We can, it seems to me, glean from the foregoing that there is no moral or political or social obligation to vote merely because we are confronted with ballots having names and/or issues printed thereon. Is this so-called obligation of a citizen to vote, regardless of the ballot presentations, any more than a camouflage for political madness on the rampage? And, further, doesn’t this “obligation” deny to the citizen the only alternative left to him—not to endorse persons or measures he regards as repugnant? When presented with two trimmers, how else, at this level, is he to protest? Abstinence from ballot-casting would appear to be his only way to avoid being untrue to himself.
If we seek more evidence than we now have as to the sacrosanctity of ballot casting as a citizenship duty, we need only observe the crusading spirit of get-out-the-vote campaigns. One is made to feel like a slacker if he does not respond.
To rob this get-out-the-vote myth of its glamour, no more is required than to compare ballot-casting as a means of selecting representatives with a method devoid of all voter judgment: selection by lot. Politically unthinkable as it is, reflect, just for fun, on your own congressional district. Disqualify those under 21, the insane, all illiterates, and all convicts.4 Write the names of the balance on separate cards to put into a mixing machine, and let some blindfolded person withdraw one card. Presto! Here is your next representative in Congress, for one term only. After all, how can a person qualify to vote if he is not qualified to hold the office himself? And, further, it is assumed, he will feel duty-bound to serve, as when called for jury duty.
The first reaction to such a proposal is one of horror: “Why, we might get only an ordinary citizen.” Compare such a prospect with one of two wrongdoers which all too frequently is our only choice under a two-party, ballot-casting system that no longer presupposes any agreement on constitutional questions and the aims of government. Further, I submit that there is no governmental official today who can qualify as anything better than an “ordinary citizen.” How can he possibly claim any superiority over those upon whose votes his election depends? And, it is of the utmost importance that we never ascribe anything more than “ordinary” to any of them. Not one among the millions in officialdom is in any degree omniscient, all-seeing, or competent in the slightest to rule over the creative aspects of any other citizen. The recognition that a citizen chosen by lot could be no more than an ordinary citizen would be all to the good. This would automatically strip officialdom of that aura of almightiness which so commonly attends it; government would be unseated from its master’s role and restored to its servant’s role, a highly desirable shift in emphasis.
Reflect on some of the other probable consequences:
a. With nearly everyone conscious that only “ordinary citizens” were occupying political positions, the question of who should rule would lose its significance. Immediately, we would become acutely aware of the far more important question: What shall be the extent of the rule? That we would press for a severe limitation of the state seems almost self-evident.
b. No more talk of a “third party” as a panacea. Political parties—now more or less meaningless—would cease to exist.
c. No more campaign speeches with their promises of how much better we would fare were the candidates to spend our income for us.
d. An end to campaign fund-raising.
e. No more self-chosen “saviors” catering to base desires in order to win elections.
f. An end to that type of voting in Congress which has an eye more to re-election than to what’s right.
g. The mere prospect of having to go to Congress during a lifetime, even though there would be but one chance in some 10,000, would completely reorient citizens’ atten tion to the principles which bear on government’s relationship to society. Everyone would have an incentive to “bone up,” as the saying goes, if for no other reason than not to make a fool of himself, just in case! There would be an enormous increase in self-directed education in an area on which the future of society depends. In other words, the strong tendency would be to bring out the best, not the worst, in every citizen.
It would, of course, be absurd to work out the details, to refine, to suggest the scope of a selection-by-lot design, for it hardly falls within the realm of either probability or possibility—at least, not for a long, long time. Further, the real problem is at a depth not to be reached by merely meddling with the present machinery.
Why, if one believes selection by lot to be superior to the present degraded system, should one not urge immediate reform? Let me slightly rephrase an explanation by Gustave Le Bon:
The reason is that it is not within our power to force sudden transformations in complex social organisms. Nature has recourse, at times to radical measures, but never after our fashion, which explains how it is that nothing is more fatal to a people than the mania for great reforms, however excellent these reforms may appear theoretically. They would only be useful were it possible suddenly to change a whole nation of people. Institutions (social organisms) and laws are but the outward manifestation or outcome of the underlying ideas, sentiments, customs, in short, character. To urge a different outcome would in no way alter men’s character—or the outcome.5
Why, then, should selection by lot be so much as mentioned? Merely to let the mind dwell on this intriguing alternative to current political inanities gives all the ammunition one needs to refrain from casting a ballot for one of two candidates, neither of whom is guided by integrity. Unless we can divorce ourselves from this unprincipled myth, we are condemned to a political competition that has only one end: the omnipotent state. This would conclude all economic freedom and with it freedom of speech, of the press, of worship. And even freedom to vote will be quite worthless—as it is under any dictatorship.
The problems of our times lie much deeper than the mechanics of selecting political representation; responsible citizenship demands, at the minimum, a personal attention to and a constant re-examination of one’s own ideas, sentiments, customs. Such scrutiny may reveal that voting for candidates who bear false witness is not required of the good citizen. At the very least, the idea merits thoughtful exploration.