12 April 2011

Liberty and Voting

From LvMI:

This is a far cry from the common belief that democracy offers any definite and automatic protection of liberty. This illusion, that the democratic process is the same as liberty, is an ideal weapon for those few who may desire to destroy liberty and to replace it with some form of authoritarian society; innocent but ignorant persons are thereby made their dupes.
Under the spell of this illusion, liberty is most likely to be lost and its loss not discovered until too late. Liberty can easily be taken from the individual citizen, piece by piece and always more and more, as more and more persons under the spell of the same illusion join in the Pied Piper proceedings. Finally, all liberty is gone and can be recovered only by a bloody revolution.
Liberty does not mean the right to do anything that is the product of a democratic form of government. The right to vote, which is the sovereignty feature of democracy, assures only the liberty to participate in that process. It does not assure that everything done by that process shall automatically be in the interests of liberty. A populace may commit both political and economic suicide under a democracy.
Anyone who will defend his liberty must guard against the argument that access to the ballot, "by which people get whatever they want," is liberty. It would be as logical to assert that liberty in the choice of a wife is assured to a person if he will put it to the vote of the community and accept their plurality decision, or that liberty in religion is assured if the state enforces participation in the one religion that receives the most votes in the nation.

One of the reasons I don’t wax eloquent in defense of democracy is because I don’t view democracy as a system that is especially good at defending against tyranny.  In fact, I do not think there is a single system of governance that does a particularly good job of defending against tyranny.  The reason I don’t vote, then, is due to having recognized three simple facts about democracy.

First, voting is not a right; it is simply a systemic preference.  By this I mean that that being human does not automatically qualify one to vote.  Within the American system of democracy, there are plenty of reasons for excluding people from voting, with the main ones being citizenship status, age, criminal records.  And there are more besides.  Furthermore, voting is only possible within a certain system of governance.  One can vote until he is blue in the face, but if he lives in a monarchy, all that voting is for naught.  Thus, voting is simply a mechanism of governance.  It is neither inherently right nor inherently wrong; it simply is.

Second, the vast majority of votes don’t actually matter.  There are two ways in which this observation is true.  In the first place, the massive amount of voter fraud that occurs renders some elections meaningless.  In the second place, votes for opposing candidates cancel each other out, and so any given election is really decided by a net surplus, and, in a pure democracy, a candidate only needs a net surplus of one.  Anything less is a loss; anything more is superfluous.

Third, democracy can be as tyrannical as any alternative form of government, and this is something of which I want no part.  One is responsible for the consequences of one’s vote.  If I vote for a candidate who promises health care reform and lower taxes but instead delivers immoral wars and higher taxes, then I am partially responsible for those consequences.  Furthermore, even if my preferred candidate loses, the mere act of voting demonstrates acceptance of the political system.  Seeing that the current American system is both corrupt and tyrannical, I do not want any part of it, and do not want to be seen as supporting or authorizing this evil in any way.

As a bonus, note also that there are very few politicians worth casting one’s vote for.  Even if I were predisposed to voting, there is only one politician I would be willing to vote for, and his name is Ron Paul.  And even though I agree with much of what Mr. says, I am still waiting to see concrete results from his chairmanship of the House Domestic Monetary Policies Subcommittee.

As it stands, I see the current American system of democracy as nothing more than a smokescreen with which to distract the American people from the problems actually facing the nation.  The popularity of political punditry speaks, I believe, to the average American’s preference for political theatre over political policy.  As can be imagined, this makes for a rather vapid political climate.


  1. So your vote that doesn't matter makes you responsible?

  2. @anonymous- perhaps you should read the post again. My vote doesn't matter in the sense that it doesn't change the outcome of an election (this would be a utilitarian argument). It matters in the sense that it legitimizes the system (this would be a moral/philosophical argument).

  3. Indeed, but

    "If I vote for a candidate who promises health care reform and lower taxes but instead delivers immoral wars and higher taxes, then I am partially responsible for those consequences. "

    So you are choosing both, not just your answer to me. It's ok, you aren't Vox.

  4. @anonymous- perhaps you should read the post again. I only asserted "the vast majority of votes don’t actually matter." It is impossible to determine with certainty which votes do or don't matter, but one can determine the probability of one's vote's importance.

    As an example, consider an election where candidate A receives 100,000 votes and candidate B receives 150,000 votes. Candidate A's votes cancel out all but 50,000 of candidate B's votes. If I voted for candidate B, it is possible that I cast the deciding vote. I can't be sure, therefore I can only determine the probability of whether my vote was the decisive one. The simplest method is to divide my vote (1, unless I'm in Chicago) and divide it by the excess votes (50,000), which gives me a .00002 probability of casting the decisive vote. Stated another way, this is equivalent to a .002% chance of casting the decisive vote. Incidentally, this is the extent of my responsibility for the outcome (my "partial responsibility," as it were).

    If my candidate loses, however, I bear no direct responsibility for the outcome of the election. I do, however, by my voting, offer legitimacy to the entire system, and am thus responsible for this.

    In regards to my earlier comment, let me just say that I was not being perfectly literal when I said that my vote didn't matter. It just matters so little that its value may as well be zero, especially in light of expected value analysis (and as to that, let me simply say that I place very little value on the outcome of elections).

    I hope this clears up any confusion you may have. If you feel compelled to comment again, please make a point of reading the post again and thinking (logically, if you can manage it) before posting again. If you cannot handle this, your comments will be deleted. I have no interest in entertaining the willfully obtuse.