Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Voluntarism: A Brief Overview of a Growing Philosophical Movement

(Not to be confused with Libertarianism)

A philosophical movement, sometimes called Voluntarism, has been growing enormously over the past few years across the globe.  However, the coverage of this idea is mysteriously lacking in the mainstream and even alternative media.  The average person interested in politics can easily tell you about some of Ron Paul's values, but none of the principles held by a Voluntaryist.  This is something that I seek to change.

The problem, I believe, is that Voluntarism is easily confused with the culturally ingrained Libertarianism.  Modern Libertarianism is an idea that grew out of the Enlightenment era of the 18th century, primarily defined by it's belief that Government is a necessary (but dangerous) entity which must be restricted to a certain small role within society.  Usually characterized as the "Night-watchman" State, existing like some Batman type superhero who's duty is only to protect persons and property.

Voluntaryists, too, have a strong desire to protect persons and property- and that small point of agreement has wed Voluntarism and Libertarianism in an alliance of convenience.  They can agree on some of the same conclusions- but Voluntarists follow a strict method for determining the truth.

For this reason, most of the people who delve down the rabbit hole of Voluntarism are in fact, mainstream Libertarians.  For instance, an unofficial leader of the Voluntarist movement, Stefan Molyneux (who hosts the largest philosophy talk show in the world) has been featured almost entirely by Libertarian media outlets.  He has hosted the Peter Schiff Show- a radio show focused on Austrian economics with tens of thousands of listeners. He has been featured on the Alex Jones show- a Libertarian news network with millions of follows.  Stefan has even reached an audience at RT news, and while it's not de facto Libertarian, it is still an anti-establishment network.

So the (libertarian) media has been catching on quite a bit, but the grassroots movement is making headway in the realm of conferences as well.  Live conferences with speaking engagements and opportunities to network and meet like-minded individuals are the life-blood of any organic movement.  The Philosophy Tour of 2012 was the biggest yet for Molyneux, taking him to locations from Ontario, all the way across North America, and even down to a massive Libertarian conference in Brazil.

Also, Voluntaryist institutions are beginning to spring out of Libertarian foundations.  Laissez-Faire Books is arguably the most important publisher of Voluntaryist literature and is run by former VP of the Von Mises Institute think-tank, Jeffrey Tucker.  This is the type of company that has the know-how to push ideas toward a much wider audience, marking an exciting time for the movement.
These sorts of events and organizations have provided enough inspiration for Voluntaryists to organize themselves for specifically Voluntaryist gatherings.  Libertopia is one such event taking place in San Diego, California.  Porcfest is another one occurring all the way across the continent in Lancaster, New Hampshire.  Both are always packed with hundreds, even thousands of true Voluntaryists and such gatherings are reported to be incredibly unique situations.  The environment of them is said to be peaceful, happy, and spontaneous.  Everybody, it is said, is free to speak their minds on any topic without fearing attack or rejection- which is a great segway to my next topic- how do we philosophically distinguish Voluntarism from Libertarianism?

Core Values of Voluntarism

The idea which separates Voluntarism from political ideologies is that Voluntarism seeks to abide by objective moral principles.  An objective moral principle is one that may be universally applied to everyone at all times without contradiction.  Adherents to this method would assert that any "moral principle" that is not logically universal and objective, is mere personal preference and cannot be justly enforced.

Stefan Molyneux lays down the entire argument in his immensely important work, Universally Preferable Behavior: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics.  Essentially, if it is wrong for a man to steal from his neighbor, then it is wrong for all men to steal from each-other.  This scientific process of universalizing principles is how Voluntarism sets itself apart, and which is why Voluntaryists reject the State.  Taxation, as we all know, is a non-voluntary interaction which is backed with a threat of violence.  Since, as a society, we already shun and have specific names for non-voluntary interactions: rape, murder, theft and assault, the voluntaryists take an unsentimental, scientific look at "taxation"- and scoff at the euphemism.  Based on all available evidence, taxation does indeed equal theft, and so it is rejected on moral grounds by Voluntaryists.  According to these principles, the only fair and just interaction is one that is voluntarily agreed upon.

Now, if you're like most people you will react to that statement with shock and horror.  Emotionally you may feel afraid that a society without Government would delve into chaos, intellectually you may think that "society without government" is a formal contradiction.  However, a continuously growing segment of the population would disagree, and these ideas did not just spring up out of the woodwork.

The voluntaryist tradition has been in the making since the 16th century and has been building it's philosophy ever since.  From the great works on ethics by Lysander Spooner to the Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrick Hayek, a massive wealth of knowledge has been gathered by Voluntaryist thinkers and yet so much of it remains hidden from the public eye.  Why?

Challenges, and the Future of Voluntarism

So, why has this philosophy been left out of the mainstream discourse?  Well, an obvious answer is that Voluntarism is diametrically opposed to the State.  Because of this, it is equally obvious that the State will not educate the young in ideas that claim the State is unnecessary and evil.  That would be like Coca-cola putting out advertisement explaining how horrible Coke is for your teeth and then recommending to drink more water.  The children who go to State (public) schools will never be taught such a lesson and with the vast majority of people being instructed in State schools, the effect is ubiquitous.

At least with the advent of the internet, Voluntarism has been able to reach a much wider audience.  For instance, Molyneux's youtube channel has
--> over 11 million total video views, and his extremely popular website, boasts an even larger number (25 million!) of podcast downloads.  With such a strong following, what is preventing this from snowballing into a mass movement?

I would suggest that there is one major challenge of Voluntarism: the guilt and emotional volatility induced by the topic.  The principled approach to philosophy that Voluntarism takes is like burning candle in the darkness, illuminating horrors that are desperately devoted to hiding.  The Non-aggression principle exposes all non-voluntary interactions as immoral and false, and if you thought it was anxiety provoking to apply that argument to the State, just imagine the reactions you'd get when applying it to the family! 

If it's wrong to assault your neighbor, then it's certainly wrong to assault your child!  And this is precisely what is extrapolated subconsciously when people hear, "The state is immoral because it initiates the use of force."  The emotional reactions given by most people (90% at least have been assaulted as children) are deeply personal reactions, and nearly always the emotional scar-tissue of being aggressed against by their own parents.  This is the great challenge in moving this conversation forward.  It's difficult to convince somebody that a theory is bad when their parents applied that theory to their bottoms for years of their formative growth- and they called it good!

Moving into the future, I would recommend that as a movement we continue to focus on our own personal relationships.  Philosophy is about bringing joy and satisfaction to life, and we can only accomplish that by acting with integrity to logic and evidence.  That means defending children who are aggressed against and rejecting those who use force to impose their will (especially against children).  Also, and most importantly, we should nurture our own relationships with honesty and respect.  Live fully self-expressed and let your children, friends, and family do the same.  Instead of saying, "the people in my life must treat me well," and thereby creating a form of personal Statism, speak with confidence and curiosity: "I wonder if the people in my life will treat me well?" and begin creating a truly voluntary society for yourself.  Fundamentally, we can only change the world by changing ourselves.

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