Autarchy or Voluntaryism?: Abandoning the exclusive disjunction

By Diego Julien

The roots of Voluntaryist thought lie in antiquity, when Stoic thinkers realized that character building, the development of self-controlled and responsible individuals, was the essential basis of human happiness, as well as the prerequisite for a better society. On this fundamental point it does not seem too difficult to draw a parallel with Robert LeFevre’s philosophy (1965a, 1965b, 1966, 1988).

The power and appeal of Stoicism lie in its acceptance of – and commitment to – the basic truth that each individual controls his own behavior but not the outcome. The stoic realizes that they cannot control how other people behave or what causes their behavior, but he can only control himself and calmly accept the consequences. We could define the goal of Stoic philosophy as living a life shaped by excellence and wisdom, and therefore great emphasis is placed on the task of improving one’s character and maintaining one’s integrity, regardless of the circumstances in which one finds oneself. The Stoics would say that if you want a better world, then improve yourself, for this is what is completely within your control (Watner, 2020: 1). It is worth noting that Watner was well aware of LeFevre’s emphasis on the notion of “self-control” as a pivot from which to articulate a practical philosophy (Watner, 1989: 3), a point he fully shares and which is a pillar of voluntaryist thought. It is understood that “freedom” is a mental attitude, and the only person you can control is yourself (Watner, 1992b: 1), here we have a solid argument to sustain that there is a relevant differential note between LeFevre’s thought and contemporary Voluntaryism.

This subject is fundamental because although it is true that in all the libertarian and anarchist tradition, great emphasis is placed on the moral character of the individual, voluntaryism goes a step further and not only proposes a model of the individual but also goes deeper into the way in which this can be materialized. For Carl Watner, individuals in a society will flourish only if they are free, and it is only when men change that a society can improve. In this sense, Albert J. Nock (1943: 307) is vindicated. If we accept that LeFevre’s thought is (like any development of “the ideas of freedom”) an unfinished and completely perfectible work, we will find it valid to identify the author within a broader movement where the essence of his thought is contemplated in its totality and from which new solutions can germinate for new challenges, as well as for those problems as old as Humanity itself: LeFevre’s philosophy is comprised, in its most fundamental points, in the voluntaryism of Watner.

This is not to say that there is a clear juxtaposition. For example, one of LeFevre’s most controversial ideas is found in relation to property that is stolen from its rightful owner (see the example of the stolen horse). For this example, Watner will propose a different solution based on the ancient Roman law rule of caveat emptor (Watner, 1992a: 6; 1999: 1). In any case, we cannot say that their positions are really opposed. LeFevre moves within the descriptive area when he uses the example in question and tells us how it should be resolved in the face of the fait accompli. Watner, on the other hand, always moves within the prescriptive area, when he tells us how the first buyer of the stolen horse should have operated. The solutions are different, but so is the approach to the situation. As for the attitude of the victim, the voluntaryist proposal does not differ in any way from the autarchist one, and in fact Watner refers directly to LeFevre when he argues that the voluntaryist must accept full responsibility for both the good fortune and the bad luck that befalls him in life: if one intends to make one’s gains privately, one must be willing to accept one’s losses privately as well (Watner, 1992a: 6; 1999: 7).

Perhaps it could be recognized that LeFevre, because of his ideas, can be considered a voluntaryist, but not the opposite. The fundamentals of LeFevre’s thought (the absence of the State whose yoke must be peacefully abandoned, the emphasis on education and the moral formation of the individual in order to achieve the Stoic ideal of self-government, as well as the rejection of political action) are a core part of the voluntaryist philosphy. For this reason, I will argue that discovering the voluntaryism in LeFevre is probably the best way to keep his autarchist thought alive.


• Nock, A. J. (1943). Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. Nueva York: Harper & Brothers.
• Watner, C. (1989). «The Fundamentals of Voluntaryism». The Voluntaryist. Oct 1989, pp. 1, 3.
• Watner, C. (1992a). «Rightful Property Ownership and Wrongful Possession». The Voluntaryist. Jun 1992, pp. 1, 6-7.
• Watner, C. (1992b). «What We Believe And Why». The Voluntaryist. Aug 1992, pp. 1, 7.
• Watner, C. (1999). «“Once An Owner–Always An Owner”». The Voluntaryist. Feb 1999, pp. 1, 3- 7.
• Watner, C. (2020). «The Creed of All Freedom-Loving Men: The Voluntaryist Spirit & Stoicism». The Voluntaryist. Third quarter 2020, pp. 1, 3-7.
• LeFevre, R. (1965a). «The Stoic Virtues». Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought, I, 1, pp. 1- 15.
• LeFevre, R. (1965b). «Anarchy versus Autarchy». Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought, I, 4, pp. 30-49.
• LeFevre, R. (1966b). «Autarchy» Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought, II, 2, pp. 1-18.
• LeFevre, R. (1988). The Fundamentals of Liberty. Santa Ana, Rampart Institute.

Scroll to Top