The Voluntaryist Reader has published a response against my latest entry on voluntaryism, “Voluntaryism: it’s not just about capitalism…“, where I discuss the ramifications of voluntaryism beyond the economic realm.
There is a lot to unpack here, so let me now get into each of the points in turn.
This is puzzling since – as voluntaryists – we not only see voluntaryism as precisely the opposite, we actually define it as such. Voluntaryism is the opposition to aggression in any form, whether institutionalized or not. The only possibilities are that either a) we are terribly confused or b) we are devious liars.
What I actually said, and which he quoted right on the previous paragraph, is that voluntaryism supports “the institutionalized evils around us.” I think that’s a clear phrase: I am not talking about some deliberately vague and fluid concept of “aggression” but rather about institutional evils, whether (to borrow Galbraith’s classification in The Anatomy of Power) they involve condign power (coercion, aggression), compensatory power (economic incentives such as wages, subsidies, welfare), or conditioned power (schooling, the mass media, and in general the organization of society and its non-economic incentives).
The voluntaryist view stops at condign power and states that all other forms of power are irrelevant to freedom. This is a false view which can only lead to paradox: it really does not matter whether we do what we do because we are coerced to do so, because it’s what we must do to have the money to continue to live, or because we are conditioned to do so, we are still not free in any sense of “freedom” that matters to us.
The correct answer to the false dilemma posed here is that voluntaryists are not confused or devious liars. They do oppose “aggression.” The problem is that by opposing “aggression,” they are thereby supporting all “non-aggressive” institutional evils.
Tremblay says, “Voluntaryism … [followed] to its logical conclusion, … would say that, for instance, slave contracts should be allowed.” This is either a misunderstanding or a lie. Please, Mr. Tremblay, quote the voluntaryist – Herbert, Spencer, Tucker, Thoreau, Spooner, Nock, Chodorov, Rothbard, LeFevre – that ever said anything about slavery but that it is an odious evil, a scourge of mankind and a marring of man’s beautiful nature?
I never made the claim that any voluntaryist thinker (which would not include Tucker, who was a socialist, by the way; Spooner, on the other hand, is more of a limit case) has stated that slavery was a good thing. But certainly many of these people accepted the primacy of contracts against the primacy of human rights. I don’t know if Clayton shares this position, but there is nothing in the concept of voluntaryism that argues against it. After all, signing a contract without having a gun pointed to your head is a voluntary act, isn’t it? And indeed in the comments Clayton answered that he does believe that all contracts are voluntary by their very nature.
I have an entry in the queue called “Contract theory as an attack against human rights” which attacks voluntaryism on that basis. But until this argument has been made, I will simply say that either Clayton admits that slavery can be accepted contractually (as it was in the past with indentured servants, who were considered property), in which case he defeats himself, or he admits that slavery cannot be accepted contractually, in which case he must explain to us what concrete limit he imposes on contracts (which, according to him, are all voluntary) and why this limit is not an ad hoc rationalization. My guess is that he will impose some limit and that he will not be able to prove that it is not pure ad hoc.
How does he confirm any of these wild claims?
I am not sure why he thinks that what I wrote includes “wild claims.” The association of capitalists, “anarcho-capitalism,” Libertarianism, and liberals with voluntaryist ideas is not novel or controversial.
Now, I’m open to hearing an argument from the radical feminists or from Tremblay explaining exactly how it is that, say, femininity involves the use of force or fraud.
I’d say that the performance of womanhood is mostly the product of conditioned power, not condign power. No one is holding guns to women’s heads to force them to wear high heels. Therefore the evils of these industries must necessarily elude the narrow analysis of voluntaryists, who are only concerned with condign power.
Nevertheless, we strongly distinguish between bad values and bad attitudes – so long as they exist solely within the mind and peacefully spoken words of an individual – and force or fraud because the former is only properly answered with other words, whereas force and fraud – and only force and fraud – may be properly answered with force itself.
Again we see here the clear dichotomy between condign power and other forms of power in voluntaryist thought, made by Clayton himself. Force and fraud are more important than “bad values” and “bad attitudes,” which should only be answered with “other words.” Clayton omits to tell us when “other words” have ever alone succeeded in freeing people from “bad values” and “bad attitudes” which permeate an entire society to its core. Capitalism would have been gone a long time ago if that was the case.
Now, I might get this wrong, but I guess what Tremblay is saying, here, is that he thinks that voluntaryists hold that past aggression doesn’t matter in assessing whether present actions are aggressive or not. I would again challenge Tremblay to substantiate this: which voluntaryist I have named would hold that the slaveholder laws did not play a role in huddling slaves on the plantations, on the sure knowledge they would be wantonly punished by the authorities and their masters for attempting to escape to freedom?
I’m not sure what point Clayton think he is making here, but it’s not the same point that I’m making. My point is that actions which are considered voluntary in the present are actually often the result of institutionalized coercion in the past (i.e. you broke my legs in the past, and now you’re selling me crutches at inflated prices). Clayton’s examples, on the other hand, do not involve two different timeframes, and therefore are not relevant to the principle.
Needless to say, this is not capitalist thought, but recycled Marxist rhetoric desperately trying to jam capitalism into the narrative of class structure, status society and legal privilege. Capitalism has nothing to do with asceticism, in fact, quite the opposite. Nor does it have anything to do with rewarding self-denial.
