Answering Voluntaryism’s Critics: Round Two

What What / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Francois Tremblay has responded to Voluntaryist Reader’s challenge. Needless to say, there’s a lot to disagree with, here. To start off, he tries to strawman voluntaryism:

The voluntaryist view stops at condign power and states that all other forms of power are irrelevant to freedom.

What voluntaryist ever said this? Any form of force or fraud – even if disguised, even if systematized – is “on the table” to be answered with force, if necessary.

He moves on to criticize voluntaryism but ends up apparently agreeing with voluntaryism, as far as I can tell:

… market exchange, being based on power imbalance, is itself a “manipulation” of people’s values and desires.

I don’t know what “market exchange” is as against simple exchange, but what voluntaryist has ever said that exchange in the present order is free of manipulation? Quite the opposite. The entire system is rotten at its very core – the Federal Reserve has corrupted the single most important and universal good in the economy, money. The law monopoly prevents people from forming or abandoning agreements as they see fit, interfering into the voluntary choices of individuals and presuming to know better than the parties to an agreement what their own interests are. The security monopolies render every citizen virtually helpless against the money and law monopolies. And the ecosystem of regulation-favored cartels, corporate lobbyists and crony capitalists that has grown up around this Iron Triangle force out would-be competitors who do not have access to the artificially large capitalization required to enter the market.

But on this point, we agree. Once the first inch of systematized aggression has been tolerated, the entire social order becomes infused with it – every interaction is tainted with the manipulation of the State and its enablers and cronies in the media and the corporate power complex. What, exactly, is Tremblay refuting here?

Next, Tremblay commits a simple error of logic:

by opposing “aggression,” they are thereby supporting all “non-aggressive” institutional evils.

“I don’t support X” does not imply “I support all non-X.”

Tremblay goes on to invoke the human rights boogey-man and suggest that they can somehow be opposed to contract:

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 ‘believe’ that a contract is voluntary in the same way that I ‘believe’ that a bachelor is an unmarried man – the relationship is definitional. Furthermore, to pit “contracts against… human rights” is nonsense. The word contract simply means “an agreement”. While contract law, even in the best case, is much more complex and problematic than a simple agreement, the whole idea of a contract is merely an elaboration of that simplest, voluntary act which is every human’s right: to make an agreement.

Continuing, Tremblay tries to play the “voluntaryism permits slavery” card:

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.

An ad hoc argument is an argument which has no basis in fact or reason. Slavery is clearly an involuntary arrangement and there are several reasoned, factual arguments we can follow to see why a “contract” which is supposed to legitimize a condition of slavery simply cannot – none of which are ad hoc. The simplest arugment is Rothbard’s argument based on the inalienability of the will, that is, the fundamental human right to change one’s mind:

The distinction between a man’s alienable labor service and his inalienable will may be further explained: a man can alienate his labor service, but he cannot sell the capitalized future value of that service. In short, he cannot, in nature, sell himself into slavery and have this sale enforced—for this would mean that his future will over his own person was being surrendered in advance. In short, a man can naturally expend his labor currently for someone else’s benefit, but he cannot transfer himself, even if he wished, into another man’s permanent capital good. For he cannot rid himself of his own will, which may change in future years and repudiate the current arrangement. The concept of “voluntary slavery” is indeed a contradictory one, for so long as a laborer remains totally subservient to his master’s will voluntarily, he is not yet a slave since his submission is voluntary; whereas, if he later changed his mind and the master enforced his slavery by violence, the slavery would not then be voluntary. (Murray Rothbard, Ethics of Liberty Chapter 7)

Tremblay goes on to discuss what he terms conditioned power:

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.

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. I can tentatively agree that a social behavior, such as the wearing of high-heels, may be a symptom of an underlying, systematized coercion. However, such an outcome is not the result of any individual, criminal action for which anyone can be held liable (I think we agree on this). But, then, all that any law can do is hold an individual (or a more or less arbitrary group of individuals) liable – liable for something which we have just agreed cannot be the result of their behavior!

This looks to me like scapegoating or collective punishment – something I would hope had gone the way of Yahweh and the Amalekites. We first surmise that high-heels are a sign of a systematized, coercive element in society. We then move – through judicial or legal activism or outright tyranny – to fine and penalize people who are not the cause of the wearing of high-heels. Why should they be punished if they are not the cause of the behavior which, by the way, we have only tentatively agreed might be a sign of some other, subtler coercion?

