Author: en.wikipedia.org. Link to original: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntaryism (English).
Tags: anarchism, anarchy, libertarianism, market anarchism, voluntaryism, анархизм, анархия, волюнтаризм, либертарианство, рыночный анархизм Submitted by anarchofront 08.11.2010. Public material.
Voluntaryism, or voluntarism, is a philosophy according to which all forms of human association should be voluntary as far as possible. Consequently, voluntaryism opposes the initiation of aggressive force or coercion, which is formalized in the non-aggression principle. The word 'initiation' is used here to make clear that voluntaryism, does not oppose self-defense. Voluntaryism is a form of free market anarchism.

Translations of this material:

into Russian: [Либертарный] волюнтаризм. Translated in draft, editing and proof-reading required.
Submitted for translation by anarchofront 08.11.2010


Voluntaryism, or voluntarism,[1] is a philosophy according to which all forms of human association should be voluntary as far as possible. Consequently, voluntaryism opposes the initiation of aggressive force or coercion, which is formalized in the non-aggression principle. The word 'initiation' is used here to make clear that voluntaryism, does not oppose self-defense. Voluntaryism is a form of free market anarchism.

As government is defined as a legitimized monopoly on the initiation of aggressive force and coercion in a given geographical region, voluntaryists call for its abolishment. Most voluntaryists also support strong property rights, which they regard as part of natural law that is compatible with non-coercion. Some voluntaryists are non-propertarians, believing that inhabitants of a society could voluntarily choose cooperative arrangements of land and resources that are not privatized, so long as no initiation of aggressive force or coercion is used in the arrangement.

One of the goals of voluntaryism is the replacement of the state by a voluntary society in which autonomous self-determination is had by each individual, and in which association among people occurs by mutual consent. A voluntary society entails a stateless society. Voluntaryists believe voluntaryism itself should be the means to achieve this goal, rather than initiation of force.

Many voluntaryists believe that when a consensual exchange is made, both parties involved in it will be satisfied. Although the term 'voluntaryism' is sometimes used as a synonym for anarcho-capitalist philosophies, not all voluntaryists are anarcho-capitalists, some preferring non-capitalist forms of market anarchism and left-libertarianism.

Voluntaryist movements are distinct in their rejection of both electoral politics and initiative violence as means by which to bring about a voluntary society. Because voluntaryists consider electoral politics to be counterproductive or immoral, they prefer to dismantle the state by non-political means such as secession, counter-economics, civil disobedience and education, rather than voting.


The moral justification for voluntaryism can be based both on consequentialist and deontological normative ethical views, as well as a priori reasoning. Voluntaryism does not argue for the specific form that voluntary arrangements will take, only that initiative force be abandoned so that individuals in society may flourish. Since voluntaryists hold that the means must be consistent with the end, the goal of a purely voluntary society must be sought voluntarily. Voluntaryists assert that people cannot be coerced into freedom. Voluntaryists often advocate the use of the free market, education, persuasion, and non-violent resistance as the primary ways to change people's ideas about the state and their behavior toward it. Voluntaryists insist that since all tyranny and governments are grounded upon popular acceptance, wholly voluntary means are sufficient and, in fact, the only way to attain a voluntaryist society.

A typical argument for voluntaryism is grounded on two axioms. First, the self-ownership axiom holds that each person is and ought to be in control of his or her own mind and body, having autonomous self-determination. Second, the homesteading axiom holds that each person by the application of his or her own labor to un-owned resources thereby becomes its rightful and legitimate owner. However, geo-anarchists have the alternative axiom that one may homestead possession but not the rent of land, which would be shared equally, by community agreement.

