Voluntaryism (UK: /ˈvɒləntərɪˌɪzəm/, US:
/ˈvɒləntɛriˌɪzəm/; sometimes voluntarism
/ˈvɒləntəˌrɪzəm/) is a philosophy which holds that all
forms of human association should be voluntary, a term coined in this
Auberon Herbert in the 19th century, and gaining renewed use
since the late 20th century, especially among libertarians. Its
principal beliefs stem from the non-aggression principle.
1.1 Movements identifying as voluntaryist
1.1.1 Seventeenth century
1.1.2 Nineteenth century
1.2 Modern era voluntaryists
2 See also
4 Further reading
5 External links
Movements identifying as voluntaryist
Precursors to the voluntaryist movement had a long tradition in the
English-speaking world, at least as far back as the
of mid-seventeenth century England. The
Leveller spokesmen John
Lilburne (c. 1614–1657) and Richard Overton (c. 1600 – c. 1660s)
who "clashed with the Presbyterian puritans, who wanted to preserve a
state-church with coercive powers and to deny liberty of worship to
the puritan sects." The Levellers were nonconformist in religion
and advocated for the separation of church and state. The church to
their way of thinking was a voluntary associating of equals, and
furnished a theoretical and practical model for the civil state. If it
was proper for their church congregations to be based on consent, then
it was proper to apply the same principle of consent to its secular
counterpart. For example, the
Leveller 'large' Petition of 1647
contained a proposal "that tythes and all other inforced maintenances,
may be for ever abolished, and nothing in place thereof imposed, but
that all Ministers may be payd only by those who voluntarily choose
them, and contract with them for their labours." The Levellers also
held to the idea of self-proprietorship.
In 1843, Parliament considered legislation which would require
part-time compulsory attendance at school of those children working in
factories. The effective control over these schools was to be placed
in the hands of the established Church of England, and the schools
were to be supported largely from funds raised out of local taxation.
Baptists and Congregationalists, became
alarmed. They had been under the ban of the law for more than a
century. At one time or another they could not be married in their own
churches, were compelled to pay church rates against their will, and
had to teach their children underground for fear of arrest. They
became known as voluntaryists because they consistently rejected all
state aid and interference in education, just as they rejected the
state in the religious sphere of their lives. Some of the most notable
voluntaryists included the young
Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), who
published his first series of articles "The Proper Sphere of
Government," beginning in 1842; his supporter Auberon Herbert, who
coined the modern usage of "Voluntaryist" and established its current
definition; Edward Baines, Jr., (1800–1890) editor and proprietor of
the Leeds Mercury; and
Edward Miall (1809–1881), Congregationalist
minister, and founder-editor of The Nonconformist (1841), who wrote
Views of the Voluntary Principle (1845).
The educational voluntaryists wanted free trade in education, just as
they supported free trade in corn or cotton. Their concern for
"liberty can scarcely be exaggerated." They believed that "government
would employ education for its own ends" (teaching habits of obedience
and indoctrination), and that government-controlled schools would
ultimately teach children to rely on the State for all things. Baines,
for example, noted that "[w]e cannot violate the principles of liberty
in regard to education without furnishing at once a precedent and
inducement to violate them in regard to other matters." Baines
conceded that the then current system of education (both private and
charitable) had deficiencies, but he argued that freedom should not be
abridged on that account. Should freedom of the press be compromised
because we have bad newspapers? "I maintain that
Liberty is the chief
cause of excellence; but it would cease to be
Liberty if you
proscribed everything inferior." The Congregational Board of
Education and the Baptist Voluntary Education Society are usually
given pride of place among the Voluntaryists.
In southern Africa, voluntaryism in religious matters was an important
part of the liberal "Responsible Government" movement of the mid-19th
century, along with support for multi-racial democracy and an
opposition to British imperial control. The movement was driven by
powerful local leaders such as
Saul Solomon and John Molteno, and when
it briefly gained power it disestablished the state-supported churches
Although there was never an explicitly voluntaryist movement in
America until the late 20th century, earlier Americans did agitate for
the disestablishment of government-supported churches in several of
the original thirteen states. These conscientious objectors believed
mere birth in a given geographic area did not mean that one consented
to membership or automatically wished to support a state church. Their
objection to taxation in support of the church was two-fold: taxation
not only gave the state some right of control over the church; it also
represented a way of coercing the non-member or the unbeliever into
supporting the church. In New England, where both Massachusetts and
Connecticut started out with state churches, many people believed that
they needed to pay a tax for the general support of religion – for
the same reasons they paid taxes to maintain the roads and the courts.
There were at least two well-known Americans who espoused voluntaryist
causes during the mid-19th century. Henry David Thoreau's
(1817–1862) first brush with the law in his home state of
Massachusetts came in 1838, when he turned twenty-one. The State
demanded that he pay the one dollar ministerial tax, in support of a
clergyman, "whose preaching my father attended but never I myself."
When Thoreau refused to pay the tax, it was probably paid by one of
his aunts. In order to avoid the ministerial tax in the future,
Thoreau had to sign an affidavit attesting he was not a member of the
Thoreau's overnight imprisonment for his failure to pay another
municipal tax, the poll tax, to the town of Concord was recorded in
his essay, "Resistance to Civil Government," first published in 1849.
