Thursday, June 16, 2011

Voluntaryists, What’s Your Story?

As readers of this blog already know, I wrote an essay describing my personal path to libertarianism and then more specifically to voluntaryism called A Self-Educated Chicken.

Now Carl Watner has recently completed the first part of his own personal path to libertarianism. He was specifically drawn to write down his story after reading Walter Block’s I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians (2010). Although Carl highly recommends this book, he does say this:

“Mildly irked by the absence of any significant number of voluntaryists, and pleased by the opportunity to discover what environmental and/or hereditary factors have influenced others, I determined to write down my own story of how I became a libertarian.”

Carl wants you to do the same. How did you become a libertarian? When did you start identifying more specifically as a voluntaryist?

Maybe you experienced what politics is like early on, like Carl did when he served as his 9th grade class president for the 1962-63 school year and swore to never hold elected office again.

Maybe you accidentally found something interesting, like Carl did when he flipped through his father’s Wall Street Journal and read a 1963 editorial about a guy by the name of Ludwig von Mises.

Maybe someone gave you an interesting book to read, like Carl’s mother did when she gave him a copy of Atlas Shrugged in the summer of 1963.

So this is a call out to all voluntaryists out there. What’s your story?

Carl would like to compile as many stories as he can gather of voluntaryists telling the story of their individual paths to liberty.

Your story doesn’t have to be long. Just a few paragraphs will do if that’s all you want to write. (Of course you are free to write more if you want.)

So, come on, please take a minute to share your story so we can all discover the various ways individuals have reached the conclusion that humanity is best served when our interactions are through voluntary means rather than force.

Email your stories to Carl here: voluntaryist (@)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Voluntaryist Issue 19: Miscellaneous Mutterings

Up to now, I think I have taken nearly every item in each issue of The Voluntaryist and written a post exclusively for that item. However now that summer is here and I’m well into my bicycle riding stupor days again, I’ve realized at the rate I’m going, I’ll never get this project done if I continue in this manner. Particularly since Carl continues to churn out issues as I go!

I started last August and am now on Issue 19. If I get finished with Issue 20 by this August that’s 20 issues a year and at that rate I’ll be doing this for 7 and ½ years. And that’s only counting what’s been published so far. I am enjoying this project but I’m not sure I want to do it for 7 more years.

So from now on, I may just pick one item to post about separately and then post another entry that consists of the other items in an issue. I guess that means I’ll pick the one that interested me the most, or hits me in particular in some way.

At any rate, I hope to be moving at a faster pace through the issues. Below is a compilation of comments on the rest of the items in Issue 19.

The Value of Institutions

In Issue 19 Carl Watner reviews a book by Butler Shaffer, Calculated Chaos, Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.

Butler Shaffer is a law professor at Southwestern Law School and before reading this issue of The Voluntaryist, I had already read many articles he penned on I clearly remember, after reading only one or two, that his viewpoint resonated with me so much that I clicked the archive button to see all of his writings.

And in this review Carl mentions that Professor Shaffer was an instructor in the Freedom School, which we’ve discussed here before. No wonder I found his writings so intriguing and interesting. (Sometimes I feel like I’m putting together a puzzle of people promoting a voluntary society.)

But back to Carl’s review of Shaffer’s book. This book is about institutions and their effect on human interaction. Apparently, Shaffer is no fan of institutions in general. Carl is somewhat neutral on the value of institutions and as you might expect, the important consideration for Carl is whether or not the institution is of a voluntary nature. In the end Carl recommends the book and leaves it for each reader to decide whether or not even voluntary institutions are valuable.

Coffee Communism?

Issue 19 reprints an article that was published in 1986 in The Wall Street Journal. “Who Makes the Coffee in Your Office?” was written by Jane S. Shaw and she describes what happened in an office where she worked after the company decided to supply free coffee to the employees.

Microfiche: Lost In Technology?

