Only Cowards Vote


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The official truth is that voting is a glorious thing, that it may even be a democratic duty. After all, most free countries have a history of bloodshed and war, which was the only way of finally getting rid of terror and oppression to establish Democracy: where we, the people, rule ourselves and there are no kings, lords, or absolute rulers. In such a world, are we not obliged to show our respects to those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom? Voting means exercising the very core principle of the freedom their sacrifice has granted our glorious generation; if not a legal duty, it should be a moral obligation.
We have heard it said many times in many ways: Blessed be thee, oh voter! And curs’d be thee, who do not honor the sacrifice of our fathers! He who does not vote has no right to complain!
But if you are one of us who do not vote, do not despair. Official truths are so often official lies that it is difficult to tell them apart. And if you do not understand the evils of political power and the state, then you may easily be misled to believe in its self-proclaimed goodness and the seemingly forever repeated gospel. Do not despair, because voters are nothing but the worst of hypocrites and despicable cowards.
Don’t believe me? Then let me show you.
There are two kinds of voters: those who vote because they believe in a candidate, a party, or a program, and those who vote to stop a candidate, a party, or a program. In either case, they are cowards and we should offer them nothing but our sincerest contempt.
Those who cast their ballots for someone or something do so out of belief that they can change the world through voting, that the system is generally just and accountable to the voting populace. Some of them may even believe that their vote actually counts, which should make us doubt their ability to think straight. But what they do is grant legitimacy not only to a candidate or party, but to the system of dog-eat-dog politics. Politics is a winner-takes-all kind of game, but winners and losers alike--they all share that they voted.
I have previously discussed what it means to vote and will not repeat myself. But it is safe to say that those voting for a change want to see that change happening--at least to some degree. But whereas this is obviously true, we also know that these people do not go about trying to accomplish this change in some other way: They expect voting to bring about the change through political means.
The people voting against some change are not different: They do not wish to see the particular change and therefore vote for someone not supporting it. And while doing so they automatically vote in support for some other change, unless their candidate is literally a conservative and wishes no change at all (but then why would they run for office?). Whether the change they vote against is good or bad, they still expect their voting to make the difference.
It is true that voters sometimes use other means to bring about change and vote. But even so, voting reveals their belief that political decisions not only matter but are important; they deem politics so important that they prefer voting to doing something else--and so they cast their ballot in support of a candidate, a party, or program. This is true even if the candidate does not offer the best of solutions or even promises to work for a solution close to the one preferred by the voter. They still cast their votes.
But of interest to us here is not primarily the rationale for casting votes, even though it is important to establish that votes are always cast for someone or something. What is of interest here is: What is the nature of this change for which all voters knowingly or uncomprehendingly cast their votes in support?
The change, it must be stressed, is always of a political nature. This is no surprise, but few seem to be able to or want to connect the dots: The change they desire is not for themselves, but for you and me and the neighbor’s son and the lady down the street and themselves. Their preference is not to put in an option they lack and would choose, but for a one-system solution that we all will be forced to accept one way or the other. The only means to establish a political solution is to do so by force and coercion: against people’s will if there are dissenters.
It is in this sense the voter is a despicable coward: just like the person hiring brutes to beat up an enemy rather than doing it himself, or hiring a hit man rather than making the kill himself, the voter hides and lets others do his dirty work. The voter is too lazy to try to establish the change for and by himself--or too evil to allow others to seek their own solutions. In either case, the voter pretends to have his hands and conscience clean while pointing murderers to their victims.
The only moral approach to change is to bring it about yourself and stand tall knowing it is your own work, whether in success or defeat. The coward hides behind smoke screens, representatives with fancy titles, and faceless, anonymous systems that carry out their deeds. The former is the radical, the free spirit, and the entrepreneur; the latter is simply the cheat, the fraud, and the crook--in democratic terms, the politician and voter.  
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Per Bylund's picture
Columns on STR: 63

Has a passion for justice.


Glen Allport's picture

Great column, Per, as always.

You've over-simplified just a bit, though. Voting is mostly a way to disempower the people, yes, and a way to hide the cruelty of State coercion behind a mask of pseudo-legitimacy. Voters are generally participating in tyranny and aggressing against their fellows. But there ARE times when voters are offered a chance to REDUCE or even ELIMINATE some portion of the State. For example:

You live in South Carolina in 1850, and a statewide proposition is on the ballot to END slavery. Do you refrain from voting, or do you vote to free the slaves?

