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Auberon Herbert’s aim is to destroy the love of power and the desire to use force against others (1897)

The English radical individualist Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) was a member of a group that called themselves “Voluntaryists” who believed in self-ownership and opposed the use of force in all its forms. This is part of an impassioned speech he gave explaining their views:

What is the work of the voluntaryist? It is to destroy the love of power; to destroy alike in himself and in his fellow-men the desire to force opinions or interests—whatever they may be—upon others; to be content to be a self-ruler, not a ruler of others; to strengthen belief in the moral weapons of reason, discussion and example; to bear patiently many evils rather than to weaken at any point the principle of self-ownership and self-direction; and to live in the faith that there is no evil which cannot be overcome by courage and resolution, no moral failure that cannot be remedied, except the one evil, the one moral failure, of abandoning self-ownership and self-direction.

What is the work of the voluntaryist? It is to destroy the love of power; to destroy alike in himself and in his fellow-men the desire to force opinions or interests—whatever they may be—upon others; to be content to be a self-ruler, not a ruler of others; to strengthen belief in the moral weapons of reason, discussion and example; to bear patiently many evils rather than to weaken at any point the principle of self-ownership and self-direction; and to live in the faith that there is no evil which cannot be overcome by courage and resolution, no moral failure that cannot be remedied, except the one evil, the one moral failure, of abandoning self-ownership and self-direction. To abandon self-ownership is to become corrupt and servile in spirit, and for the servile and corrupt there are no great things possible. You cannot carve in rotten wood; you cannot lead to greatness those who have renounced the essence of their own manhood or womanhood.

Let the voluntaryist boldly preach the doctrine of self-ownership everywhere. Let him seek to persuade the socialist that he has no right to offer comfort and advantage at the price of the sacrifice of personal liberty; that it is quite vain to try to destroy one kind of bondage by building up another in its place; let him persuade the capitalist that all wealth, founded on any kind of state favor or privilege and opposed to free trade, is wealth taken by force from others, and rests on wrong and unjust foundations; let him persuade the members of all churches that it is a travesty and a mockery of their own creed—rightly and simply understood—to attack any kind of moral evil with state punishments; that all such persecutions are in direct conflict with the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, and that Christians, above all men, are bound to fight with the weapons of reason, discussion and persuasion; let him seek to persuade all men, whether rich or poor, employers or employed, men of this country or other countries, that the organization of any kind of material force against each other is a barren and pitiful waste of life—that a victory gained over unwilling bodies and minds is a defeat, and not a victory, that in peace, friendly cooperation, unrestricted experiment, constant difference, almost unlimited toleration as regards the actions of others, free trade in every direction, the increased mobility, life experience and self-protection of the individual, the removal of all compulsory burdens and services, the abandonment of the evil power of mortgaging the faculties of future generations by the present generation, the abandonment of great political inducements for men to struggle with each other, which inducements to war must exist so long as each man desires the possession of power for himself and dreads to see it in the hands of his neighbor, and lastly in the perfect security of person and property, so that the conditions of successful effort may be recognized as constant and persisting—that in these things are the true watchwords of progress, to which it is our duty under every temptation to be faithful. Let us sum up what voluntaryism is—in a few words:

Voluntaryism is the reconciler of differences.

- It is the system of liberty, peace, and friendliness.

- Under voluntaryism the state employs force only to repel force—to protect the person and the property of the individual against force and fraud; under voluntaryism the state would defend the rights of liberty, never aggress upon them.

- It takes part with no sect; it belongs to no faction.

- It persecutes nobody, and, except in the defense of self-ownership, restricts nobody, regulates nobody.

- It refuses to force the opinions or interests of any one part of the people upon another part.

- It refuses to fight for any moral view with the immoral weapons of force.

- It compels no services, confiscates no property, takes no compulsory payments.

- It refuses to be the instrument of any part in any country that places the power of the state above the rights of the individual.

- It is opposed to all privileges, monopolies, and restrictions, and seeks to leave men free to shape their own lives in a free world.

- It protests against all forms of salvation by force.

- It believes that vast sums are annually wasted in constructing the great force machines of the state and in governing by force; it believes that if human faculties were universally set free, if men were emancipated from the burdens of taxation and official interference, and if they once deliberately resolved not to struggle for power over each other, a new world of peace, friendliness, and prosperity would take the place of the world as it is today, defaced by jealousies and strife and hatred, and saddened by much unnecessary suffering.

About this Quotation:

Auberon Herbert was an English radical individualist who was influenced by the work of Herbert Spencer. Beginning in the early 1880s he began writing a series of essays and giving speeches for groups like the “Personal Rights and Self-Help Association” and the “Liberty and Property Defense League” in favor of individual liberty and voluntary social relations at a time when socialism and the “new liberalism” of Thomas Green were growing in influence. Two of his speeches published just after his death in 1906, “Mr. Spencer and the Great Machine” and “A Plea for Voluntaryism,” are among the greatest speeches in defence of individual liberty ever given, ironically and sadly only a few years before the First World War destroyed the remnants of the liberal order he so passionately defended. This quotation comes from a summary of his views about “voluntarism” (what he called his version of individualism and free market liberalism) which he wrote about the same time as his speeches. Herbert gives a long list of the ideals he wishes to see implemented and the things he wishes to see eliminated from social and political life, in what comprises an appealing view of what a future liberal society might look like. He wants the individual to be a self-ruler not a ruler of others; he wants to see the emergence of a new world of peace, friendliness, and prosperity; to encourage people to use the moral weapons of reason, discussion and example and not coercion; to encourage the principle of self-ownership and self-direction; a belief in the almost unlimited toleration of the actions of others; a belief in free trade in every sphere; and a belief in the removal of all compulsory burdens and services on others. Opposed to these ideals, he has a hatred of the love of power; of any kind of state favor or privilege; the use of the immoral weapons of force; and the building of ever larger “great force machines of the state” which are used to govern others by force.

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