Auberon Herbert : “Reject Compulsion in Every Form”

By: Gary Galles

Voluntaryism. It is an awkward term. Yet that was what political philosopher Auberon Herbert called the only social arrangement that respected people’s self-ownership—mutually voluntary, noncoercive cooperation. Government compulsion, on the other hand, inherently violates it. Herbert saw that preventing violations of others’ self-ownership was the core of the moral case for liberty.

At a time when the practical philosophy of governments is that they own as much of any individual as they choose, it is worth commemorating Herbert’s June 18 birthday by reconsidering his challenge to the idea that others have “a commission to decide what [their] brother-man shall do or not do.” 

  • This is the question…. Do you believe in force and authority, or do you believe in liberty?
  • The weight of argument is strongly on the side of liberty of action and unrestricted competition.
  • Rights of self-ownership are … supreme moral rights…. All social and political arrangements, all employments of force, are subordinate to these universal rights.
  • Force may be employed on behalf of these rights, but not in opposition to them.
  • Force rests on no moral foundations … [because] without freedom of choice … there are no such things as true moral qualities.
  • Each man must be left free … with one most important limitation. His freedom … must not interfere with the exactly corresponding freedom of others.
  • Reject compulsion in every form.
  • Private property [is] inseparably connected with liberty or self?ownership…. It is idle to say in one breath that each man has the right to the free use of his own faculties, and in the next breath propose to deal by the power of the State with what he acquires by means of those faculties, as if both the faculties and what they produced belonged to the State and not to himself.
  • The fullest recognition of property [provides] both the material and the moral foundations of liberty.
  • To all … belong their own faculties, and as a consequence, equally belongs to them all that they can honestly gain in free competition, through the exercise of those faculties.
  • If we are self-owners, neither an individual, nor a majority, nor a government, can have rights of ownership in other men.
  • Justice requires that you should not place the burdens of one man on the shoulders of another man.
  • Voluntaryism … denies that any good or lasting work can be built upon the compulsion of others…. It invites all men to abandon the barren problems of force, and to give themselves up to the happy problems of liberty and friendly co?operation; to join in thinking out … how we can do all these things, without at any point touching … the hateful instrument of an aggressive and unjustifiable compulsion. 
  • Under voluntaryism the state would defend the rights of liberty, never aggress upon them.
  • [Groups], without any exception … exist for the sake of the individual…. If they did not minister to his use, if they do not profit him, they would have no plea to exist.
  • No man can have rights over another man unless he first have rights over himself. He cannot possess the rights to direct the happiness of another man, unless he possess rights to direct his own happiness: if we grant him the latter right, this is at once fatal to the former.
  • If you lose your belief in liberty … what can all the gifts of politicians give you in return?
  • There is only one result you can get out of the suppression of the individual, and that is the organized dominant faction triumphing over the defeated faction.
  • You will gain far more by clinging faithfully to the methods of peace and respect for the rights of others than by allowing yourselves to use the force that always calls out force in reply.
  • Far the larger amount of intolerance that exists in the world is the result of … political arrangements, by which we compel ourselves to struggle, man against man.

In our era, where myriad government bodies tax and regulate away our self-ownership in many ways, either ignorant or uncaring about “the odiousness of compelling men to act against their own wishes,” we need to reflect on, and act on, Auberon Herbert’s compelling case for liberty and voluntary arrangements as the only morally defensible organizing principle of society. Only that allows us to cooperate with one another “without at any point touching with the least of our fingers the hateful instrument of an aggressive and unjustifiable compulsion.” As he recognized, the alternative involves the widespread abuse of people’s rights in themselves and is ultimately futile, because “all the methods of restriction … are wrong and will only end in disappointment.”

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