Since one continues to face the same questions and fallacies again and again when bringing up the concept of anarchism/voluntaryism, I want to use this post to address them all in one wash. I will from hereon out refer to it as voluntaryism, because the term much more intuitively labels the concepts I am referring to and because there is no false stigma associated with.
1. “What is voluntaryism?”
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.
We have to realize that a system of government only works because it is silently being tolerated by the large majority of the people. It is thus, for the most part, a result of centuries of conditioning and indoctrination. Without this silent approval of ongoing acts of aggression that no single organized crime organization would ever be granted, the system would fall apart immediately.
The government can only exist because the majority of the people think it is proper for it to use aggression to obtain its funds, and that nobody has the right to defend his property when faced with such an act of theft.
Once the majority of the people consistently accepts everyone’s natural right to his body and his property, and thus found it to be proper for everyone to defend those things when aggressed against, either by himself or with the help of a professional defense agency, the system of voluntaryism will have been reached.
Voluntaryism is a state of affairs where the majority of the people within a certain territory accepts everyone’s property rights equally, meaning that it is proper for everyone to violently defend all aggressions against his body and property.
In short: Voluntaryism is a system of societal organization where the use of aggression is universally proscribed.
2. “What is voluntaryism NOT?”
Voluntaryism is NOT
- everyone doing whatever they want.
- mass warfare.
- a pie in the sky illusion that assumes that all humans are saints and would never turn bad, it is, in fact, the exact opposite.
3. “But voluntaryism is never going to happen!”
The task of voluntaryism is, for the most part, not a political one, but an educational one. Once the majority of the people is educated about the truths regarding voluntaryism, and the benefits it would bestow upon all of us, voluntaryism will be accomplished. To be sure, it is not matter of IF, but rather WHEN it will happen.
Those people who say that “it’s never going to happen” will always exist. They have been proven wrong so many times in the past that their boring, laughable, and uncreative platitudes need not impress or concern us in any specific way. Under feudalism, capitalism and free formation of businesses and trade were “never going to happen”. Under slavery, abolition was “never going to happen”. Under segregation, integration was “never going to happen”. An India independent from the British was “never going to happen” when Gandhi appeared on the stage of global politics. A collapse of the Soviet Union was “never going to happen” throughout the 20th century. An independent “United States of America” was “never going to happen” until 1776. The acceptance of the idea that the earth is round, not flat was “never going to happen” according to the Catholic church when Galileo challenged them. In fact, the whole separation of state and church was “never going to happen”.
The fact that there are still so many people who join the camp of “never going to happen” simply baffles me. It is, again, a derivative of people’s inability to think outside of the box.
4. “But if there is no government, then who takes care of X ??”
The argument is always the same, no matter what good you replace X with :
“I do understand that not all goods need to be provided by government and I even recognize the blessings of the market and competition when it comes to producing the best and cheapest possible goods. But in the case of X it’s different. X is an essential service with a high demand for it. Without X life on earth as we know would be unimaginable or at least severely impaired. X is needed by everybody all the time, we simply can’t take any chances with X.
If X were to be provided on the voluntary market it would be complete chaos. It is simply unimaginable for competing providers of services to offer different kinds of X in different areas.
Thus we need the government to hold a gun to people’s head, extort money that they will use for the provision of X, and outlaw all competition with it.”
This argument is, again, a classical example of the majority’s incapability to think outside of the box. One cannot blame them for it. We all grew up under a system where X was provided by the government. It is a frightening thought to unleash the “callous forces of the market” upon it. We were brought up, educated in public schools, and shaped by media and papers all around us in accordance with the status quo.
It is important to point out the following to people who advance this argument: Voluntaryism has never recommended the abolishion of X. Voluntaryism recommends that X be provided by people who have a vested interest in providing X better and more cheaply than it is currently being provided. Voluntaryism realizes that there is no way this can possibly happen if those people are given the right to point a gun to everyone’s head and/or threaten them with kidnapping if they don’t turn over the money they need in order to provide X.
