A Voluntaryism Primer

What About The Roads? is dedicated, though not solely, to discussing the ideas and practices of voluntaryism through news articles and analysis of world events. This is a living document that outlines some of the tenets of voluntaryism and will change and evolve over time as the idea is explored more in-depth. Contributions and additional resources are welcomed.

What is voluntaryism?

Voluntaryism is an ethical principle which proposes that all adult relations be based on mutual consent. Notably, voluntaryism doesn’t argue that these relations must take any particular form, only that they should be voluntary. Voluntaryism is underpinned by the non-aggression principle which holds coercion, fraud, and violence to be immoral. Self-defense is permitted however.

What would a voluntary society look like?

It is not the job of the voluntaryist to fully conceptualize a world where seven billion human beings are freely interacting, working, living, playing, trading, and otherwise existing with each other. As long as the principles of voluntaryism are followed there is really no wrong way to go about attempting to live. That said, we can envision a handful of broad changes to society that such a world would include.

Politics – A voluntary society is the result of applying the non-aggression principle universally. The state therefore, is incompatible with a voluntary society since it uses force, coercion, and violence by default. The state justifies these actions by claiming the moral right to initiate force against others against their will. According to voluntaryist principles, theft, initiating violence, and murder are always wrong no matter who carries out these actions or what euphemistic names they are given. Any form of government that did exist in a voluntary society would need to be voluntarily funded and open to competition.

Economics – The centrally-planned economic models of today would disappear in a stateless world. As would the hallmarks of central banking such as negative interest rates, qualitative easing, and even fractional-reserve banking itself in favor of more market friendly ideas. Instead, a catallactic system, or catallaxy, would emerge as a result of spontaneous order where cooperation and exchange form the base of this new system where everything is voluntarily funded.

Defense – Self-defense skills are highly desirable to have under any circumstances as they contribute to self-reliance. However, this isn’t necessarily enough to protect a business or an entire neighborhood so protection agencies would still be hugely beneficial to society. This new class of law enforcement would need values in line with those that hire them (e.g. respect for private property and self-ownership) otherwise they would never get any business and high levels of competition would demand efficiency, transparency, accountability, restraint, and a whole host of other attributes largely missing from today’s police force. Remember, everyone wants to be secure and there are now a lot of former police with useful skills looking for work.

Education – Public schools would cease to exist since they rely on taxation to function and pay salaries. Some parents may still choose the same form of pedagogy taught at public schools though this would likely be a small percent. Over time an increasingly free market of schools and educational models would emerge that would be better able to suit the unique needs of each child and family.

Infrastructure – Private enterprise will simply pick up where public works left off. Market forces will promote positive outcomes for all. Competition, transparency, and public accountability create huge incentives for work to be done cost effectively, quickly, and of a high caliber.  The roads will be fine.

Is a voluntary society possible?

Yes! We already have past and present examples of voluntaryism, or something well on its way, in action.

In 2011 the citizens of Cheran, Mexico became fed up with government corruption and criminality. Politicians, police, illegal logging, and organized crime went hand-in-hand in this town of 16,000 before they dismantled the whole system to begin an era of self-rule. Today a small 12-person council are elected every three years and are held to account by neighborhood assemblies. Security is handled by a citizen-led force called a ronda comunitaria. The kidnappings, extortion, and murder that were once commonplace are now a thing of the past. For more on my visit to Cheran, read here.

Neutral Moresnet, a one-by-three mile wedge of land between Germany, Belgium, and The Netherlands wasn’t an entirely stateless society but was essentially lost track of over time by it’s administrators (the countries above) and was largely able to operate independent of any government. The territory existed from 1816 to 1920 and experienced peace and prosperity when its inhabitants were left to their own devices unlike their neighbors who were constantly at war. Unfortunately, a German occupation of Moresnet in 1914 due to the outbreak of the Great War ended this promising experiment.

A city-within-a-city, Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong was an autonomous zone comprised of over 300 interconnected high-rise buildings that housed tens of thousands of people at it’s peak. It survived in that form for several decades in the 20th century before being demolished in 1994 after a lengthy eviction process. Licenses, taxes, and regulations governing the rest of the island could not be found here, yet crime remained low compared to the rest of Hong Kong and it withstood typhoons despite not enforcing building codes. This was a place where one could find any vice or come and enjoy a wholesome family meal.

Additionally there are many options beyond your typical nation state including micronations, unrecognized countries, intentional communities, seasteading, and freedom cells. The potential for humans to reorganize themselves has hardly been explored so there is no telling what else is possible and what would emerge.