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Are Voluntaryists Hypocrites for Using the Roads?

by Carl Watner

I have never mentioned the voluntaryist email group in The Voluntaryist. It has been a means of connecting with people on the web who may not care to subscribe to the hard copy newsletter. If you have not signed up, you may go to www.voluntaryist.com and access the sign-up form on the homepage. There are occasional announcements, comments, etc. that otherwise might not fit into the newsletter or else be more timely by appearing via email. This, by way of introduction, leads to a question submitted by a subscriber to the email group:

How do you respond to the interminable rejoinder, from statists, that a voluntaryist is a hypocrite insofar as he/she cannot avoid using and benefiting from services paid for by government taxation? In other words, does using the post office or driving on the highways turn us into hypocrites?
Here is my reply.

First, one must determine the definition of hypocrisy. Wikipedia, The Shorter New Oxford English Dictionary, and Webster's Unabridged Dictionary all introduce the elements of pretense, deception, and the false profession of belief as the key description of hypocrisy. In the words of Wikipedia, "an alcoholic's advocating temperance" is not "an act of hypocrisy as long as the alcoholic makes no pretense of constant sobriety." The intemperate person who supports temperance is guilty of inconsistency (his actions do not match his beliefs). However, the person who hides his cigar smoking habit from his friends, and tells them that he doesn't smoke, and that they shouldn't smoke, is a hypocrite. He is trying to pretend that he is a non-smoker when he really isn't. The voluntaryist is certainly not a hypocrite insofar as he openly acknowledges his use of government services. Neither is a slave a hypocrite for wanting his freedom, even though he eats the food supplied by his master.

Secondly, a critic may rightfully claim that the voluntaryist's use of the roads is inconsistent with his voluntaryist beliefs. The voluntaryist would certainly agree. The voluntaryist teaches that the most moral and practical system for satisfying human wants is that based on voluntary co-operation. A consistent voluntaryist will choose not to use State services, whenever and wherever possible. When there is a practical choice - say working for the government or working for a private employer - the consistent voluntaryist would and should always chose to maintain his integrity by working for the private employer. However, sometimes there is no reasonable alternative to using government funded services, such as the roads. Then, and only then, does the voluntaryist reluctantly use something provided by taxation.

As I pointed out in my article on "The Sin of the Intellectuals" in Issue 43 of The Voluntaryist (April 1990),
The behavior or misbehavior of the exponents of any particular philosophy indicates more about the psychology and personality of those advocates, than proving or disproving the philosophy itself. Ideas and theories must be judged on their own merits, otherwise we are in danger of committing the ad hominem fallacy, of judging the message by the messenger, rather than letting the message stand by itself. [end of emailed article]
After the appearance of my email, several other subscribers offered their opinions on this topic: Here are a few of them:

From Dr. Henry Jones (Miss.)
We all benefit from what those who came before us have created. We use language given to us freely by generations that worked to create it. .We benefit from roads and bridges that exist even though they were financed by stealing and killing. We use language, roads and inventions such as the wheel that we have not paid for ourselves. There is no way to avoid this and it does not represent hypocrisy. We are only responsible for the decisions we make freely and without coercion. I am opposed to murder yet I am forced to pay money (taxes) to support the murderer-in -chief in Washington D.C.
From Larken Rose (Pa.)
Here is my "short" answer to the "using the roads" thing: If you steal $100 bucks from me, and decide to give me a mediocre sandwich, am I a hypocrite if I complain about the theft AND eat the sandwich? No. Duh.

Slight elaboration: The roads should have been built via voluntary means. Nonetheless, as they are now, the roads still rightfully belong to the people who were robbed to pay for them. NOTHING belongs to "government." It has a rightful claim on NOTHING, because everything it has, it stolen from others. Ultimately, no one gets anything from "government." Whatever anyone receives from the state was either stolen from him, or stolen from someone else. I would say that if you're accepting more than was stolen from you personally, you are indirectly cheating OTHER extortion victims (by accepting their stolen property). But it is impossible to "cheat" the "government," because the state has never had a rightful claim to anything.
From Ned Netterville (Tn.)
Benefiting from government services??? I should send the State a bill for using their pot-holed roads and service-less post office. For all the money I pay in gasoline taxes, I get the worst imaginable roads compared to what a private road system would deliver at a fraction of the State's graft-riven price, and USPS service stinks to high heaven compared to UPS. When I think of all the added wealth the people of America would have if government didn't confiscate and waste their money, I'm appalled. Of what benefit is a government that incites "enemies" who want to kill me because of what its covert agents and armed forces do to people in other lands--killing and maiming innocents and using that egregious behavior to deprive me of the last vestiges of my human rights in the name of--ta, ta! ha, ha!--homeland security? Government is the ultimate, over-arching example of HYPOCRISY writ large.
Further comment from the Editor:
I think it is safe to conclude that in most cases use of the roads by voluntaryists is not hypocritical according to the definition of hypocrisy. Furthermore, anyone who attempts to use this criticism as a way to defeat voluntaryism is clearly guilty of the fallacy of ignoratio elenchi, known as raising an "irrelevant thesis." The truth of voluntaryism depends upon a correct analysis of government as an invasive institute, of taxation as a coercive process, and of peaceful relations among individuals as being beneficial to all the involved parties. Whether or not voluntaryists are hypocrites has absolutely nothing to do with demonstrating whether or not these assertions are true.
If anyone has further comments, please email to voluntaryist@windstream.net or snail to Box 275, Gramling SC 29348.