It is by virtue of precisely this modus operandi that in the very process the affected individuals’ value preference is being acted against, otherwise no aggressive violence would be needed to perform the act. So the action by and in itself proves to be one that reduces the welfare of society.
Put yourself in the shoes of a government official who acts under such circumstances. What incentive, knowledge and ability does he have to truly improve and tweak his services to the taxpayer’s satisfaction? What incentive does he have to spend as little as possible of the money that was forcefully taken from others? Even if he wanted to, he simply can’t know how. There are no prices for the goods to be provided, the money has already been obtained. There are no competitors he has to go up against. But even if there were, what does he care? His wealth only depends on his employer’s ability to perform acts of theft on a periodical basis. He will try to allocate as many funds as possible to his operation. His resume will look more impressive the more people he hires and directs, no matter what they actually do. His engagement is but a temporary one. In 4 years he may be out of office. He will try to maximize his loot in as short a time frame as possible. The Trouble With Bureaucracy is in the very nature of EVERY government.
This has to be pointed out again and again: Voluntaryism doesn’t aspire a system without the good X. It aspires a system where the provider of X is not allowed to point a gun to your head, threaten you with kidnapping, and then use your money to provide X in a rather uncreative and sub-par manner.
The ugly truth about those who support government or any expansion thereof is the fact that this is precisely the activity they (willingly or not) support or want to expand: That a group of people be given the right to extort money from you at gunpoint to run its operation. What in the world is so scary about a political philosophy that rejects such a modus operandi?
Thus the argument that X is so important and essential and that that’s why we need the state to assume control of its provision is probably one of the most tragic and naive fallacies produced by ages of conditioning and indoctrination. It is so tragic, because one cursory but unbiased look at simple facts of life and history could help explode this sheer, utter and completely nonsensical notion, and help millions of peoples out of their misery within no time at all.
Ironically, Voluntaryism would lead to a much better and cheaper provision of X. To realize this, we don’t even need historical proof, we need logical consistency. But even then, the historical proof is all around you on top of that! In the United States today, there exists no service in anyone’s life that is more expensive than government. There simply exists no company to which all working men and women turn over half their income every year. And the quality of the service provided is questionable to say the least. Heck, somebody please tell me: What is the federal government today doing for you that is worth half your income every year?? Which entrepreneur on the free market would get away with that?
But it doesn’t just end there. All those sectors where the federal and state governments get involved in in a regulatory function, cost much more than those where they stay out. The best examples are health care, firearms, banking, and energy.
Take, on the other hand, the internet. There probably exists no better modern day example of voluntaryism in action. The internet is filled with an abundance of cheap, if not completely free goods and services. All this with little to no government intervention at all. Disputes are settled, frauds exposed, low quality punished with low ratings, all without any government involvement. Just imagine we could expand this dynamic environment to the provision of the services we so direly need today, health care in particular is one of my biggest worries.
(Sure enough, instead of staying out, the US government is now devising plans to tighten government rules and directives that aim at regulating the internet. It is likely that one simple act of cyber terrorism or similar big event on the internet, will turn public opinion towards an acceptance of massive government involvement in this sector.)
An interesting inclination of the opponents of voluntaryism is to then ask me precisely how good X will be provided by an organization that is not allowed to extort its money at gunpoint. While all these are exciting questions to work through and analyze, it is important to point out that they are completely irrelevant to the validity of the concept of voluntaryism.
When one asks such a question he has already implicitly accepted the non-aggression principle. How exactly good X will be supplied is a question that I can make suggestions on and speculate on. But who am I to know the definite answer? I am not in a position to come up with one. This is precisely the point of a free market: That it gives entrepreneurs incentives to work things out, to solve problems, to come up with solutions that work in the interest of their consumers.
Asking me how good X will be supplied is like asking someone 40 years ago precisely how the internet was going to work at some point in the future. Heck, I doubt that most people even considered the possibility of such a thing as the internet.
