By Alex R. Knight III
The first time I remember even seeing the word “libertarian,” was in 1994, when I was twenty-five. Years prior to that, like most kids, I had no real philosophical or political leanings. Government was just something that happened to be there, like the landscape, or the weather. As I grew into my teens, however, I began to develop a kind of vague sense that something was wrong – perhaps even horribly so – with the way society was structured. I think the catalysts for this awakening process were things that many young people experience on the path to adulthood: I had my first few brushes with the police – mainly for underage drinking. The paychecks I earned at the several jobs I had over those years had numerous taxes taken out of them. Laws restricting ownership of guns seemed increasingly wrong. The police and the military had them, yet the government wanted to curtail others from doing so. I began, again, like many young people, to distrust and resent authority in all forms.
My new awareness, however, had no cohesive threads running through it. My rapidly developing beliefs didn’t fit into any form of traditional political paradigm. I wasn’t “right-wing.” I didn’t think the police should have many of the powers that they had. I didn’t think drugs should be illegal (after all, I was doing them). I didn’t think the government should have soldiers marching all over the world. But I wasn’t “left-wing” either: As stated, I liked guns, and thought people should be able to own them without asking permission from anyone. I thought people, regardless of how much money they had, should be able to keep that money without having the government confiscate it through taxation. I thought that public schools were run more like prisons and indoctrination centers than learning institutions, and that they should be privatized, and all associated property taxation ended. Indeed, if people were actually supposed to own their houses, how could they be taxed? I didn’t identify with either Republicans or Democrats. I settled for considering myself politically independent. I had no idea what I would do when I became old enough to vote. When I did get there, I did nothing. Based on my beliefs, there seemed no method of voting consistent with my principles.
But in 1994, I chanced upon an article written by one Sean Glennon in a free newspaper published in New Hampshire called Seacoast Times. Glennon was a far leftist, but the piece was about drug legalization, so it held my interest. In it, Glennon made mention of the fact that the LIbertarian candidate for governor, Steve Winter, was in favor of ending the drug war. This intrigued me. So much, in fact, that I looked up the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire’s toll-free number in the phone book (the Internet was still in its infancy), and left a message requesting an information package. A few days later, a large envelope showed up in the mail. By the time I was done reading all the material therein, I had come to what was for me, at the time, a revelation. All those years, I had actually been a Libertarian without knowing it.
Or, that’s what I thought.
I contacted the LPNH again, and let them know I wanted to get involved in some way. I was kind of excited. I now had some people I could vote for at election time, and a vehicle to advance the philosophy I had always, for the most part, embraced: The Libertarian Party. I went on to become Communications Director, won more media coverage for the LPNH than had accrued in all the prior years of their existence, and was awarded Activist of the Year in 1998.
But there were still some unresolved problems.
Probably the most daunting one was how to reconcile libertarian philosophy with the existence of government. Because, of course, if one follows the non-aggression principle to its ultimate (and only logical) conclusion, no government – not even a miniscule one – can function without the implementation of coercive force. This seemed paradoxical to the notion of a political party attempting to get candidates elected in order to then legislate into existence greater freedom. I wrestled with this concept for some time. I talked with a lot of other liberty-minded people. I questioned, then questioned again, my core beliefs. There were a lot of great books on the subject I now realize I should have been reading, but that didn’t come until later. Things all came to a head for me in 2000 when, at the LPNH’s annual convention, I publicly confronted the late, great Harry Browne on an issue which similarly challenged his candidacy for U.S. President, and the Libertarian Party’s fundamental integrity. As a result of that somewhat discomfiting tableau, I resigned from any and all participation in politics, including voting altogether. I realized that I had become a true libertarian in the purest sense. I had become an anarchist. Or if you prefer, as many do, a Voluntaryist – a believer in non-aggression and peaceful willing relationships amongst human beings instead of the imposed violence governments bring to bear against individuals. I now believe I am on the correct path in doing my part to bring about a truly free and prosperous society. I warmly invite one and all to join me.
A Voluntary View: The Benefits of Trying to Live a Libertarian Life
Alex Knight III
[Editor’s Note: The article below, prepared during June 2019, was entered in our “What Voluntaryism Means To Me” contest.”]
It should require little elucidation to establish that we live in a highly illibertarian world. Voluntaryism, I believe, is the purest expression of libertarian philosophy – an idea, or set of ideas, which holds that each individual’s life, actions, and property are their own exclusive sanction. Such that no other equally free and independent individual is ever at liberty to violate them, so long as such non-intervention is reciprocated in kind. While many human interactions we encounter on a day to day basis fall well within the purview of these conditions, one look at the world around us and its systemic and institutional conventions shows us a very different picture. It is often difficult, futile – or even dangerous – to act in accordance with voluntaryist principles and conscience under such a regime of statist thought; one in which the initiation of force, or the threat of it, is held as standard foundational practice – where the pursuit of order and justice, ironically, become their own paradox.
What to do? Since becoming a voluntaryist, I have attempted to extricate myself from the State inasmuch as I shun government employ, work meticulously to avoid taxation as much as feasible, refuse to willfully contact or socialize with bureaucrats, and refrain from political voting. But Voluntaryism means more than just exorcising the government demon with its fraudulent impositions of alleged duty upon the individual. It means treating others with the same goodwill and honesty you’d like to receive back from them in return. It means trying your best to display integrity and consistency in everything you do.
During part of the year, I teach at a private school here in Vermont, and one of my areas of specialization comes under the rather specious title of “Social Studies.” Depending on the student, this might take the form of World History, American History, Western Civilization, Social Civics, or even Government itself. Usually, these courses are accompanied by printed or online materials replete with statist explanations and justifications for the various figures and events described in them. At every turn, counter to the traditional – and even expected – narrative, I take it upon myself to point out the logical fallacies and illegitimate claims made therein with regard to the showcased rulers and their exercise of government power. I try to open the student’s ears and eyes to a perspective they will almost never hear back at their home schools – many of them “public” (government) tax-financed institutions – before they come to enjoy a season of mixed academics and winter sports here in western New England. I do my best to impart to them that no governance outside of the self is valid without explicit voluntary individual consent, that voting and constitutions are not contracts, that there is in fact no such thing as a “social contract,” and that all notions to the contrary are as mythological as the gods in Homer’s Iliad (a perennial classic in many of my English classes). I’m often delighted by how many students respond with a mix of wonder and enthusiasm – even self-identification – when finally encountering an instructor who doesn’t simply feed them the same tired old canned narrative that only serves to perpetuate a failed and corrupt status-quo. They frequently come to recognize mainstream “Social Studies” as a discredited ritualistic litany which provides no meaningful answers. I have in fact often introduced articles from The Voluntaryist into these classes, and I maintain a full folder of same in the academy library. Copies of these quite often go home with students at the end of classes in the spring – many times by specific request above and beyond their coursework. Such, it seems, is the thirst among the young for information which actually makes sense.
Treating others as you wish to be treated in this way can also produce an exponential ripple effect. The more that I spread the principles and concepts of voluntaryism by both example and discussion, the greater influence the philosophy exerts in the real world. Thus are my efforts accelerated. And so on.
If voluntaryism means anything to me, ultimately, it is as a consistent ethic and set of ideals to strive for which improve my life and that of those around me. The freer and more thoughtful I can make my own affairs, the more these qualities are likely to resonate in the world at large.