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Voluntaryism: Exploitation Pretending to Be Anarchism

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'Voluntaryism' is a new word for 'anarchism' being used by pro-capitalist, right-wing "libertarians" who tired of defending their views on the wage system and absentee land ownership from criticism by actual anarchists. Yes, 'actual anarchists'; anarchists are historically and ideologically anti-capitalist. Anarchism is the belief in the creation of human societies where all individuals are free to reach their greatest possible potential absent coercion, not a clean slate where individuals can position themselves above others in society and use that position to extract wealth from their labor.

In contrast, voluntaryists like to reduce all matters of moral action down to the voluntary consent of individuals while completely ignoring presupposed environmental variables which they sneak in the backdoor. For instance, one can easily say that I "voluntarily" pay rent to live in this apartment. And indeed, I of my own will cash my check and deposit the money into the landlord’s account on a monthly basis. Indeed, I signed the contract agreeing to pay this amount monthly. What voluntaryists ignore however, is that I by my very nature do not have a choice in whether I occupy space on the planet, or whether the "right" to occupy that specific space has been claimed by someone else. They ignore the consequences of not paying rent, homelessness, while claiming that the payment of rent represents a voluntary agreement. The threat of homelessness in this case could be easily equated to the threat of an armed robbers gun. Sure it can be said one voluntarily gives up their valuables to the robber if we choose to ignore the coercive variable which compel them to do so, their own necessity. It could just as easily be said that a 19th century English peasant voluntarily accepted monarchy by bowing to royalty if we ignore the law commanding them to do so.

Choice depends on the freedom to choose and if you are shackled with debt you don’t have the freedom to choose., Tony Benn.

These rationalizations for rent and usury are just logical extensions of what Walter Block called "Voluntary Slavery". It stems from the idea that individuals should be able to barter their present liberty as a bargaining chip in an economic exchange. Rather than renting ones self to a capitalist, Block argues that you should be able to sell your future liberty indefinitely (see Walter Block, A Libertarian Theory of Inalienability, Journal of Libertarian Studies, 17 (Spring 2003), p. 39-85). While not all voluntaryists agree with this extreme example, they do agree in principle that a person should be able to sell their liberty, in part, for access to necessary property, i.e. wage employment.

"Every single policy that voluntaryism recommends can be traced back to one simple thing: The complete and unconditional rejection of aggression, meaning the initiation of violence by one person against another.

Voluntaryism’s rejection of an organization such as the government merely stems from its rejection of aggression, simply because government is by definition the very institution that perpetually performs acts of aggression, a.k.a taxation, with impunity.


So what is the justification for it all? Well natural rights, of course! "This man owns his property!" they cry, "who could dispossess him of it without being a thief or a tyrant?". They argue that legitimate property is made legitimate by voluntary purchase, and that that purchase grants them an absolute right to the use value of said property, again, without consideration of their presupposition that an absolute right to the use of physical matter, or property, is legitimate in the first place. They do not consider a voluntary agreement to this absolutist conception of property as a qualifier for voluntary action in regard to it, and they go to great lengths to hide that fact. Some even claim to reject natural rights, like Ludwig Von Mises, instead favoring “universal absolutes”, which are basically the exact same thing. They will say "Look around you, property is everywhere! One cannot even live without the use of property!" without ever reconciling the fact that they have merely just labeled all physical matter that can be potentially possessed by humans as their conception of "property". One using or possessing something has absolutely no correlation to it being considered their property, therefore one cannot make the argument that things merely being used or possessed makes the concept of property a "universal absolute". One may use the light of the moon to navigate in the darkness, yet they do not own it, likewise one may own a building they never step foot in. One is not mutually exclusive to the other.

There's an amusing story of a Georgist who challenged a land baron as to the baron's right to his vast tracts. The baron knew the history of the estate of his noble bloodlines, and told how one of his ancestors had paid good money for the land, rather than gaining it by some royal grant. To this the Georgist replied, "But how did the previous owner obtain it?" Again the baron explained how that person had also once paid good money for it. Yet again and again, the Georgist persisted with, "But how did that owner obtain it?" Finally, the baron said, "He fought for it in battle, and won it". To which the Georgist said, "Good! I'll fight you for it!"

