We reject the idea that some people are born superior to others, with a right to rule them. What, then, if anything, justifies a state’s power over its citizens?
In any American election, the vast majority of people don’t vote. Even among the portion of the American population that is eligible to vote, less than three-fifths turned out for the 2012 presidential contest, with over 90 million eligible voters staying at home on that November day. For those who do vote, the risible scene of the American electoral circus presents them with a choice between two wings of a fundamentally unified political establishment — an apparently indomitable welfare-warfare machine devoted to enriching corporate cronies and stifling the needful spontaneity of genuine freedom. Worse still, in national elections, no individual vote could really matter, and even assuming a single vote were somehow able to impact an election result, our collective electoral decisions extend only to an infinitesimal tip of the iceberg. As Jeffrey Tucker observed last November, “we elect about 0.02 percent of the overall number of people who rule us.” As we bring this picture into focus, we may begin to doubt the authenticity of the claim that ours is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” We may even start to see the actions of the government as essentially usurpatory, as robbing individuals of their right to self-determination.
After all, the state’s advocates frequently cite our right to vote as proof of (or at least evidence supporting) the proposition that we as a whole society collectively consent to being governed. For Rousseau, through the idea of the “general will,” each and every “citizen gives his consent to all the laws, including those which are passed in spite of his opposition.” According to Rousseau’s theory, his idea of the social contract, voting is an essential part of the process through which we arrive at this general will, the will of each separate individual being both a part of it and subordinate to it. But if casting a vote is as meaningless a gesture as some of the facts above seem to suggest, then we might have reason to question a social contract theory that relies so heavily on suffrage. Moreover, suppose we accept the argument that voting legitimates the state; we might nevertheless see this, as many libertarian theorists have, as among the best reasons not to vote. As George H. Smith argues, “Libertarians should oppose the vote in principle — they should oppose the mechanism by which political sanctification occurs.” If voting so much as tends to redeem the inherently unjust, coercive state, then arguably sane, peaceful citizens should take all reasonable steps to avoid the voting booth. In condemnatory language similar to Smith’s, the great libertarian polemicist Benjamin Tucker wrote that “[e]very man who casts a ballot necessarily uses it in offense against American liberty, it being the chief instrument of American slavery.”
Read the rest at libertarianism.org.