I Must Speak Out

I Must Speak Out: The Best of The Voluntaryist, 1982-1999
© 1999 Carl Watner
485 pages


What distinguishes the State from an organized gang?     Carl Watner argues in I Must Speak Out that nothing whatsoever does, except its subjects’ belief. Monarchical or democratic, a State is  is nothing more than organized violence.  Those of us who vote are not engaging in self-rule or self-determination, he and others write here, but are instead legitimizing and participating in a fraud. I Must Speak Out explores these and other topics,  promoting instead voluntaryism – the belief that all associations between humans should be noncoercive (voluntary).   The book begins with arguments against the aggression and the state,  shifts into a review of history, and ends by probing voluntaryism as applied to commercial standards, marriage,  roads, and the like.

There are two axioms undergirding voluntarism: one, that if something is immoral, it is immoral for any one or any group of people. Two,  the use of uninitiated force (aggression) is itself immoral.    These two paired together are far more subversive than they appear, however; many poeple might agree that if the State murders and steals, it has done wrong.  Even those who otherwise support the state would admit to  recurrent malfeasance; see the dozens killed at Waco, or the widespread abuses of asset forfeiture related to the drug war. But what about the death penalty and taxes?   No one voluntarily pays taxes; even those who claim to be happy to do so would   assuredly pay much less were taxation a voluntary donation.   But just as the smiling gangster’s charm vanishes the moment payment to him is refused, so to does the State reveal its true nature whenever it counters resistance, and it is willing to break people for anything from  tax avoidance to school truancy, for the fundamental evil of the state is that it assumes ownership of us; even the most benevolent democracy is beset by  what Augustine called the lust for domination.

Voluntarism as explained by Watner is inherently individualistic, because all other social units or organizations are dependent on individual actors for their sustenance.     This means that individual actors who sustain a given injustice by their actions are responsible for the action;  the clerk who files paperwork for the SS is just as culpable just as the man filling the Zylon-B cylinders, or  tattooing the prisoners of Auschwitz.  It doesn’t matter if “someone else would have done it”, because we are each responsible for our actions; if something is wrong we cannot justify engaging in it.   A common motto of this book is that if we take care of the means, the ends will take care of themselves.    Just as engaging in coercion invariably corrupts the aggressor,  turning them into a paranoid bully, so too does commitment to cooperation redeem human institutions.

Do we need the State to survive?  As we look into the 21st century,  the real question is this: can man survive the State?   The State has never been more empowered by technology and the infrastructure of everyday life to wholly monopolize the lives of its subjects. We now live within an inescapable web of observation and manipulation.      But in response to charges that the state is essential for all manner of things —  education, roads, mail, law, etc – Watner explores how  these things were handled before the State assumed them as its prerogative These historical essays are particularly educational, because they not only reveal that  alternative means are possible, but they show the State for the bullyboy it really is,   as to establish and maintain its monopoly has involved violence time and again.  Even  peaceable souls like Quakers and the Amish have been continually  abused by the state, and the Amish’ present status is hard-won.   This section isn’t comprehensive – his chapter on roads only involves 18-19th century turnpikes, for instance, and not more elaborate private transport networks like the railroads – but informative nonetheless.

I Must Speak Out is cynical, subversive, and often brilliant.   Although the primary contributor is Watner, he includes  pieces from other authors, sometimes as varied as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Noam Chomsky.     Varying on contributor and subject, the collection can slide into conspiratorial thinking, as one author accuses the government of manipulating Japan into attacking the base at Pearl Harbor, and knowing beforehand what it would do.  Similarly bordering on conspiratorial is the charge that the post office was established to turn mail into a source of intelligence, rather than to serve the public.    Far more of the contributions impress, however, like the essay from a conservative anarchist who argued that one could still be opposed to things like abortion and prostitution without  blocking them by force.   Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, sayeth Salvor Hardin, and the same statement is made here in different words.    Although those supportive of the state to various degrees will find much to debate with here, Watner also challenges his compatriots early on by arguing that a libertarian political party makes as much sense as a nonviolent tank:     the State is inherently a vehicle for aggression,, and those who seek to drive it are suspect even if they claim they only want to use it a little.

Definitely recommended as food for thought and debate, and more comments may be follow. Personally. I don’t know if anarchism is practicable for two reasons: first,  that the absence of a “legitimate” gang-state  would lead to rule by multiple smaller gang-states, at least in large cities where there already exists gangs who exact considerable influence over their turfs.  Humans are innately tribal, and this includes an obsession with turf/territory.  Two,     modern humans are already so infantalized I wonder if they would be capable of taking ownership and agency of their own lives in the absence of big brother.

Red Emma Speaks, ed. Alix Kates Shulman. Emma Goldman was an anarchist from the leftist tradition, and I read this in 2010 when college social-democrat me was drifting off the reservation of acceptable political opinion.
The Iron Web, Larken Rose. A novel arguing for decentralization and voluntaryism, set as federal officers start destroying a voluntaryist commune in the mountains.

The State”, Porter Robinson.  A dark techno piece quoting Rothbard, I believe.

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Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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6 Responses to I Must Speak Out

  1. Marian says:

    I think healthy anarchism is impossible, but I’m sympathetic to libertarianism… Both parties seem only interested in expanding federal power (tonight’s Democratic debate being a perfect example). And if that wasn’t enough, we’re becoming subservient to technology. It boils down to personal responsibility like you say, which seems to be a fading value.

    • I think that’s the reason Jordan Peterson has become so popular, not to mention Stoicism having this bizaare (to someone who embraced the Porch a decade ago) spike in popularity — I literally cannot keep up with the number of “stoic” books being released. Stoicism is mentioned quite a bit in Watner’s reader, come to think of it.

      • Marian says:

        Yes… stoicism and minimalism are really hot right now. There is a cultural sense of things spiralling out of control, and that things will get better if we retreat from possessions, reactions/emotions, etc. My concern with that is, though it’s true we must “clean our rooms” before saving the world, some of these approaches don’t really show you how to rebuild society together with other people. There has to be some kind of balance….

  2. Anonymous says:

    Being Government free is a nice idea – like Heaven is a nice idea – but I think it’s at least impractical if not actually impossible. I think that a small isolated community might be able to manage it but anything more than that? I seriously doubt it. I’m no huge fan of government (despite being a socialist) but the few examples of functioning communes either collapsed under their own weight or were crushed by the State they found themselves in. Areas where government is absent for any length of time are called failed states for a reason. They seem to be a pretty fair example of the state of nature with all against all. Not exactly conducive to any kind of positive social interaction.

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