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Why Voluntaryism Is the Best and Only Legitimate Moral Philosophy

By Ross Kenyon

I explicitly refer to myself as a voluntaryist because I believe voluntaryism to be the only moral position worth assuming. It is my opinion that the only reason libertarianism is worth a damn is because it is a philosophy of non-aggression which acknowledges the incalculable value of individual sovereignty.

Non-coercion is infinitely preferable to coercion. Even statists will agree with this abstract statement, albeit befuddledly. Libertarianism and conservatism as a whole still endorse the concept of forcing others into systems based upon their respective ideologies. Voluntaryism is the moral philosophy because it leaves room for Marxists, monarchists, theocrats, and everyone else to exercise their negative rights of self-ownership and self-determination. I completely respect the initiative of individuals who wish to form a socialist commune where the negative rights of the participants are neglected in favor of a collectivist ethic. This can be completely consistent with voluntaryism so long as everyone participating is doing so voluntarily and they are not violating the person or justly acquired property of those who remain outside of their preferred system. In other words, it is not consistent with voluntaryist values to coerce others into any form of libertarianism. Voluntaryists respect the fact that others might not wish to live as they live. "Anything that is peaceful" is a core value of voluntaryism. This is one of the first ways I broach this subject with statists and minarchists alike.

I declare that the individual has a legitimate right to govern him or her self and to voluntarily associate with any other individual so long as it is consensual and non-aggressive to those outside of the agreement. With self-admitted state socialists this is one of the first things I will proffer. In my experience, convincing someone who instinctively distrusts the free market and loves the state that the inverse is consequentially better is an arduous and frustrating process. Rather than trying to convince involuntaryists that my ideal system has better results than theirs, I will submit that there is room for both of our philosophies on this planet. The Earth is large, and all I request is that the negative rights and justly acquired property of individuals who prefer other systems be left unmolested and in full retention of their sovereignty. This is a very reasonable assertion and does not confront any competing philosophy on any grounds except for the element which is based upon coercion in the place of voluntary association. If they believe it is moral to force others into their system I would challenge them to explain on what grounds they have inherited the authority to rule others. I condemn this idea of authority as immoral and coercive.

In addition to the sovereignty argument, I will approach our close ideological allies of the minarchist movement with the point that they have made their peace with participating in systemic coercion so long as they can use the guns of the state to create their version of a just society. Pragmatically, many libertarians believe that statism is so thoroughly entrenched that it is better to try to work from within, solemnly protecting the few crumbs of freedom that remain. They simply underestimate the moderating and corrupting force state power has upon those who wield it.

There is no middle ground between coercion and non-aggression. Trying to dismantle systems of coercion by gaining the ability to use coercion is not only inconsistent with the ends of voluntaryism and a free society but our participation in electoral democracy signals our consent to be governed by democracy. I am a voluntaryist because I respect the wishes of individuals to live their lives as they see fit so long as they are non-aggressive, and I hope that the same courtesy will eventually be shown to me. I oppose coercion no matter what costume or badge is worn and I do not acknowledge the validity of involuntary relationships.

Without voluntaryism, individuals will continue to try to solve the complex ethical problems facing us by resorting to coercion through the state. They will be forever incapable of creating a just society because they start with the premise that aggression is an acceptable tool to address social problems. It is time for us to respect the self-determination of all people. Voluntaryism is not only the moral way; it is the only way to peace and justice.

[The author is a senior of American History at Arizona State University. Contact him at rmkenyon@asu.edu. An earlier version of this essay appeared January 2, 2010 on www.libertariansolution.com.]