Can a voluntaryist be a gradualist?

The “Fabian” approach is gradualist persistence. You have a long-range goal, and you relentlessly plow forward with reformist steps.

The term comes from the socialist Fabian Society whose logo was the tortoise. They drew their name from a Roman general, Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus. He was surnamed Cunctator which means “delayer.” He devised battle tactics that today we’d call “guerilla warfare.”

Fabian tortoise

Indeed, socialism, more accurately left-statism, didn’t come overnight. It crept over society, gradually.

A Fabian libertarian would maintain the ultimate objective of a zero aggression society, but would also seek and embrace small opportunities to move in that direction. That is…

You fight for reform. You win, and you celebrate. Then, you get up the next morning and fight for the next reform that takes you further to your goal. Your strategies will include…

  • Increasing choice
  • Creating opt-out policies
  • Deregulating
  • Decentralizing
  • Privatization

In recent years, gun owners (starting with concealed carry laws) and marijuana advocates (starting with medical marijuana) have used a Fabian approach to take small steps that build toward their ultimate goal.

Warning: There’s a pitfall to avoid.

Not all reforms that move in a libertarian direction are actually paving the way to post-statism. Some schemes are temporary improvements but also dead ends — they impede further progress towards a post-statist society.

An example is school vouchers. This reform is dramatic. It increases choice, opt-out, decentralization, and privatization. Sounds like a home run, right? But it also means that…

  1. The State remains the central funder of schooling services. Voluntary and truly private options remain at a huge disadvantage to compete unless they start taking tax-funding (in the form of the vouchers). But doing so makes them no longer truly voluntary.
  2. Recipients of the funding will become a well-organized lobby, seeking ever-increasing levels of taxpayer support.
  3. Politicians can get their tentacles into formerly non-state schools because tax funds are paying the tuition.

Vouchers, then, are not Fabian, but rather are a dead-end that impedes rather than advances our ultimate goal of building a post-statist society, where all governance functions are voluntary, consumer-controlled services.

Perry Willis

About the Author

Perry Willis

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Perry Willis is the co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and Downsize DC. He was the National Director of the Libertarian National Committee on two occasions, and ran two Libertarian Party presidential campaigns. He has an extensive background in marketing and fundraising, and has ghost written direct mail appeals for numerous luminaries, including Karl Hess, Ron Paul, Charlton Heston and Harry Browne.

Jim Babka

About the Author

Jim Babka

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Jim Babka is co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and President of, Inc. He’s an author and former talk show host.
Previously, he was the President of, Inc., defending free press rights all the way to the Supreme Court. He and Susie are the proud, home-schooling parents of three teenagers. He enjoys theology, UFC, target practice, and Tai Chi.

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Show Comments 3


  1. Good article!

    One of my reasons for rejecting gradualism is that it is likely (IMO) that a point would be reached that sufficient bureaucracy and tyranny would be removed that the majority would become content and would feel no need to move further. If this happens before there are a sufficient number of libertarians to peacefully abolish the state then ‘tyranny lite’ will remain long-term.

    Although I genuinely do not wish this on my statist cousins, it might be better if there were more draconian legislation, not less, such that there were widespread calls for change.

    The other reason is that I will not compromise on principles. The state enacts all its edicts under the real threat of violence to persons and property. While I might hail the state machine only murdering 98 people instead of 100 people as a step in the right direction, I cannot support a state that murders even one person any more than I can support an individual murderer that murders one person.

    If there were 100 people lined up in front of a firing squad and the commander told me I could save any 2, my answer would be to save all of them and his reaction would be his responsibility. I could not say to each of the other 98, “It is OK by me if they shoot you, but not those 2”.

  2. It is impossible to attain a voluntaryist society by any means other than gradualism. The prevailing statist model of self-governance imposes violence upon us all, as if it were normal, and indeed, pretends it to be normal.

    Recently there was a discussion on these pages about the distinction between Residence and Citizenship. In a 100%-Voluntaryist world, Citizenship would be a meaningless concept, as there would be no state, hence no purpose for anyone to be a Citizen of a state.

    The existence of states is what creates the necessity of Citizenship. There must be exclusionary rules, defining who is subject to a State, and who is not subject to that State. Typically the exclusion was done geographically, by placing a boundary between land ruled by one State and land ruled by a different State. In law, the principle of Comity was granted by States to neighboring States, assuming that the legal process of a neighboring State had some meaning worldwide that deserved enforcing. Two States at peace with one another might mutually agree to engage in violence against people, such as Arrest, Trial, and Extradition, (if a person was charged by one State with a crime but turned up in the neighboring State, that State would extradite the person back home to face trial). However the two States would not long remain at peace, if officers of one State could enter the other State and engage in violence there.

    It’s for this reason alone that Citizenship laws exist, enabling those who temporarily visit the territory of a foreign State to do their business there and then peaceably leave it, but giving those temporary visitors no obligations to pay taxes to defend the foreign State. The officer of a State must be one of it’s Citizens, for he uses force on that State’s behalf.

    To create a world that’s less violent, requires two simultaneous efforts. We must make the State in which we live, less violent. And we must also encourage the people of foreign States, to make their States less violent.

  3. Gradualism is tricky. It may be justified or it may be an excuse used for dissipating political action uselessly or delaying it forever. In my experience (I’m 76 and joined the LP in ’73) I have found the gradualist approach to be counter-productive.
    In ’75 the LP convention in NY was buzzing with discussion about what our central theme or approach should be. At that time a groundswell of anti-income tax sentiment was sweeping the nation. It started outside the LP/libertarianism in general. Liberals and conservatives were very unhappy with the IRS/Income Tax. I attended a convention of 1000 Tax Protesters in ’71 at San Deigo. It was almost all conservative. I met Carl Bray, a libertarian and feathered speaker there. He had a radio talk show in Ogden, UT. He touring the US giving talks to inspire a tax revolt/resistance and was growing more popular by the month.
    At the NY LP convention he was very popular and expected by many to speak on the anti-income tax movement. I was pushing for tax resistance to be our central theme during the Presidental campaign. Carl was excited about that also and wanted to help. He was asked to attend a secret meeting with all the LP luminaries. He told me in confidence (I had become a close friend) that they asked him to be quiet and drop the tax issue. They told him the timing was not right and they would support him/tax revolt later. Of course, that didn’t happen. And the LP leaders couldn’t have been more wrong.
    With “friends” like that, libertarians don’t need enemies, we will self-destruct. Many times I heard a strategy for liberty criticized for being “too extreme”. A more popular, more gradualist approach replaced it. And failed.
    When I hear about a movement to legalize pot I speak against it. We legalized alcohol instead of abolishing all laws on drugs “on principle” and now we have the FDA and strict regulation of a right.

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