I have a world with 4 colossal cities. Like, more area than the earth big. They are inhabited by a population orders of magnitude greater than ours, consisting of many different species.

Due to the immense size of each city, each has multiple systems of government, the laws of which apply to individuals and their properties rather than a region. In interaction between governments, it is only legal if it is legal by all parties involved.

E.g. In a monarchy possession of a firearm is illegal. If someone in the monarchy had a gun, they would be arrested by monarchy guards. In a republic it isn't illegal to have a gun. If a republican had a gun on monarchist property, the gun would not be confiscated provided it remained holstered and was not hidden. If a monarchist had a gun on republican property they would be arrested and the gun would be returned, destroyed, or given to the owner of the property.

I came up with this system to deal with problems that would arise from forcing a specific set of laws on multiple species that aren't compatible. There is a rather intense story behind the systems formation involving laws like the age of consent being too high for certain species(you can probably tell where that goes).

Are there any major problems that could come from a system like this?

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    $\begingroup$ The first thing I see is massive segregation, be governed by different laws despite able to freely mingle will cause massive tension. Is it possible to change your faction at will or are you born into one and stuck for life? $\endgroup$
    – BMS21
    Aug 7, 2018 at 8:36
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    $\begingroup$ You make a choice. It's like citizenship but you can only have one at a time and it's a long, complicated and expensive process to change. $\endgroup$
    – ZoneWolf
    Aug 7, 2018 at 8:39
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    $\begingroup$ "the gun would not be confiscated provided it remained holstered and was not hidden". This allows for massive exploits in the lines of "It wasn't murder, it was self defence" or "She said no but meant yes". Who monitors when a weapon is drawn? At what specific point is a weapon drawn? What counts as hiding a weapon? Are there objective proofs whether a weapon was hidden or drawn or not? $\endgroup$
    – Elmy
    Aug 7, 2018 at 8:45
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    $\begingroup$ The search term you are looking for is "extraterritoriality". Both historically and in the present world lots of people are subject to their home laws either in addition to, or in preference of, the laws of the territory on which they are physically located. For example, U.S. citizens owe tax to the U.S.A. wherever they are in the world; British subjects in China were not subject to Chinese laws; Russian ambassadors to the U.N. are not normally subject to American laws; etc. And, BTW: you seem to have thought only of penal law. Penal law is relatively unimportant compared to civil law. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 7, 2018 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ You should read Polystate, by Zach Weinersmith. $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2018 at 19:56

8 Answers 8


There are several problems with this approach, some minor, some quite major:

Who is bound by which laws?

If every citizen can choose one of 4 systems of government, regardless of their own age, species, appearance and whatnot, you cannot know who has to abide to which laws.

If someone with a holstered gun stands before you, you cannot know if it's a republican acting legally or a monarchist breaking his laws.

Why shouln't I do what he does?

Imagine you see some people wearing unobscured guns around like other people wear hats. Why shouldn't you wear a gun as well? To hell with stupid laws, if they are allowed to wear guns, it cannot be too bad, right?

The same principle applies to basicly any other prohibition that other people can simply ignore. Especially combined with the fact that you cannot see who is bound by which laws, people will inadvertantly and deliberately break the laws they personally deem useless.

Exploiting laws inappropriate for my species

If the age of consent in one system of government is 5 years old (due to shorter lifespan of one specific species), but I register my "adopted" (or abducted) human daughter under this system and sell her as prostitute, it will be legal.

If alcohol is addictive to humans and therefore prohibited in one government but legal in another, I can simply change my system of government and legaly drink alcohol.

Massive Loopholes

the gun would not be confiscated provided it remained holstered and was not hidden.

This allows for massive exploits in the lines of "It wasn't murder, it was self defence" or "She said no but meant yes".

  • Who monitors when a weapon is drawn?
  • At what specific point is a weapon drawn? At 10% or half way out of the holster?
  • What counts as hiding a weapon? If the wind blows my cloak over the weapon, am I a criminal?
  • Are there objective proofs whether a weapon was hidden or drawn or not?

Claim of ownership

If a monarchist had a gun on republican property they would be arrested and the gun would be returned, destroyed, or given to the owner of the property.

Just because an object becomes criminal on my property, I still have no claim of ownership over the item.

