Voluntaryism: Voluntary Action Summed Up

June 22, 2007

It seems to me that left-anarchists, such as anarcho-communists and anarcho-syndicalists, continually state that voluntaryism is not truly voluntary in nature. One salient point they cite is that employer-employee relationships could still exist in a voluntaryist society. As left-anarchists, such people naturally reject the concept of hierarchy in human social interactions. However, there is plenty of scope for genuinely voluntary social dealings within a voluntaryist society. In this piece, I shall present an outline as to how they can occur.

The meaning of voluntaryism

Voluntaryism, as mentioned in reference to market anarchist/anarcho-capitalist belief, can be defined as:

"Voluntaryism is the belief that all human interactions should be voluntary in nature and without the initiation of force or fraud against person and/or property. If an individual owns themselves, and no other human being is permitted to initiate force or fraud against his/her person and/or property, then s/he is free to voluntarily choose with whom to associate."

There would be no libertarian, even statists such as minarchists, who would disagree with the above. Nonetheless, such a statement irks left-anarchists, who as previously stated desire a world without hierarchical relationships.

To a left-anarchist, the employer-employee relationship is "involuntary" because the employer dictates how resources are used and (supposedly) this results in the employee not being able to truly satisfy his needs. To a voluntaryist, such a claim doesn't seem entirely rational. Granted, it is true that employers control resources. This is their prerogative, since they are the party providing the job. Still, good employers would not necessarily make arbitrarily punitive demands of their employees, if they desired a happy, content and productive workforce.

I've studied theories of management, and one major point that I was taught was to care for the needs and wellbeing of your subordinates. If your subordinates are not happy in their roles, then they cannot be very productive. Also, a good manager accounts for the individual needs of an employee. For example, let's say that an employee was feeling depressed or otherwise had an affliction that affected his job performance. A good manager would account for this, and perhaps offer or arrange counselling for this employee. Gone are the days of satanic sweatshops, were employers are out to exploit their employees to the max. Theories of management have moved on greatly since then. No competent manager, in contemporary society, would forego the wellbeing and feelings of his subordinates since it would undermine the cohesiveness and stability of the organisation. Left-anarchists also fail to realise that people, in general, don't respond well to harsh treatment. A good employer would ensure that his employees are well treated. As always, and without spouting clich's, the market would sort things out.

The left-anarchist would probably retort by saying, "Ah, but I'm still subordinate to someone. How is that truly a voluntary relationship?" This is an interesting question, but in a voluntaryist society, no one has to work for an employer. Dictionary.com defines the word voluntary as:



1. done, made, brought about, undertaken, etc., of one's own accord or by free choice: a voluntary contribution.

2. of, pertaining to, or acting in accord with the will: voluntary co-operation.

3. of, pertaining to, or depending on voluntary action: voluntary hospitals.

4. Law.

a. acting or done without compulsion or obligation.

b. done by intention, and not by accident: voluntary manslaughter.

c. made without valuable consideration: a voluntary settlement.

5. Physiology. subject to or controlled by the will.

6. having the power of willing or choosing: a voluntary agent.

7. proceeding from a natural impulse; spontaneous: voluntary laughter.

As can be seen, definition #1 best suits the meaning I've used in this piece. As such, a left-anarchist could live without a hierarchical working relationship if he chose, since a voluntaryist society would allow him the means to undertake actions of one's own accord, without outside compulsion. If left-anarchists truly want to live in communes, then they should be perfectly free to do so. As sovereign individuals, they possess the means to determine how they live their lives and with whom to associate.

Our current economics

Ultimately, the left-anarchist fails to properly comprehend the economics of a voluntaryist society. Voluntaryist economics would far more resemble Austrian economics, more so than the current statist neo-classical economics model. Austrian economics is based upon the ideal of praxeology and human action, as opposed to econometrics, mathematics and the scientific method like mainstream economics. As such, Austrian economists wouldn't view an economic action as being "good" if it brought more wealth, but if it sustained human happiness. In general, Austrian economists reject the notions of economic growth and a continually growing Gross Domestic Product. So, in a voluntaryist society, a left-anarchist could get by simply by doing what makes him happy. Unlike our present statist society, there would be no overall emphasis on "growth" or the acquisition of more goods and services. Individual action, leading to human happiness, would be the key. But again, a left-anarchist might reply, "Ah, but how could communes compete with other businesses?" Well, what is stopping communes from trading with other people in the free society? If communes provided goods and services at a competitive price and of higher quality than others, then they would succeed. After all, the free market is based upon providing goods and services at prices that people are prepared to pay.


It seems to me that the left-anarchist is too ready to confuse voluntaryism with mainstream economics. Left-anarchists should realise that voluntaryists base our economic premises on different economic schools than statists do. As a consequence, we would swiftly advocate individual action as a primary economic motivator, above a collectivised push for more goods and services in our society. Left-anarchists should also realise that a voluntaryist society would not necessarily exclude them from achieving their own brand of happiness. All would be free to seek happiness in the free society, provided they respected the person and property of other human beings.

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Christopher Awuku's picture
Columns on STR: 26

Christopher Awuku lives in the UK and works in the voluntary/community sector.  He runs a market anarchist blog at http://chrislib.blogspot.com