The Voluntaryist Delusion

Picture: Skyler J. Collins (PD)

“Rule by landlords!?”  Doesn’t sound like liberty to me.  (Not that I’m opposed to all kinds of “property rights.”)

Francois Tremblay writes:

Voluntaryism is a popular ideology amongst people who like Anarchism but recoil at its leftist implications. By adopting the simple principle, “whatever is voluntary is ethical,” they believe that they have found the high ground, the ruler with which all other ideologies must be evaluated.

Some openly advocate a “rule by landlords,” a sort of extra-small minarchism where whoever owns the land can impose whatever laws he wishes on anyone who works or lives within his land. This is the “ultimate decision-making power” which defines the State: these landowners are effectively rulers over that land. Although they refuse to see this pretty direct deduction (but to be fair, even Rothbard was too blinded by his pro-property bias to see it), it is clear that the voluntaryists who hold to this ideology have nothing to do with Anarchism.

One famous example from the Mises forum is the question of whether we are justified in shaking off someone who is hanging for his life on a flagpole that we own. Many people there were of the opinion that “property rights” alone justified an act which is, to be clear, nothing more than murder.

Most voluntaryists recoil at the idea that their ideology might justify this sort of baseless murder, and as such adopt a “softer” position. They then try to draw a line, beyond which their belief in “property rights” becomes harmless and does not affect other people’s rights. But as I have pointed out in my past exposé of “anarcho-capitalism,” there is no line beyond which voluntaryism, in its support of “property rights,” does not suffer from this sort of contradiction, because “property rights” are by their very nature an obstacle to all other, real human rights.

Read more here.

22 Comments on "The Voluntaryist Delusion"

  1. Jesus Borg | Aug 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm |

    Oh, well, good thing nobody really gives a fuck what ideologically feuding factions of anarchists believe other than people who engage in flame wars on Portland Indy media.

    But, I mean, like, nice article. Not trying to be negative, I am one of those people, just once in a while it occurs to me just how out of step I am with the rest of the country.

    • Hierophant2 | Aug 18, 2012 at 2:35 am |

      Actually, voluntaryism is an ideology that pervades popular thinking and political thinking in general, not just anarchism. Most people fall prey to it in some form. It’s a general fallacy.

  2. Anarchy Pony | Aug 17, 2012 at 7:13 pm |

    For like, the thirtieth time: 

    • I find it interesting that Anarchy is one of the very few -ism’s that don’t end in “ism”. I wonder if there’s a reason for that

    • Michael L. | Aug 17, 2012 at 11:58 pm |

      How is private property not allowed by anarchy?

      If I build something, why would I not be allowed to exchange it for another good?

      • Anarchy Pony | Aug 18, 2012 at 12:18 am |

        That’s not the same issue. Generally when speaking of abolishing private property, anarchists are primarily referring to abolishing private ownership of capital, land, and means of production, not the actual products of labor, and are in fact are trying to stop the expropriation of the production and surplus of labor by factory owners, and functionaries.
        If you are curious then look through the rest of the FAQ. It’s more or less comprehensive on all issues related to anarchist thought and philosophy, although I don’t entirely agree with all of their assertions related to ecological issues.

      • J.F. Quackenbush | Aug 18, 2012 at 5:09 am |

        It doesn’t translate very well to English, unfortunately, because in our language property is bound up in the notion of rights because that’s the legal model that human liberty has been built on in the common law system. But essentially the way left anarchism deals with property is essentially a targeted reproach of landlords and capitalists who extract rent from the labor of others because they control the means of production. Left Anarchism is therefore fraught with apparent, but not actual, contradictions because it seems to be advocating for the destruction of rights in order to guarantee rights.

        The way I look at it is that Left Anarchism is opposed to rights of control in order to maximize rights of individual freedom. Or, put another way, there are some property rights that allow the owner to coerce others, and some that don’t, and it is only the former category that left Anarchism opposes.

        • Jin The Ninja | Aug 18, 2012 at 9:09 am |

          ‘all’ anarchism is left anarchism. you only need a ‘left’ qualifier is when you subsititute ‘libertarian’ for anarchism i.e. ‘left libertarianism.’ the whole ‘right anarchism’ thing is almost pure intellectual dishonesty and a total co option of the term.