Tremblay then argues that we must use force to answer certain behavior that is not force or fraud:

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.

When has the use of force ever succeeded in changing the discussion? The fact is that every form of systematized aggression has its foundation in verbal arguments that legitimize wrong behavior. It is mental laziness to short-circuit the process of argumentation and reach for the blunt instrument of force (law). The correct solution, the only possible solution, is to answer incorrect arguments with correct arguments.

Further on, Tremblay clarifies a point of confusion on my part:

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.

I have no disagreement with this – my disagreement is with the idea of institutional determinism, which is what it sounded like Tremblay was espousing. If behavior is determined by the institutional facts, then there is no individual responsibility, only collective responsibility.

Tremblay moves on to the heart of the disagreement:

Voluntaryists may … 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.

Tremblay is blind to the potential for false claims of oppression to be used as a pretext for oppression itself. “Playing the victim.” Returning to the example of high-heels: who should be held liable under law for the coercion which we are surmising to exist from the symptom of high-heel wearing? Vera Wang? Coach? Cosmopolitan? Men, generally? Who exactly is the cause of the oppressive wearing of high-heels by women through the operation of “non-condign power”? If they cannot be named or if they are some nebulous, ad hoc group, then the claim that they are causing oppression is really itself just a blind for vulgar social engineering and collective punishment of groups that Tremblay happens to disfavor, for whatever reason.

No voluntaryist would assert that a token of consent – however obtained – can automatically be used as a device to bind people. A great example is the fine-print on many contracts. Such print is specifically meant not to be read – why else is it printed so small? The contracts are swept over by the sales personnel who are in a great rush and applying exorbitant peer pressure on the signee to “just sign it, it’s the standard language.” But it is the very device that is responsible for the proliferation of such contracts – our government’s monopoly courts and its monopoly law – to which Tremblay would have us turn in his project of social engineering through legal activism.

Tremblay closes on a point of agreement:

[Seeing this reasoning will] 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.

Indeed – we welcome the debate with full confidence that voluntary society is the only dignified, rational social order befitting human decency. The case for voluntaryism is, in fact, so overwhelming that Hugo’s quote well and truly applies to all those who are willing to resort the use of force in answer to mere words: no army can stop an idea whose time has come.

Clayton -

Update: I misread one of Tremblay’s statements regarding voluntaryists’ views on slavery. This portion has been redacted, as a correction.

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49 thoughts on “Answering Voluntaryism’s Critics: Round Two

  1. Francois Tremblay 12/29/2012 at 21:45 Reply

    I must say, I am surprised that you’d resort to outright lying: I never said Spooner was pro-slavery and you know it. Here is the quote again:

    “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.”

    To rephrase:

    “I never made the claim that any ‘voluntaryist thinker,’ a category which would not include Tucker, who was a socialist, by the way, Spooner being more of a limit case, has stated that slavery was a good thing.”

    Anyhow, if you just misread this part, please correct what you wrote. As I posted, my blog is more or less closed for the Christmas season, but I’ll prepare a rebuttal for the first week of January.

    • claytonkb 12/29/2012 at 21:54 Reply

      Based on your clarification, I did indeed misread it… in my defense, the sentence is poorly phrased.

      • Francois Tremblay 12/29/2012 at 21:56 Reply

        Only if you’re singularly unfamiliar with the use of parentheses…

        • claytonkb 12/29/2012 at 21:58 Reply

          There was no opening paren and I assumed the closing-paren was a typo. The post has been fixed.

          • Francois Tremblay 12/29/2012 at 21:59

            I can assure you that there was an opening parenthesis. Anyhow, it’s not worth quibbling over.

  2. Francois Tremblay 12/29/2012 at 23:20 Reply

    Another point of detail: I am an anarchist. So saying that I want to use “our government’s monopoly courts and its monopoly law” is rather bizarre. You do realize I wrote an entire FAQ against the court system right?

    • claytonkb 12/29/2012 at 23:38 Reply

      Yes, I’m aware you are nominally anarchist. Pray tell, what sort of means do you have in mind when you suggest that “mere words” are not enough, if not government?

      • Francois Tremblay 12/29/2012 at 23:40 Reply

        What definition of government are you using exactly? Because it seems bizarre to me that you’d posit that only governments can effect social change. This is of course not true…

        • claytonkb 12/29/2012 at 23:47 Reply

          Of course I’m not positing that. Al Capone doubtless effected social change in certain districts of Chicago with more than “mere words.” I’m just curious what sort of arrangement you have in mind. If not government, if not the Mob, then what?