Voting to REDUCE or ELIMINATE tyranny is not aggression toward others; it is at the very least an expression of brotherhood with those being oppressed, and a way to possibly improve the situation in a non-violent manner. Wouldn't it be nice if the South had ended slavery on its own via the ballot box (not that Lincoln gave a bleep about the slaves, of course; that isn't what the war was about but still: it would have been terrific if slavery had been ended prior to 1865 and without bloodshed).

A more recent, less dramatic (but real) example: Prop 13 in California (1978). From the Wikipedia article on the subject:

"The proposition's passage resulted in a cap on property tax rates in the state, reducing them by an average of 57%. In addition to lowering property taxes, the initiative also contained language requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases in all state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates. It also requires two-thirds vote majority in local elections for local governments wishing to raise special taxes. Proposition 13 received an enormous amount of publicity, not only in California, but throughout the United States.[2]"

Dramatically reducing taxes and making it harder to RAISE taxes is a good thing indeed; not anything like "freedom" but still something that reduced tyranny in a real, on-the-ground way and which allowed many Californians to keep their homes when they'd been on the verge of being taxed out of them. By now, other sources of tyranny have wrecked CA beyond what most would have believed back in '78, so yes: as long as the State remains, it is a danger, and it always strives to grow. But opposing State power via the ballot box with Prop 13 did slow the growth of tyranny and improved lives for many Californians for many years. It was NOT a form of aggression in any fashion.

I am aware of arguments that such partial victories are counter-productive, and I don't agree with them. The voters (and non-voters) who benefited from Prop 13 could and would have waited until they were dead for a Stateless society to come along and free them from their slavery. ABOLITION of all forms of initiated coercion is my goal, but I have no quarrel with those who want whatever reductions in tyranny they can actually get in their own lifetimes.

My point is that voting can, in rare cases, be used in support of freedom, and in those rare cases it is not merely non-aggression but perhaps even a moral duty. Voting in favor of human rights and for the reduction of tyranny is NOT the same as voting to increase or re-arrange an existing tyranny, which is why the chance to do so is very rare. The many arguments against voting do not sway me in such cases.

I discussed the subject in more detail in To Those Who Vote, and Those Who Don't:

Wilton D. Alston's picture

The argument that voting to end slavery justifies voting seems flawed to me for several reasons. The best of which is quite simple: That the outcome preferred by the voters is ostensibly moral does not justify for the methodology itself. It seems you're using the ends to justify the means. Stated differently, if one believes that slavery is wrong, then simply because voting *could* have conceivably ended slavery doesn't make voting good. In fact, the same benefit could be offered for other approaches, e.g., killing all slave owners. Yet few, if any, would suggest that this represents "a rare case where murder is justified." (Then again...) Anyway, the approach I might have used to end slavery, arguably a lifeboat situation for my ancestors, provides little information or useful premise for that multitude of situations outside the lifeboat.

Glen Allport's picture

People have the right to act in ways that might potentially reduce the tyranny they suffer from -- voting for lower taxes, for instance. The Prop 13 example (used in my comment above) is a good one: millions of people were spared dramatic property tax increases; in turn, many got to keep their homes instead of being taxed out of them. The argument that voting for Prop 13 somehow "harmed" liberty in the long run is worth considering, and I do consider it -- but mostly I think it's silly. I do not blame anyone for doing something to IMPROVE the situation for themselves and their families, in a way that does not agress against anyone, IN THEIR OWN LIFETIMES.

I'll say it again: if people wait for perfection before acting, if they insist on supporting nothing but an immediate leap to full abolition of all government, then they will live their entire lives under tyranny, and will have thrown away many chances to improve the situation for themselves and for others. Full abolition is the goal; refusing to do anything to reduce tyranny in the meantime does not move us toward the goal and is counter-productive in the short-term for certain, and probably in the long term as well.

On slavery, btw -- Britain (among other nations) ended slavery without a civil war, and while it was done by a vote in Parliament instead of by direct vote of the people, voting for anti-slave candidates certainly played a role -- and if the matter HAD been put to a direct vote, and the slaves were freed that way, they'd still have been just as free as after our civil war. Again, I don't see any problems with that. And c'mon: VOTING versus a war with 650,000 dead, millions maimed or wounded, civil liberties ended for the duration, entire cities wrecked, and the Southern states crushed under an added layer of de facto tyranny for decades. Which is the real threat to liberty: a non-aggressive vote to end slavery, or war?

tzo's picture

One might imagine that the property tax increase that was voted down resulted in some other tax increases to make up for the lost expected income. If this was the case, then those who were able to keep their houses did so at the expense of other taxpayers.

