When Voting Is Defensible


Exclusive to STR

Anarchists and other non-voters present laudable arguments to support their refusals to participate in voting. However, they paint with too broad a brush when they assert that voting in all times and in any circumstances constitute a support of the state. To that point, every literate person should read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. The following worthwhile anecdote is contained within:

Douglass (1995, p. 13),

Mr. Gore was a grave man, and, though a young man, he indulged in no jokes, said no funny words, seldom smiled. His words were in perfect keeping with his looks, and his looks were in perfect keeping with his words. Overseers will sometimes indulge in a witty word, even with the slaves; not so with Mr. Gore. He spoke but to command, and commanded but to be obeyed; he dealt sparingly with his words, and bountifully with his whip, never using the former where the latter would answer as well. When he whipped, he seemed to do so from a sense of duty, and feared no consequences. He did nothing reluctantly, no matter how disagreeable; always at his post, never inconsistent. He never promised but to fulfill. He was, in a word, a man of the most inflexible firmness and stone-like coolness.

His savage barbarity was equalled only by the consummate coolness with which he committed the grossest and most savage deeds upon the slaves under his charge. Mr. Gore once undertook to whip one of Colonel Lloyd's slaves, by the name of Demby. He had given Demby but few stripes, when, to get rid of the scourging, he ran and plunged himself into a creek, and stood there at the depth of his shoulders, refusing to come out. Mr. Gore told him that he would give him three calls, and that, if he did not come out at the third call, he would shoot him. The first call was given. Demby made no response, but stood his ground. The second and third calls were given with the same result. Mr. Gore then, without consultation or deliberation with any one, not even giving Demby an additional call, raised his musket to his face, taking deadly aim at his standing victim, and in an instant poor Demby was no more. His mangled body sank out of sight, and blood and brains marked the water where he had stood.

The state often executes the same ultimate penalty for disobedience.

In Demby's case, there are conceivable scenarios where he or other captives would have had a chance to "exercise some kind of vote." Perhaps Colonel Lloyd might have sought the advice of a trusted slave, or what if Demby or other slaves sought to "influence" the colonel's decision on an overseer by consciously working harder for the preferable villain. It's absurd to accuse these people of endorsing the institution of slavery. If they are able to discern a less murderous overseer and cause his selection, their behavior is an act of self defense.

Granted, there are ways to act defensively while damaging the system such as running away. But these are clearly more dangerous paths. Nor are all choices mutually exclusive. A slave could both choose an overseer and attempt to run away, thus increasing his odds of survival if he's captured in the escape attempt, thus making an attempt equal in effectiveness ' if successful -- to the slave who would only choose non-cooperation and running away as tactics. It is even arguable that the former is more effective at undermining the institution, as a "deceitful slave" might impose a greater economic cost in the form of risk than the predictable ethical "non-voting" type.

You can vote as an act of aggression. You can also vote in self-defense. If you are assaulted, you can flee the person. If cornered, you can choose to dodge the blow. If unable to dodge the blow, you might choose to block or deflect the attack. A proportional defensive counter-attack may even be of order. And while it's perfectly laudable that a person can choose fleeing or dodging as their personal range of moral choices, the choice is exactly that -- personal instead of universal. Aggression requires intent. Self-defense is the strategic root. Voting is a tactic.

Douglass, F. (1995). Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Dover Publications, Inc.

Your rating: None
Bob Jackson's picture
Columns on STR: 27

Bob Jackson is the author of "The Amazing Liberteens."  His libertarian comic book can be viewed online by clicking the SANCTUARY link at www.amazingliberteens.com.