          • Francois Tremblay 12/29/2012 at 23:51

            Obviously that would depend on the problem we’re talking about. I don’t think Al Capone was out to solve social issues, just to make money. In his own words, he was the consummate, devoted capitalist.

    • z1235 12/30/2012 at 17:14 Reply

      Francois, so what (other than persuasion) would you use to fight the “evils” of “compensatory” and “conditioned” power, and who exactly would you use it against?

      Say a woman is putting on her make up and high heels or a “wage slave” is signing an employment contract to work at someone’s machine shop — right in front of you. What exactly would you do to stop these evil abominations?

      • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 17:21 Reply

        Actually, Clayton made this point in this entry as well. My answer is the same as my answer will be to his point: systemic problems demand systemic solutions. If force is used, it cannot be used to persecute individuals, but rather to change incentive systems in order to solve problems. Humans are changed through their environment.

        • z1235 12/30/2012 at 17:34 Reply

          “Systemic solutions” such as…?

  3. gotlucky 12/30/2012 at 18:06 Reply

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m fairly certain (like 100% sure) that z1235 provided two such “problems”.

  4. z1235 12/30/2012 at 18:07 Reply

    FT: “That would depend on what the problem is.”

    Apparently YOUR problem — as I understand it — would be with women putting on high heels (as victims of “conditioned power”), with wage slaves” signing employment contracts (as victims of “compensatory power”), and with voluntaryists suggesting that (1) everyone just mind their own business and (2) limit their interactions with others (and their justly acquired property) to the voluntary realm.

    So what “systemic solutions” would a non-voluntaryist such as yourself propose for the above “problem”?

    • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 18:21 Reply

      I don’t know why you say it like it’s “MY” problem. I am not overly concerned with high heels, it was just an example for the sake of the debate. Employment contracts are a symptom of a greater problem, work hierarchies. And that’s solved by revoking all private claims of ownership of the means of production and restructuring the firm structure so that employees are in control of said means of production, through whatever process they choose.

      • z1235 12/30/2012 at 18:37 Reply

        FT: ” I am not overly concerned with high heels, it was just an example for the sake of the debate.”

        So whose problem (if not yours) is that women are wearing high heels?

        FT: “Employment contracts are a symptom of a greater problem, work hierarchies.”

        Again, whose problem (if not yours) are “work hierarchies”?
        And what would “revoking all private claims of ownership of the means of production and restructuring the firm structure so that employees are in control of said means of production, through whatever process they choose” exactly involve? Who (or what entity) would enforce this “revoking” and “restructuring” and how exactly would it do that?

        And assuming this “revoking” and “restructuring” was somehow completed, who/what would ensure that no owner/creator of a machine would ever be able to enter into a contract with a “wage slave” to operate it going forward?

        • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 18:39 Reply

          What is it you want, a political programme? I am not going to do this on a comments section, especially not a hostile one. If I was going to present a political programme, I would do it on my own blog. And I am not under any obligation to develop a whole political programme just to answer your questions. Get a grip…

          Whose problem if not mine? Social issues are a problem to everyone who’s affected by them. What a silly question.

          • gotlucky 12/30/2012 at 18:59

            It sounds like you would resort to some sort of violent conflict as a means to resolve these “problems”. If not, then you have no disagreement with z1235 or Clayton. So, who exactly is going to be resolving these “problems” with violence? You?

            You don’t have to write a book. You can easily say who will be doing the violence in one sentence: X will be the one resolving these problems with violence. All you have to do is tell us who this X is. You don’t have to explain why, we just want to know who.

          • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 19:01

            Okay, it’s Karl Pilkington. Karl Pilkington will be the one resolving these problems with violence. Are you happy now?

          • z1235 12/30/2012 at 19:02

            What’s a “political programme”? What type of anarchists do typically develop those?

            FT: “Social issues are a problem to everyone who’s affected by them.”

            Who’s affected when a woman puts on her high heels or when a “wage slave” signs an employment contract to operate a machine?

            Since, I assume, the above are problems for you, how exactly are you affected by them?

          • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 19:06

            What’s a political programme? You just asked me to provide you one!

            Why are you people wasting my time? Stick to the topics of the debate. I am not here to discuss irrelevancies.

