Replies to 'Buck the Vote'
[David Calderwood and Joe Johnson reply to the article, Buck the Vote, Urges George H. Smith. Then I add a few additional comments. -- Ari Armstrong]
You may not be giving Smith's "legitimation" argument enough credence. You are of course familiar with the concept of "popular consent." Others have noted that even dictatorships must have an underlying minimum of consent to function... there simply aren't enough storm troopers to compel a substantial majority to willing slavery.
Another concept, not considered widely yet, is offered by a new science called Socionomics.
This science postulates that all social outcomes, from stock market ups and downs, to peace and war, and political change are driven by an underlying pattern of euphoria and pessimism in social mood (AKA mass psychology). While this seems quite radical, the data supporting it are voluminous.
In view of this, voting can be seen as an amplifier for the contagion of emotions through the populace. This view is consistent with history... the rise of popular democracy has coincided with "democratically" elected despotisms whose murderous record far exceeded past government actions, a past where the masses of people were far less concerned with politics.
Participation in the electoral process is a strong amplifier of nationalism. It amplifies the fervor with which individuals adopt the prevailing political ideology and explains why war has changed its nature from one of territorial conquest to ideological conquest. Where once states went to war to take the land and productive capability thereon (obviously with an incentive to minimize the destruction and death in the process), modern wars are total wars, where death and destruction of any quantity are justified to convert the enemy to one's own viewpoint. And since they might be lying, maybe it's just easier to kill them all. This is a modern incarnation of the Crusades.
From my standpoint, voting in anything other than local elections clearly offers legitimacy to the process and places greater power in the hands of those who are elected. Since the US is too large to be effectively governed even in a minarchist's concept, voting in national elections is probably counterproductive from a libertarian standpoint. Also acknowledging another argument, since the state really is first and foremost an agent of theft and redistribution, why on Earth would one expect that seizing its reins (even if the LP could do so) would confer a benefit? Would you try to become the top Don in the mafia in order to reduce crime? Such a view leads to a host of hilarious absurdities.
People should do what they feel they must. In the aggregate it may not matter all that much. Socionomic analysis suggests we are in for a long period of retrenchment when it comes to social mood. This period will likely last decades and decades, and while the waves will fall and rise, the overall trend will be toward negative. Social outcomes will thus become increasingly nasty. The last such major period saw collectivists take over half the world, and that retrenchment was one degree less than the one we face now.
I think that, for the time being, individualists are best off trying to carve out oases of tranquillity for themselves while keeping the principles of liberty fresh and hot. The time to see them bloom again in larger society is probably some time off...
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I just finished reading your view on George H. Smith's visit. Of course I agree with you, even if I may be even more sympathetic to Smith's views than even you are. That said, here are two arguments against nonvoting, which I used with Bob Glass (whom you know had long been a nonvoter), who ultimately registered as a Libertarian and was to run for Governor, but had to drop out.
1) Thomas Jefferson's original version of the Declaration of Independence - of which he was VERY proud, and the editing of which caused him immeasurable pain - contained an abolitionist plank which would have freed the slaves. Contrary to what today's government school history teachers claim, there is no conflict in Jefferson's "All men are created equal", and Jefferson's intent. Jefferson wanted to free the slaves, but was outnumbered.
So, to go back to the points about abolition, had more abolitionists been involved in politics in the late 18th century, Jefferson's words might not have been stricken, and the slaves would have been freed from the beginning. In short, more is done by doing, than not doing. Oh yea, just imagine what might have happened if abolitionists had been more involved prior to the Civil War. Would Lincoln have been able to hide behind slavery for the use of force against the southern states? We'll never know, because abolitionists largely believed in protesting by refusing to become involved.
2) From what I have read in the LP News (I do not know of the factuality of it), there are more Libertarians who were elected to office who repealed the office over the past 30 years, than who currently serve in elected office. Thus, working within the system has done more to strangle the state than ever has been accomplished by conscientious nonvoting.
In short, while I agree that democracy is a disgrace, and further agree with the adage "democracy is two wolves and a chicken voting on what's for lunch", clearly, 'dropping out' ain't working, nor will it ever, since the press interprets that - unjustly - as approving of whatever outcome is handed down. Or as I responded to Bob Glass when he said that voting only encourages the bastards, "not actively opposing them hasn't discouraged them any either, and now you're stuck living under their laws."
Just my take. Thought it might add something to the argument.
Ari Armstrong Replies
I'll start with Johnson's comments, as I don't have much to say in response. I do think political activism can be useful, as I've said. But I don't think Johnson gives enough credit to Smith's alternatives to direct political activism. Civil disobedience and peaceful resistance can have huge impacts. So can creating market alternatives to government programs.
If Johnson is too ready to adopt political solutions, Calderwood is too quick to reject them.
I think it's obviously false that "all social outcomes... are driven by an underlying pattern of euphoria and pessimism in social mood..." Some, maybe. But surely optimism and pessimism are at least as often symptoms of other underlying factors. For instance, if people euphorically adopt socialist planning, they will butt up against the economic realities described by Mises, then they might become pessimistic. Even to the extent that social mood impacts outcomes, this mood is in turn influenced by deeper philosophical dispositions.
Regardless, voting doesn't necessarily feed "the contagion of emotions" or nationalism. A principled, strategic vote, accompanied by outspoken articulation of the principles, can be an effective way to buck trends.
I suppose it's possible that the U.S. is simply too large to allow a libertarian minimal state, but I'm not convinced. The term "minimal state" pertains more to the scope of activity, not the amount of total resources consumed. Off hand, I can't think of any inherent reason why a minimal state cannot be successful over a large geography. Certainly a minimal state has a better chance to succeed over a large area than a socialistic state does.
I don't think the analogy to "seizing the reins" is a good one. A better analogy is that the libertarian is trying to set the horses free. Similarly, libertarians aren't trying to become the "top Don," they are trying to eliminate that position.
I certainly agree that individuals should try to create good lives for themselves. That is, after all, the point. But I'm more optimistic about the short-term prospects of liberty. Yes, the American national government is totally out of control. But the critics are not rolling over. Groups like the ACLU and the LP are speaking out for individual rights and limits on government power. I think the current rise in state power is a short-term reversal of otherwise positive trends.