It is often referred to as "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,"
because in it he concluded that government was dependent on the
cooperation of its citizens. While he was not a thoroughly consistent
voluntaryist, he did write that he wished never to "rely on the
protection of the state," and that he refused to tender it his
allegiance so long as it supported slavery. He distinguished himself
from "those who call[ed] themselves no-government men": "I ask for,
not at once no government, but at once a better government," but this
has been interpreted as a gradualist, rather than minarchist,
stance given that he also opened his essay by stating his belief
that "That government is best which governs not at all," a point which
all voluntaryists heartily embrace.
One of those "no-government men" was William Lloyd Garrison
(1805–1879), famous abolitionist and publisher of The Liberator.
Nearly all abolitionists identified with the self-ownership principle,
that each person – as an individual – owned and should control his
or her own mind and body free of outside coercive interference. The
abolitionist called for the immediate and unconditional cessation of
slavery because they saw slavery as man-stealing in its most direct
and worst form. Slavery reflected the theft of a person's
self-ownership rights. The slave was a chattel with no rights of its
own. The abolitionists realized that each human being, without
exception, was naturally invested with sovereignty over him or her
self and that no one could exercise forcible control over another
without breaching the self-ownership principle. Garrison, too, was not
a pure voluntaryist for he supported the federal government's war
against the States from 1861 to 1865.
Another one was Charles Lane (1800–1870). He was friendly with Amos
Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thoreau. Between January and
June 1843 a series of nine letters he penned were published in such
abolitionist’s papers as The Liberator and The Herald of Freedom.
The title under which they were published was "A Voluntary Political
Government," and in them Lane described the state in terms of
institutionalized violence and referred to its "club law, its mere
brigand right of a strong arm, [supported] by guns and bayonets." He
saw the coercive state on par with "forced" Christianity. "Everyone
can see that the church is wrong when it comes to men with the [B]ible
in one hand, and the sword in the other." "Is it not equally
diabolical for the state to do so?" Lane believed that governmental
rule was only tolerated by public opinion because the fact was not yet
recognized that all the true purposes of the state could be carried
out on the voluntary principle, just as churches could be sustained
voluntarily. Reliance on the voluntary principle could only come about
through "kind, orderly, and moral means" that were consistent with the
totally voluntary society he was advocating. "Let us have a voluntary
State as well as a voluntary Church, and we may possibly then have
some claim to the appeallation of free men."
Modern era voluntaryists
Although use of the label "voluntaryist" waned after the death of
Auberon Herbert in 1906, its use was renewed in 1982, when George H.
Smith, Wendy McElroy, and Carl Watner began publishing The
Voluntaryist magazine. George Smith suggested use of the term to
identify those libertarians who believed that political action and
political parties (especially the
Libertarian Party) were antithetical
to their ideas. In their "Statement of Purpose" in Neither Bullets nor
Ballots: Essays on
Voluntaryism (1983), Watner, Smith, and McElroy
explained that voluntaryists were advocates of non-political
strategies to achieve a free society. They rejected electoral politics
"in theory and practice as incompatible with libertarian goals," and
argued that political methods invariably strengthen the legitimacy of
coercive governments. In concluding their "Statement of Purpose" they
wrote: "Voluntaryists seek instead to delegitimize the State through
education, and we advocate the withdrawal of the cooperation and tacit
consent on which state power ultimately depends."
John Zube is known for his support and
advocacy of voluntaryism. He began writing a series of articles
advocating voluntaryism in the 1980s.
Freedom of contract
Issues in anarchism
^ a b "Voluntaryism". Collins English Dictionary.
^ Not to be confused with political voluntarism as the political facet
of philosophical voluntarism, holding that political authority
emanates from a will.
^ a b c G. E. Aylmer (ed.) (1975). "The Levellers in the English
Revolution". Ithaca: Cornell University Press: 68, 80 CS1 maint:
Extra text: authors list (link)
George H. Smith (1982). "Nineteenth-Century Opponents of State
Education". In Robert B. Everhart. The Public School Monopoly.
Cambridge: Ballinger Publishing. pp. 109–44 at pp.
^ EAG Clark (1982). "The Last of the Voluntaryists: The Ragged School
Union in the School Board Era" (PDF). History of Education
^ Molteno, P. A. The Life and Times of John Charles Molteno.
Comprising a History of Representative Institutions and Responsible
Government at the Cape. London: Smith, Elder & Co., Waterloo
^ Solomon, W. E. C:
Saul Solomon – the Member for Cape Town. Cape
Town: Oxford University Press, 1948.
^ a b Thoreau, Henry David (1960). "Walden, or Life in the Wood and On
the Duty of Civil Disobedience, with an Afterword by Perry Miller".
New York: New American Library (Twenty-first printing): 33, 222–23,
^ Drinnon, Richard (1962). "Thoreau's Politics of the Upright Man".
The Massachusetts Review. JSTOR 25086956
^ Carl Watner, ed. (1982). A Voluntary Political Government: Letters
from Charles Lane. St. Paul: Michael E. Coughlin, Publisher.
^ "voluntaryist.com -". voluntaryist.com. Retrieved 18 March
Herbert, Auberon (1908). The Voluntaryist Creed: being the Herbert
Spencer lecture delivered at Oxford, June 7, 1906, and a plea for
voluntaryism. Oxford: Oxford University Press (
McElroy, Wendy (2008). "Voluntarism". In Hamowy, Ronald. The
Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications,
Cato Institute. p. 524. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n320.
ISBN 978-1-4129-6580-4. LCCN 2008009151.
Five Steps To Anarchy – What is Voluntaryism?
Center for a Stateless Society