Voluntaryists begin with the assumption that human action represents behavior aiming at an improvement over the current state of affairs (from the individual actor's point of view). Therefore, voluntaryists reason, every market transaction is intended to be (and normally achieves) an improvement in satisfaction and benefits both parties to the exchange. Thus, both parties to a trade improve their state of affairs. Voluntaryists argue that on the free and unhampered market this occurs millions of times each day, the cumulative effect being the prosperity and high standard of living that people experience in a free market economy. From a voluntaryist perspective, government intervention and central planning (based on compulsion) can only force some people to do what they would otherwise not choose to do, and thereby lessens their satisfaction and impedes economic progress.

Voluntaryists also argue that although certain goods and services are necessary to human survival, it is not necessary that they be provided by the government. Voluntaryists oppose the state because, in their view, it uses coercive means in the collection of revenues and in outlawing would-be service providers, and they deny that any form of coercion is compatible with voluntaryism. According to voluntaryists, the coercionist always proposes to compel people to do something they ordinarily wouldn't do, usually by passing laws or electing people to office. These laws and officials ultimately depend upon physical violence for enforcement. Voluntaryism does not require of people that they violently overthrow the government or use the electoral process to change it; it merely requires that they cease to support their government and obey its orders, whereupon voluntaryists expect that it will collapse by itself.

Voluntaryism and anarchism

Libertarian theory, relying upon the self-ownership and homesteading axioms, condemns all invasive acts and rejects the initiation of force. Free market anarchists, in particular, assert that the state acts aggressively when it engages in taxation and coercively monopolizes the provision of certain public services such as the roads, courts, police, and armed forces. It is this anarchist outlook that the state is inherently and necessarily an invasive institution - which distinguishes the anarchist from other libertarians.

By this definition, voluntaryists are peaceful anarchists. Many late 20th and early 21st Century voluntaryists based their thinking upon the ideas of Murray Rothbard and Robert LeFevre, who rejected the concept of "limited" government. Rothbard maintained, first, that every government "presumes to establish a compulsory monopoly of defense (police and courts) service over some geographical area. So that individual property owners who prefer to subscribe to another defense company within that area are not allowed to do so"; and, second, that every government obtains its income by stealing, euphemistically labeled "taxation." "All governments, however limited they may be otherwise, commit at least these two fundamental crimes against liberty and property." [2]

What especially distinguishes voluntaryists from other free-market anarchists is their stance on strategy, especially their reliance on nonviolence and non-electoral means to achieve an anarchist society. Like many European and American anarchists during the 19th and 20th Centuries, voluntaryists shun involvement with electoral politics. Rejection of the political means is based on the premise that governments depend on the cooperation of those they rule. Etienne de la Boetie, a mid-16th Century Frenchman, who was the first to make this voluntaryist point, called for peaceful non-cooperation and non-violent resistance to the state. Despite the advocacy of violence by a number of anarchists throughout history, most anarchists have sought to persuade people, rather than coerce them. Le Boetie's call for peaceful resistance has been echoed by contemporary anarchists, as well as by a significant number of those who were anarchist, such as Leo Tolstoy and Thoreau, or have been described as near-anarchist in their thinking, such as Gandhi.



Voluntaryism has a long tradition in the English-speaking world, at least as far back as the Leveller movement of mid-17th Century England. The Leveller spokesmen John Lilburne (?1614-1657) and Richard Overton (?1600-?1660s) who "clashed with the Presbyterian puritans, who wanted to preserve a state-church with coercive powers and to deny liberty of worship to the puritan sects."[3] The Levellers were nonconformist in religion and agitated for the separation of church and state. The church to their way of thinking was a voluntary associating of equals, and furnished a theoretical and practical model for the civil state. If it was proper for their church congregations to be based on consent, then it was proper to apply the same principle of consent to its secular counterpart. For example, the Leveller 'large' Petition of 1647 contained a proposal "that tythes and all other inforced maintenances, may be for ever abolished, and nothing in place thereof imposed, but that all Ministers may be payd only by those who voluntarily choose them, and contract with them for their labours."[3] One only need substitute "taxes" for "tythes" and "government officials" for "Ministers" to see how close the Levellers were to the idea of a voluntary state.