I’m not sure where the Marxist label is coming from, but I was referring to the Misesian concept of time preference. Some Misesians argue that poor people are poor because they have high time preference and that entrepreneurs are rich because they have low time preference. I have demolished such beliefs before. But given the general importance of the concept of savings in capitalism, I am not sure why Clayton makes such a statement as “Capitalism has nothing to do with asceticism, in fact, quite the opposite,” implying that capitalism favors high time preference and hedonism. Personally, I don’t think time preference, whether high or low, has much to do with it.
Perhaps Clayton is implying that capitalist economics are similar to Marxism in that both are based on central planning, in which case I would agree, but I’m sure that’s not what he meant.
Now, it’s not even clear what Tremblay is trying to assert beyond denying free choice. If there is no free choice, then there is no moral responsibility. In other words, Tremblay should not condemn voluntaryists – or his understanding thereof – because, after all, we have no free choice in being voluntaryists, anyway. It’s just our genetics.
Now Clayton is lowering himself to pretty simplistic anti-determinist arguments, although he seems to be using them wrongly. I am not “condemning voluntaryists,” I am condemning voluntaryism. Of course I agree that voluntaryists have no “choice” in the matter. So what? What is the relevance of this truism to a discussion on whether voluntaryism supports institutional evils?
But Tremblay pushes on to exasperating extremes, “all personal problems are ultimately the result of institutional failures.” Yes, no one ever makes mistakes that they can and should learn from. No one can ever do with a little dose of sleeping in the bed they’ve made for themselves.
Again, in a reoccurring theme for this entry, Clayton seems to be confused or is not explaining the steps that lead from one proposition to the other. I agree that “all personal problems are ultimately the result of institutional failures” (and fail to see what’s “exasperating” about such a conclusion, unless one has a preexisting bias against naturalistic explanations). I disagree that “no one ever makes mistakes” or that no one should regret what they’ve done. How Clayton gets from one to the other is beyond me.
People have to deal with our institutions in the best way they can, and they can make mistakes in doing so (for example, one may mismanage money or attract the attention of cops). They may regret such mistakes. They may learn how to better deal with institutional evils. It is a skill like any other.
The confusion here may come from my use of “ultimately.” I am not saying that every personal problem is the direct and immediate result of some institutional failure. For example, social inequality does not directly and immediately break people’s legs or give them heart attacks. But it is understood that social inequality worsens health care outcomes as a whole, and thus that social inequality is ultimately one cause of bad health care outcomes.
But the difference between theodicy and subjective valuation should be obvious. God, in his role as the causer and determiner of all events, is not merely one who wishes or assays to alter the state of affairs – as a human being – but, rather, is one who brings about without fail this or that state of affairs. The individual person, on the other hand, may form whatever desires or wishes he pleases. And while we are free to answer and criticize these desires with reasons and arguments, we are not free to answer them with force. That is, not if we hope to have a society of flourishing individuals.
Again, I have no idea what this has to do with my initial point that divine subjectivism is similar to voluntaryist subjectivism. In fact, Clayton seems to be merely confirming the validity of my argument in proposing that divine intervention “brings about without fail this or that state of affairs,” which we assume includes ethical facts as well, making them entirely subjective.
Here, Tremblay has almost got the truth. To argue against freedom in the small is to argue against freedom in the large. And while coercion in the large (systematized coercion) does, in fact, result in actual coercion in the small that can appear to be voluntary (such as needing to get a driver’s license “in order to drive”), the reactionist view of denying freedom in the small is simply to shoot oneself in the foot.
I think that now Clayton has confused himself as well. He seems to be equivocating between “freedom” as in the freedom given to us by making “choices” and “freedom” as in political freedom. At least it’s the only way for me to understand the statement that I am “denying freedom [I assume, “choice”] in the small.” If Clayton did not mean to label me a “reactionist” (does he mean “reactionary”? and does he understand that what this actually means is the exact opposite of what he means?), then I have no idea at all what this paragraph is supposed to mean.
This entry is a big mess, and there is a lot of confused reasoning here, or at least reasoning that appears confused. Perhaps Clayton will clarify those for me.
I’ve already explained at length why I think voluntaryism’s insistence on only addressing condign power leads to the support of institutional evils. Because democracy is based heavily on other kinds of power (in Galbraith’s classification, compensatory and conditioned), voluntaryism is therefore less and less relevant as an ideology as the capital-democratic system keeps expanding its power and reach, and becomes more and more a support of those non-condign evils.
This is why voluntaryism today is a prominent enemy of freedom, not as an ideology (where it is mostly irrelevant) but as the vague, implicit support for various arguments coming from many different factions. Voluntaryism defends capitalism and democracy in their broad lines, although voluntaryists may object to some of their features or argue that we should fight them “with words,” which basically amounts to treating issues vital to freedom as mere differences of opinion. Quips like “it’s my body,” “it’s my property so I can do what I want,” “you agreed to a contract” and “that’s what people voted for” are used to quell dissent on a wide variety of subjects. By exposing voluntaryism itself, I hope to show people how to undo the premises which underlie these false arguments, and help bolster dissent against institutional evils.
In the end, I think Clayton has done little but bolstered my arguments by further exposing the coercive/non-coercive dichotomy at the core of voluntaryism. The more people see this kind of reasoning, the more they’ll understand that voluntaryism is a very blinkered worldview which does nothing to answer most of our present time problems. And that can only be a good thing, because it’ll accelerate the process of people talking about the systemic features of our societies which actually do sustain our present time problems, features (like private property, the free market, the Patriarchy, and hierarchies in general) which voluntaryists support with their self-righteous rhetoric.