WHY VOLUNTARISM? AND WHY IS VOLUNTARISM NOT ENOUGH?

A "voluntary" organization, or relationship, might be interpreted in two ways. Taking the root of the word literally, it would mean an organization, or relationship, that is what the person wills. If we were to take that literally, then to say that an organization is "voluntary" would probably be enough. But in common use and in practice, "voluntary" means a good deal less. In practice, a "voluntary" organization or relationship is one that the person chooses to participate in, given all the other circumstances the person faces. These other circumstances may not be at all consistent with the person's will, and the person's participation may be the lesser evil -- but a very great evil all the same. That is why "voluntary" is not enough.

That is important, because "Libertarian Capitalists" seem to be quite confused on the point. We might ask -- if a Libertarian is a person who is opposed to domination -- how the so-called "Libertarian Capitalist" can reconcile herself to the domination that is a part of the wage-labor relationship. If the worker is, as Hicks observes, a servant, how can any Libertarian reconcile herself to capitalist servitude? The answer seems to be that the employment relationship is chosen by the employee, and thus (in the narrow sense used here) voluntary.

So what? Why should that excuse servitude?

"Capitalist Libertarians" could argue in two ways: 1) to be a Libertarian is not to oppose domination, but to oppose nonvoluntary institutions. 2) If it is voluntary it isn't really domination. All I can say to them is that that's not the way I define the term, and I don't think that definition makes much sense. If it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it's a duck. If the employee has to kowtow to the boss and take the boss's baloney and do what the boss tells him, then the employee is being dominated by the boss. And if most of us choose this as a lesser evil than being unemployed, as I do, that doesn't make it any less domination.

I'd worry about my boss reading that, if my boss could read. Take that, boss.

What these arguments carefully overlook is the circumstances that lead the employee to be an employee, that is, the employee's class position, which the employee does not choose. To show how flimsy this all is, let us consider two cases, in one of which servitude is "involuntary" and in the other one of which it is "voluntary."

First, think of a self-employed businessman, a shopkeeper, perhaps, who has wealth enough to keep himself a reasonable income without working for anyone else. Now the local protection racketeer comes around and makes our businessman a proposition: the businessman must work for the gangster part of the time, or the gangster will destroy the businessman's property, leaving him without a livelihood. The work is legal in itself -- perhaps the shopkeeper must stock and make every effort to sell the products of the gangster's brother's (legal) factory -- but the businessman accepts the proposal out of fear that his property and his livelihood will be destroyed. All would agree that his acceptance is nonvoluntary.

Now think of a person of the working class, without any property at all. A capitalist with a great deal of property makes this working class person a proposition: if the propertyless person will work at the direction of the capitalist for fifty hours per week, the capitalist will supply the wealth necessary to make the work productive so that it will yield an income. The working class person accepts the proposal out of fear of not having any livelihood. This would be thought of as "voluntary."

Although the first choice is "involuntary," and the second is "voluntary," the two persons have made the same choices for precisely the same reason: to avoid a future without a livelihood. The difference is their class identity -- the fact that one has property to be taken away, and the other does not. To say that "voluntary servitude" is permissible while "involuntary servitude" is not is to say that domination of the working class is permissible while domination of the property-owning class is not. Put that way, it sounds pretty raw -- like a property test for freedom, or citizenship, or the vote. And that is just what it is.

It is ideology, in short. But we should not conclude that voluntarism is all smoke and mirrors. In an organization, voluntarism is important. Organizations create the potential for power to be concentrated and for domination under the guise of the necessary coordination of labor. If the organization is voluntary, that puts some limits on this concentration of power and on this domination. That is why voluntarism is part of the Cooperative ideal. But it is by no means enough.