What is a Voluntaryist?

A voluntaryist libertarian believes that all adult relationships should be voluntary.

A voluntary society is what results when you apply the Zero Aggression Principle (the ZAP) consistently. This means that institutions of governance must be…

The result is something we call consumer-controlled governance. In other words, citizens should have the power to withhold funding from government functions they disapprove of, or to choose another service provider.

Some libertarians disagree. They make exceptions to the Zero Aggression Principle. They argue that some legitimate government functions, such as police, courts, national defense, and pollution control, require taxation, though they still hope to limit those functions and taxes.

Voluntaryists believe this approach is both immoral and impractical. It’s immoral because it initiates force. It’s impractical because it…

  • Divorces government from the need to perform well.
  • Gives politicians vast powers that must inevitably expand.

This is why tax-funded government tends to be wasteful and inefficient. It’s also why tax-funded government constantly grows. There is no way to prevent this once you permit the power to initiate force. Thus…

Voluntaryists make NO exceptions to the ZAP. Force must never be initiated. Force must only be used defensively.

The voluntaryist thinks empathetically when evaluating all political proposals. We put ourselves in the shoes of those affected — not only those who would benefit from some coercive political proposal, but also those who would be harmed by it. We ask if we would want to be treated that way, and then act accordingly.

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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 DownsizeDC.org, Inc. He’s an author and former talk show host.
Previously, he was the President of RealCampaignReform.org, 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 23


  1. Non-aggression is essentially a Biblical precept. The foundation of ANY political philosophy is theological. As you know, the framers of the original Republic were heavily into Blackstone’s Commentaries, and Blackstone used Deuteronomy as a primary source.
    Trying to persuade people to become voluntaryists on non-aggressives when they have been steeped in Darwinian “survival of the fittest” philosophy introduces massive cognitive dissonance. Non-aggression is a MORAL position. It means libertarians should oppose on moral grounds “assisted suicide” and abortion and thimerosal-laced vaccines and toxic GMO food products. But my point is that we’re talking about libertarianism that seems to be free-floating. It isn’t. It must rest on theological moorings.

    1. Post

      Steve, I happen to be a believer. I agree that non-aggression is consistent with a Biblical view. But I want to encourage you to think about this more broadly. The co-creator of this project is not a believer. I would prefer him in civic office over the majority of professing believers. He will not initiate force against you. On the other hand, most modern believers would. Darwin has absolutely nothing to do with this. Nearly everyone recognizes the importance of the Golden Rule. Nearly everyone acts like a libertarian, in their daily dealings — that is, they don’t go around hitting people or stealing or breaking their stuff, to get what they want.
      No matter how you believe we came to be, the fact is that the human design includes Empathy. Mirror neurons in the brain are one of the tools we use to put ourselves in the shoes of another. It is from our empathy that we recognize and feel the joy or pain of another. It is empathy that makes our rights possible. The greater the empathy, the greater the protection of our rights. Now, I happen to believe it was God’s plan to make us in His image, regardless of the process that is our natural history. Empathy, in my opinion, is an aspect of the Imago Dei, and I doubt you’d disagree. But we needn’t part ways with valuable allies over the Original Source. Anyone can, for whatever reasons they choose, embrace the Zero Aggression Principle. Like you, they have the tools to see the pain of others, when coercive force is applied. Like you, they can be emotionally and logically moved resist initiated force. And I thank God they do.
      I encourage you to check-out these entries, elsewhere on the site.

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  3. I’m curious about the origin of the construction “voluntaryist” vis-a-vis what seems to me a less clumsy and more easily pronounced, “voluntarist”. What was the reason for choosing the former?

    1. Post

      Paul, A) It comes from Auberon Herbert, who apparently used it similar to the way we’re using it. B) Voluntarist already exists. In action, it has to do with being active in chartiable causes. It also has a philosophical history, having to do with the role of “will.” C) There were libertarians already using it. For example, it’s popular in New Hampshire, within the Free State Project. D) We felt the word was open enough, at this point, that we’d be able to fill-in its definition, instead of having it defined by opportunists outside the cause.

      1. “Voluntaryism” is a muddle of a term.
        One could make a plausible claim that it originated in the political dialog concerning the separation of church and state prior to the 19th century. As for Auberon Herbert, he never claimed to be an anarchist, surely because he wanted government to have a monopoly on the defensive use of force. And some of those in the Free State Project who use the term to identify themselves are really full-time protesters, hard to take seriously. Then, not mentioned by you, is the claim on the term by Wendy McElroy, who thinks that having a public library card is contrary to “voluntaryist” principles.
        So there you have four very disparate meanings for this thing which is forever confounded (vide supra) with the common-sense meaning of “voluntary.”Before you can begin any discussion, you have to hack away all this shrubbery! Ugh!

        1. Post

          Fortunately, the shrubbery is small. These figures are part of the very definition of internecine. This word really does not have wide circulation. It’s practically a neologism. I’m sorry it grates on you so, but I think we’ve already covered all of this ground, and to a solution no less!

          1. OK, I’m going to lie politely and say that this ugly baby named “voluntaryism” is the handsome brother of “libertarianism.”
            I’m thinking here of “pragmaticism,” cooked up by the great American philosopher C.S. Peirce to distinguish what he meant by “pragmatism.” He thought the term a very ugly baby, but thus “safe from kidnappers.”
            But what grates on me is that everybody wants to adopt it! Argh!

          2. Hi Terry. I’m not sure why you think it is ugly, but also the handsome brother of libertarianism. That’s a bit confusing. But there is something to your “safe from kidnappers” assertion. Abstract terms like liberal and libertarianism can be stolen and made to mean the opposite of what they originally meant. This is much harder to do with a concrete term like voluntaryist or voluntaryism. Something is either voluntary, or it is not. It’s hard to pervert that.

