Neither Bullets Nor Ballots?

Reformism, as I have mentioned before, is not only a terrible strategy, but is also notoriously unprincipled. By encouraging people to make all sorts of concessions, compromises, and “deals” with the State, reformists work hand-in-glove with the statists to give you back a handful of your freedom here, all the while taking a mile over there. Needless to say, this perpetuates the status quo of tyranny, so any real attempts for an individual to secure his liberty ought to include steadfast opposition to the political means of making money.


Neither Bullets Nor Ballots


Voluntaryism, simply defined, is anti-political libertarianism. According to The Voluntaryist:


“Voluntaryism is the doctrine that relations among people should be by mutual consent, or not at all. It represents a means, an end, and an insight. Voluntaryism does not argue for the specific form that voluntary arrangements will take; only that force be abandoned so that individuals in society may flourish. As it is the means which determine the end, the goal of an all voluntary society must be sought voluntarily. People cannot be coerced into freedom.” [emphasis added]


In other words, voluntaryism, as a libertarian philosophy, holds that all forms of human association should be voluntary, that is, not coercive. Obviously, this completely rules out government, because it is inherently coercive in its actions towards the citizenry. Therefore, it is perfectly fair to say that voluntaryism is also an anarchic philosophy, as well.

This might be all well and good, but some of you might be perplexed as to what “anti-political” means, or otherwise might not believe me whenever I’ve said that the LP is anti-libertarian. Being anti-political is not the same as being non-political or apolitical, simply because the former is a principled rejection of the political means of making money, whereas the latter is simply apathetic disinterestedness in politics at all. As I’ve previously said:


“Libertarianism is the only political philosophy that upholds human liberty as its highest value; this is expressed by its twin moral precepts of the non-aggression principle and the self-ownership axiom. The non-aggression principle absolutely forbids all coercion and initiatory force; the self-ownership axiom justifies the existence of the free market by upholding individual property rights. Every political grievance can have its authenticity judged by whether one or both of these ethical principles are being violated; hence, these twin principles not only compliment each other as a duality, but also serve as the primary yardstick by which to gauge the quality of freedom in our own lives.”


By extrapolation, libertarianism as applied is hostile to the State, and so it would be more accurate to say that libertarianism is an anti-political (even possibly anarchic) philosophy, mainly because its twin moral precepts rule out much, if not all, of government (much like voluntaryism). So, voluntaryists (like Shane Radliff) are those libertarians who explicitly denounce reformism in favor of anarchy, which is brought about by way of direct action. This staunch anti-reformist attitude amongst voluntaryists is described by Wendy McElroy in her chapter, Demystifing the State:


“Libertarianism is a direct attack upon the mystique of the State. It recognizes that the State is only an abstraction and reduces it to the actions of individuals. It applies the same standard of morality to the State as it would to a next-door neighbor. If it is not proper for a neighbor to tax or pass laws regulating your private life, then it cannot be proper for the State to do so. Only by elevating itself above the standards of personal morality can the State make these claims on your life.”


Granted, this sounds very similar to the fictional description of “rational anarchy,” yet, what I noticed is a rather pronounced difference between my rejection of reformism and the way such rejection is being done here by the authors, given that their arguments, especially against electoral voting and running for public office on an LP ticket, are completely a priori whereas mine were mostly a posteriori.

Historically, voluntaryism evolved from the lessons learned during 19th century American abolitionism, the 1917 Russian Revolution, and the 1930s Spanish Civil War. The abolitionists set a good example by rejecting the political means, even if by so doing they perpetuated the “peculiar institution” of race slavery, because they saw legitimizing government, especially through voting, as a much worse evil. The Russian anarchists learned the very hard way that their short-lived alliance with the Bolsheviks, in order to take out the Czar, was greatly misguided, since the Bolsheviks decided to betray their anarchist comrades the moment they had the smallest taste of political power. Spanish anarchists fought as part of the republican faction, which defended the sitting government, and as such, these anarchists were offered government jobs, which many of them took, since they believed that working inside of the system could bring about greater liberty for all (hence the specter of “anarchist politicians” had begun).

