What Is Our Plan?
From Issue 29 - December, 1987
At a recent one day seminar at Freedom Country, the question was
asked: "What can a person do to make this world a better place?"
Mo single answer was articulated, but two different conceptual approaches
were apparent. The responses of the participants could
be categorized according to whether or not they believed
a. a better society depends on better individuals
b. better individuals cannot be raised until we have a better
society (where, for example, educational services are improved,
child abuse no longer exists, etc.).
In other words, which comes first - the chicken or the egg? Better
individuals or the better society?
Nineteenth century reformers, especially the non-resistants and
abolitionists, grappled with this problem. How were they to advocate
the abolition of slavery? Should they wait for Congress to
abolish slavery or should they try to eliminate the vestiges of
slavery from their daily lives? Should they be immediatists or
gradualists? Should they use legislative means or moral suasion?
Should they vote or hold office or should they denounce the U.S.
Constitution as a tool of the slaveholders?
Those nineteenth century thinkers whom I would label voluntaryist
(such as Henry David Thoreau, Charles Lane, William Lloyd
Garrison, Henry Clarke Wright, and Edmund Quincy in pre-Civil War
days, and Nathaniel Peabody Rogers) all believed that a better
society only came about as the individuals within society improved
themselves. They had no plan, other than a supreme faith that if
one improved the components of society, societal improvement
would come about automatically. As Charles Lane once put it, "Our
reforms must begin within ourselves." Better men must be made to
constitute society. For "society taken at large is never better or
worse than the persons who compose it, for they in fact are it."
The Garrisonians, for example, were opposed to involvement in
politics (whether it be office-holding or participating in political
parties) because they did not want to sanction a government which
permitted slavery. Their opposition to participation in government
also stemmed from their concern with how slavery was to be
abolished. To Garrison's way of thinking it was as bad to work for
the abolition of slavery in the wrong way as it was to work openly
for an evil cause. The end could not justify the means. The antielectoral
abolitionists never voted, even if they could have freed all
the slaves by the electoral process. Garrison's field of action was
that of moral suasion and not political action. He thought that men
must first be convinced of the moral righteousness of the antislavery
cause. Otherwise it would be impossible to change their
opinions, even by the use of political force.
Given this approach, it seemed that the anti-electoral abolitionists
had no real strategy. In rebutting this criticism, Nathaniel
Peabody Rogers, in a September 6, 1844 editorial in the HERALD OF
FREEDOM, spelled out his answer to the question: "What is your
(T)o be without a plan is the true genius and glory of
the anti-slavery enterprise. The mission of that movement is to preach eternal truths, and to bear an
everlasting testimony against the giant falsehoods
which bewitch and enslave the land. It is no part of its
business to map out its minutest course in all time to
come, - to furnish a model for all the machinery that
will ever be set in motion by the principle it is involving.
The plan and the machinery will be easily
developed and provided, as soon as the principle is sufficiently
aroused in men's hearts to demand the relief
What is the course of action these abolitionists have
pursued? How have they addressed themselves to their
mighty work? ...They were not deterred by finding
themselves alone facing a furious and innumerable
host of enemies. They felt that the Right was on their
side, and they went forward in the calm certainty of a
final victory. They began, and as far as they have remained
faithful, they continue to perform their mission
by doing the duty that lieth nearest to them."
They soon discovered that Slavery is not a thing a thousand
miles removed, but that it is intertwined with all
the political, religious, social and commercial relations
in the country. ...In obedience to the highest
philosophy, though perhaps not knowing it to be such,
they proceeded to discharge their own personal duties
in this regard-to bear an emphatic and uncompromising
testimony against Slavery, and to free their own
souls from all participation in its blood-guiltness. They
laid no far-reaching plans,...but obeyed that wisdom
which told them that to do righteousness is the highest
policy, and that to pursue such a straight-forward
course would bring them soonest to the desired goal.
Their question was not so much how shall we abolish
Slavery? as, how shall we best discharge our duty?
Edmund Quincy in a February 24, 1841 editorial by the same title,
in THE NON-RESISTANT, pointed out that social institutions are
but the projection or external manifestation of the ideas and attitudes
existing in people's minds. Change the ideas, and the institutions
instantly undergo a corresponding change. In words
reminiscent of Bob LeFevre's emphasis on self-control, Quincy
went on to write, that
There is a sense in which the kingdoms of the world
are within us. All power, authority, consent, come from
the invisible world of the mind. External revolutions,
accomplished by fighting, have in general affected little
but a change of masters... .
We would try to bring about a mightier revolution by
persuading men to be satisfied to govern themselves
according to the divine laws of their natures, and to renounce
the (attempt to govern others) by laws of their
own devising. Whenever men shall have received these
truths into sincere hearts, and set about the business
of governing themselves, and cease to trouble
themselves about governing others, then whatever is
vicious and false in the existing institution will disappear,
and its place be supplied by what is good and
We do not hold ourselves obliged to abandon the promulgation
of what we believe to be truths because we
cannot exactly foretell how the revolution which they
are to work, will go on, or what will be the precise form
of the new state which they bring about. ...A reformer
can have no plan but faith in his principles. He cannot
foresee wither they will lead him but he knows that
they can never lead him astray. A plan implies limitations
and confinement. Truth is illimitable and diffusive.
We only know that Truth is a sure guide, and will
take care of us and of herself, if we will but follow her.
THE VOLUNTARYIST essentially upholds the same ideas as these
nineteenth century thinkers. We advocate moral action, rather
than politics and elections because moral suasion lays the axe at
the root of the tree. We believe that moral action alone is sufficient
to nullify State legislation. Legislation is not needed to abolish
other legislation. Harmful and unjust political laws should simply
be ignored and disobeyed. We do not need to use the State to
abolish the State, any more than we need to embrace war to fight
for peace. Such methodology is self-contradictory, self-defeating,
Difficult as it is to totally divorce ourselves from the State, each
of us must draw the line for him or herself as to how and to what extent
we will deal with statism, whether it be driving on government
roads, paying federal income taxes, using government "funny'
money, or the post office. Several things are imperative, though.
We must support ourselves on the free market, never taking up
government employment. We must also remain uninvolved in
politics, refusing to vote or run for public office. We must never accept
a government handout or government funds (even when
justified on the pretext that the money was stolen from you or that
you were forced to contribute to a government program. No one is
forcing you to accept money which the government has stolen.)
In short, what we are advocating is that every one take care of
him or herself and care for the members of his or her family, when
they need help. If this were done, there would be no justification for
any statist legislation. Competent individuals and strong families,
particularly the three generation living unit, are some of the
strongest bulwarks against the State. (And it should be
remembered that families need not be limited by blood lines. Love,
which brings outsiders into the family, is often more important
than blood ties.)
If people would only realize that it is the individual and only the
individual that directs the use and control of human energy, the
world would change as individuals change themselves. The chart
which we display here is described by PREVENTION magazine (April
1987) as a prescription for regenerative living. Change starts with
you and me! This means good family, friends, healthy living habits,
lifelong learning, and rewarding and satisfying work; which in turn
lead to good neighbors, a good community, a thriving economy,
and a natural environment. That pretty much sums it up. What is
our plan? - a better world begins with a better you!