"It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men." ~ H.L. Mencken
I Don't Mind If You Keep Voting, But Do You Mind If I Keep Laughing While You Do?
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"It is the continuing decline in faith in the politicization of society that has, for well over a year, made the 2008 presidential race the preoccupation of the mainstream media. The media must continue to advertise the products and services of the establishment owners, just as it does for the sellers of prescription drugs and other nostrums. Still, the outcome of the 2008 election will confirm the truth of the proposition that it really doesn't matter for whom you vote. Regardless of whether Obama or McCain prevails, the government will be re-elected, and will continue to increase its powers over you. Should you remain dissatisfied with the behavior of the system, the media will be right back to begin its campaign on behalf of 'Election 2010,' urging you, once again, to continue supporting the process that continues to frustrate your expectations. In the words of Emma Goldman, 'if voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.'''
~ Butler Shaffer from the LewRockwell.com Blog
There are some questions that tend to recur whenever one talks to almost anyone outside the realm of radical libertarianism. Actually, these questions seem to recur not only in debates with statists, but also in debates among those who share a radical libertarian, i.e., market anarchistic, point of view. One such question is the sanctity of the democratic process, voting and all that.
Is voting a necessity for a free society or simply busy-work for the unwashed proletariat, completed while the rulers continue to do what they've always done? Russell Langcore's recent column reminded me that this question has, thankfully, pretty much been decided among radial libertarians. However, he also reminded me of a couple of issues that almost always come to the fore when one discusses voting.
A Really Short Answer for a Relatively Short Question
Here's the question: Do I vote? Here's the answer: No.
While some folks would argue that he's no philosopher, I'll still take George Carlin's argument on non-voting as excellent justification. (I realize that I may be in the minority on that.) I cannot think of a single scenario whereby I might vote in a national election such as that for president. Not one.
I don't care who the candidate is. I don't care what issues to which he seems to gravitate. I don't care about his record, his leadership qualities, the apparent first-lady-ness of his wife (or her husband), his insider-ness or his outsider-ness, his race, his height, his weight, how well he speaks, how wonderfully he photographs, the nation of his birth, how likely it might be that he's fun to drink with, or his appreciation for unique uses for a fine cigar.
More importantly though, given two other observations, voting strikes me as an incredible waste of time for anyone who is ultimately interested in two rather vital issues: personal liberty and personal responsibility.
First of all, under the U.S. "first-past-the-post" electoral system, one is assured of only two viable parties. Secondly, with the use of a secret ballot, one is assured that no one will assume personal responsibility for the actions of their ostensible candidate or his party. Every voter is automatically absolved for doing that which his vote suggests that he is doing: selecting the implementer of the policies he supports.
When I say the U.S. system guarantees only two viable parties, I'm simply citing Duverger's Law. While there may remain debates about whether or not there are exceptions to Duverger's Law, the U.S. system seems not to be one. (This is a striking irony given how rarely the resulting pseudo-kings obey any laws after they are elected!) When I say that there will be no responsibility for the action of either party, I am referring to two other phenomena.
One, the inherent incentives of a coercive state virtually assure that only those who ascribe to either megalomania or theft-is-good as a paradigm will survive the electoral process. The overwhelming bulk of the money necessary to elect a candidate is given with 'strings' attached to it. Lobbying is widespread because it works. But much more importantly, everyone who contributes to a candidate hopes that their candidate will enact their version of control over everyone else, and everyone knows it! There is no other alternative for a coercive state.
Two, people who vote are quick to distance themselves from the guy to whom they gave their support. It seems to me that if your candidate lies, cheats, steals, or gets a whole bunch of people killed, you--the voter who supported him--might share some blame. (I also realize that with the amount of graft in the U.S., even if no one voted, the 'elected' cretins would probably still find a way to keep spending money and killing people.) With the secret ballot, everyone can claim to be disappointed with the guy they actually helped elect!
Becoming president is a viable quest only for those too stupid to know better or too smart to not realize the availability of responsibility-free power and plentiful stolen cash to the holder of the office and all his friends. Notice I said 'viable' quest. There may be those who would use the incredible power of the office for good. Frankly though, I rather think the Presidency of the United States is rather like the One Ring from Tolkien's classics. It eventually corrupts all who possess it, even if they were initially pure of heart. I won't comment on my own cynicism regarding the existence of any such person. Let's just say that 40-plus unrepentant rights infringers and counting is enough evidence for me.
While I have conveyed my view, better erudition than mine is available. There is a plethora of non-voting--both pro and con--and general free market prose already out there. A rather awe-inspiring (although still somewhat incomplete) bibliography in testament to that fact, put together by Johan Ridenfeldt, with some additions from yours truly and others, may be found below. (Please note that some of the essays listed are "answers" to others. The listings are in alphabetical order, regardless of intended target.)
A Non-Voting Bibliography
For general theory on non-voting and political party involvement, see:
' the late Samuel Edward Konkin III, so-called agorist, founder of The Movement of the Libertarian Left, author of The New Libertarian Manifesto (PDF), editor of the magazine New Libertarian, coiner (in 1971) of the term 'minarchy.' ' the late Robert LeFevre, founder of the Freedom School and Rampart College . ' Ronald N. Neff, editor of the (currently exclusively online) magazine The Last Ditch.
' George H. Smith, Carl Watner, and Wendy McElroy (her website), the three founders of the magazine The Voluntaryist (old web site), currently edited by Watner. For specific articles on non-voting (with some pro-con debate), see:
-- Wilt on D. Alston, 'Legitimizing Voting: A Modest Proposal', Strike-the-Root.com.
