It’s long been a staple of “good government types” that everyone has a responsibility to be an informed citizen and then to vote on election day. Newspaper editorialists who’ve run out of actual things to editorialize about are fond of writing a piece (right before election day) about the duty to vote. I seem to recall that I’ve written such editorials a time or two in the distant past when I was an editor, although I did once write a controversial column asking ignorant people not to vote. But that’s another story entirely.
The argument I’m hearing right now, though, is from freedom-loving people who argue that libertarians and others who desire freedom have a duty to go to the polls and vote for the candidate who they think is most likely to bring about liberty. Well-meaning liberty-lovers frequently insist that the rest of us have such a duty.
The arguments break down into two types. First, there’s the argument that we have a moral duty to help elect candidates who also believe in freedom, but the kind of person who believes in freedom the way I do wouldn’t take the power if it were offered to him. You can’t throw fire at a fire in order to put it out — and that’s what it’s like to try to use political power to curb political power. Second, there’s the pragmatic argument that things are so bad in the country that we have to act collectively in any way possible to take some of the power and try to stop what’s being done. But isn’t that the sort of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place?
If you believe it’s immoral for the majority to rule a minority (or vice versa), I suggest that it’s more reasonable to decline to participate in attempting to become part of a majority enforcing its will. But even if you have no problem with doing that — as long as your majority is doing the “right things” — there’s the other issue. If you believe real change can come through elections, I challenge you to find evidence to support your belief.
I understand why so many people vote and participate in the system. They believe it’s their only choice, because they haven’t seen choices outside of that. They look at it as a choice between “doing something” and simply giving up. But some of us are seeking other solutions that might really work.
I see no evidence that elections will work for delivering individual freedom and I see no logical reason to see them as moral for those who believe in liberty. I don’t have a duty to vote for candidates that you favor, even if they’re people I generally like and agree with.
If you don’t yet believe that democracy and freedom have nothing to do with one another, you might listen to this ironic comment from Ron Paul, someone American freedom-lovers do generally like and agree with:
“The problem is that democracy is not freedom. Democracy is simply majoritarianism, which is inherently incompatible with real freedom. Our founding fathers clearly understood this.”
I won’t lecture you that you’re doing something morally repugnant and useless by voting. Please don’t lecture me about some duty you think I have. Deal?