This issue contains an article, “A Modest Revolutionary Proposal: John Zube and Microfiche,” where the benefits of microfiche are touted as a way to store and disseminate information. Although I believe microfiche is still being used as a way to store data, I wonder how useful it will be now that pages can be directly scanned right onto a computer. This article does contain some interesting points on how it is getting easier and easier to spread information and ideas, which we all hope will one day lead to an improved society, one that understand voluntary interactions are the best means of human interaction.

L. Neil Smith’s “A New Covenant”

Finally this issue contains a document that libertarian science fiction writer L. Neil Smith sent to Carl. It’s titled “A New Covenant,” and seems to be Smith’s attempt to write a document of libertarian principles.

Unfortunately in 2010 this document became part of a strange controversy when The Shire Society, a group of people in New Hampshire’s freedom movement used this document as a basis for creating their own covenant. It led to Smith accusing them of stealing his property which led to the issue of copyright and intellectual property rights. To see a link-filled history of this controversy, go to this link at

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Political Legitimacy: The Appearance of Goodness

Issue 19 of The Voluntaryist, dated June 1986, begins with the feature article “Legitimacy and Elections.” This piece, written by Theodore J. Lowi, a professor at Cornell University, was originally published in The Baltimore Sun.

The current event trigger for this article was Ferdinand Marcos’ struggle to maintain his power in the Philippines. He desperately needed legitimacy. But what does legitimacy mean? Here’s what Mr. Lowi has to say about it:

“First of all, legitimacy is not mere popularity, although popularity helps. Legitimacy is not mere acceptance; acceptance is an outcome of legitimacy. Legitimacy is not the mere absence of disorder, although the presence of disorder can be taken as an indication of illegitimacy. And legitimacy is not the same as goodness or virtue, but that does point us in the right direction: Legitimacy is the next best thing to being good or virtuous. Legitimacy is the appearance of goodness.

In government, legitimacy is the establishment among the people of a sense of consistency between government actions and some higher principles that the people already accept. Because appearing to be good is easier to accomplish than being good, we tend to speak of legitimacy rather than of goodness in government.”

I’ve been thinking about this idea of goodness in relation to legitimacy and voting and it does help explain beliefs surrounding the idea of voting. People who vote are considered “good.” They are “good” people, performing their “civic duty” by this form of participation in government which of course means that the government they vote for must also be "good." No one who votes could ever think of the government as something "bad."

Many don’t want felons, the “bad” people, to be able to vote. This makes sense because that would dilute the appearance of the goodness of it all.

However, there have been moves in states to change this and give felons the right to vote. Why do you think government officials are willing to do this? Certainly it means more people available to bribe in order to get more votes in general for any individual candidate, but could it also be the need to keep the voting numbers up in order to keep up the appearance of legitimacy?

Then we have more "bad" people, the nonvoters. They are very troublesome to those who want to maintain our government’s legitimacy which is why we see “get out the vote” campaigns. Presenting the message that it doesn’t matter who you vote for just as long as you vote is a clear attempt to maintain legitimacy. (There are many people who say this who don’t really think too much about it though, they are just being the “good” citizen and parroting the message.)

There is one voting option that I don’t think the rulers would ever go for though, even if it creates more voters and that is a “none of the above” option. That would just careen too close to the cliff of losing legitimacy. I’m sure it would scare the bejeezus out of them to have a “none of the above” option after doing a strong get out the vote campaign.

Of course the push to get nonvoters to vote doesn't work on everyone so government supporters still have to figure out what to say about them so they are automatically considered to be apathetic. Apathy is an important characteristic to attach to these folks because it implies that they are willing to accept any of the candidates and this gets us right back to legitimacy.

This is why I think it’s important for those who don’t vote for principled reasons to say so. I will no longer voluntarily trudge down to the voting booth because I don’t want to legitimize a system that depends on the acceptance of the initiation of force upon my neighbors.

To me, that’s just not a “good” thing to do at all.