From: Karl Williams, Social Justice in Australia

So why does it matter? As an anarchist I believe in the unimpeded right of all individuals to reach their greatest possible potential. I see anarchism as the liberatory force which can free humanity from these imagined social spooks which cause unending social ills and are the source of exploitation of man by man. When I see people arguing for what I believe to be the complete subjugation of millions of people to propertied individuals under the title of anarchism I am compelled to speak out against it. When I see people arguing for the “liberty” to sell ones liberty for economic necessity under the banner of human liberation I am outraged and disgusted, and rightfully so. Anarchist apartheid? No, Roderick, this is a defense of anarchism from people who have clearly stated goals which are the antithesis of anarchism. This is an intellectual purging of the enemies of human liberty.

Until all are free.

Original version posted on December 4 by Matt Barsan at:


Also provided by Matt:

"The difference between the slavery of former days and the existence-bondage of today is that formerly the slaves were forcibly driven to the market, while the serfs of today offer themselves for sale 'of their own free will.' It is ironically called 'free competition'; but behind each miserable free competitor stand want, hunger, and anxiety, more effective and compelling than the slave-driver's whip."
-Hippolyte Havel, 1932

See also, "The Voluntaryist Delusion"

"... it is clear that the voluntaryists who hold to this ideology have nothing to do with Anarchism...
. What is consensual is necessarily voluntary, but what is voluntary is not necessarily consensual."

From: Francois Tremblay

I wait for voluntaryists to argue first and foremost against the violence inherent in private land ownership.

Until they do that, they’re just pissing in the wind, pretending to be “anarchists” when in reality just cementing existing exploitation and landlordism.

Correct me if I am wrong, there is a school of thought named "volitionism" which is associated with Ayn Rand. Is this also called Voluntaryism?

Since the political state, or centralised power is rejected, the issue is always the common property, how it would be managed and used.

"Volitionism" is usually expressed the doctrine of metaphysical free will in the philosophy of mind, contrasted with various forms determinism. Within Rand's schema, as I understand it, this assumption is used for legal responsibility.

I once had an debate with a Randian who argued against drink driving laws on the basis of volitionism. After all, if nobody was hurt there was no problem, and if someone was hurt it was their fault - alcohol apparently, didn't impair judgement, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

I had the sneaking suspicion that they had once been picked up on a drink-driving charge :)

Thanh Chuong Pham: in an anarchist society, the common property would be managed in a common way. You must think about the Paris Commune or about cooperative enterprises in general, which deal with ressources in a direct-democratic, participatory and deliberative way (isocracy).

Then of course there are several schools of thought in Anarchism (but not "anarcho-capitalism" since capitalism is hierarchy-based, and coercive), and every school has its own way to understand the managing of common property: Anarcho-syndacalists believe the trade unions should take the place of the State, and these would be direct democratically managed (See Anarchist Catalunya in the 1930s, Orwell: "Hommage to Catalunya"). Mutualists are more or less for a form of personal possession (see: Proudhon, "What is property?") based on small individual enterprises which are in competition in the market, but there is no class division (capitalists/workers). In some variants of Anarcho-communism and Eco-anarchism, the local communities, composed in a scale way (building/neighborhood/village/city/region etc) manage ressources in a direct-democratic way (another time). Think for example to the Free Territory in Ukraine in the 1920s, or in a minor way to Marinaleda (a village in spain which applies common property and direct-democratic managing).

I hope I answered your question clearly :)