In passing, I got the impression that when the authors were describing the relationship between the Bolsheviks’ emerging Communist Party and the Russian anarchists, they were implicitly describing what could be the relationship between the LP and most libertarians if the LP ever achieved serious political power. If so, then this is what voluntaryists explicit reject, and historical precedence backs them up completely. Assuming that this observation is true, then I guess that George Orwell’s descriptions of “the Party” would not be limited to the National Socialists or the Communists, then.

Strategically, voluntaryists aim to revoke their individual consent to be governed by whatever means possible in order to abolish the State. Their goal is probably best described by what Étienne de La Boétie wrote back in 1576:


“From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces?”


In other words, by withdrawing support away from the State, it will cease to function. Although I disagree with an element of this strategy, because it takes the theory of critical mass as a given, I do think that pulling away from statism is an essential first step towards securing liberty, which is why I’ve recommended people to go on a circuit of political fieldtrips. I am skeptical, however, of the viability, and likelihood, of enough people choosing to withdraw their individual consent to be governed, and that is the only real point of divergence I have from the voluntaryists; although certainly necessary, even if enough people did withdraw as a principled rejection of the political means, I doubt this alone is sufficient to bring about a truly free society.

Methodologically, voluntaryists appear to focus on three techniques of direct action – abstaining from voting, tax resistance, and resigning from government employment. Most of this anthology focuses on anti-voting, which is fine, yet, their a priori arguments are limited to just not showing up to the ballot box on election day, whereas I’ve gone the next step and canceled my voter registration, and have encouraged others to consider using this option as well, since it worked for me. The infrequent mentions of tax resistance is disappointing, yet understandable, considering both the complexity of tax avoidance as well as the risk inherent to tax evasion (the latter of which, as a mala prohibita, is a counter-economic activity). Resignation was mentioned mostly as a quote from Henry Thoreau’s 1849 On the Duty of Civil Disobedience:


“Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. That is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible. If the tax-gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me, as one has done, ‘But what shall I do?’ my answer is, ‘If you really wish to do anything, resign your office.’ When the subject has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned from office, then the revolution is accomplished.” [emphasis added]


Obviously, the authors considered anti-voting to be the most important of the three, followed by tax resistance and resigning government employment, in that order.

Interestingly enough, Jim Davies disagrees with this preference ordering, arguing for the exact opposite situation, namely, resigning government employment as the most important action, followed by tax resistance and anti-voting, if at all (since Davies regarded the efficacy of tax resistance and anti-voting as ineffectual towards abolishing the State). Aside from the fact that the only point of agreement between these two strains of thought is that tax resistance is mildly important (if that), the difference of tactical opinion regarding the importance of resignation versus anti-voting is, I think, unimportant. Voluntaryists, by their stubborn insistence on maintaining integrity, ought to neither vote nor profit from government work as a matter of principle; any discussion beyond that is inappropriate for prioritizing direct action methods, and at most, should be reserved exclusively for strategizing only (for example, does the method of anti-voting work better than the method of resigning from government employment towards achieving the strategic goal of revoking an individual’s consent to be governed?).

Carl Watner & Wendy McElroy’s Neither Bullets Nor Ballots is an introductory examination into the voluntaryist ideology. Although I do appreciate the fact that voluntaryism is philosophical libertarianism, there is a lack of practical action to be taken, which given the time period this was written in, I do not fault the authors too much for this oversight, since the focus was on reestablishing a philosophical grounding, not formulating a cohesive strategy for restoring liberty. Despite my criticisms outlined here, I do think voluntaryists have the noticeable advantage of not carrying the enormous baggage the American constitutionalists do with all of their patriot mythology and “frenemy” minarchist Stockholm Syndrome with the State.

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