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What Voluntaryism Means to Me
By Carl Watner
I don’t have any special qualifications to define ‘voluntaryism,’ except that I have been publishing THE VOLUNTARYIST newsletter since its inception in 1982, and am a long-time student of the concept. Both in historical tradition and in contemporary usage, voluntaryism coincides with my personal philosophy of non-violence and non-participation in politics. With special thanks to all the voluntaryists of the past who have contributed to this tradition, I offer the following personal statement of belief:
1. I condemn all invasive acts and reject the initiation of violence. This is what many today call ‘libertarianism.’
2. I assert that the State acts aggressively when it engages in taxation and coercively monopolizes the provision of public services. Many disagree with this assertion, but those who agree with it would generally label themselves ‘anarchists.’
3. This anarchist insight into the nature of the State – that the State is, inherently and necessarily, an invasive institution – serves to distinguish the anarchist from the libertarian, for my purposes here. In other words, not all libertarians are anarchists, since some libertarians view limited taxation and limited government as non-invasive and legitimate.
4. I hold the doctrine, which is common among anarchists, that all the affairs of people should be conducted on a voluntary basis. I do not argue for the specific form that voluntary arrangements will take; only that coercion be abandoned so that individuals in society may flourish.
5. The burden of proof is on those who attempt to justify the State (in whatever form) since they are trying to prevent people from peacefully using their own property in accord with their own desires.
6. Although it is not incumbent upon them to do so, some anarchists try to present their vision of a future stateless society. Based on these ‘visions,‘ we find many different types of anarchists. Two chief issues which have divided anarchists historically and theoretically are the questions of 1) how property will be owned in a stateless society; and 2) what means will be used to remove the State from our lives.
7. I am an individualist-anarchist because I recognize the validity of the self-ownership and homesteading axioms. The individualists advocate private ownership – both in property for personal consumption, as well as in the means of production. Collectivist-, communist-, and syndicalist- anarchists, on the other hand, support some sort of communal/community ownership of the means of production.
8. Like all voluntaryists, past and present, I commit myself to shunning participation in the electoral system, and also reject violent means of fighting or sabotaging the State. Violence is no substitute for convincing argument. People must come to the conclusion that the State is not a necessary social institution. Rejection of the political means and violence is premised on the voluntaryist insight that governments depend on the cooperation of those they rule. Etienne de a Boetie, a mid-16th Century Frenchman, was probably the first to call attention to this observation: If enough people withdraw their consent, the State will fall of its own accord. The Voluntaryist Statement of Purpose explains it thusly:
Voluntaryists are advocates of non-political, non-violent strategies to achieve a free society. We reject electoral politics, in theory and in practice, as incompatible with libertarian principles. Governments must cloak their actions in an aura of moral legitimacy in order to sustain their power, and political methods invariably strengthen that legitimacy. Voluntaryists seek instead to delegitimize the State through education, and we advocate withdrawal of the cooperation and tacit consent on which State power ultimately depends.
9. Thus, graphically displayed, there would be a large circle labeled “libertarians.” Then there would be a smaller circle within the libertarian circle, which would be labeled “anarchists,” and within the anarchist circle would be yet a smaller circle labeled “voluntaryists,” for those anarchists who reject electoral politics and embrace peaceful change.
10. I think that H. L. Mencken pretty well summarized my sentiments, when he wrote in THE FORUM of September 1930:
“I believe that all government is evil in that all government must make war upon liberty and that the democratic form is at least as bad as any of the other forms. But the whole thing may after all be put very simply:
I believe it is better to tell the truth than lie;
I believe it is better to be a free man than a slave; and
I believe it is better to know than to be ignorant.”
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