November 6, 2016

On Voting

By In Articles, C.Jay Engel, Politics

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.

The question of whether or not people, especially Christians and libertarians, should vote can lead to controversial answers. But the answers generally should not be controversial at all.  Voting is neither commanded nor condemned in the Bible; and there is neither a moral obligation to vote nor is there a moral restriction on voting.  It is quite clearly in the realm of Christian liberty.  Whenever the pro-voter comes across the conscientious non-voter, he should issue no amount of condemnation.  And whenever the non-voter comes across the convinced voter, the same applies.  Voting or not voting is neutral in and of itself.

In this light, there are some considerations that one should make.

First, the presupposition that exists in this society is that voting is a pillar of Western Democracy and it is one of the greatest rights that “we” have.  It is true that it is a pillar of Western Democracy, but from the libertarian perspective, Western Democracy is quite bad.  Any social system that emphasizes mass voting as the primary means of change is a threat to the long standing role of private property and natural order in society.

It is by voting that the multitudes will leverage their greatness of number against the private property of the individual citizen.  It is in voting that actions that are wrongful if done by the individual are suddenly legitimate if done by the State because they have been endorsed by the “majority voter.”  Remember, the Soviet Union had 98% voting turnout!

Robert Nef, in his essay Against the Primacy of Politics, noted that in the culture of democracy there is a tendency to consider the primacy of the political system over against the primacy of the individual, the family, religion, and the private estates of these families.  Voting then, especially when done by the masses educated in government schools and in front of the television at night, generally has a negative effect on liberty.  The politicized effort toward mass voting is dangerous for the private property owner, and beneficial for the expansion of the state. The fact of the matter is that the expansion of voting has occurred alongside the the shrinking of liberty.

There was one libertarian woman (I think it was Wendy McElroy, but I can’t remember it at the moment) who was asked whether she supported women’s suffrage.  She answered (paraphrase) “No I don’t. And I don’t support men’s suffrage either. Voting is not the point. Private property and liberty are the point.”

Our current problem is not that the right people don’t vote; it is that so much depends on voting!  Freedom, not democracy, is the goal of liberty.

Second, voting is not the most preferred vehicle of change, even in our statist society.  If you do decide to vote, you should also hold that there are better means of long-term change, if change is what you desire.  I want to emphasize the way I said this. The fact that voting is not the preferred method of impacting the political environment, is not a argument against voting; it is an argument against inflating the effects of voting.  The better means of impacting the political environment is engaging in the world of ideas and aiming to persuade others of the goodness of liberty.

The State longs for its citizens to be uneducated and to see the State as the only solution to all social problems.  The libertarian will want to counter this longing by educating and defending liberty and capitalism.  This is why the Mises Institute has posted most of the works it owns, including all Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises, up on its website for free. Because of this, millions around the world can simply log on and read the classic works.  This is also why Ron Paul made it a point in both his campaigns, as well as in his legislative office, to repeat himself time and again in clarifying that he was doing all this primarily to change people’s minds.  People often critic Paul for not doing very well in elections or never getting his “legislation bills passed,” but when we realize that those are secondary issues to convincing the next generation that liberty is a proper solution to tyranny, we see Paul as a remarkable success.

The next, more practical, means of initiating change besides engaging in the world of ideas is the concept of nullification and secession.  This is always a fun topic to present to Progressivist statists who love voting so much they think it should be mandatory.  Because while they claim to love the idea of majority rule, they sure are bugged by the idea that a smaller area (say, a State compared to the Federal Government; or a County compared to a State) might come together and tell the level of government directly above them that they aren’t going to be participating in some law that was passed.  So much for will of the people!

Nullification, which has been recently popularized in the libertarian world by the outstanding Tom Woods (see here), is simply the legal means by which a smaller jurisdiction decides that what a more centralized jurisdiction has done legislatively is wrong and therefore will not be enforced in their area. This can be done at any time and it is far more effective than casting a vote primarily because the issues that can be nullified can rarely be voted on anyway!

These things are not said so as to convince one not to vote.  I agree with Murray Rothbard who stated: “I don’t think it’s immoral to vote, in contrast to the anti-voting people… provided that you go into it with your eyes open….”  But there are several more things we consider if voting is not necessarily immoral.

1). Don’t expect substantial change to happen via voting, the State will never be shrunk via the ballot;

2). Don’t look down on others who are convicted not to vote because of the depravity of the American State and their desire to not have anything to do with it;

3). We shouldn’t have this idea that voting is a fundamental right and it should be extended as far as possible. Voting is a not a right (for all true rights are both negative and natural), it is a political creation.

4). Most people have no clue what the State is, what it does, and why it is bad. Most people vote with their eyes closed and in complete ignorance.  Voting with your eyes open does not mean voting in knowledge of all the political trends and issues, rather, it means voting in knowledge of what is right and wrong.

