by Wendy McElroy
The Voluntaryists seek to reclaim the anti-political heritage of libertarianism. They seek to re-establish the clear, clean difference between the economic and the political means of changing society. This difference was well perceived by the forerunners of contemporary libertarianism who tore the veil of legitimacy away from government to reveal a criminal institution which claimed a monopoly of force in a given area. Accordingly, early libertarians such as Benjamin Tucker maintained that one could no more attack government by electing politicians than one could prevent crime by becoming a criminal. Although he did not question the sincerity of political anarchists, he described them as enemies of liberty: "those who distrust her as a means of progress, believing in her only as an end to be obtained by first trampling upon, violating, and outraging her." This rejection of the political process (by which I mean electoral politics) was a moral one based on the insight that no one has the right to a position of power over others and that any man who seeks such an office, however honorable his intentions, is seeking to join a criminal band.
Somewhere in the history of libertarianism, this rejection of the State has been eroded to the point that anarchists are now aspiring politicians and can hear the words "anarchist Senator" without flinching. No longer is libertarianism directed against the positions of power, against the offices through which the State is manifested; the modern message - complete with straw hats, campaign rhetoric and strategic evasion - is "elect my man to office" as if it were the man disgracing the office and not the other way around. Those who point out that no one has the right to such a position, that such power is anathema to the concept of rights itself, are dismissed as negative, reactionary or crackpot. They are subject to ad hominem attacks which divert attention from the substantive issues being raised, the issues which will be discussed in this volume.
The Voluntaryists are unique in that they reflect both the several centuries of libertarian tradition and the current cutting edge of libertarian theory. The tradition of American libertarianism is so inextricably linked with anarchism that, during the Nineteenth Century, individualist-anarchism was a synonym for libertarianism. But anarchism is more than simply the non-initiation of force by which libertarianism is commonly defined. It is a view of the State as the major violator of rights, as the main enemy. Anarchism analyzes the State as an institution whose purpose is to violate rights in order to secure benefits to a privileged class. For those who believe in the propriety of a limited government it makes sense to pursue political office, but for an anarchist who views the State as a fundamentally evil institution such a pursuit flies in the face of the theory and the tradition which he claims to share. Thus, the political anarchist must explain why he aspires to an office he proclaims inherently unjust. Perhaps one reason for the erosion of anarchism within the libertarian movement is that many of the questions necessary to a libertarian institutional analysis of the State have never been seriously addressed. A goal of the Voluntaryists is to construct a cohesive theory of anti-political libertarianism, of Voluntaryism, which will investigate such issues as whether moral or legal liabilities adhere to the act of voting someone into power over another's life. Perhaps by working out the basics of this theory the unhappy spectacle of "the anarchist as politician" can be avoided.
Another major goal is to examine non-political strategies. In constructing anti-political theory and strategy - which was assumed by early libertarians without being well defined - we will be labeled as merely counter Libertarian Party by those who innocently or with malice are unable to perceive the wider context which leads to a rejection of the political means itself. The myriad of non-political strategies available to libertarians will be dismissed or will be accepted only as useful adjuncts to electoral politics. It is ironic that a movement which uses the free market as a solution for everything from roads to national defense declares that political means, the antithesis of the free market, are necessary to achieve freedom.
As Voluntaryists we reject the Libertarian Party on the same level and for the same reason we reject any other political party. The rejection is not based on incidental evasions or corruption of principle which inevitably occur within politics. It is based on the conviction that to oppose the State one must oppose the specific instances of the State or else one's opposition is toward a vague, floating abstraction and never has practical application. Political offices are the State. By becoming politicians, libertarians legitimize and perpetuate the office. They legitimize and perpetuate the State.
If libertarianism has a future, it is as the movement which takes a principled, resounding stance against the State. Those who embrace political office hinder the efforts of Voluntaryists who are attempting to throw off this institution of force. It is common for libertarians to view anarchism and minarchism as two trains going down the same track; minarchism simply stops a little before anarchism's destination. This is a mistaken notion. The destination of anarchism is different from and antagonistic to the destination of minarchism. The theory and the emotional commitment are different. Murray Rothbard captured the emotional difference by asking his famous question in Libertarian Forum, "Do you Hate the State?" Voluntaryists respond with an immediate, heartfelt "yes". Minarchists give reserved, qualified agreement, all the while explaining the alleged distinction between a government and a state. Political anarchists are in the gray realm of agreeing heartily in words to principles which their actions contradict. It is time to have the differences between Voluntaryism and political libertarianism clearly expressed and for non-political alternatives to be pursued.
"Neither Bullets Nor Ballots" first appeared in The Voluntaryist (Vol. I, No. 1, October 1982) and is reprinted here in slightly alterered form.
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