The Levellers also held tenaciously to the idea of self-proprietorship. As Richard Overton wrote: "No man hath power over my rights and liberties, and I over no mans [sic]." [3] They realized that it was impossible to assert one's private right of judgment in religious matters (what we would call today liberty of conscience) without upholding the same right for everyone else, even the unregenerate. The existence of a State church in England caused friction since the time of the Levellers because there were always those who opposed its religious doctrine or their forced contributions towards its support.

Educational voluntaryism

Voluntaryists also became involved in another controversy in England, from about the mid-1840s to the mid-1860s. In 1843, Parliament considered legislation which would require part-time compulsory attendance at school of those children working in factories. The effective control over these schools was to be placed in the hands of the established Church of England, and the schools were to be supported largely from funds raised out of local taxation. Nonconformists, mostly Baptists and Congregationalists, became alarmed. They had been under the ban of the law for more than a century. At one time or another they could not be married in their own churches, were compelled to pay church rates against their will, and had to teach their children underground for fear of arrest. They became known as voluntaryists because they consistently rejected all state aid and interference in education, just as they rejected the state in the religious sphere of their lives. Three of the most notable voluntaryists included the young Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), who published his first series of articles "The Proper Sphere of Government," beginning in 1842; Edward Baines, Jr., (1800-1890) editor and proprietor of the Leeds Mercury; and Edward Miall (1809-1881), Congregationalist minister, and founder-editor of The Nonconformist (1841), who wrote Views of the Voluntary Principle (1845).

The educational voluntaryists wanted free trade in education, just as they supported free trade in corn or cotton. Their concern for "liberty can scarcely be exaggerated." They believed that "government would employ education for its own ends" (teaching habits of obedience and indoctrination), and that government-controlled schools would ultimately teach children to rely on the State for all things. Baines, for example, noted that "[w]e cannot violate the principles of liberty in regard to education without furnishing at once a precedent and inducement to violate them in regard to other matters." Baines conceded that the then current system of education (both private and charitable) had deficiencies, but he argued that freedom should not be abridged on that account. Should freedom of the press be compromised because we have bad newspapers? "I maintain that Liberty is the chief cause of excellence; but it would cease to be Liberty if you proscribed everything inferior." [4] The Congregational Board of Education and the Baptist Voluntary Education Society are usually given pride of place among the Voluntaryists.[5]

Auberon Herbert

Although educational voluntaryism failed to stop the movement for compulsory schools in England, voluntaryism as a political creed was revived during the 1880s by another Englishman, Auberon Herbert (1838-1906). Herbert served a two-year term in the British House of Commons, but after meeting Herbert Spencer in 1874, decided not to run for re-election. He noted:[6]

“ As I read and thought over what he taught, a new window was opened in my mind. I lost my faith in the great machine; I saw that thinking and acting for others had always hindered not helped the real progress; that all forms of compulsion deadened the living forces in a nation; that every evil violently stamped out still persisted, almost always in a worse form, when driven out of sight, and festered under the surface. I no longer believed that the handful of us however well-intentioned we might be spending our nights in the House, could manufacture the life of a nation, could endow it out of hand with happiness, wisdom and prosperity, and clothe it in all the virtues. ”

Herbert wrote "State Education: A Help or Hindrance?" in 1880, and began using the word "voluntaryist" to label his advocacy of "voluntary" taxation. He began publishing his journal, The Free Life (Organ of Voluntary Taxation and the Voluntary State) in 1890. Herbert was not a pure voluntaryist because, although he held that it was possible for state revenues to be generated by offering competitive services on the free market, he continued to advocate a single monopolistic state for every given geographic territory, Some of his essays are titled "The Principles of Voluntaryism and Free Life" (1897), and "A Plea for Voluntaryism," (posthumously, 1908).

Usage in the U.S.