I don't blame anyone for voting in order to save their home, but this self-defense ballot probably just shifts the burden to others. In such situations, it is no doubt best to take your own interests into account first, but it is still manipulating the system for your benefit, to the detriment of others.

If a chunk of the government had to shut down due to lack of funding brought about by the vote, then that is another matter. But I don't believe that happens very often, if at all. Whether through tax increases, new taxes, or inflation, the government seems to always be able to fund its expansion.

So I guess that I'm not convinced that tyranny is slowed by any vote, and it will inevitably follow the path it always has—taking until it takes too much and crashes.

Glen Allport's picture

I believe tyranny WAS slowed by the vote on Prop 13. Pro-gov groups of all stripes pissed and moaned about it for decades, programs were cut, various proposed increases in spending had to be scrapped, and so on.

I don't disagree with you that in the end, the beast just kept on growing. Look at California today! What a mess!

But Prop 13 was passed in 1978. It capped property taxes and made it more difficult to raise taxes in other ways (here's the full text of the measure as adopted: ). Yes, it's been largely overwhelmed, but for a long time it kept the CA tyranny at bay -- slowed it down, at any rate. Don't knock that; real people benefited from more freedom and lower taxes.

Just because the CA legislature and various special interests managed to overwhelm the restrictions of Prop 13 and continue wrecking California doesn't mean it didn't benefit millions of people -- and for that matter, it STILL benefits the people of California. Prop 13 is proof -- no question -- that anything which leaves a coercive Power in place is insufficient. So what? Does that mean that an entire generation had to be taxed out of their homes? Prop 13 voters COULD have abstained, because the measure didn't completely end tyranny, but that would have been foolish. Do you really think people should NOT do what they can to fight tyranny? To cut the level of money taken from them by the State, and (inevitably) used to make things worse?

It would have been nice if the movement that brought Prop 13 to fruition continued on in a manner that continued cutting down the State in California. But even without that, Prop 13 was a major win for liberty, in the lifetime of those who voted for it. It was, to a large extent, a temporary win, but then life itself is temporary.

[Added comment]: That last statement is important: life is temporary. Heck: life is SHORT. You and your family will not be here on this Earth forever. Does it make sense for you, and those you care about, to suffer more tyranny than necessary just because TOTAL FREEDOM is not yet available? Would you stay in a filthy cell in the Gulag forever just because getting OUT of the Gulag wouldn't give you TOTAL freedom? Or does it make sense to oppose tyranny in the ways, and to the extent, that you CAN, in the time you have available on this Earth?

I don't oppose anyone who takes the position that only full abolition is acceptable: that's a personal choice. But neither do I oppose those who want to oppose tyranny in the less-than-complete ways available to them that might actually result in an increase in liberty for themselves and those they care about.

golefevre's picture

You swing from your tree, and I'll swing from mine....funny we all act like monkeys sometimes. Voting monkeys....

rickdoogie's picture

Voting may be able to make a statist system a little less oppressive for a while. But the very act of voting helps strengthen the statist system. Small picture / Big picture.

Glen Allport's picture

Here again, my two cents worth is that on those rare occasions that we can vote to unambiguously END or REDUCE tyranny, the "voting strengthens the statist system" meme is simply wrong. I'd again use the example of voting to free the slaves: that one's obvious, I would think, but ANYTHING that truly ends or reduces tyranny is worthwhile. Waiting for "perfection" is a good way to get nowhere. You can wait your entire life (and probably will -- most people who have ever lived, did) for real freedom, and refusing to support at least a significant INCREASE in freedom is silly, IMO.

Voting in any OTHER circumstance -- then I agree with you.

On the other hand, your or my individual vote means almost nothing, statistically, so it's not likely to matter either way in ANY voting situation.

Suverans2's picture

But what they do is grant legitimacy not only to a candidate or party, but to the system of dog-eat-dog politics. ~ Per Bylund

Another thing that they do by voting, Per Bylund, is prima facie evidence that (a) they are voluntary members of that political corporation, and (b) that they will accept whatever outcome the vote-counters tell them it is.

"It's not the people who vote that count, it's the people who count the votes" ~ Anonymous

"The coward hides behind smoke screens, representatives with fancy titles, and faceless, anonymous systems that carry out their deeds." ~ Per Bylund

Add this to your list, "The coward tries to convince others to do, what he himself will not do or has not done".