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Spreading Voluntaryism Left and Right

April 14, 2010
 by Ross Kenyon


Sensible strategies for approaching traditional left and right politicos with radical libertarian values.

It’s counter-intuitive but I’ve found it to be true: turning liberals onto voluntaryism can be a less daunting challenge than turning conservatives onto consistent libertarian principles. The right finds itself drifting without consistent philosophical underpinnings, but liberals sometimes get a whiff of the old reliable argument from self ownership, albeit inconsistently.

From a philosophical starting point, voluntaryists will have much more in common with a conservative of the Libertarian or Republican variety. They won’t challenge assertions on individualism, private property rights, or government’s massive failure to produce successful outcomes. In addition, they may even give you that taxes are violent, but will venture that this violence is necessary, without which roads would never be built and all of the worst parts of the Bible would occur. If they believe in a free market, consistency demands they rationally explain why certain goods (like personal defense, infrastructure, and contractual enforcement) could not be provided cheaper and more efficiently by entrepreneurs. For many conservative free marketers, this extra stop on the Liberty train can be a foreign leap too far for in the direction of the pejorative known only as “anarchism.”

It isn’t absurd to suggest that conservatives can seem more callous about the plight of the impoverished than their liberal adversaries, at least on the surface. Their arguments to keep their material wealth derive not out of some well-established philosophical adherence to ethical behavior and the disapproval of theft in any scenario, but out of the nearly innate idea of, “HEY! I earned this! It’s mine!” While we can agree that the right to their justly acquired property is important and should exist, they come off sounding foolish and cold to those with primarily humanitarian concerns. Rather than defending their success as a pinnacle of human productivity, development, and free and voluntary trade they end up caricatured as ‘selfish’ cigar-chomping fat cat mafia dons who would prefer to see the poor fighting each other with trident, net, and gladius than to pay them a decent wage.

This undermines the case for individualist ethics as a superior morality because they lack a sound foundation for supporting their undeveloped sense of individualism: self ownership. If self ownership is not recognized as a universal principle any conversation on how society should operate and how individuals should interact will remain hopelessly neutered and befuddled. As long as conservativism fails to defend their free marketeering from a consistent ethical principle we will continue to observe cultural conservativism employing the guns of state to ironically create its vision of a healthy society.

It is so much easier to appeal to liberals because their heart is often in the right place. They want to help people and to save the world, but they have not followed the ethical rabbit holes of their premises to their logical conclusions. If they will admit (or you can convince them) that private property can, should, or does exist, and that theft of that property by the government or private individuals is immoral and violent, it is only a matter of working through the “yeah buts” until they reach the logical and moral conclusion that state solutions are violent solutions. They believe they oppose violence, and when they realize that the only tool the state has to utilize for good or evil is violence they will transform into voluntaryists.

Reliance on the guns of the state to solve problems is drilled into us. It is everywhere around us, and it doesn’t help that most of our education is confusingly a violent state solution to a social problem. The true nature of the state is never openly and honestly examined. The actions of the state are perceived as legitimate answers to predicaments. Rather than condemning the violence of state schools as immoral, an average left-leaning person will assume that the problem with the public school system derives from inadequate funding. The fact that people without children might like to keep their money and that people with children might like to send their kids to school elsewhere are being coerced into supporting public education is sloppily dismissed under the vague pretenses of social contract theory. You chose to live in a public school district, sorry!

Rather than getting trapped in the well with Rousseau’s endorsement of involuntary relationships, it is better to approach those who are already positing arguments for self ownership in the queer and reproductive rights arena and to help them expand their affinity for self ownership to its logical conclusion. Once the principle of self ownership is rightfully understood the economic implications of libertarianism will follow. Convincing a cultural conservative who likes free markets to respect the self ownership of those with atypical but nonaggressive lifestyles can be terribly frustrating. Without that fundamental recognition of self ownership petty prejudices and localized preferences will subvert all attempts at inspiring consistent individualism.

Those who are arguing for specific cases of self ownership have seen some of the trees. Show them the forest.

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