Now, you may not like what I have to say about my views of politics, as I am no longer an Anarchist, but you should know, I feel you are spot on, with how you defend your ideals, from these poseurs. Like I said, I used to be an Anarchist, (well Anarcho-Primitivist, to be exact), then realizing that we need someone to make the roads, fight fires, run a hospital, (sadly) be the police (whom I should note, I've never called on anyone...even when I probably should have), and someone to shovel shit, that we need some form of government. My natural inclination was a Libertarianism, as it was the closest thing in my eyes to Anarchy, in our current political system. Then I met my wife. She's sick. The kind you don't get better from. The kind that private healthcare fails to serve. Then I joined a union (lost that job to the Great Recession) and it was the most cash I've ever made. Even with dues and all, I still made a good $200+ a week, compared to my friends in the same trade (I used to be a carpenter's apprentice) who were non-union. So, in reality I paid about $180 each month in union dues, they paid a good $800, in non-union dues. So, I've become more of an economic liberal (increased minimum wage, universal healthcare, free college, unions all the way), but a social Libertarian (legalize "soft" drugs, gun rights, marry whomever you want, and yes you'll really hate this private property rights). That being said, we weren't talking about me, and my politics. We were talking about Voluntaryism, and the farce of saying they're Anarchists. I recently met a few of these hypocrites, from a group called Liberate RVA . I gotta say they're felt hell bent to convert everyone, and anyone, not to mention lots of Facebook trolling. One minute they say one thing, the other something else. An example: One day one of them posted against protesting. That protesting was nothing short of "Statism" (their new buzz word), and then on Voluntaryism Day (or as I call it Memorial Day) what do they do? They go to a park, hold up signs, promoting non violence. When asked, :Did you have fun at the protest?" One replied, "It wasn't a protest, it was peacefully, voluntary conversations". Did I mention they had signs. Another example, when I asked them, "Okay you guys want Anarchy, so why don't you pool your resources together, buy a piece of land, and live free, like Walden Pond?" They say, "because that would be running away". I offered them a chance to prove themselves Anarchist, by braving the wildness, making their own clothes, medicine, etc., offered the a chance to prove me (and everyone who is not like them, you know...Statists) wrong, they decided to say that moving to commune wouldn't be Anarchy, then used the god damn Statist word, then when I asked "Okay let's say you have Anarchy, or Anarcho-Pacifism, there are well armed militias waiting for the moment of government collapse, to run their own agendas, they dodged the question, changed it to something like, "Well, we'd still have rules" I asked, "who makes the rules?" They knew what I was getting at, I asked again, and followed with the answer, "the people would, right? well I got news for you, that's not Anarchy, that's called Democracy, and that's what I believe in, too, and we've never seen a pure Democracy, (a system governed by the people), we've only had a Democratic-Republic (a system where the people elect representatives). They responded with some half ass answer about the elected leaders being slave masters, and from there is just became name calling. Oh yeah, by the way, when I joined in, at the March against Monsanto, guess who arranged it? The fine folks from Wingnut, the Anarchist Collectivists, those guys were great, but the voluntaryists (from Liberate RVA) didn't show up, because "protesting doesn't do any good, it's nothing short of compromise" yet, YET, they hold up signs, promoting themselves at a park 3 FUCKING DAYS LATER!!!! HYPOCRITES!!!! What is peaceful dialogue, but a form of fucking protest?!?! But no, that's all they were doing was talking, and I don't know about you, but I think talk is cheap. If I were still an Anarchist, I'd definately be involved with Wingnut, not Liberate RVA, but what the fuck do I know, I'm just a Statist, right? Anyways, you make great points, putting holes in the "Voluntaryist" bullshit. You want to be an Anarchist, then that's fine by me, for myself it doesn't work, and these "Voluntaryist" aren't helping your cause. I'd post your fine article, but I don't want anymore bullshit from these guys at Liberate RVA, but kudos to you, Sir. Kudos to you.

"Okay let's say you have Anarchy, or Anarcho-Pacifism, there are well armed militias waiting for the moment of government collapse, to run their own agendas ... who makes the rules?"
Communities, collectives, and other kinds of groups and organizations should make agreements based on decentralized, acephalous federation, which usually just means getting delegates to sit down together and discuss whatever issues are at hand. Mutual aid/mutual defense networks can be formed in this way, as can healthcare cooperatives, other kinds of groups for firefighting, road repair, conflict mediation facilitation, etc. Leaping there from here directly is not feasible as it's the sort of thing that has to be built up over a long period of time, but there's no reason why a network-federation can't provide all the same services (the ones that are actually necessary, anyway) with none of the slavery.