            No, high heels don’t bother me personally at all, and neither do the contracts for machine operators. I just happen to think they are wrong. The fact that you obsess over high heels, I think, shows more of a psychological problem with you than anything else…

  5. z1235 12/30/2012 at 19:22 Reply

    FT: “What’s a political programme? You just asked me to provide you one!”

    When did I do that?

    FT: “Stick to the topics of the debate. I am not here to discuss irrelevancies.”

    What, according to you, was the topic of the debate? “Conditioned power” (high heels) and “compensatory power” (wage slavery) as major “evils” that are supposedly overlooked by voluntaryists are “irrelevancies”?

    FT: “No, high heels don’t bother me personally at all, and neither do the contracts for machine operators. I just happen to think they are wrong. ”

    So what? I think pink Ferraris are wrong. Yet, I don’t suggest that a “political programme” gets developed towards minimizing them as a “social problem” — I’ll probably just never buy one. If you dislike women in high heels I suggest you don’t date any of them. If you dislike “wage slavery” contracts, don’t enter any of them.

    If high heels are not a problem for the women wearing them, “wage slave” contracts are not a problem for the “wage slaves” entering them, and neither of those are problem of yours (apparently), then WHOSE problems are they then exactly?

    • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 19:25 Reply

      Thank you for reiterating the voluntaryist position. That was pointless. I already know what your position is anyway: you think anything that’s voluntary is okay. (ironically, Clayton is trying to show that this is NOT the voluntaryist position, so you’re shooting him in the foot right now)

      “What, according to you, was the topic of the debate? “Conditioned power” (high heels) and “compensatory power” (wage slavery) as major “evils” that are supposedly overlooked by voluntaryists are “irrelevancies”? ”

      No, that’s the topic of the debate. Your nonsense about demanding a political program so I can answer your questions is an irrelevancy to this debate.

      • z1235 12/30/2012 at 19:40 Reply

        It never ceases to amaze me how people like you even manage to function with glaring inconsistencies like the ones you faced (and balked away from) just now. Thx for the fun exchange.

        • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 19:42 Reply

          Funny, since for all your arrogance, you’re the one who’s manifesting a “glaring inconsistency” with Clayton, as I just pointed out. You have shown no inconsistency because you have asked me no question relevant to the debate.

          • z1235 12/30/2012 at 19:59

            Since ” “Conditioned power” (high heels) and “compensatory power” (wage slavery) as major “evils” that are supposedly overlooked by voluntaryists” ARE a topic of the debate (as admitted by you), how about you answer just this question (among the many you were unable to answer):

            If high heels are not a problem for the women wearing them, “wage slave” contracts are not a problem for the “wage slaves” entering them, and neither of those are problems of yours (apparently), then WHOSE problems are they exactly?

            [I graciously gave you an easy way out with my last comment. You should have licked your wounds and taken it.]

        • gotlucky 12/30/2012 at 19:57 Reply

          FT, you said above: “No, high heels don’t bother me personally at all, and neither do the contracts for machine operators. I just happen to think they are wrong. ”

          Now, as Z has pointed out, you don’t have to date women who wear high heels nor do you have to enter into wage contracts. However, you seem very uncomfortable with the voluntaryist position that “anything that’s voluntary is okay”. You can either come up with peaceful and voluntary “solutions” to these voluntary “problems”, or you can come up with violent and adversarial “solutions” to these voluntary “problems”.

          Clearly you were wasting our time when you said that Karl Pilkington would be the one doing violence to women who wear high heels (who else would he do violence to, any man that witnesses a woman wear high heels?)

          So, I’ll ask again, who is it that you want to be in charge of all this violence and who is supposed to be on the receiving end of it? If you don’t want to resort to violence to solve this high heel “problem” (and you have said that high heels are wrong), then your only other option is to resort to a voluntary and peaceful solution.

          If you resort to a voluntary solution, then what’s your problem with Clayton and Z?

          • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 20:03

            I already told you who I want to be in charge of the violence. Karl Pilkington. Stop wasting my time with stupid questions.

          • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 20:25

            You are right, this is a waste of time. Tell me if you ever have a question about the debate.

        • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 20:04 Reply

          “If high heels are not a problem for the women wearing them, “wage slave” contracts are not a problem for the “wage slaves” entering them,”

          I never said that. In fact, I explicitly stated that “social issues are a problem to everyone who’s affected by them.” You have bad reading comprehension. Before arrogantly declaring that I’m on the wrong side of the discussion, learn to read the actual discussion.

