The Chilean Miners and the Speluncean Explorers

October 13th, 2010

Last month I noted that the Chilean Mine Collapse reminded me of the Case of the Speluncean Explorers. With the miners rescued, today the WSJ Law Blog links to a piece from the Canadian newsweekly Macleans commenting on some of the legal implications of the trapped miners.

[T]hat does not change the fact that the trapped miners are living in what amounts to a mini society of their own. All sorts of problems could arise in such a cramped space, from disputes over the allocation of food and medical supplies to rules over respect for privacy to procedures for dealing with crimes like theft or assault. If sovereignty is defined by the ability to exercise a monopoly over the use of force, then whatever legal authority currently exists in the San Jose mine, it is not the Chilean government.

Were the miners relegated to their own state of nature? If so, were they able to establish their own social compact? I think this case is somewhat distinguishable from Lon Fuller’s classic law review article in that the miners had constant contact–and perhaps more important constant replenishment of supplies–with the outside world. Though they were far removed, the order of civilization remained. Fascinating thought experiment nonetheless.