"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant." ~ John Stuart Mill
The Future of Not Voting
Column by Alex R. Knight III
Exclusive to STR
Given that those in government have designated this another election year, we’re going to be hearing a lot about this biennial farcical charade for the next several months. And in truth, one could compile a small library just out of the amount of writing voluntaryists have done on the subject since at least the 19th Century. Thus I’d like to hope my own latest contribution to this topic will not simply be a regurgitation of that long and honorable tradition.
While the merits of not voting have already been sufficiently expounded upon by myself and numerous others, the briefest of recapitulations is perhaps still warranted here: The non-voter takes the moral high ground by not only refusing to consent to be governed, but refusing willful endorsement of the arbitrary rule of others and their property. He or she also escapes the possibility of being compelled to “serve” on a jury in a government “court” (read star chamber) – or even being coercively forced to be screened by bureaucrats to possibly be compelled to be part of one. It also means the non-voter’s name, date of birth, and address is in one less government database and on one less list – to say nothing of the fact that on that preposterous Tuesday in November every two years, the non-voter can enjoy staying home or engaging in other unrelated activities with a wholly clear conscience. He or she has not participated in that day’s violence-by-proxy. He or she has not, in essence, elected to hire a host of hit men.
Now, all of this of course doesn’t even address the rampant fraud, abuse, and corruption inherent to the the entire election system – from “illegal aliens” being allowed to vote, to names drawn out of local obituaries, to obvious manipulation of electronic voting machines, to judges in Florida where a candidate’s brother happens to be governor determining the final outcome . . . and so on. And it doesn’t need to. It should be obvious to all but the willfully blind that such rampant dysfunctionality is a foundational aspect of government itself – as inherent to such a vile and backwards institution as air is to breathing. By virtue of all of the points indicated in the previous paragraph, we have already effectively eviscerated any need to delve into such predictable shortcomings. We have already elevated ourselves to a higher sphere of thought and circumspection.
What we have next to consider is what, if any, effect not voting can or will have on government in general. Can enough widespread non-voting assist in bringing a government down?
Already in America, the vast majority of the population doesn’t vote – either because government standards do not permit them to because of age, a history of having violated any one of a myriad of government “laws,” alleged mental deficiencies, etc. – or because they simply don’t want to. And this lack of desire to vote may range anywhere from the voluntaryist’s principled refusal to do so, to the middle-American’s “I don’t like who’s running,” or “It doesn’t matter.” However, it is the latter category that presently predominates. In numerous previously conducted polls and studies, American non-voters generally hold the same kinds of “mainstream” political and social beliefs as those who do vote. The purest libertarian refusenik, as it were, is clearly still in the minority of non-voters by far.
What is the net effect of this, then? Clearly, it would be preferable to the voluntaryist cause if at least most present non-voters (who number around 100 million, according to a documentary film produced within recent memory by two brothers visiting from France) were essentially conscientious objectors to the political process. However, it goes without saying that this process of philosophical conversion is still going to take considerable time and effort yet. Moreover, the numbers of people still voting are sufficient to lend the idea of government the perceived legitimacy it needs to stay in power. But let’s look at a hypothetical scenario for a moment: What if the attrition rate of non-voters were to approach some, say, 90% of eligible participants?
In a future scenario in which even a significant minority (10% and rising, say) of the populace were committed voluntaryists, such a drastic drop-off in voter participation would simply be endemic to the radical philosophical shift occurring. Doubtless, at the same time, the filing of tax returns would be steeply diminishing, government employees would be walking off the job in record numbers, seeking work outside of the “public sector,” and so on.
But let’s keep the horse pulling the cart, and suppose, sadly, that the dark taint of statism and its utterly backwards logic will continue to plague and pervade the brains of the American mainstream for a while longer – even in this proposed near-future event. What could we expect? Would those in government look at their lack of popularity as a sign that it was time to step down and actually start doing something meaningful and productive with their lives?
Here’s what I’d predict: As is already the case in Australia (which in turn has been the model for the American ballot system since it was first instituted Down Under in the 1850s), I would expect the politicians would simply make voting like paying taxes – mandatory. Sure, many people would object, muddleheadedly arguing that the “right” to vote also equals the “right” to not vote as well (I fail to see how one has any “right” to elect to misappropriate anyone else’s liberty or property by effectively hiring a group of thugs to do it for them), and the phony orchestrated news programs and talk shows would be replete with such staged talking heads putting on a phony resistance performance. But in the end, to be sure, the prevailing refrain would be that voting now needs to be compulsory (again, just like paying taxes) in order to “save freedom, and “honor our forefathers,” and that holy grail, of course, “save democracy.” Non-compliance would mean fines (i.e., extra taxes – similar to refusing to get health insurance under Obama’s plan for us all), or, in cases of hardcore defiers, community service or even jail time. Rather than suffer the embarassment of knowing no one trusts them anymore, the ruling elite would gladly institute such measures to cover up the tide of discontent. Anything at all, in fact, to remain in firm rule over us all.
Never forget that those who occupy the political structure everywhere –most certainly including America – are not instituting the array of police state measures we are seeing crop up around us with such blinding speed for no reason. Both the pace and character of these developments is not just a way of passing the time until a new shipment of Crayolas and coloring books can be delivered to the various legislative, executive, and judicial chambers. And to crystallize Emma Goldman’s point of over a hundred years ago, the only reason voting is allowed is because it doesn’t actually change anything. Thus, to not vote is to select the moral path, and it is also an example-setting talking point by which to spread the ideas of voluntaryism to the uninitiated. But it cannot, I believe, in and of itself eliminate government.
In speaking about his excellent and instantly classic novel about the parallels between overt savagery and the thinly-veiled barbarism of government, Lord of the Flies, the late William Golding once remarked: “The shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system, however apparently logical or respectable.”
Would that the disaffected masses will learn this simple truth – and the sooner, the better.