          • z1235 12/30/2012 at 20:18

            z1235: “If high heels are not a problem for the women wearing them, “wage slave” contracts are not a problem for the “wage slaves” entering them,”

            FT: “I never said that. In fact, I explicitly stated that “social issues are a problem to everyone who’s affected by them.” ”

            So are you saying that high heels are a problem for the women wearing them and that employment contracts are a problem for the people entering them? Or are these problems for some other people altogether? I asked you already many comments ago:

            “Who’s affected when a woman puts on her high heels or when a “wage slave” signs an employment contract to operate a machine?
            Since, I assume, the above are problems for you, how exactly are you affected by them?”

            I mean, you could give a single clear answer — I feel like I’m herding cats here.

          • gotlucky 12/30/2012 at 20:23

            FT, you are the one wasting your time. You are deliberately using a response you don’t mean in order to avoid a legitimate question. You also have conveniently avoided the OTHER question which was: Who is the violence supposed to be done to, the women wearing the high heels or the men witnessing the women wearing the high heels?

            Feel free to stop embarrassing yourself. It’s a pretty simple question.

        • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 20:21 Reply

          What part of “social issues are a problem to everyone who’s affected by them” do you not understand?

          • gotlucky 12/30/2012 at 20:24

            So does that mean you will have Karl Pilkington assault women who wear high heels? Exactly who is your violence supposed to be done to?

          • z1235 12/30/2012 at 20:27

            Who decides (or should decide) whether (or how) someone is affected by a problem, or by anything else for that matter?

        • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 20:29 Reply

          I can’t make heads or tails of your question. Obviously every person decides for themselves what they think the truth is about any issue. Are you not able to make up your own mind about things?

          • z1235 12/30/2012 at 20:34

            So only Person X could (should) tell if Person X has a problem with something. Correct?

        • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 20:31 Reply

          You people are amazing in your intellectual inanity. No wonder you ended up voluntaryists.

        • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 20:36 Reply

          So what you are telling me, again, is that you don’t understand basic English?

          • z1235 12/30/2012 at 20:38

            Here it is again…

            z1235: “If high heels are not a problem for the women wearing them, “wage slave” contracts are not a problem for the “wage slaves” entering them,”

            FT: “I never said that. In fact, I explicitly stated that “social issues are a problem to everyone who’s affected by them.” ”

            So are you saying that high heels are a problem for the women wearing them and that employment contracts are a problem for the people entering them? Or are these problems for some other people altogether? I asked you already many comments ago:

            “Who’s affected when a woman puts on her high heels or when a “wage slave” signs an employment contract to operate a machine?
            Since, I assume, the above are problems for you, how exactly are you affected by them?”

            I mean, you could give a single clear answer — I feel like I’m herding cats here.

        • Francois Tremblay 12/30/2012 at 20:41 Reply

          I gave you a single clear answer. Social issues are a problem to everyone who’s affected by them. I am sorry that you cannot accept my answer, but that’s really not my problem. I have nothing further to say on the subject.

          • gotlucky 12/30/2012 at 20:48

            So if you don’t want a voluntary resolution to these social problems, then you want a violent and adversarial solution. Who is going to be the recipient of this violence? I’ve asked this of you and you refuse to answer.

            It’s interesting, either you are going to assault the women who wear high heels or you are going to assault the men who look at them. Maybe you will assault both?

            Excuse me, I mean, Pilkington will be the one assaulting them.

  6. libertyandpeace 01/01/2013 at 11:05 Reply

    I found Pilkington! And what a surprise. He is against homesteading shoveled out parking spots…

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/01/19/southie_custom_of_claiming_parking_spaces_spreading/

    “Pilkington said he had seen many cleared spots reserved in the past few days, a me-first approach that struck him as unneighborly.

    “It’s a public street,’’ he said. “People don’t have the right to label it as their own. It’s shortsighted to think they have squatters’ rights.’’”

    • Francois Tremblay 01/01/2013 at 12:52 Reply

      That’s not the right Pilkington. This is the right Pilkington, his head is like a fucking orange:

  7. […] (I take the latter position, obviously), you may have noticed that the Voluntaryist Reader posted its second response last […]

  8. […] Clayton’s round two takes a stance against my support of […]

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