Although there was never an explicit "voluntaryist" movement in America till the late 20th Century, earlier Americans did agitate for the disestablishment of government-supported churches in several of the original thirteen states. These conscientious objectors believed mere birth in a given geographic area did not mean that one consented to membership or automatically wished to support a state church. Their objection to taxation in support of the church was two-fold: taxation not only gave the state some right of control over the church; it also represented a way of coercing the non-member or the unbeliever into supporting the church. In New England, where both Massachusetts and Connecticut started out with state churches, many people believed that they needed to pay a tax for the general support of religion - for the same reasons they paid taxes to maintain the roads and the courts. It was simply inconceivable to many of them that society could long exist without state support of religion. Practically no one considered the idea that although governmentally-supplied goods and services (such as roads, or schools, or churches) might be essential to human welfare, it was not necessary that they be provided by the government.

There were at least two well-known Americans who espoused voluntaryist causes during the mid-19th Century. Henry David Thoreau's (1817-1862) first brush with the law in his home state of Massachusetts came in 1838, when he turned twenty-one. The State demanded that he pay the one dollar ministerial tax, in support of a clergyman, "whose preaching my father attended but never I myself." [7] When Thoreau refused to pay the tax, it was probably paid by one of his aunts. In order to avoid the ministerial tax in the future, Thoreau had to sign an affidavit attesting he was not a member of the church.

Thoreau's overnight imprisonment for his failure to pay another municipal tax, the poll tax, to the town of Concord was recorded in his essay, "Resistance to Civil Government," first published in 1849. It is often referred to as "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience," because in it he concluded that government was dependent on the cooperation of its citizens. While he was not a thoroughly consistent voluntaryist, he did write that he wished never to "rely on the protection of the state," and that he refused to tender it his allegiance so long as it supported slavery. He distinguished himself from "those who call[ed] themselves no-government men": "I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government," but this has been interpreted as a gradualist, rather than minarchist, stance[8] given that he also opened his essay by stating his belief that "That government is best which governs not at all," a point which all voluntaryists heartily embrace.[7]

One of those "no-government men" was William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), famous abolitionist and publisher of The Liberator. Nearly all abolitionists identified with the self-ownership principle, that each person - as an individual - owned and should control his or her own mind and body free of outside coercive interference. The abolitionist called for the immediate and unconditional cessation of slavery because they saw slavery as man-stealing in its most direct and worst form. Slavery reflected the theft of a person's self-ownership rights. The slave was a chattel with no rights of its own. The abolitionists realized that each human being, without exception, was naturally invested with sovereignty over him or her self and that no one could exercise forcible control over another without breaching the self-ownership principle. Garrison, too, was not a pure voluntaryist for he supported the federal government's war against the States from 1861 to 1865.

Probably the most consistent voluntaryist of that era was Charles Lane (1800-1870). He was friendly with Amos Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thoreau. Between January and June 1843 a series of nine letters he penned were published in such abolitionist’s papers as The Liberator and The Herald of Freedom. The title under which they were published was "A Voluntary Political Government," and in them Lane described the state in terms of institutionalized violence and referred to its "club law, its mere brigand right of a strong arm, [supported] by guns and bayonets." He saw the coercive state on par with "forced" Christianity. "Everyone can see that the church is wrong when it comes to men with the [B]ible in one hand, and the sword in the other." "Is it not equally diabolical for the state to do so?" Lane believed that governmental rule was only tolerated by public opinion because the fact was not yet recognized that all the true purposes of the state could be carried out on the voluntary principle, just as churches could be sustained voluntarily. Reliance on the voluntary principle could only come about through "kind, orderly, and moral means" that were consistent with the totally voluntary society he was advocating. "Let us have a voluntary State as well as a voluntary Church, and we may possibly then have some claim to the appeallation of free men." [9]

