Can civilization survive without laws?

Only if the society remains a relatively small community with little diversification. The more sophisticated certain trades or disiplines of work become, the more they depend upon stringent formal rules, because any divergence from a very particular pattern of behaviour becomes increasingly detrimental to the whole society.

These kinds of developments are also closely related to complex financial contracts, where the more sophisticated a society becomes, the greater individual reliance becomes on abstractions like debt, and other such conceptual webs. For example, in a subsistence economy of small land-owners, if a one-off contract exchanging chickens for wheat fails for whatever reason, the general situation of either party will probably not be massively affected by the failure of the law. However, if in today's world an employer doesn't pay an employee sufficiently, that employee could (in a worst case scenario) quite quickly find themselves unable to keep a roof over their head. The more we rely upon abstract social contracts to live our lives, the harder it bites when these abstractions fail, and so there has to be increasingly more weight and pressure behind them. This is what we've seen in the most recent financial crisis. Arguably, however, it's a game of running faster on the same spot.

In Costa Rica, there is a community known as the Sat Yoga Institute, whose ethos is to live more intuitively according to the immediate needs of the organism, with reduced dependence upon abstract systems, because they feel that it is the human fixation on strictly systemetising organic behaviour that is the cause for much of the the world's suffering and conflict, and the changing climate. Such a community would undoubtedly involve a lot of hard physical work, but much of the stress, anxiety and conflict we experience as members of complex economies would be absent, or less acute. Furthermore, such a community would always remain very simple, with little diversification of labour or complicated consumer habits. Whether we think such a way of life is beneficial or wasteful, however, is really a matter of personal opinion. In a world as insecure as the one we find ourselves in today, it helps to keep an open mind.

Humanity has always had (and always will have) laws. It's just human nature to create laws and rules of some sort. Even in anarchy people have laws. Gangsters have laws, terrorists implement laws, those savages in the Mad Max movies had laws. These may not be very good or secure laws (they may not apply to everyone in the community or they may be changed or something), but they're still laws. It seems unfathomable that people would go without laws of some sort. It's impossible. Even in a world where noone wants to follow any rules or anything and if someone doesn't like you they can just kill you, some powerful bully will make laws to control others, or (and here's an interesting one) people with common interests will band together and make laws to stop the anarchy. That's naturally what will happen in the human world. And let's not forget that laws only exist when there are people to enforce them. If you want to know more about this, read about social contract theory. It's very interesting!

To answer this question, I must say "No, mankind will not and can not survive without laws!"

To explain......

Take a look at any society or grouping of people that is large. With no ‘rule of order' or ‘moral standard' declared, these people would suffer from those who are the strongest taking from the weakest. Life would be a constant fight just to survive, and because of this constant frame of mind, mankind would be stifled in other areas of thought. The arts would suffer because more time would be spend on just surviving . . . stealing the will to even think about a song or the painting of a masterful work.

The rules we live by are called Laws . . . and these laws set up the ability for a people to live in peace . . . and the ability to live in peace allows a people to grow intellectually. This growth is why the world lives today with cars and boats . . . with telephones and televisions . . . with hospitals and universities!

Perhaps a better answer is this . . . "Mankind would not survive, as we know it today, without Laws!"

I heard philosophical arguments that it's possible to have no laws yet have civilisation.

I think the best clue about how unrealistic a civilisation can exist without laws is from history itself.

The whole thing about ‘law' has a tremendously long history. Depending on what you read (or believe in), laws and civilisation started roughly at the same historical time - let's say 6,000 or 7,000 years ago for convenience.

If something started that early in history and coincided with ‘civilisation' (however we may define it), then we can be fairly sure that civilisation and law just ran together and one cannot do without the other.

Looking into the future - and even assuming there's some kind of major disaster that required a ‘reboot' of civilisation - I think it's impossible for such a reboot to take place properly without some set of general principles to regulate public and private affairs (which is what law is about at the bottom-line level).


We have moral codes that go beyond our laws. Most of us believe that it is unjust to take from one another on our own, to have things we have not earned or need. We usually believe that it is wrong to do something potentially injurious to one another without their consent.

The criminal code could potentially even be abolished. It would just be a declaration of principle that it is wrong to hurt others without their consent, something that they can only agree to if they are of rational age and mental capacity, and to take things from one another without their consent with all the information needed to make a rational decision, and to do things that gravely endanger others, prison could potentially be abolished with their duties replaced by a committee made of by social workers, mental health experts and victim representatives to come up with a plan for someone who violates these rules to avoid doing it again in future and to stop them somehow from hurting others if they are an active threat via things like house arrest and e tagging, potentially no need for prison in future. If you read from the laws we have that define criminal offenses, pretty much everything in it except treason boils down to some violation of these rules. You don't need a defined punishment, what you need is intervention in the offender's life that prevents them from doing it again, especially given that most offenders are under the influence of alcohol, in possession of illegal drugs which would no longer be an offence under this sort of criminal law, or have something like addiction, mental health trouble or trauma in their lives.

Most of the things we know as laws like the one that creates the FDA in the US are more like scientific regulations. We could have bureaus that define what is scientifically safe and rational like how many parts per million of hydroammonium hexasulphideric acid is safe, or what using empirical research and the scientific method that would be widely published and for anyone to review heightens the risk of a person using a gun to hurt others or whatever. Engineers can figure out when we need new things to be built and maintained. And when these rules might contradict the freedom of the people, or whenever enough citizens ask for a vote on it, or whenever it would need more than a certain amount of public resources to have, voting could be held ala Switzerland. It would no longer be a law but an expression of the will of the people.

Communists have no doubt noticed by now that this looks quite a lot like what the idea of withering away of the state is supposed to be like, and I don't think that it would be completely crazy to think that even now without a communist revolution our governments could be organized this way. Political parties no longer a thing and maybe not even legislatures or prime ministers, but bureaus using science to figure out what society needs or what is not safe and using direct democracy, and the idea of crime would be a thing of the past in many ways. I haven't read any of Marx's works, but from what discussions I've had with communists trying to explain a world so different from our own, it seems like this is the best explanation I can give without being a communist myself.

It is possible.

However you would have to accept that people could kill you (or your relatives), steal from you, commit rape or adultery, etc. without any retribution. If you want someone punished for doing something, you have to sort it out yourself.

There would be no shared facilities (e.g. roads, education, hospitals or doctors). You would have to pay for everything.

Is that really what you want?

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