This is my attempt to explain briefly what Voluntaryism is all about. Comments and questions are welcome.
Voluntaryists believe that:
• ideally all human interactions should be voluntary: mutual consent
• the initiation of coercion is never permissible by anyone for any reason
• the libertarian theory of property rights is superior to all others; laws should be based on this theory
• states are illegitimate as they inherently violate the libertarian theory of property rights.
1. Types of Interaction
All interactions between human beings can be classed as one of two types:
• A voluntary interaction is one that both parties consent to. Both parties are free to avoid the interaction, but choose to interact because they expect to benefit from the interaction.
• A coercive interaction is where one party does not consent. These interactions occur because the non-consenting party (the coerced) is prevented from avoiding the interaction due to the use or threat of physical force by the coercer.
The vast majority of human interactions are voluntary. The difference between a voluntary interaction and a coercive interaction can be seen in the difference between charity and theft, between employment and slavery, and between consensual *** and ****.
Voluntaryists believe that ideally all human interactions should be voluntary.
2. Types of Coercion
In recognition that there will always be some people who engage in coercive interactions, we distinguish between two classes of coercion:
• Initiatory coercion is where an individual uses coercion against someone that has not previously coerced him. Initiatory coercion is also referred to as aggression.
• Responsive coercion is where an individual uses coercion against someone that has previously coerced him. He is responding to coercion that has been initiated against him. Resposive coercion is also referred to as retaliatory coercion or defense.
Voluntaryists believe that proportionate defense is permissible, but that aggression is never permissible by anyone for any reason. This is known as the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). It applies to all individuals, regardless of identity, occupation or employer.
3. Property Rights
Distinguishing between aggression and defense requires an underlying theory of property rights.
The purpose of a theory of property rights is to help prevent and resolve conflicts, by telling us who is the rightful ultimate decision-maker (owner) regarding each scarce resource (property). A scarce resource is anything over which conflicts about usage may occur.
Every theory of property rights specifies:
• how property rights in previously unowned resources can rightfully be acquired
• how property rights are rightfully transferred from one individual to another.
Voluntaryists believe that the libertarian theory of property rights is superior to all others. This belief may be based on a deontological theory of ethics (arguing that all other theories of property rights are immoral), or on consequentialist grounds (arguing that the libertarian theory of property rights creates the best outcomes), or both.
The libertarian theory of property rights comprises three basic principles:
• The principle of self-ownership: that all individuals rightfully have property rights over their own physical bodies.
• The principle of homesteading: that property rights over external things that are previously unowned can only rightfully be acquired through an act of original appropriation; a mere verbal declaration is insufficient.
• The principle of voluntary exchange: that property rights over external things previously owned by someone else can only rightfully be acquired through voluntary exchange.
Law is a service produced to help prevent and resolve conflicts.
Producing laws involves applying a theory of property rights to a particular conflict or potential conflict. A lawmaker gathers facts and evidence about a conflict that has he has been asked to help resolve, then refers to a theory of property rights to identify which party is the aggressor and which party is the victim of aggression.
He then specifies certain actions that the aggressor must take in order to make amends for his act of aggression, by referring to a theory of justice. Those actions may include paying restitution and damages to the victim and/or receiving retributive punishment. Law enforcement may be used to ensure that the aggressor carries out the actions specified by the law maker.
6. The State
States are institutions that are territorial monopolist producers of law. That is, states are producers of law that use coercion to prevent other producers of law from operating and competing with it within a specified territory.
Within any territory where a state is operating, all conflicts must be brought before the state, because no other producers of law are allowed to exist there. This includes conflicts involving the state itself.
Invariably, using it’s power of monopoly, a state will exempt itself from certain laws that it enforces on others. For example, it will exempt itself from laws against theft, allowing it to commit theft with impunity, calling it “taxation”, and it will exempt itself from laws against murder, calling it “war”.
Voluntaryists therefore consider all states to be illegitimate, because they inherently violate the libertarian theory of property rights and they are the biggest aggressors in society. Voluntaryists support competition in the field of producing law, rather than law being monopolised by a state.
Voluntaryists seek to eliminate states and bring about a society where lawmakers compete with each other for customers and produce laws based on the libertarian theory of property rights.