To give you an analogy: Under slavery, the abolitionists too did not focus all their time and energy on proving to the powers that be how every single slave would be able to find a job after slavery would be abolished. The argument that slavery should have been kept in place because some slaves ended up unemployed after its abolition, could hardly be taken serious nowadays. The point was plain and simple: The initiation of violence or threat thereof by one man against another is immoral, no matter if he’s black, brown, white, yellow, or what have you.
If one was truly interested how good X would be supplied by people who are not allowed to extort money at gunpoint, he would think about it himself and try and come up with suggestions. I will address some of these questions here, just to give some guidance on how to approach them.
4. “How would courts operate in a stateless society?”
Even today, 99.9% of all disputes are settled outside of the court system. It is thus a valid point to say that free individuals have a natural incentive to resolve conflicts peacefully. However, it would be foolish to assume that the demand for a judicial system would vanish under voluntaryism.
It is likely that in a stateless society court companies would emerge rather quickly. Their task would be to settle disputes and render reasonable decisions that resolve the dispute. It may be more appropriate to refer to such organizations as insurance businesses. They would probably fund themselves out of membership fees, very much like present day insurance companies already do.
Different parties entering into contractual agreements would exchange their insurance information and the respective insurers would evaluate whether or not the other party is being represented by a reasonable insurer that upholds commonly accepted standards of trade and dispute resolution. Those insurers which are most commonly accepted by other insurers and which have the largest membership base will be the most successful ones with the most handsome profit for their owners. It will thus always be in the best interest of any insurer to do everything conceivably possible to retain or improve their high standing in the business community by providing the best possible and, from the point of view of competitors, most reasonable dispute resolution services.
It is important to realize that in order to protect our bodies and property, we don’t need a government to come up with laws, constitutions, bills of rights, etc. The fact that we are currently tolerating such a system is rather tragic. We are, for the most part, excluded from the legislation process, we don’t know what happens behind closed doors, we don’t read the thousands of pages of bills that pass Congress month by month, designed to do nothing but share the loot with one or the other special interest beneficiary. Common law, as a matter of fact, was never designed by governments. It is the result of a long and ongoing process of trial and error in the realms of business dispute resolution, merchant organizations, and consumer demands.
Voluntaryism would solve the problem of complicated and expensive legislation at once. There would be one simple, commonly understood, overruling maxim that all law would have to comply with:
Everyone owns his body, the unowned goods he finds first (homesteading), and the goods he obtains in voluntary exchange without threatening or performing the initiation of violence. From this follows that everyone has the right to use violence in order to defend himself against any form of aggression against the things he owns.
Competing insurers may, at times, themselves have disputes among each other. They will have to settle those disputes peacefully. This will not be a hard task for them. After all, dispute resolution is one of their core competences. But let’s assume the case where one insurer goes all out and begins abusing its power by using massive and unusually large force of arms against others.
For one, this insurer would need to raise the money for the arms buildup from somewhere. It would certainly need to start hiking its monthly premiums without being able to provide a visible/credible reason. Hundreds of competing insurers would immediately start marketing to customers of such an insurer with their lower premiums. The very basis of the business, monthly premiums, would erode very quickly so that such a project would either fail from the outset and would need to be canceled, lest the business in question would go bankrupt in no time at all.
But let’s say, just to make the argument as easy as conceivably possible for those who make it, that for some magical reason none of the above occurs. People continue to pay higher and higher premiums, refuse to switch to other more reputable and much cheaper providers, do not get suspicious, and we end up with a rogue agency.
Even then! Nobody would ever work with that insurer again. In performing such an act it has just signed its own death sentence as far as its existence in the business community is concerned. Competing and reputable insurers would join together and smash the rogue agency at once, carried by the support of all their members, and virtually all of society. Why would any profit seeking entrepreneur take such a tremendous risk? Can anybody give me an example where a business on the free market, unbridled by government subsidies and bailouts, has ever done anything even remotely as risky?? It is simply not going to happen, but even if it were to happen, the problem would solve itself at once.