5). Never compromise on principle if you vote. Never vote for new revenue, never vote for the expansion of government. In CA, where I live, the libertarian voter has good reason to vote no on every proposition this year.  As for candidates, any candidate that A) has no political philosophy (that is, guiding principle); or B) will not actively and without compromise work to roll back the current scope of government by whatever (ethical) means, is not worth your vote.  This means that the “voting for the lesser of two evils” doctrine is not recommended. Evil, in this context should carry the meaning: “will in some way shape or form contribute to a growing government.” (Thus, even people like Paul Ryan, who the media portrays as extremely financially conservative, has never drafted a budget that cut spending; only the rate of the proposed increase in spending and therefore [and for several other reasons] he is no friend of liberty). One should only vote, if he decides indeed to vote, to vote for an actual good, which carries the meaning, “will without compromise seek to rollback the size and scope of government.” Unfortunately, this eliminates pretty much every candidate in recent decades. Because Ron Paul met both A and B above, I wrote him in for 2012 Presidential elections (and ended up casting no other votes). It is also under points A and B that I am not quite ready to say “Yes” for Rand in 2016.

If you vote, do so with your conscience clear. Do not vote to give permission to the State to do something that is wrong if you yourself did it.  If you don’t vote, do so with your conscience clear. There are better things in life than participating in State charades, which is what voting has come to be with all its songs and stickers and media-driven attention. Remember, liberty has not been protected with increasing democracy in the 20th century, it has been nearly extinguished.  The State longs for the people to vote for its legitimacy of immorality. A false god, it lusts for attention and praise. We live in the age of the State; where you Ought to Feel Proud to be a part of the State’s grand vision.

“The state… consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting ‘A’ to satisfy ‘B’. In other words, [the state] is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advanced auction on stolen goods.”

– H.L. Mencken

“When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental – men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

– H.L. Mencken

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com
  • RA Jameson

    How is voting not coercion? A tyranny of the majority? In addition, it (falsely) conveys to those that practice voting that morality is rightly determined by the will of the majority. As Christians, we posit that morality is determined by the will of God. Alone. For these reasons, I believe that voting on issues of morality is, in fact, immoral.

    • reformedlibertarian

      So if there is a proposition that says: “excise taxes shall be applied to fruit starting in one year,” it is coercion to vote no? You should read the Rothbard piece I quoted from.

      Good to hear from you again brother.

      • RA Jameson

        That is a fair question. The practice of implementing “excise taxes” is in itself, immoral, whether 51% agree with the tax or even disagree with the tax. The issue is one of morality: dont tax people. (Ron Paul makes this same argument with abortion. It is murder, but we are dealing with a moral issue, not a legislative issue). But that can only rightfully be done/expected when the person implementing the tax subscribes to a Gospel-based morality. That is a long answer for: we don’t use evil to combat evil. If the state taxes me on my fruit, I will pay it. I don’t expect them to act “rightly”. Their desire to tax me is symptomatic of their sinful nature. In the same way, should the state desire to take my head, like they took Paul’s, I wouldn’t vote that it is a bad idea, or even murder. We all know that it is (sensus divinitatis, Cain knew that it was murder when he killed Abel, long before “law”). To put it up for vote is to entertain the idea that morality is subjective.

        I continue to pray that our Lord is magnified in all that you do on TRL. Keep up the good work.

        • reformedlibertarian

          I agree with all of that. They are wrong to put such things on the ballot. But since they have, I don’t know that I am guilty of coercion if I vote no.

          • RA Jameson

            I submit that I have no answer. It is my experience that voting on propositions where the default is “no” unless so many people vote yes etc falls into a different category than voting on who will be my neighbor’s ruler.

  • RA Jameson

    Secondly, the only tool provided to the Christian for the improvement of society is the Gospel of Christ. To participate in voting is to try to “fix” your neighbor by circumventing the divinely prescribed method (that is, from the inside out). Again, I believe that voting is fine if you and 4 friends can’t decide where to eat for dinner, but it is woefully inadequate as a means to establishing morality.

    • reformedlibertarian

      Which is why I won’t vote yes on anything which tries to fix my neighbor. See my other comment. There are different types of propositions that can be voted on. I think I’m just a little more cautious than to say “voting is immoral.” Depends on what’s going on.

      • RA Jameson

        Do you vote for your neighbor’s ruler? Or only on propositions? Allow me to clarify: voting on issues of morality is immoral.

        • reformedlibertarian

          Trust me, I understand your Christian and Rothbardian logic here. Politics is a morally hazardous. I have voted for Ron Paul, yes. But I personally haven’t voted for anyone else. And my position on this matter in regards to the readers of this site is one of cautious grace, so as to be patient with those who haven’t reached the same conclusions as I.

          • RA Jameson

            Thank you for the dialogue brother.

  • Bobby Crenshaw

    I was pleased to see that you provided a definition for “evil” when used in the discussion of “voting for the lesser evil.” That was very helpful given the rhetoric I see from those who misuse this phrase.

  • Antonio Germano

    I saw part of that last Mencken quote on Lew Rockwell’s site today. Great minds think alike…

  • Brian K. Jacobson

    Your Wendy McElroy quote reminded of me of when G.K. Chesterton once said “it is not a question of whether women are good enough for votes, it is whether votes are good enough for women.”