Polycentric law
Polycentric law is a legal structure in which providers of legal systems compete or overlap in a given jurisdiction
Jurisdiction is the practical authority granted to a formally constituted legal body or to a political leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility...

, as opposed to monopolistic
A monopoly exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity...

 statutory law
Statutory law
Statutory law or statute law is written law set down by a legislature or by a legislator .Statutes may originate with national, state legislatures or local municipalities...

 according to which there is a sole provider of law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 for each jurisdiction. Devolution
Devolution is the statutory granting of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to government at a subnational level, such as a regional, local, or state level. Devolution can be mainly financial, e.g. giving areas a budget which was formerly administered by central government...

 of this monopoly occurs by the principle of jurisprudence in which they rule according to higher law
Rule according to higher law
The rule according to a higher law means that no written law may be enforced by the government unless it conforms with certain unwritten, universal principles of fairness, morality, and justice...


Tom W. Bell, former director of telecommunications and technology studies at Cato Institute
Cato Institute
The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1977 by Edward H. Crane, who remains president and CEO, and Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries, Inc., the largest privately held...

, now a professor of law at Chapman University School of Law
Chapman University School of Law
Chapman University School of Law, commonly referred to as Chapman Law or Chapman Law School, is a private, non-profit law school located in Orange, California. The school offers the Juris Doctor degree , combined programs offering a JD/MBA and JD/MFA in Film & Television Producing, and LL.M...

 in California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 wrote "Polycentric Law," published by the Institute for Humane Studies
Institute for Humane Studies
The Institute for Humane Studies is a classical liberal non-profit organization whose stated mission is “to support the achievement of a freer society by discovering and facilitating the development of talented students, scholars, and other intellectuals who share an interest in liberty and in...

 when he was a law student at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

. In it he notes that others use phrases such as "privately produced law," "purely private law" and "non-monopolistic law" to describe these polycentric alternatives. He outlines traditional customary law (also known as consuetudinary
Consuetudinary is a term applied to law where the rule of law is determined by long-standing custom as opposed to case law or statute....

 law) before the creation of states
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

, including as described by Friedrich A. Hayek, Bruce L. Benson
Bruce L. Benson
Dr. Bruce L. Benson is an American academic economist who is widely recognized as an authority on law and economics and a major exponent of anarcho-capitalism legal theory. He is DeVoe L. Moore Professor and Distinguished Research Professor at Florida State University, where he serves as Chairman...

 and David D. Friedman
David D. Friedman
David Director Friedman is an American economist, author, and Right-libertarian theorist. He is known as a leader in anarcho-capitalist political theory, which is the subject of his most popular book, The Machinery of Freedom...

. He mentions Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 customary law, church law
Canon law
Canon law is the body of laws & regulations made or adopted by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of the Christian organization and its members. It is the internal ecclesiastical law governing the Catholic Church , the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, and the Anglican Communion of...

, guild law and merchant law as examples of polycentric law. He notes that customary and statutory law have co-existed through history, as when Roman law
Roman law
Roman law is the legal system of ancient Rome, and the legal developments which occurred before the 7th century AD — when the Roman–Byzantine state adopted Greek as the language of government. The development of Roman law comprises more than a thousand years of jurisprudence — from the Twelve...

 applied to Romans throughout the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, but indigenous legal systems were permitted for non-Romans. In "Polycentric Law in the New Millennium," which won first place in the Mont Pelerin Society
Mont Pelerin Society
The Mont Pelerin Society is an international organization composed of economists , philosophers, historians, intellectuals, business leaders, and others who favour classical liberalism...

's 1998 Friedrich A. Hayek Fellowship competition, Bell predicts three areas where polycentric law might develop: alternative dispute resolution, private communities, and the Internet.

The University of Helsinki
University of Helsinki
The University of Helsinki is a university located in Helsinki, Finland since 1829, but was founded in the city of Turku in 1640 as The Royal Academy of Turku, at that time part of the Swedish Empire. It is the oldest and largest university in Finland with the widest range of disciplines available...

Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

) funded a "Polycentric Law" research project from 1992 to 1995, led by professor Lars D. Eriksson. Its goal was to demonstrate "the inadequacy of current legal paradigms by mapping the indeterminacies of both the modern law and the modern legal theory. It also addressed the possibility of legal and ethical alternativies to the modern legal theories" and "provided openings to polycentric legal theories both by deconstructing the idea of unity in law and re-constructing legal and ethical differences." The project hosted two international conferences. In 1998 the book Polycentricity: The Multiple Scenes of Law, edited by Ari Hirvonen, collected essays written by scholars involved with the project.

Professor Randy Barnett
Randy Barnett
Randy E. Barnett is a lawyer, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches constitutional law and contracts, and a legal theorist in the United States...

, who originally wrote about "non-monopolistic" law, later used the phrase "polycentric legal order." He explains the advantages of such a system in his book The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law.

Bruce L. Benson also uses the phrase, writing in a Cato Institute publication in 2007: "A customary system of polycentric law would appear to be much more likely to generate efficient sized jurisdictions for the various communities involved — perhaps many smaller than most nations, with others encompassing many of today’s political jurisdictions (e.g., as international commercial law does today)."

John K. Palchak and Stanley T. Leung in "No State Required? A Critical Review of the Polycentric Legal Order," criticize the concept of polycentric law.

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     - quoted above as polycentric "alternative"
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