Politics as a Means to Liberty
I happened upon an opinion piece by a Caleb Matson making the case for quitting politics. Since November elections are just around the corner, I think it would be a good idea to ponder the voting question.
For less than a year I was a non-voting, anarchist libertarian. Prior to returning to political activism, I made the typical anarchist argument in my blog posts and in forums I participated in that the act of voting just gives justification to an immoral and corrupt political system.
While I am an atheist, I was a Christian for over thirty years prior and during my anarchist stint made the case that voting and political participation were contrary to the will of God. I concluded that Matthew 6:24 (which says one cannot serve two masters) gave the best reason for a Christian not to be politically active and argued that to vote or participation in politics was to sanction the rule of men over God.
In retrospect, there was one thing that I did constantly during my brief stint with religious, philosophical, and political anarchism: comment and pay attention to current or historical events which also focused on politics including, but not limited to, elections.
If one reads the many essays by non-voting anarchists, the authors of such articles tend to focus on almost exactly the same thing with smatterings of libertarianism thrown in for good measure, respectfully. I would dare to argue that by not voting it can be construed by the powers-that-be that non-voters consistently reel against that they are giving sanction or agreeing by default to the very system they abhor with all of the taxes, regulations and corruption that comes along with it.
Unlike countries like Zimbabwe, Venezuela, or Cuba, the United States is not nor will it ever degenerate into a dictatorship. I will admit things are bad here but as long as people are alive and are educated, the awful things seen now can be reversed. The U.S. still has institutions, such as the courts, that can nullify actions the government takes.
The U.S. Supreme Court decisions rebuking the President assuming more power using the war of terrorism as a justification, it’s striking down an election law amendment on campaign contribution limits, and the court’s overturning Washington D.C.’s gun ban come to mind.
Thanks to the ability to vote, people can cast ballots to reject proposals that will enhance government expansion. For example, despite a number of ballot measures that enacted new taxes and government spending being passed, in 2004 one initiative on the ballot in Arizona that was rejected that deserves attention. The proposal would have allowed Arizona State University to accept personal gifts of private stock to the university in which the profits of stock sales would be used by A.S.U. to fund things like research. Proponents ran a well-funded campaign with radio and print ads with minimal opposition. The ballot question went down to defeat handily, and proponents were sent packing never attempting to try their proposal again.
From 2000 to 2005 I was involved in a political group, known as Valley Business Owners and Concerned Citizens. The group operated mainly in a few cities located in the eastern section of the Phoenix-metro area (a.k.a. the east valley). During my activism with V.B.O., we passed changes to Mesa’s city charter prohibiting the use of eminent domain, helped defeat proposals that would have enacted bond issues for projects such as the arts and defeated a plan for Mesa to spend money on a stadium for the Arizona Cardinals. Prior to my joining, the group was able to repeal Mesa’s personal property and real estate taxes, repealed Mesa’s tax on grocery purchases and repealed a pool fence ordinance in Gilbert.
One of my heroes and the father of market anarchism, Lysander Spooner, had this to say about voting in his tract, No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority:
In truth, in the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent, even for the time being. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, renders service, and foregoes the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self- defence, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man takes the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot – which is a mere substitute for a bullet – because, as his only chance of self- preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, in an exigency into which he had been forced by others, and in which no other means of self-defense offered, he, as a matter of necessity, used the only one that was left to him.
Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby meliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.
Therefore, a man’s voting under the Constitution of the United States, is not to be taken as evidence that he ever freely assented to the Constitution, even for the time being. Consequently we have no proof that any very large portion, even of the actual voters of the United States, ever really and voluntarily consented to the Constitution, EVEN FOR THE TIME BEING. Nor can we ever have such proof, until every man is left perfectly free to consent, or not, without thereby subjecting himself or his property to be disturbed or injured by others.
As Spooner’s statement clearly points out, the act of voting is not to be taken as sanction of the system a person lives under nor the actions of individuals that govern the country utilizing the state’s machinery. Rather, as he points out, if the act of political participation is done out of self-preservation (i.e. self defense), then the act of voting and political action is justifiable.
In light of Lysander Spooner’s wisdom, I think non-voting libertarians might want to give political activism and voting another look. I would also point out that, after every election politicians do not look at how many people voted to claim a mandate but how many votes they garner. It is the amount of votes, and not necessarily participation, that politicians look to claim legitimacy and which counts in the end.
Since this is the case, it begs this question: if the act of voting or political participation, in any manner, could potentially stave off terrible policies from being enacted (such as tax increases and the examples I outline above) then wouldn’t it make sense to cast ballots or participate in politics in some manner in the likelihood of seeing an anti-liberty ballot question or candidate go down to defeat?
I would think so and imagine the message it would send the statists if all of the sudden proposals and candidates dedicated to expanding government power were being rejected. While I do not believe voting is a civic duty and respect people’s choice not to vote, what has to be kept in mind is that western political systems, like those used in the U.S., rely mainly on one thing: feedback.
I think of voting as how I would cast a jury verdict on how well the policies of government officials and their proposals are doing. Even though I am not always successful and cannot always hang an election like I can a jury, the fact that I can throw a monkey wrench into attempts to implement liberty-destroying proposals is certainly reason enough to keep casting ballots.
The state of the present day culture is the result of years of indoctrination on the part of politicians, religions, government schooling, and the media telling people that facts don’t matter, there are no absolutes, and no one can know anything about anything. I think it is incumbent upon us to demonstrate not only is this mentality wrong, but why it is too.
I admit I and my fellow political activists will not always prevail. However, I think it is best to use every tool possible to maximize individual rights and minimize government power. While freedom will not come as a result of a political solution or action, I believe that the act of voting is one of many tools that libertarians can utilize to help lay the groundwork for its return.
That will be the payoff I look forward to.