  • $\begingroup$ As for the claim of ownership, if it wasn't yours to begin with you don't get it, It would be destroyed. If you want to do something, find a government that allows you to do so. If people don't agree with you and their government allows it, they can attack you for it. $\endgroup$
    – ZoneWolf
    Aug 7, 2018 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ In exploiting laws, you make a good point, AoC should be applied relatively by other means like species not just law. For loopholes, if it isn't fully holstered, it would be counted as drawn. If you don't need to have your hand on the gun, don't. If you're not supposed to have your hand on it, you shouldn't. $\endgroup$
    – ZoneWolf
    Aug 7, 2018 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ "If you're not supposed to have your hand on it, you shouldn't." Dont forget different cultures. Here in Germany, a civilian is never supposed to have their hand on any gun. Carrying any weapon (including knifes over a certain length or of a certain type) is illegal. In the USA things are quite different and in some areas it's normal to take family pictures with children and even infants holding real guns. $\endgroup$
    – Elmy
    Aug 7, 2018 at 10:54
  • $\begingroup$ Which is extremely stupid. Remember reading Twain? He said in Innocents Abroad that in the US West, nobody touched their gun unless they intended on using it, and that if someone touched their gun, everyone else would grab theirs too. $\endgroup$
    – user39548
    Aug 7, 2018 at 14:36

Would you believe this has been done before?

Back in the days of theocratic monarchies, the law of the land wasn't particularly strong compared to the law of the church. The law of the church required attendance at church, appropriate behaviours during festivals, days of rest etc along side the usual thou shalt not kill type rules which were enforced by the state.

This lead to certain problems, half the enforceable religious rules of Christian countries didn't apply to other groups, e.g. Jews, that puts them outside the system and in turn somewhat outside society, and we all know how that ended.

You're going to see discrimination, you're probably going to see factionalisation, you could even see pogroms.

What's going to be more interesting is the indirect discrimination. One group must wear hats, one group may not wear hats. Hats aren't permitted in this building, you must take your hat off to enter. Of course doing so breaks your rules, but that's your problem not mine. No hats in here.

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    $\begingroup$ note that this isn't specific to christian monarchies: muslim rulers allowed religious minorities such as christian or jews to stay there as long as they pay tax for example. And it's not only related to religion: USA or Canada had and still have laws that apply only to the natives. However, in all historical examples I have in mind, the rulers are from one group, unlike OP example where each group have it's own government $\endgroup$
    – Kepotx
    Aug 7, 2018 at 9:30
  • $\begingroup$ As I implied by "the republican's gun would not be confiscated on the monarchist's property" one government cannot force their laws upon someone outside of their own. If one must wear a hat by law, no other government can make them take it off. $\endgroup$
    – ZoneWolf
    Aug 7, 2018 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ @ZoneWolf, I'm not forcing you to take your hat off, I'm just saying you can't wear a hat in this building. Security and all that, the cameras must have a clear view of your face. You're free to wear your hat, you just can't come in with it on. It's indirect, not direct, and much more insidious. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Aug 7, 2018 at 9:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Kepotx, each group does have its own government, but they're called community leaders or religious leaders and their power is controlled by the more powerful national governments, but within their communities their rulings are still law. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Aug 7, 2018 at 9:43

Class Separation by Law

In a faction system like this one, many issues would be rooted within the main one; segregation.

Throughout their lives some people will have the advantage over others.
With individual laws some factions will end up progressing at a much faster rate than others will.
Over time they will become the ruling class within your society.

If it works like citizenship then people will try to migrate to whichever faction best suits their beliefs. While some may be rejected, each faction will take the best they can from all applicants.
This, coupled with the fact that some factions will undoubtedly have more popular laws, means that some factions will be dominate.

Over time, I can foresee maybe a couple of factions gaining all the power politically and otherwise running the whole mega city.
While the rest are pushed to one side, some may be able to strike a deal when they figure out that they have a very particular skill, that can be used by the upper factions.
As such they would be somewhat supported, but still under the thumb of the upper factions.
I can also imagine one or maybe two classes becoming the runt of the city.
The one thing all other factions can agree on is at least they are superior to the runts...