        2. Post

          BTW, I vote sometimes. I have a library card. And I’d vote to end all taxpayer subsidy of the library.

  4. As a Founder, while I strongly agree with ZAP, I just as strongly disagree with the term “voluntaryism,” in the sense of “a whole life, whole family philosophy” that is indistinguishable from complete political inertia. I dilate upon these distinctions here: http://www.chineseimperium.com/essaysPending/VoluntaryismAnnihilation.htm
    “Voluntaryism” in this sense pretends that by doing absolutely nothing, a new dawn shall break where all political conflicts are magically resolved, where tortfeasors lie down beside their injured parties, where property conflicts are replaced by the fluttering of butterflies and the warbling of songbirds. In short, it bestows a moral crown upon the deadly sin of sloth.

    1. Post

      Terry, Words are hard. Every term has baggage, mediated entirely through the hearer. In the end, nothing is perfect or precise. Trust me. We’ve taken heat for EVERY single decision we’ve made. So be it. Suffice it to say, I think your very poetic definition says something we clearly don’t mean. In FACT, I would encourage you to re-read what WE wrote above, because we address governance and defensive force, both positively (and elsewhere on the site, as well). As far as engagement in the process goes, we continue to operate http://www.DownsizeDC.org

      1. And long may you and the ZeroAggressionProject reign!
        I think that your use of the term “voluntaryism” is somewhat idiosyncratic, but if you adopt it as a shorthand term for “the principle of not initiating force in any interchange,” I guess I will hold my nose and go along with it. But I still don’t think that libertarianism or anarchism are in any intellectual debt to its more common meaning.

        1. Post

          Thank you, Terry. I am fine with being idiosyncratic. I would like it even better if my definition came to be the commonly understood definition of the word. And that’s our intent.

  5. If the Free Keene project people are voluntaryists, I would want nothing to do with such a movement. The Free Keene people voluntarily moved into a society that had decided it wanted the rules already in place. These so-called voluntaryists are trying to force the people that have lived there their whole life to accept voluntaryism. So let me ask, who is using force?

  6. I typed this once before and it did not go through.
    The Free Keene group uses this term, voluntaryist. If that is truly what a Voluntaryist is, then I hope there are very few people that actually become them.
    This Free Keene group of Volutaryist, voluntarily move to a society that has voluntarily grouped together to make laws that those people have agreed is good for them. These Free Keeners are trying to FORCE the existing inhabitants to accept voluntaryism. The Free Keeners are trying to FORCE them to accept the free keeners morals. The free keeners volunteered to move into a society that does not want what they are smoking, so the polite thing for the free keeners to do is to free keene of themselves.
    Voluntaryism will never work because it is not a biblical system. God gave the government the sword to punish the evil doer and praise the good. The more we move away from God’s morals, the more tyranny we will get. You either govern yourself or you will be governed.
    Unfortunately true freedom lovers like myself will have to live in even more tyranny because of people like the free keeners who think they can run around naked and the rest of us should accept it. If they think running around naked does not harm anyone else, then the simple fact that they are forcing their low moral standard on the rest of us should make them stop.
    Society has a right to defend the morals that the society has adopted, for someone else to come along and break that is not voluntaryism, it is force.

  7. In what I think is a vain attempt to clarify the meaning of “voluntaryism,” there have been several references by Project members to Auberon Herbert. As I have said elsewhere [http://www.chineseimperium.com/essaysPending/VoluntaryismAnnihilation.htm], Herbert explicitly rejected anarchism and embraced government as a monopoly of the defensive use of force. This definition of voluntaryism, as anyone can see, is totally muddled and useless: To the extent to which it is a monopoly, government can never be defensive.
    This term “voluntaryism” has made NO contribution to anarchist or libertarian thought, and serves only to mislead and confuse (see its use by cranks, above, “Free Keene project”). I sincerely wish that Jim Babka and the ZAP team would reconsider using it anywhere to describe the valuable and energetic efforts they are making for a free society. Doing so only diminishes their effort.

  8. Sorry, but I vehemently disagree with the concept of “must rest on theological moorings.” This notion that religion and morality are one in the same, that a non-religious person cannot understand right from wrong, is just one of the many ways that religion controls people. Religion is just another form of statism, plain and simple. One need only look at what religion has done in this world to see that the claim of morality is a claim and nothing more.
    I do agree that statism has theological roots, but that is also where the worst aspects of statism originate. This notion that ‘we are in charge and you will do what you’re told because God says so’ is what has led us to the society that we are burdened with today.

    1. Dean,
      Religion and Morality are definitely not one in the same, that is a true statement.
      But, on what basis does someone without religion decide right and wrong? Morals are essentially right from wrong and without assuming an all powerful being that has declared what right and wrong is as the God of the Bible has done, everyone is free to come up with their own set of right and wrong. You can come up your idea that “everything should be voluntary” and I could equally come up with “Might makes Right”. Your idea has no basis as being superior to mine unless you use your force to make me except your maxim. In the end without the Bible, all you will get is Might makes Right, because the mighty without religion will always use the might to their own good.
      But since God actually created the universe, He gets to make the rules and decide right and wrong. The laws of the Bible are just, they are just not applied in our society. Instead we victimize the victim twice. First the thief steals from the victim and then the victim has to pay to feed, clothe and shelter the thief while the thief is in prison. The Bible requires restitution for the theft.
      You can’t be convicted except in the face of two or three witnesses is a Biblical thing.
      Murder is wrong – from the Bible
      Theft is wrong – from the BIble
      breaking of the marriage contract is wrong – from the Bible
      The only way for an atheist to have morals is to borrow from the Biblical system.

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