"In dealing with the State, we ought to remember that its institutions are not aboriginal, though they existed before we were born; that they are not superior to the citizen; that every one of them was once the act of a single man; every law and usage was a man's expedient to meet a particular case; that they all are imitable, all alterable." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Should Voluntaryists Own Guns?
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Before answering that question, it seems profitable to delineate all of the various reasons or motivations anyone--not just voluntaryists--might find to own firearms. I'll start with the more trivial, and work my way down to the serious:
- 1.) Target and Sport Shooting: Like many recreational activities, this can also improve manual and mental dexterity. Sport shooting is a competitive event in the Olympic Games.
- 2.) Hunting: While fun for sportsmen, hunting can also be necessary for survival--whether in a time of disaster, or in remote areas.
- 3.) Self-Defense: This means defense of one's own life and limb, and one's own property, against aggression perpetrated by private criminals (i.e., a would-be government).
- 4.) Mutual Defense: This contemplates any scenario in which individual self-defense proves insufficient to adequately protect life, property, and liberty--such as an incursion by a foreign government, or the imposition of martial law by a domestic one. A primary reason why the Japanese never attempted an invasion of America during World War II was the widespread civilian ownership of firearms.
Now how does all of this add up with respect to voluntaryists? Well, to begin, voluntaryists may enjoy target shooting or hunting as well as anyone else--or may find the latter necessary--which is to say that it's always nice when voluntaryists can eat. Further, along with everyone else, voluntaryists possess the inherent right to self-defense, whether individually or collectively (this does not preclude the possibility of a voluntaryist being a pacifist; rather, it only means that voluntaryists, being true to libertarianism, recognize each individual's right to defend life and property, even should they choose not to do so themselves). This leaves only the subject of violent revolution or insurrection unresolved.
Here is a definition of voluntaryism as good as anything I could ever reiterate, quoted directly from www.voluntaryist.com:
Statement of Purpose: Voluntaryists are advocates of non-political, non-violent strategies to achieve a free society. We reject electoral politics, in theory and in practice, as incompatible with libertarian principles. Governments must cloak their actions in an aura of moral legitimacy in order to sustain their power, and political methods invariably strengthen that legitimacy. Voluntaryists seek instead to delegitimize the State through education, and we advocate withdrawal of the cooperation and tacit consent on which State power ultimately depends.
Note that voluntaryism focuses on non-violence and education, not force of arms. Thus this is the area, above all of the others, where we should examine gun ownership by voluntaryists. To clarify, the nexus of my original inquiry was not to call into question ownership or use of firearms in any of the aforementioned capacities ' these, after all, are reasons anyone from almost anywhere in the philosophical spectrum might choose to own guns. My purpose is to probe deeper into the possible motivations for such ownership as strictly related to voluntaryism.
That having been defined, does it then follow that firearms have no role whatsoever in the philosophical or anti-political goals of voluntaryists? Answer: Yes and no.
Let's imagine for a moment a group of everyday people living in present-day North Korea--the absolute barrel-scraper in terms of any measure of individual liberty. Let's further suppose that these folks have clandestine access to some guns and ammunition, and desperately want to improve their conditions through political change. The current state of North Korean society is such that the mildest whispers of verbal protest or malcontent will spell one's execution and the incarceration of one's entire family in one or any number of the horrific concentration camps that dot the North Korean landscape--a fate nearly as good as a death sentence. Thus, what choice is there for these persecuted folk? Any non-violent means of dissent will be met with the same response as a violent one, and may not even be as effective. In short, even as a voluntaryist, I have no problem with employing violence under such circumstances. North Korea is, after all, the proverbial "doomsday" scenario. Anyone seeking freedom has only the choice of fleeing (leaving the question of Where To?) at equal risk of death, or standing and resisting violently. The options of free speech, peaceful dissent, and education are simply not available.
So consider, that for voluntaryists, the ownership of guns is a kind of peaceful insurance policy--indeed, a "doomsday" contingent plan so as to discourage in the first place, and subsequently resist if necessary--the imposition of conditions such as exist in North Korea.
Voluntaryists (anarchists, libertarians) should always seek a peaceful path to liberty. We must also ensure that the fundamental conditions exist, within which to do so.