Also with enough differences in weapon laws there will be a lot of calls for banning certain weapons in certain parts of the city.
Enough incidents to do with gun crime in a majority non-gun carrying part of the city could splinter the city into almost different countries, with very distinct borders.

I am by no means against this idea as this sort of dystopian future system has been and can be written with very interesting story behind it!


As your Question is quite broad my answer will specificly tackle the "Big picture and the possible conflicts between factions"

I can see 2 scenarios. (+1 not involving your example of firearms)

1: Possible Civil War -The population is foremost divided by Ideological differences moreso than species specific policies. -Believing their way of life is superior the lines between factions will be very deep and a great deal of conflict will arise, build up, spark unrest and may even result in open conflict. Alternatively factions might fall behind in the everpresent competition with the others and as a result be swallowed by the remaining ones. -referencing capitalism vs communism in the Cold war.

2: Totalitarian Control of Population. -The laws might drasticly differ in personal freedom and Goverment involvement (Monarchy/Democracy) to the point it overshadows species preferences. -The communites with most personal freedom will be the more disireble even if species specific laws are not optimal and a general migration of labour towards personal freedom will leave Oppressive Communities with too few high skilled workers. -referencing the GDR/FRG Border conflict

3: Strict segregation with very few interspecies exchange between factions. -The defferences in laws will nearly all be related to the defference in species. -Therefore it is undisireble to be subject to the law of a different species than one self. -But if one Population reaches its maximal expansion confined by their habitat, they will likely try to subjugate another people to take theirs.

All 3 will involve strict Border Control to prevent invasion, mass migration or both. The problem is that treating people occupying the same space differently will inevitable lead to conflict wich leads to hate. It instills an us vs them mentality.

One Solution would be a Totalitarian (it would have to be quite oppressive) Planet state that enforces peace.


Law enforcement specific to residency status is done routinely in the US and elsewhere.

You can have a stable, normal system with laws that apply differently to different individuals. Consider firearms. US citizens have a right to own firearms. But if you are an alien resident of the US you do not have this blanket right.


May a nonimmigrant alien who has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa possess a firearm or ammunition in the United States?

An alien admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa is prohibited from shipping, transporting, receiving, or possessing a firearm or ammunition unless the alien falls within one of the exceptions provided in 18 U.S.C. 922(y)(2), such as: a valid hunting license or permit, admitted for lawful hunting or sporting purposes, certain official representatives of a foreign government, or a foreign law enforcement officer of a friendly foreign government entering the United States on official law enforcement business.

Except some aliens can have a gun - as noted in the exceptions. And some citizens cannot - for example if I have a criminal record precluding gun ownership.

So too in your system. A monarchist in republican territory would be like a legal alien in American territory. If the monarchist had a gun it would be confiscated according to the republican laws governing monarchists unless the monarchist was a law enforcement office on official business etc. Perhaps an Anarchist visiting republican territory would not be allowed to have a firearm under any circumstances.

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    $\begingroup$ Right now, we have one system of laws in a given locality, with different applications in some areas for different people. If somebody shows up from Brazil, they are under US law while they're here instead of Brazilian law. There are things I, as a US citizen and Minnesota resident, can do that our Brazilian friend can't, but most laws apply. $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2018 at 19:16

The biggest issue with such systems is that they do not provide the stability we typically seek from legal systems. Accordingly I would expect the set of laws accepted by all such groups to handle the vast majority of day to day cases.

The purpose of laws is to provide either a codified document of what is right and what is wrong, or a codified document of causes and effects, depending on how cynical you are. It is designed so that the rules are known ahead of time. You know that if someone steals your wallet on the street, there is a system of justice which will seek out the thief and run them through a particular set of rituals, and possibly do something like incarcerate them.

Now it's obviously more complicated. We don't know all the laws and their nuanced details. That's why we have lawyers to sort things out when we finally get to the court proceedings. Your system would need to have a remarkable caste of lawyers to untangle it, especially resolving any inconsistencies which may arise.

However, it is not the lawyers that I want to focus on. You and I have an intuitive understanding of our particular legal system. We understand that if we do certain acts, that will be deemed "murder" and the justice system will be swift and servere. If we do other acts, they will be deemed "speeding," and the justice system is a bit more murky regarding that. There are plenty who will make informal arguments along the lines of "5mph over the limit isn't really speeding" or "I was just going with the flow of traffic." But in all cases, we develop an intuitive sense.