(It is curious indeed that most people assume a state of mass warfare could emerge in a stateless society, while all around the world, every day, all we see are nothing but states at war with each other, killing millions and millions of people, dropping bombs that wipe out tens of thousands of lives, using weapons of mass destruction, occupying, torturing and imprisoning people with impunity. How can one be so blind to the facts of reality?)
In order to enforce judgments, cases may arise where an insurer has to violently enforce a decision it has made, if the aggressor refuses to comply with it. For this purpose, it is conceivable that insurers would either contract with defense agencies or provide those enforcement services themselves, whichever works best.
A sample case would be one where A steals a watch from B. A is customer of insurer 1, B customer of insurer 2. A submits his evidence that his watch was stolen to insurer 1. Insurer 1 sets up a court day on which A and B meet and where both are given the ability to state their case. A may or may not show up. But if he doesn’t the decision is rather unlikely to be in his favor. Once insurer 1 publishes its decision it will be publicly available and accessible to other insurers as well. It will pay the sum of restitution to A and move forward in obtaining the watch from B. Insurer 2 is likely to stay out of it, given that B was given all the means to defend his claim. If insurer 2 were to go rogue and join in on B’s act of aggression by shielding him from acts of repossession, it would do severe damage to its image as a reputable insurer. One single case like this would immediately make all competing insurers cut their ties with insurer 2, and nobody would enter into contracts with someone who is a member of insurer 2. It would overnight lose tens of thousands of customers who will be impelled to shop around for a new insurer.
This is not to say that such acts are not going to happen under voluntaryism. But they would be self defeating for the organization in question, and would swiftly put it out of business, thus solving the problem rather quickly.
The corresponding would apply to person B. So long as he doesn’t give in to the demands of insurer 1, nobody will ever want to represent him as insurer again while his representation by insurer 2 is now completely worthless. This means that anytime he wanted to enter into a contract with someone or use somebody’s services, alarm bells would go off at the service provider’s insurance company. He would most likely be refused services wherever he goes. Remember, everything is private property in a stateless society. Everyone has the right to refuse service and would immediately do so when faced with a criminal. He would be unable to rent a place, drive on the roads, sleep in a park. In short, he would become a complete outcast. Can there be a stronger deterrent from criminal behavior than this?
5. “Who would build the roads in a stateless society?”
Roads would be built and maintained by road companies, plain and simple. They would charge a usage or maybe a subscription fee to their users. How exactly this can be done most efficiently would, again, be up the the respective entrepreneurs in the sector. The idea that government is needed to build and maintain roads is a rather strange one.
For it was never the government who came up with the concept of roads in the first place. The first roads were built and maintained by merchant organizations who represented the merchants in the respective area, and who fully took on the cost of building and maintaining roads, so as to facilitate a vast and ongoing supply of consumers coming to the area and buying from them.
Even today, we see roads, or rather sections of roads that those who maintain them charge for. Such is the case with bridges, tunnels, and with turnpikes in certain areas. Unfortunately, those tasks are currently performed by governments for the most part, which has unsurprisingly caused a constant increase in the fees charged.
A common objection is that different road companies would be unable work together and that complete chaos would ensure on our streets. This, too, is a complete and utter fallacy. There are so many services on the market that require a certain infrastructure and are provided by different companies, where those same companies cooperate and develop common standards in order for their customers to have a seamless experience. Different cell phone carriers are only one example. Other examples would be different internet service companies, or developers of business software, such as accounting and CRM. Common web standards such as TCP/IP, XML, and the like were not developed by governments. Nor do they need to be enforced in any way. It is in the best interest of the individual businesses to use them.
Again, it is here not my task to lay out and devise how precisely roads will be provided without government intervention. I am merely trying to open the reader’s mind to the fact that there are alternatives and that freely enterprising individuals will always have a natural incentive to come up with solutions that benefit their consumers in the best possible way.
6. “Doesn’t voluntaryism naively assume that all humans are saints?”
