like a government to warrant some cap on taxes. This is particularly important at the Federal level, where the danger of monopoly seems highest; hence provision 1.2.10. The present provision, 1.5.9, concerns taxation at the Canton rather than the Federal level, and so perhaps is not really needed, since competition among Cantons should keep taxation low anyway. But it can't hurt to place a cap on it anyway, just in case.

Naming a precise dollar figure for the cap on taxation would not allow for inflation, deflation, changes in currency, and so on, so I made it a percentage of the average member's income instead. And lest this provision be taken to license compulsion in the gathering of census information or other intrusive procedures, I made it clear that the government in question must seek the information through peaceful means. In some cases the result will be a vague and not-very-accurate figure; but it will be up to the members of the Canton to decide whether they wish to sharpen theigure's accuracy by disclosing their private financial information to the tax collectors.

Next time: The Bill of Rights

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