' Anonymous, 'Why I Refuse to Register (to Vote or Pay Taxes)', The Voluntaryist, no. 100 (October 1999). (Also available here.) ' Raymond William ['Bill'] Bradford, 'Voting Is No Sin', Liberty, November 1996. (A response to McElroy's 'Why I Would Not Vote'Even Against Hitler')
-- Richard O. Hammer, 'Is it Wise to Vote? Getting My Head Ready for Freedom'
' Jacob G. Hornberger, 'Five Questions to Ronald N. Neff', With Mr. Ronald N. Neff's reply, 'Ron Neff replies.' The Last Ditch, February 3, 2002 .
' Samuel Edward Konkin III, 'The Damnation of Bill Bradford', New Libertarian. (A response to Bradford 's 'Voting Is No Sin')
' Roderick T. Long, 'Dismantling Leviathan from Within. Part I: Can We? Should We?', Formulations, vol. 2, no. 4 (Issue no. 8) (Summer 1995). (Also available here.) ' Roderick T. Long, 'Dismantling Leviathan from Within. Part II: The Process of Reform', Formulations, vol. 3, no. 1 (Issue no. 9) (Autumn 1995). (Also available here.) ' Roderick T. Long, 'Dismantling Leviathan from Within. Part III: Is Libertarian Political Action Self-Defeating?', Formulations, vol. 3, no. 2 (Issue no. 10) (Winter 1995'1996). (Also available here.) ' Roderick T. Long, 'Dismantling Leviathan from Within. Part IV: The Sons of Brutus.' Formulations, vol. 3, no. 3 (Issue no. 11) (Spring 1996). (Also available here.)
' Wendy McElroy, 'Neither Bullets nor Ballots', The Voluntaryist, no. 1 (October 1982). (Also available here.) Reprinted ('in slightly alterered form') as Introduction to Carl Watner, Wendy McElroy & George H. Smith, Neither Bullets nor Ballots: Essays on Voluntaryism (Voluntaryists, 1983). (Also available here.) ' Wendy McElroy, 'Climbing Off the Bandwagon', The Voluntaryist, no. 3 (February 1983). (Also available here and here.)
-- Stefan Molyneux, 'My Son: Klan Reformer', Strike-the-Root.com. (This is a personal favorite of mine.)
' Ronald N. Neff, 'Ron Paul's Gift', The Last Ditch, September 19, 2001 . ' Ronald N. Neff, 'Fifty Ron Pauls and the Government with Only One Law', The Last Ditch, September 19, 2001 . Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.
' Hans Sherrer, 'Non-Voting as an Act of Secession', The Voluntaryist, no. 114 (3rd Quarter 2002). (Also available here.) ' George H. Smith, 'The Ethics of Voting ' Part I', The Voluntaryist, no. 1 (October 1982). (Also avaliable here.) ' George H. Smith, 'The Ethics of Voting ' Part II', The Voluntaryist, no. 2 (December 1982). (Also available here.) ' George H. Smith, 'The Ethics of Voting ' Part III', The Voluntaryist, no. 4 (April 1983). (Also available here.) ' George H. Smith, 'Party Dialogue', New Libertarian, vol. IV, no. 8 (December 1980'February 1981). Reprinted in Carl Watner, Wendy McElroy & George H. Smith, Neither Bullets nor Ballots: Essays on Voluntaryism (Voluntaryists, 1983).
' Joe Sobran. 'How to Vote for Liberty', Sobran's: The Real News of the Month, October 26, 2004 . Reprinted in The Voluntaryist, no. 126 (3rd quarter 2005). (Reprint version also available here.) -- Geoff Turecek. 'An Open Letter to Voters: Please Don't', Strike-the-Root.com.
' Carl Watner. 'Cultivate Your Own Garden: No Truck with Politics', The Voluntaryist, no. 40 (October 1989). (Also available here.) ' Carl Watner. 'Harry Browne ' Have You Forgotten?: "The Lesser of Two Evils is Still Evil"', The Voluntaryist, no. 85 (April 1997). (Also available here.) ' Carl Watner. 'Is Voting an Act of Violence?' The Voluntaryist, no. 103 (April 2000). (Also available here.) Even more articles may be reached via online repositories:
-- The No Treason Voting Archive.
' The Strike The Root Non-Voting Archive. (Several, but not all, of the articles noted here can be found in this archive!) ' The Voluntaryist's list of 'Additional essays related to non-voting and The Dissenting Electorate.'
Books on non-voting include:
' Sy Leon. None of the Above: The Lesser of Two Evils . . . Is Evil. (With an Introduction by Harry Browne.) Fabian Publishing Co., 1976. ' Sy Leon. None of the Above: Why Non-Voters Are America's Political Majority. 2nd ed., rev. ed. (re-titled) with a new Introduction by John Pugsley. Fox & Wilkes, 1996.
' Carl Watner, Wendy McElroy & George H. Smith. Neither Bullets nor Ballots: Essays on Voluntaryism. Voluntaryists, 1983. (See also, The Voluntaryist bibliography.) ' Carl Watner, ed. I Must Speak Out: The Best of The Voluntaryist 1982'1999 (PDF). San Francisco, California: Fox & Wilkes, 1999. Table of Contents and Other Material. ' Carl Watner with Wendy McElroy, eds. Dissenting Electorate: Those Who Refuse to Vote and the Legitimacy of Their Opposition (Introduction Only) (Also available here.) McFarland & Company, 2000. Table of Contents, along with some other material, available here.