A common criticism of voluntaryism is that it is out of touch with reality and that it simply doesn’t work this way in the real world:
“Voluntaryism assumes that nobody will step out of line and that everyone will play along. But the reality is different. There will always be individuals who do not act in conformity with the necessities for a peaceful society. Thus a government is necessary to maintain the peace and enforce regulations, laws, and standards. Voluntaryism is hopelessly naive in thinking that we could ever do without a government.”
This objection simply suffers from completely false assumptions. For nowhere does voluntaryism ever assume that all humans are saints. No critique could be farther from the truth. Voluntaryism believes the exact opposite. It understands that there will always be a small number of individuals who desire to violate the non-aggression principle. For this very reason it is at the very core of its definition to respect every individuals rights to self defense as I already outlined under #1.
Voluntaryism understands that if we desire to maintain the peace and ensure that acts of aggression are avoided, the very last thing we can possibly do is to give a certain group of people the right to do just that, and on a perpetual basis: to forcefully take money away from individuals to fund its operations.
Voluntaryism believes that if anything is naive, it is the thought that government officials are saints. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If the majority of the people believes that it is proper and just to establish an organization that extorts money at gunpoint with impunity, then where are all those evil people we are so concerned with going to go? – Of course, they will join the government!
This is not to say in any way that everyone who works for a government agency is a bad person. Lots of people want to do good. But it is in the very nature of the organization they work for to be dependent on extorted funds. The higher ups in the organization are aware of this and the predatory mentality and nature that is at the root of this organization will sooner or later permeate all activities inside. This is why lots of honest and hard working people’s aspirations are often times crushed when they work inside a government apparatus, or in a company that is heavily dependent upon government subsidies and bailouts.
7. But there are no examples of voluntaryism ever having worked, are there ??
This is a very commonly held notion. It shows how severely our beliefs have been compromised by false ideologies throughout our lives.
For if one took one simple look around oneself, he would find the answer to this question at once. The best example of voluntaryism working … is yourself.
You cooperate in society on a voluntary basis. You don’t use aggression to buy groceries. You don’t use aggression to get your clothes. You don’t use aggression when debating with friends and family. You don’t use aggression to find a job. You don’t use aggression to settle disputes with neighbors, clients, vendors, employees, etc. You are perfectly capable of living peaceful, free, and beautiful lives.
It is in very few cases where we ever interact with anybody from the state. Every April 15th we file our taxes to confirm how much the state has taken from us throughout the year. Sometimes we don’t, and then a tax collector shows up to make us do it or kidnap us at gunpoint if we don’t. Sometimes we go to the DMV to get a driver’s licence. At times we get fined by the police because we do a U Turn where they decree, for whatever reason, that it is illegal. We send our kids to public schools where they spend 14 years of their life being indoctrinated about how great the state is, where diverse talents and opinions are put through the meat grinder of collective thinking and conformity, where opposing ideas such as presented in this article are not even for a second tolerated.
All these interactions we have with the state are, in general, rather unpleasant, boring, frustrating, and un-gratifying. Yet, due to a lack of proper education about the alternative of voluntaryism, we believe that it is utterly necessary to have this group of people with the right to use aggression against us to fund their destructive activities, be it domestic or foreign depredations, to borrow our children’s future into oblivion, and then, out of all things, to EDUCATE those same children for 14 (!!) years of their lives.
It will take years of enlightenment, dedication, and education, to open people’s eyes about one of the most simple facts about themselves: that they are inherently good.
8. But what about the poor?!
“If we are all left to make voluntary decisions, then everyone will just grab whatever they can get and the poor will starve on the streets like sick dogs …. and bla di bla di bla …”
This is an argument that I can guarantee you 99.99% of the people, when confronted with the idea of voluntaryism for the first time, will inevitably bring up sooner or later.
And that is also the simple reason why I can tell you that I have evidence with an accuracy of 99.99% that people do indeed care for the poor voluntarily, and without having a gun to their head, that they will indeed take care of the problem of poverty of their own accord!