One of the ridiculous aspects of voluntaryism is the strident insistence that property be respected exactly as they think it should be respected. The reality is that, without a state to back them up, they will have to accept that property will be whatever their neighbors choose to respect, and those neighbors are not at all likely to respect the class system that ancaps and voluntaryists insist upon, where some hold all the best land and others are relegated, without compensation, to inferior land.

Moreover, there is no real effort to form such communities. The whole utopian thing is an excuse to defend property in land and private issuance of money, neither of which was not obtained in anything like their justification-fantasy, and to bash all criticisms of right-wing privilege.

In a truly anarchist society, who decides the morals? Is there any motivation for taking care of orphans and widows? I can see that roads would be built because someone gains from it. How would a destitute man defend himself from a wealthy anarchist? Who would pay for his protections?

Force is inherent in any system. The is no shortage of individuals and groups that will all to impose their will on you via coercion (google iron law of oligarchy). A property system is one way that force is restrained within a system of rules. You don't need to appeal to natural rights to defend such a system; you only need consider the most likely alternatives. The property system has shown itself to create predictable results and benefited enough people to persist and expand. Before property, land was the right of the Crown, to be given to those aligned with the king. Those others that lived and worked the land had little choice but to accept the arrangement. The move towards a property system represents an inhibition of coercion. An appropriate metric of the desirability of political arrangements, then, is not to ask whether or not there is coercion, but to ask whether there is more or less coercion than the most likely alternative. Coercion can only be diminished, it will never be eradicated.

I'm not defending the shortcomings of voluntaryism, but you state that we must occupy space on this rock and therefore shouldn't rent it. How then should it be allocated? If I want to occupy a space currently occupied do I just kill the occupant. Not all land is equal, and some will certainly desire the land occupied by others, what will resolve this discrepancy? Seems to me that allowing those willing to exchange the most for that value is the most peaceful solution. Thus far money is the least biased medium of allocation, although still biased. I guess we could go back to strength as a medium of allocation, and let the strong enslave us, rather than the productive. Yes, we are all slaves, but at least in a money society we can somewhat choose what we are slaves to. We will always need sustenance, and are therefore slaves to our physical nature, ending capitalism does not end this reality. We must still earn our sustenance.

"How then should [land] be allocated? If I want to occupy a space currently occupied do I just kill the occupant. Not all land is equal, and some will certainly desire the land occupied by others, what will resolve this discrepancy? Seems to me that allowing those willing to exchange the most for that value is the most peaceful solution."

In a society with real democratic values and institutions, land use would be a matter decided by the society for the benefit of society, not to enrich the few.

We tend to assume that privatizing property is the best way to ensure its utility and value but when it comes to accessing vital resources such as land (necessary for everyone to exist), private ownership can impede access which I'd argue is not in the interest of the society. (Consider the term landlord, lord of the land, this is a remnant feudalism.)

Unfortunately, in our society, due to the power and pervasiveness of capitalism and market forces (including government), a discussion of property rights is mostly forbidden. If the topic is raised, it is generally met with disdain and catcalls of "commie" or put on a par with universally abhorred totalitarian regimes.

The more ideological advocates of private property, such as The Chamber of Commerce, Right-libertarians, anarcho capitalists, and voluntaryists (barely a dime's worth of difference on the issue of private property), are not satisfied with the compromise of regulating housing and land use, but call for complete government "interference" and a market approach to all land use.

This being America, there are no significant Leftist examples extant of alternatives to the market in regard to land use. For such examples, we have to look to the Right, whose influence in government is undeniable, ubiquitous and, I would argue, a blight on democratic values of organization.

Although it is only one example, take the case of Houston, which exemplifies libertarian values in that has had no government imposed restrictions on land use zoning for decades.

"What is unique about Houston is that the separation of land uses is impelled by economic forces rather than mandatory zoning. While it is theoretically possible for a petrochemical refinery to locate next to a housing development, it is unlikely that profit-maximizing real-estate developers will allow this to happen. Developers employ widespread private covenants and deed restrictions, which serve a comparable role as zoning. These privately prescribed land use controls are effective because they have a legal precedence and local government has chosen to assist in enforcing them." -- excerpt from Bloomberg Business Week by Peter Coy on October 1, 2007

Of course this example does not address the issue of concern here, which is not zoning, per se, but the practice of market based private control of land use in the first place. Pro market evaluation of the absence of zoning in Houston will cite the abundance of housing and real estate "boom" as examples of its success. The success of landlords and developers may be good enough for the Chamber of Commerce and libertarians, but not for those of us who value equity and the general well-being of residents.

