Prohibitive vs. Compulsory Law

Submitted by Freedomman on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 19:24

by Brent Johnson

All laws fit into one of two classifications: laws that prohibit or laws that compel. Prohibitive laws tell you what you cannot do with someone else’s person or property. Compulsory laws tell you what you must do with your own person or property. Understanding these two different types of law is vital to a complete understanding of the general validity (or lack) of a given law.

Fredric Bastiat, in his brilliant and generally regarded as foundational essay, The Law, wrote that man is endowed with certain faculties, and that he has an inherent right to exercise those same faculties. Bastiat professed that the appropriate role for the law is to help man preserve his inherent rights to freely exercise the faculties with which he has been endowed.

The only way in which this may be reasonably accomplished is through the prohibition of certain acts that would unjustly violate man’s inherent right to exercise his faculties. (In no way do I mean to suggest that women are not entitled to the same rights as men… they most certainly are.)

Thus government, which was established to facilitate the administration of the law, which law exists to preserve the free exercise of individuals’ rights, is charged with the inherent responsibility of preserving the unalienable rights of the people. This can only be accomplished by enacting mala prohibita or prohibitive laws.

Examples of prohibitive laws include: you may not murder, you may not steal, you may not rape, and you may not violate another person or his property. Laws against murder, arson, theft, fraud, etc. are prohibitive in nature and therefore appropriate applications of law.

On the other hand, government may not legitimately achieve its purpose through mala se or compulsory laws.

Examples of compulsory laws include: you must buckle your seatbelt, or you can only use your land for approved purposes. Seatbelt laws, land use laws, etc. are compulsory in nature and therefore inappropriate applications of law.

Inappropriate may be too harsh a term. The real issue concerning compulsory laws is that they must always be voluntary or they are invalid. In other words, the government cannot compel you to do something unless you agree to be compelled.

However, the government can place conditions on the acceptance of its privileges or benefits, requiring you to agree to be subject to a body of compulsory laws in exchange for the use or issuance of some privilege or benefit. If you accept the privilege or benefit, you incur the liability of obedience to the regulations governing its issue.

A good example of compulsory laws is found in military service. When you take the oath to become a serviceman or woman, you agree to be compelled by the military. You no longer enjoy the free exercise of your faculties; you have voluntarily waived those rights in exchange for joining the service. If you did not agree to accept compulsory laws as binding upon you, then you could not join the service, nor would you be accepted into it.

Compulsory law must always be voluntary or a dictatorship results. If legitimacy is ever given to any government’s efforts to compel its population to action, then the fundamental laws on which civilization was built will fall and chaos will certainly result.

When you evaluate a law, its application, and whether or not its provisions bind you, first consider if the law in question is prohibitive or compulsory. If it is the latter, then look for the necessary voluntary joinder, such as an application for a license or permit. Once you find it, decide whether you really want to volunteer. If you choose not to, then do not sign the form or application, or perform the required task for participation (such as taking the service oath). If you do not volunteer, then compulsory laws cannot control you.

Remember, all legitimate laws are prohibitive, telling you what you cannot do to someone else’s person or property. Any laws that purport to compel you to action must have hidden mechanisms for establishing your voluntary participation.

Beware the two-faced nature of those politicians and attorneys who would lead you down the path of abject servitude! They will tell you that they have the right to make laws that you must obey for your own good! Any other admission would mean they do not have ultimate power over you, and they will never admit that.

We the People have the power to compel the government to obey our Laws, or to disassemble it if it fails to do so. The government holds no such power over us.

Learn the Truth. Assert your rights. Never volunteer away your American heritage.

Brent Johnson is Director of Freedom Bound International, a common law service center dedicated to the preservation of personal freedom, privacy rights and the Declaration of Independence. He may be reached by calling 1-888-385-FREE or on-line at or