Does Voluntary Simplicity Glorify Poverty?

Voluntary simplicity can be misinterpreted sometimes as glorifying or romanticizing poverty, a myth encouraged perhaps by the fact that some of the more extreme proponents of simplicity – e.g. Diogenes, St Francis, Gandhi, etc. – did indeed live lives of staggering material renunciation. Such extremism can be alienating if it is considered to be a defining or necessary feature of the simple life, which it is not.[1] There is also a risk that advocates of simplicity will be understood to be downplaying the plight of those in the world who genuinely live lives oppressed by material deprivation. It is of the utmost importance, then, to be perfectly clear on this point: voluntary simplicity does not mean poverty. Poverty, in its various dimensions, is debilitating and humiliating.[2] Voluntary simplicity, on the other hand, can be understood as an empowering expression of freedom; a choice to live with fewer market commodities in the belief that a better life, and a better world, will result. It is about the importance of understanding and attaining material sufficiency,[3] while, at the same time, creating a life rich in its non-material dimensions.[4]

[1] See Jerome Segal, Graceful Simplicity: Toward a Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream (1st ed, 1999) 20.

[2] On the difficulty of defining poverty, see Segal, above n 1, 21.

[3] See Thomas Princen, The Logic of Sufficiency (2005).

[4] See Segal, above n 1, 22.

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