Don Werkheiser

Voluntary Associations




Don Werkheiser developed the philosophy of Mutual Option Relationship (MOR) based on voluntary associations.

This article was published by the School of Living, Brookville, Ohio, U.S.A., in 1961. Don Werkheiser summed up the aims of this organization with the following words:
"The School of Living is an organization of individuals who are trying to work out, both for themselves and for experimental communities, a life which shall be intellectually, emotionally, aesthetically and socially satisfying. Most members see that this type of life calls for increasing individual liberty and social decentralization."



Insofar as our present societies are working peacefully and harmoniously they are doing so largely because of voluntary associations. Even in this day of pervasive governmental encroachments, we have in some places volunteer fire departments, mutual insurance, groups, hospitals, clubs and mutual aid societies. Peaceful persons naturally resort to voluntary associations as a means to accomplish together what they cannot do alone. Only when we are in a dangerous state of mind do we resort to coercion of others.

Those who want to carry out their goals by voluntary association will have two principles of action clear:
1) each individual acts at his own cost, and
2) ease of dissociation.

In voluntary association each individual chooses his own goals, carries them out with whomever shares his values and purposes. Each individual does what he wishes, so long as it does not harm another's person or property. He can be held accountable, responsible, answerable for the consequences of his actions. He will join and work with those who observe this principle.

This calls for the second principle, disassociation. When anyone finds his own goals are not being furthered by a combination with others, he is free to leave that group, to work "on his own," or to join others who are working for his purposes. In other words, no majority can determine his actions. Coercion does not exist.

I suggest that we begin to contrast voluntary and involuntary associations. Whenever we see a problem being approached via government (which always involves an unwilling minority), let's try to see if it might be possible to solve it by voluntary associations. This includes the producer and consumer cooperatives, as already practiced by the current coop movement. But this principle should be greatly extended into areas not yet in the cooperative sphere.
The following list suggests some of these areas.

I. Voluntary Adult Education Association or School of Living. A wholly new approach to education is needed. Public schools are devoted to maintaining established values, not to cultivating new ones, so it is doubtful whether they can be the source of a new education. Current adult education programs are, for many people, too much devoted to trivia. Controversial issues and real problems of living should be the main emphasis for adults. ...

II. Voluntary Intentional Community. A group of persons who share values not readily acceptable in the current pattern, can, associate to form a community in which they may establish their own practices and mores. ...

III. Voluntary Land‑Holding Association. The land on which people live, and on which they produce goods, along with the exchange medium by which they exchange these goods, are essential for cooperative, voluntary association. Since they are now both governmentally and coercively dealt with, persons living in a particular area ‑ especially in the intentional communities ‑ would find it to their advantage to purchase or receive control of the land, to agree on a range of accepted usages, and then distribute the land by common agreement to those who need and would use it according to such commonly agreed standards.

IV. Voluntary Exchange Association. Exchange began as a simple barter of commodities. This involved no promise, no risk and no usury. The limitations of barter were removed by complex barter, in which one selected commodity was used as a medium of exchange. However, the owners of the mediating commodity have a valuable monopoly and can charge tribute or interest for the use of the exchange media or money. In voluntary, mutual exchange associations this tribute can be eliminated by letting all products serve as medium of exchange. The effect is to use any wealth (goods) as basis for money. The title to the wealth (money) is exchanged and the actual wealth is thus transferred from one person to another. Such methods have been worked out in Proudhon's People's Banks, Greene' s Mutual Banks.

V. Voluntary Arbitration Association. When two parties to a contract are in disagreement; when dispute arises as to when or how much harm has been done to one's person or property, the disputants can settle the dispute out of courts intelligently; amicably and cheaply by voluntary arbitration.

VI. Voluntary Association of Mutual Understanding. ... the parties can have education, counsel or therapy ... would commit themselves to submit grievances and conflicts to such a procedure ...

VII. Voluntary Trust Association. A way to by‑pass courts, law and government for conveying property and, executing wills and peaceful intentions.

VIII. Voluntary Health Association. ....

IX. Voluntary Demographic Homestead Associations. … practicing replacement reproduction …

X. Voluntary Building Association. …

XI. Voluntary Tool Sharing Association. Costly tools and rarely used equipment can be shared by cooperative purchase, and by rental arrangements for use and maintenance.

XII. Voluntary Holding Association. Elderly persons with savings may invest in the physical equipment of a community. These assets become their basis for membership and old‑age insurance. Younger and more vigorous members could build up equity in a community by investing their labor. The physical assets could be the basis of issue of voluntary scrip or exchange media to pay for this labor. 
[Note by John Zube: Only to the extent that they do supply daily needed services, like gas, electricity, petrol, medical services, paying the rent, police protection, etc. Capital assets cannot be transformed into currency but only into capital securities.- J.Z. 12.11.01.]

XIII. Voluntary Defense Association. Benjamin Tucker said, 'Force of offense is the principle of the State, while force of defense is the principle of liberty.' Cynics sometimes say that 'might is right,' and moralists often reverse the statement. Laurence Labadie has pointed out more accurately that 'The idea of right prevails of him who has the might.' Thus it behooves the peaceful persons to combine, to develop their defensive powers. Usually peaceful persons abandon the whole field of might to the non‑peaceful. Thus, unconsciously, the peaceful ones become in effect the voluntary or reluctant slaves of those who would inflict a satisfactory amount of trouble on those who don't submit. An intelligent appreciation of might should be substituted for the emotional interest which has usually prevailed: Peaceful persons can associate in a voluntary defense association, which would include patrolling and inspection. With land, exchange, and other economic activity carried on by non‑exploitive voluntary associations, the major causes of military aggression would be eliminated. Voluntary defense associations could become adequate to likely aggressive incidents. Members would pay for the defence service they want, and not pay for services they don't want and don't get.

XIV. Association of Voluntary Associations. A federation of voluntary associations could replace the political state.


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