Late 20th and early 21st Century libertarians readily draw a parallel between the disestablishment of state churches and the abandonment of the state itself. Although the label "voluntaryist" practically died out after the death of Auberon Herbert, its use was renewed in late 1982, when George H. Smith, Wendy McElroy, and Carl Watner began publishing The Voluntaryist. George Smith suggested use of the term to identify those libertarians who believed that political action and political parties (especially the Libertarian Party) were antithetical to their ideas. In their "Statement of Purpose" in Neither Bullets nor Ballots: Essays on Voluntaryism (1983), Watner, Smith, and McElroy explained that voluntaryists were advocates of non-political strategies to achieve a free society. They rejected electoral politics "in theory and practice as incompatible with libertarian goals," and argued that political methods invariably strengthen the legitimacy of coercive governments. In concluding their "Statement of Purpose" they wrote: "Voluntaryists seek instead to delegitimize the State through education, and we advocate the withdrawal of the cooperation and tacit consent on which state power ultimately depends."

The Voluntaryist

The Voluntaryist newsletter, which began publication in late 1982, is one of the longest-lived libertarian publications in the world. Edited and published by Carl Watner since 1986, the most significant articles from the first 100 issues were anthologized in book-length form and published as Carl Watner, ed (1999). I Must Speak Out: The Best of The Voluntaryist, 1982-1999. San Francisco: Fox & Wilkes. . Another voluntaryist anthology made a case for non-voting: Carl Watner with Wendy McElroy, ed. (2001), Dissenting Electorate: Those Who Refuse to Vote and the Legitimacy of Their Opposition, Jefferson: McFarland and Company . The masthead of The Voluntaryist, perhaps, best epitomizes the voluntaryist outlook: "If one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself." This statement penned by Mahatma Gandhi urges that the world can only be changed one person at a time, and then, only if that person wills it, making it appealing to many voluntaryists. The only thing that the individual can do, voluntaryists hold, "is present society with 'one improved unit'." Albert Jay Nock expressed this point as follows: "[A]ges of experience testify that the only way society can be improved is by the individualist method ..., that is, the method of each 'one' doing his very best to improve 'one.'" Voluntaryists believe that this is the quiet, peaceful, patient way of changing society because it concentrates on bettering the character of men and women as individuals. The voluntaryist hope is that as the individual units change, the improvement of society will take care of itself. In other words, "if one take care of the means, the end will take care of itself." [10]


1. Watner, Carl. On the History of the Word "Voluntaryism". The Voluntaryist. Retrieved on 2009-04-01.

The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary offers the following definitions, citing usage that dates back to the 1830s:

voluntar[y]ism - "The principle that the Church or schools should be independent of the State and supported by voluntary contributions.

voluntar[y]ist - "An advocate or adherent of voluntarism or voluntaryism."

2. Murray Rothbard (May 1973), Yes, Reason Magazine, pp. 19, 23–25

3. G. E. Aylmer (ed.) (1975), The Levellers in the English Revolution, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 68, 80

4. George H. Smith (1982), "Nineteenth-Century Opponents of State Education", in Robert B. Everhart, The Public School Monopoly, Cambridge: Ballinger Publishing, pp. 109-144 at pp. 121-124

5. EAG Clark (1982), The Last of the Voluntaryists: The Ragged School Union in the School Board Era, History of Education, http://www.informaworld.com/index/739650461.pdf

6. Auberon Herbert (1908), A Plea for Voluntaryism, Oxford University Press, http://www.archive.org/stream/thevoluntaryistc00herbuoft/thevoluntaryistc00herbuoft_djvu.txt

7. Henry David Thoreau (1960), Walden, or Life in the Wood and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, with an Afterword by Perry Miller, New York: New American Library (Twenty-first printing), pp. 33, 222–223, 232

8. R Drinnon (1962), Thoreau's Politics of the Upright Man, The Massachusetts Review

9. Carl Watner, ed. (1982), A Voluntary Political Government: Letters from Charles Lane, St. Paul: Michael E. Coughlin, Publisher, pp. 52

10. Albert Jay Nock (1943). Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. New York: Harper and Brothers. pp. 307.

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