          • J.F. Quackenbush | Aug 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm |

            eh. Meaning is use. that there are serious people on the right who call themselves anarcho-capitalists is enough to make the qualifier necessary. I stand by it.

          • Jin The Ninja | Aug 18, 2012 at 11:43 pm |

            fair enough.

        • Michael L. | Aug 24, 2012 at 10:23 pm |

          2 things: the left/right spectrum doesn’t really exist. Apparently it comes from Revolutionary France and had to do with two conflicting sides. It only exists to split people into two camps and does not mean the same thing from country to country or even decade to decade.

          Also you will find that voluntaryists believe the same thing about property rights and is “opposed to rights of control in order to maximize rights of individual freedom.” So it doesn’t technically oppose rent if people voluntarily enter into an agreement and if there is manipulation, it recognizes the need for mediation to prevent that from happening again.

          I think the split we see is caused by not understanding that the definition of property rights of voluntaryists is not the same as the one that has come to dominate national laws.Voluntaryist property includes what you peacefully obtain and what you create with your labor. It does not allow you to force anyone off their land, or to pollute nature (because someone else will always own it, you cannot pollute others’ lands w/o permission), it does not allow you to charge exorbitant rent because the renters could then file a case with a mediator (or other organization.)

          Voluntaryism revolves around the idea that you cannot force anyone to do anything except in self-defense. 

          Don’t be afraid of the ‘C’ word (capitalism), voluntaryists don’t mean it in any of the terms that its commonly used today. They mean: “your ability to trade freely and to keep the profits of your labor”.

    • Hierophant2 | Aug 18, 2012 at 2:36 am |

      Ancap is part of voluntaryism, but voluntaryism is far more vast than that, as I pointed out above. As a way of thinking, it’s pretty much everywhere, including in (real) Anarchist circles

  3. Anarchy Pony | Aug 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Also this, because it’s hilarious.

  4. Michael L. | Aug 18, 2012 at 12:17 am |

    The linked article is completely mistaken about the ideas of voluntaryism. It is entirely strawman. All of the qualms the author has about the idea do not accurately describe the idea itself, although they may describe some people who claim to follow the idea.

    There are no voluntaryists who want to be ruled by landlords. Voluntaryism means no one rules you, ever. Not even your parents while you are a child.

  5. Arthur Treacle | Aug 18, 2012 at 11:45 am |

    The author’s point is that current articulations of voluntaryism are so riven with paradoxes and contradictions in its core principle that voluntaryism is essentially a meaningless hash of bullsh*t. 
    It all boils down to the fact that personal identity is a chimera chasing its own tale.  You will never be able to adequately define the paramaters of “volition” until you nail down a stable, robust and universally acceptable definition of the moral agent and his/her/its precise relationship with every other moral agent in the universe.

    Good luck with that, mate.

  6. Yeah, this article is basically bullocks. The author doesn’t understand that Voluntaryism only entails voluntary, non-coercive cooperation among people. Someone could very easily build a completely Communistic society ensconced within a Voluntaryist society if everyone involved did so voluntarily.

  7. “One famous example from the Mises forum is the question of whether we are justified in shaking off someone who is hanging for his life on a flagpole that we own. Many people there were of the opinion that “property rights” alone justified an act which is, to be clear, nothing more than murder.”
    I’m quite curious as to why that’s even an argument in the first place. In a voluntaryist society, the one’s who are going to be determining such a thing is the society itself. The asshole that killed the man hanging from his flagpole is most likely going to suffer negative consequences from his community. Is it that hard to understand?You can have your rights, but if you are an asshole, it’s going to effect you harshly in the long-run.Retarded article. 

  8. Sashank Tadepalli | Jun 30, 2013 at 1:47 am |

    The landlord has private ownership of the land, and he can create rules for the tenants. However the state uses coercion over its land, which is completely against the ethics of private property that voluntaryists believe in. You may violently defend your private property, but you should not aggress against people (even if they are your tenants or employees etc)

Comments are closed.