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