Word of the Day: Voluntarism


Following on from my article about Tim Wilson, I want to look a little more deeply at his ideologies. You may have noticed the word “voluntarism” in his short statement accepting his appointment as the Freedom Commissioner.

It has been a great pleasure working at the IPA with so many bright and talented individuals toward the common goals we share: a belief in individuals and fostering a society where every person can seek to realise their maximum potential; the human rights of free speech, association, movement, worship, property and self-determination; voluntarism; restricting the power of over-burdensome government; and a strong, philosophical and passionate commitment to free markets and a free society.


Tim is not, I suggest, using the word in the context of volunteering for charity. He is not describing Abbott’s cycling exploits!

This is one of those words with more than one meaning: the simple and the complex.

1: the principle or system of doing something by or relying on voluntary action or volunteers
2: a theory that conceives will to be the dominant factor in experience or in the world

Words are such interesting things, don’t you think? I don’t have a PhD, but neither do the majority of the population. We want to know what it is our public figures are telling us without having to submit a doctoral dissertation. I’m merely posing questions for consideration. Delving further into the meaning of voluntarism, there are rather heavy theological arguments around. There is also usage of the word in industrial relations.

Voluntarism is the view that the system of industrial relations should be characterised by a lack of legal intervention. The view that the law  should “keep out” of industrial relations was made prominent in terms of industrial relations theory by British writers such as Allan Flanders, and the  internationally-known labour lawyer Sir Otto Kahn-Freund, although this was a view which had been held by the trade union movement for some considerable time. The rationale among trade unionists and labour sympathisers for legal abstention was their view that lawyers did not understand industrial relations, and more importantly, that judges and courts of law tended to take a hostile view of trade unions.


It is worth noting this transcript I was alerted to yesterday and Philip Brent’s article of yesterday in relation to philosophical understanding. Philip’s article is very, very good. I highly recommend you pay him a visit! Mark Fletcher has also written a great piece about what ideology actually is. Also well worth reading. We learn about a person’s ideology from their communication to us: the words they use.

I don’t think industrial relations was the context in which Tim was using the word. Looking at the Liberal government’s actions around Gonski and science, it is my contention Tim was using the word in the context of the philosophical debate of will versus intellect. Voluntarism is fundamentally a theory of action according to which will takes precedence over intellect. There are many philosophical discussions available, including the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Excuse me if this worries me. If we have leaders believing intellect is not so important, therefore we don’t support the development of the nation’s intellect, where are our future innovations going to come from? The concept of a voluntarist working in a THINK tank tickles me. 😆 I am being flippant, I agree, but you get my drift, don’t you?

All in all, I’d like some clarification of Tim Wilson’s use of the word and his understanding of the meaning from the man himself.

While I was clarifying the meaning of voluntarism, I thought I’d just double-check Libertarian (versus Liberal) as I see it thrown around a lot lately too.

Stanford to the rescue again:

Libertarianism is often thought of as “right-wing”doctrine. This, however, is mistaken for at least two reasons. First, on social—rather than economic—issues, libertarianism tends to be “left-wing”. It opposes laws that restrict consensual and private sexual relationships between adults (e.g., gay sex, extra-marital sex, and deviant sex), laws that restrict drug use, laws that impose religious views or practices on individuals, and compulsory military service.


Interesting. Even more interesting is the constitution of the Liberal Party, of which I’d love a 1974 version (I’m sure stuff is missing that I read in 1974). I have added some emphasis below to sections that I see the current government being accused of failing. Are the Liberals failing their own constitution? This is a “Liberal” constitution, I am not so sure it is a “Libertarian” constitution.

Part II – Objectives

2. The objectives of the Organisation shall be to have an Australian nation:-

(a) dedicated to political liberty and the freedom and dignity of man;

(b) safe from external aggression and living in the closest communion with fellow members of the Commonwealth, playing its part in a world security order which maintains the necessary force to defend peace;

(c) in which national defence is a matter of universal duty, and in which the spirit of patriotism is fostered and all Australians united in the common service of their country;

(d) in which an intelligent, free and liberal Australian democracy shall be maintained by:-

i) a Parliament controlling the Executive and the Law controlling all;

ii) independence of the Judiciary;

iii) freedom of speech, religion and association;

iv) freedom of citizens to choose their own way of living and of life, subject to the rights of others;

v) protecting the people against exploitation;

vi) looking primarily to the encouragement of individual initiative and enterprise as the dynamic force of progress;

vii) developing to the fullest extent a national spirit in Australia;

(e) in which men and women who have been members of the fighting services and their dependants shall enjoy honour and security and where preference and generous repatriation benefits are recognised;

(f) in which primary, secondary and tertiary industries are promoted, new and adequate markets developed, the lot of country people improved, rural amenities increased, and decentralisation of industries encouraged;

(g) in which there shall be no nationalisation of any Australian industry without the approval of the people;

(h) in which constant employment at good wages is available to all willing and able to work;