This intuitive sense is essential for making rapid decisions. The faster a situation changes, the more intuitive one needs to be. If I am an armed citizen of group X, and I have a law which says "I am allowed to shoot people who break the laws they abide by," and I see someone of group Y draw a weapon, I may have a split second to decide whether I should draw my own weapon, or if I need to back down because that particular action was legal by Y's rules.

The pressure to make these intuitive judgement calls will rapidly encourage the governments to generally unify the laws which may have effects on people making rapid decisions. Generally speaking, you'll find the rules for whether or not a person can have a firearm will become clearcut such that all citizens can intuitively respond to someone drawing a firearm in a legal and appropriate manner. It may be funny ("only people with red hats are allowed to have guns," and a strict ban on wearing red hats by anyone else), but the resulting agreed upon rules will be something that the members of all governments can intuitively understand and operate under.

This pattern will not necessarily happen for aspects of life which are slow enough to think through. In those cases, each government may indeed have their own laws. I came across a fascinating example recently on the Christianity Stack Exchange, where a Catholic was asking whether his Buddhist fiance could be baptized while keeping her faith. The answer was a resounding no, but further digging showed that the real issue was that he wanted the marriage to be valid in the eyes of his faith, so that he was not living in mortal sin his entire life.

To that new question, people were able to provide positive replies. The "lawyer" caste of the Catholics indeed had a process to permit a Catholic to marry out of their faith. They simply had to apply for a "dispensation for disparity of cult" from their Bishop. The Bishop could then choose to grant it, and generally speaking such dispensations are granted because it's an opportunity for the Catholic spouse to help their non-Catholic spouse choose to embrace Catholicism under their own freewill (rather than under the duress of "convert or we can't marry").

In the case of marriage, this is not a "spur of the moment" decision. Accordingly, specific nuanced laws like this dispensation for disparity of cult (that I had never heard of until I read the question) will probably survive in such a multi-government environment. Indeed, one could consider this specific case to be a practical real life example of such a multi-government system operating.

Sometimes this will affect the social dynamics. Consider a case with corporations. My employer has told me some particular piece of information is proprietary. You approach me, asking for it, saying "the laws of my employer permit me to know your employer's proprietary information." This can happen in real life situations. As such, it is now socially acceptable for me to slow this transaction down and get time to think. I'll say something along the lines of "Let's have your boss talk to my boss, and if our HR departments and general consuls agree that it is acceptable, I'll tell you that bit of information." Both of us work into our intuitive understanding of the system that it is acceptable to slow the process down to "thinking speed" and make sure we were legal. (And a great deal of the art of social engineering is how to prevent people from doing this)


There will be problems, like your gun/monarchy example illustrated. "keep the gun holstered" rule will not work - one figure out a way to fire a holstered gun, or just fire it and then run&hide, with the help of the same people who hired you to kill somebody in the first place. There could be a rule like "gun must be kept in a locked metal box", but it is still a hassle.

People will try avoid the hassle of different laws, by living & working & shopping in area governed by their law, or by converting to most convenient law). A republican shop surrounded by monarchist streets will have very little revenue business, and will close.

Over time, this "network effect" will split the city into districts, with most land and people within a district governed by the same law. If law is species-specific, districts make even more sense - each district is designed to accommodate size and climate preference of its species.

There will be "embassies" and "visitors", but they will be few, precisely b/c of the hassle that living under a different law implies.

You might have "second-class" citizens, like (legal) resident aliens in modern US, black americans before desegregation, black and native americans before 1861, serfs in Russia or medieval Europe, slaves in Rome, etc.

Also, a city will come to be dominated by a single law, if other people can easily move away (or be driven out or killed).


Confused police, since they need to keep numerous different legal systems straight. Let's see, I'm a monarchist constable, wasn't there a law passed by the Republicans that applies to Republicans carrying that sort of gun? Last year or so? I'm a monarchist constable, and when I arrested that guy I read him the Bezos warning rather than the Miranda warning, because I have trouble remembering which warning the Fuzzoids use.

It's not like police are all that great at knowing the law nowadays. They have procedures that will keep them from committing illegal acts, knowledge of some laws, and leeway in making mistakes.


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