Consider the ramifications of the libertarian experiment in Houston: As of 2008 Houston ranked thus in US cities of over 100,00 residents: highest daily vehicle passenger mileage, highest individual transportation cost, lowest public transportation ridership, most traffic fatalities, 2nd in worst smog, 4th in worst ozone pollution, 5th in most pedestrian fatalities, 7th in worst traffic. (statistics from Edward L Glaeser)

So, this is one example of how libertarian values play out in society. The developers call the shots by creating covenants, excluding voters from decision making that affects their rights in regard to land use. This is an example of a private tyranny, the kind Chomsky and other progressives warn about as a result of anarcho capitalism (though ironically, this lack of zoning and covenant power is condoned by the Houston City Council). So, there is every reason to believe that owners of residential housing would form covenants in the absence of government. And, imagine this not as an anomaly but as the norm. These owners would collude, drive out small owners, consolidate through covenant, avoid market competition by manufacturing housing shortages, thus ensuring higher rents. This type of voluntary association of land owners is what passes for freedom in anarcho capitalism, libertarianism and voluntaryism.

This article falsely misrepresents Voluntaryism probably because the writer fears how popular and powerful a message it is. Voluntaryism, like everything else is anarchism if we truly understand what that word means, without rulers and what is. Opposition to coercion, theft, or violence. No authority higher than the individual. All I see here are statists pretending they are the true anarchists. Dumb commie losers. Luckily free thought isn't dictated by these fools.

> Opposition to coercion, theft, or violence.No authority higher than the individual.

In other words, it doesn't survive two seconds of debate of what constitutes legitimate ownership of property.

Think about it; if two individuals have a different opinion of who has ownership rights of something that is ontologically independent of them, then there will be conflict. Both will engage in violence to assert their property right, both will accuse the other of theft.

"Voluntarism' is a new word for 'anarchism"? If voluntarists were actually anarchists, they wouldn't call themselves voluntarists. From these comments, it sounds like Anarchism is just the new word for Socialism. Theoretically, what we live in now is the outcome of Anarchism, where the weak fell to the bottom and strong rose to the top. Humans randomly inhabited the world, and the outcome of the randomness is the mess we have now. How are people able to reach their individual full potential if they are bound by the whims of those who are, or are not, as naturally gifted as they are?? It would seem that the only way to ensure individuals reach their full potential is to ensure their individual liberty to voluntarily trade their ability to produce for others' individual production. Those who are able to produce faster, or able to produce better quality or skilled work will have more than those who can't or don't want to. Your idea of anarchism sounds quite orderly and restrictive, certainly not liberating. Liberty would be letting the weak(mentally, socially, physically) fall to the bottom and letting the strong rise to the top, while ensuring that each individual's rights to individual freedom, especially to produce and trade their production as they see fit, are defended and not infringed on by the strong, weak, or mediocre. Your idea of anarchism sounds like everyone needs to be held down to the level of the weakest denominator, how is that liberty?

> "Voluntarism' is a new word for 'anarchism"? If voluntarists were actually anarchists, they wouldn't call themselves voluntarists.

There are many voluntaryists who describe themselves as anarchists, rather like anarcho-capitalists.

They should be aware that anarchism cannot exist with private property rights, because that requires a state.

Anarchism, in both the historical and contemporary sense, combines individual liberalism with economic socialism. Isocracy, fwiw, extends these principles to formal involvement in politics (something when many anarchists do not engage in).

> Your idea of anarchism sounds like everyone needs to be held down to the level of the weakest denominator, how is that liberty?

I am not sure how you could possible derive that from the article in question.

LOL "Your comment has been queued for review by site administrators and will be published after approval." Oh, the anarchy...

The moderation is in place to prevent spammers.

You don't understand what Voluntarism is, so you attack your straw man argument. Good job.