(i) in which employer and employee have a sense of common interest and duty, and share as co-operators in all advances of prosperity, and in which living standards rise steadily as physical resources expand and ingenuity grows;

(j) in which social provision is made for the aged, the invalid, the widowed, the sick, the unemployed and their children;

(k) in which adequate medical services are within the reach of all;

(l) in which a comprehensive system of child and adult education is designed to develop the spirit of true citizenship, and in which no consideration of wealth or privilege shall be a determining factor;

(m) in which the youth of the nation is given every encouragement to develop its talent to the full, recognising that from its ranks will come the leaders of tomorrow;

(n) in which family life is seen as fundamental to the well-being of society, and in which every family is enabled to live in and preferably to own a comfortable home at reasonable cost, and with adequate community amenities

The above photo relates to an article in Independent Australia: http://www.independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/malcolm-fraser-tony-abbott-a-dangerous-politician,5267

10 comments on “Word of the Day: Voluntarism

  1. I have my pc back yay ! okay now my comment which was eaten by cyberspace lol.

    I really enjoyed your post on this subject. As most of us pretty much know words have many different meanings . I am going to guess that Tim Wilson could be meaning voluntarism not volunteerism.

    I am going by the end of Tim’s speech, I would say he probably has used it in the correct way. he was referring to to his time at the IPA. Which he was “not coerced into doing he free in what he did in that position”. Which from my understanding “no coercion” as in he felt “free”in how he carried out his position with no “Structure” looking over his shoulder ie: the government ( public sector rules ) .
    I am also going to assume Tim’s voluntarism is an adjective not the other stuff. So basically any policy, or business practice was based in voluntary action.
    Not the word Volunteering which many of us would associate with community, helping out and all that.
    I have seen voluntarism and Voluntaryism being used interchangeably around , but from my understanding Voluntaryism is the political theory one.

    So for a Conservative government to select him he was possibly a good choice for them not for those of us who are Non Coalition voters. Who would not like him because well Abbott. They are right leaning Conservatives, who use have different values and perspectives.
    I do not like this government , I did not like them in opposition either. I do not know much about Tim and other than what I have read in papers and seen briefly of him and his TL on twitter.

    Noely yes that is regarding slogans and spin working on voters ( I love the word punters 🙂
    No politician says what they mean and does what they say in my experience. If they do they tend to not be in politics very long.

    I think Paula Mathewson ( @Dragonista) wrote on reasons for the slogans and the sound bites during the election or someone on AusOpinion, I think. I might also be mashing up a bunch of bloggers, jouno’s and spin doctors lol.

    http://www.energizeinc.com/art/1vol.html.new I googled the differences between voluntarism and volunteerism and this came up. I think this was also a link in wikipedia.
    eek sorry I got carried away with my comment.


    • Sorry you had to do all that retyping! 😆

      My concern is the WILL versus INTELLECT “hypothesis” of voluntarism. If the current crop of RWers are so convinced WILL is the be all and end all, is this why we are NOT investing in education and science which will give us the innovation to replace revenue streams that are not viable in Australia?

      Plus the whole philosophy is based in religion, as far as I can tell, which is another nail in the coffin of science.

      People with no intellect exercising their will at random doesn’t indicate a good future for mankind.


      • I know exactly where you are coming from. This whole government is religious.

        Science has gone missing in Australia not sure how it will ever come back from this it was already needing extra focus and funding.
        My daughter who is going to be starting a science degree mid next year was really upset and angry when I said we have no science minister.

        The focus seems to be all about cutting everything and blaming the last government. In fact I am not sure what they are investing in ? the military Operation Sovereign Borders , Everything else has had their funding cut.


      • So if everything is being cut, where is the money going because the projected deficit is sky high!


  2. […] see, we can all interpret these provisions based on our own values and beliefs. If we look at my Word of the Day: Voluntarism investigation we can see that one word alone has many meanings.  We can also wrap these […]


  3. Thank you, this is the first I’ve seen the term “voluntarism” as it relates to industrial relations. Perhaps this shows I’m not a scholar but I do read a bit. When I had a relatively large team I used to tell the crew as far as I was concerned they volunteered to turn up to work I just happened to pay them for what they produced, I didn’t do this through the lens of industrial relations (I thought). More an emphasis that they had a choice to be at work, and to work for me, aka. volunteered. I can see I’m going to have to read this one a few times to ensure I understand it 🙂
    Thank you for sharing, all the best,


  4. OK the amount of research you have done here is admirable, though, it is far beyond the average punter. Nor, would they bother to look into it. Hence we are back to the crux of something we discuss a lot. No wonder slogans & spin work for punters, the bloody language too many of our pollies & their appointees use are beyond us. What the hell is wrong with a middle ground of, say, you know, something like, PLAIN BLOODY ENGLISH that means what you are saying with no effing ‘trick’…

    Sorry Robyn, rant over 😉


    • Love the rant – for it is exactly my point! What exactly was Mr Wilson telling us about his beliefs by using that word? Who knows? Neither you nor I do, although we can surmise as I have done.

      Exactly the response I was expecting! 😀


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