The Rule of Ideas
A Political Philosophy of Voluntarism
Landrum Kelly, Jr.
I will not try to label the political theory or philosophy set forth here as “ideocracy” or anything
else with a simple name. The” rule of ideas” will have to suffice, at least for now. I would like to
say that such would be the rule of God, but the ideas of human beings are not identical with the
thoughts within the mind of God, as can be seen by the wide range of opinions that human beings
have expressed within all types of political orders, including those of Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin..
Nonetheless, to the extent that human beings aspire to alternatives to violence, there is indeed
something divine about the prospect of a world in which ideas rather than violence or coercion (the
threat of violence) might be used for the sake of governance. I will not even at this point venture an
opinion as to whether the rule of ideas would imply total governance in the absolute individual sense
or in a collective sense. Nor do I know whether the rule of ideas, if it were achievable, would imply
a particular structure or hierarchy, or whether it might conceivably be expressed as a truly non-
hierarchical order. It seems, that is, that all hierarchies are coercive to some extent, but perhaps that
is a mistake on my part in so thinking. In any case, the appeal of a rule of ideas implies the end of
violence or threat of violence, and thus the end of coercion. The point of a rule of ideas, that is,
would finally be freedom. Thus does the sub-title link the idea of the rule of ideas to the idea of a
truly voluntary society. The full implications of voluntarism are not obvious at this point. There are
those, for example, who say that the army is a voluntary organization if one voluntarily joins it, but I
cannot see the logic of this claim. If one voluntarily joins a coercive organization, that is, then one is
handing over one’s free will, and this would seem to imply the utter end of a true spirit (or reality) of
voluntarism. Combine that fact that armies do not coerce merely their own members, but other
entire cultures, and one can see that the idea of a “volunteer army” is a bit of an absurdity.
By analogy, by “contracting” into a society (whether literally or metaphorically) that would take
away even the slightest degree of individual autonomy would seem to vitiate the claim that any
contractually-based society could possibly be voluntary. This might be only to say that a truly
voluntary is never possible, since any society would seem to require giving up some degree of
autonomy. Even so, I shall only say at the moment that contractualism does not to me imply
voluntarism. If we are to find the truly voluntary society, that is, and if it is possible that it could be
attained, we may be quite sure that it will not be based on any idea of the social contract. Indeed,
the rise of utilitarianism in its original “act utilitarian” variants might be seen to imply not only the
possible promotion of the greatest happiness, but also the manifestation of total and final autonomy
and responsibility on the part of the decision-maker. Even so, there are other problems with
utilitarianism, and so for the moment I can only surmise that not even utilitarianism would hold forth
much hope as the basis of a voluntary society, but in saying this I do indeed perhaps err.
In any case, the prospect of a society in which ideas ruled could only achieve its full potential of
being a truly just society if all human beings were always honest, so that the ideas which they
expressed were always sincere. In addition, at its best the rule of ideas would imply that persons are
not self-deluded, for there is no lie quite like the lie that one tells oneself–usually, I think, for the
sake of dominating or exploiting others, but also at times as a way of rationalizing past errors or sins.
In any case, whether the idea of a voluntary society is possible or not, it is the most ideal that I
can conceive of in terms of a social order, and thus I should have to say that it would likewise be the
most just society conceivable–but all of this is merely speculation at this point.
September 11, 2007