Like I said, it takes studious avoidance of a rational and stern observation of the people around you and the people around them, in other words our immediate environment, and it takes years upon years of religious and bureaucratic indoctrination, in order for someone be so blind to such simple and uncomplicated realities.
People always tend to bring up the myth of the naturally callous and egoistic human being who doesn’t give a damn about the poor. But if you ask them how many people around them they would ascribe such attributes to, they will struggle to come up with one, maybe two.
But that whole notion taken aside, let’s observe some measurable facts:
How much are individuals currently willing to give to charity on a completely voluntary basis?
On Charity Navigator we can find charity statistics for 2008:
Few people realize how large charities have become, how many vital services they provide, and how much funding flows through them each year. Without charities and non-profits, America would simply not be able to operate. Their operations are so big that during 2008, in the midst of a recession, total giving was still more than $300 billion.
How big is the sector?
Total giving to charitable organizations was $307.65 billion in 2008 (about 2% of GDP). This is a decrease of 2% from 2007.
OK, so we know that private individuals and corporations were willing to give $307.65 billion to charitable organizations on a completely voluntary basis.
How much of this money actually ends up in the hands of the needy? According to reputable charitable auditing and rating websites, such as Razoo this number seems to be around 80-85% on average.
So around $246 billion ended up in the hands of poor people as a result of completely voluntary charity donations in the US.
What about our dear, benevolent,and ferociously poverty fighting heroes from the government?
According to official government budgets, approximately $486 billion tax dollars were budgeted in that same year.
Based on multiple sources about 70% of all government programs and grants goes toward administrative expenses, meaning bureaucrats’ salaries, to anybody who has ever worked in, with, or for the government, certainly a realistic estimate:
Mary Ruwart writes:
Of course, public welfare gives over 2/3 of every tax dollar we give them to overhead (e.g., salaries of the bureaucrats who administer the program). Private charities, however, give 2/3 of every dollar to those who need help. By switching to private distribution, we’d cut overhead in half. In other words, we’d double the dollars available to the needy once again. By switching from public to private charity, we’d quadruple our help to the disadvantaged–virtually overnight!
Today, 70 cents of every dollar goes, not to poor people, but to government bureaucrats and others who serve the poor. Few private charities have the bureaucratic overhead and inefficiency of government programs.
So US federal, state, and local governments together in 2008 contributed about 146 billion dollars that ended up in the hands of the poor.
In total, this means that in 2008 US citizens voluntarily or involuntarily gave about $392 billion to the poor out of which 62% (!!) was contributed by the rugged, selfish, and evil private sector while around 38% was coughed up by the virtuous, heroic and selfless government bureaucrats.
So you tell me, is the government really needed to “fight poverty” … ?
Please keep in mind that I am focusing in the above solely on existing numbers. I am not even delving into the fact that the government is the very cause of poverty, simply due to things like wars, drug policies, import quotas, the granting of monopolies to corporations and unions, the funding of foreign dictatorships, unemployment due to minimum wages and taxes, inflation through money printing, credit expansions and business cycles, the direction of capital from useful to useless needs, deliberately limiting the supply of health care products and services, etc. etc.
9. What is the moral basis for voluntaryism?
The moral basis for voluntaryism comes from … well the very core of morality itself. One problem is that most people you will talk to have never been taught a clear and objective definition of morality.
Morality is is a subset of ethics, the study of propositions regarding Universally Preferable Behavior. Morality, in particular, deals with propositions about violent action.
The plain and simple moral basis for voluntaryism is the non-aggression principle, which says that the initiation of aggression or threat thereof against peaceful individuals cannot possibly be universally applicable by all humans at all times at all places.
But the whole point of ethics, and morality in particular, is that a general behavioral rule about universally preferable behavior has to be applicable to all humans at all times and at all places, if it is to be considered a valid one.
From this we can derive that the only valid moral rule regarding the initiation of aggression is that it is to be universally proscribed.