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Monday, October 15, 2012


Is it fallacious to believe that responsible citizenship requires casting a ballot for one or the other of two candidates, regardless of how far the candidates have departed from moral rectitude?
Before trying to arrive at an answer, let us reflect on the reason why the so-called duty of casting a ballot, regardless of circumstance, is so rarely questioned. Quite obviously, the duty to vote is one of those sanctified institutions, such as motherhood, which is beyond criticism. The obligation to vote at any and all elections, whatever the issues or personalities, is equated with responsible citizenship. Voting is deeply embedded in the democratic mores as a duty, and one does not affront the mores without the risk of scorn. To do so is to “raise the dead”: it is to resurrect questions that have been settled once and for all; it is to throw doubt on custom, tradition, orthodoxy, the folkways!
Yet any person who is conscious of our rapid drift toward the omnipotent state can hardly escape the suspicion that there may be a fault in our habitual way of looking at things. If the suspicion be correct, then it would be fatal never to examine custom. So, let us bring the sanctity of voting into the open and take a hard look at it, in a spirit of inquiry rather than advocacy.
Now for the hard look: Where is the American who will argue that responsible citizenship would require casting a ballot if a Hitler and a Stalin were the opposing candidates? “Ah,” some will complain, “you carry the example to an absurdity.” Very well, let us move closer to home and our own experience.
Government in the U.S.A. has been pushed far beyond its proper sphere. The Marxian tenet, “from each according to ability, to each according to need,” backed by the armed force of the state, has become established policy. This is partly rationalized by something called “the new economics.” Within this kind of political framework, it is to be expected that one candidate will stand for the coercive expropriation of the earned income of all citizens, giving the funds thus gathered to those in groups A, B, and C. Nor need we be surprised that his opponent differs from him only in advocating that the loot be given to those in groups X, Y, and Z. Does responsible citizenship require casting a ballot for either of these political plunderers? The citizen has no significant moral choice but only an immoral choice in the event he has joined the unholy alliance himself and thinks that one of the candidates will deliver some of the largess to him or to a group he favors. In the latter case, the problem is not one of responsible citizenship but of irresponsible looting.
The Duty to Vote
Does responsible citizenship require voting for irresponsible candidates? To ballot in favor of irresponsible candidates as though it were one’s duty is to misconstrue the meaning of duty. To cast a ballot for a trimmer, because no man of integrity is offering himself, does as much as one can with a ballot to encourage other trimmers to run for office. Can anyone conceive of any element of protest in such balloting? To vote for a trimmer goes further: it would seem to urge, as strongly as one can at the polls, that men of integrity not offer themselves as candidates.
What would happen if we adopted as a criterion: Never vote for a trimmer! Conceding a generous liberality in defining trimmers, millions of us would not cast ballots. Would the end result of this substantial, nonviolent protest, this large-scale demonstration of “voting by turning our backs,” compound our problem? It is difficult to imagine how it could. For a while we would continue to get what we now have: a high percentage of trimmers and plunderers in public office, men who promise privileges in exchange for ballots—and freedom. In time, however, this silent but eloquent refusal to participate might conceivably improve the situation. Men of integrity and high moral quality—statesmen—might show forth and, if so, we could add their numbers to the few now in evidence.
Would a return to integrity by itself solve our problem? No, for many men of integrity do not understand freedom; or, if they do, are not devoted to it. But it is only among men of integrity that any solution can begin to take shape. Such men, at least, will do the right as they see the right; they tend to be teachable. Trimmers and plunderers, on the other hand, are the enemies of morality and freedom by definition; their motivations are below the level of principles; they cannot see beyond the emoluments of office.1
Here is a thought to weigh: If respect for a candidate’s integrity were widely adopted as a criterion for casting a ballot, millions of us, as matters now stand, would not cast ballots. Yet, in a very practical sense, would not those of us who protest in this manner be voting? Certainly, we would be counted among that growing number who, by our conscious and deliberate inaction, proclaim that we have no party. What other choice have we at the polling level? Would not this encourage men of statesmanlike qualities to offer themselves in candidacy?
The Sanctity of the Ballot
Why is so much emphasis placed upon voting as a responsibility of citizenship?2 Why the sanctity attached to voting? Foremost, no doubt, is a carry-over from an all-but-lost ideal in which voting is associated with making choices between honest beliefs, between candidates of integrity. We tend to stick with the form regardless of what has happened to the substance. Further, this attitude toward voting may derive in part from the general tendency to play the role of Robin Hood, coupled with a reluctance to acknowledge this practice for what it is. Americans, at least, have some abhorrence of forcibly taking from the few and giving to the many without any sanction whatsoever. That would be raw dictatorship. But few people with this propensity feel any pangs of conscience if it can be demonstrated that “the people voted for it.” Thus, those who achieve political power are prone to seek popular sanction for their acts of legal plunder. And, as government increases its plundering activities, more and more citizens “want in” on the popular say-so. Thus, it is that pressures increase for the extension of the franchise. Time was when only property holders could vote or, perhaps, even cared to vote. Only in 1920 were women fully enfranchised. Now the drive is on to lower the age from 21 to 18, and this has already been achieved in some places.
Frederic Bastiat gave us some good thoughts on this subject:
If law were restricted to protecting all persons, all liberties, and all properties; if law were nothing more than the organized combination of the individual’s right to self-defense; if law were the obstacle, the check, the punisher of all oppressions and plunder—is it likely that we citizens would then argue much about the extent of the franchise?
Under these circumstances, is it likely that the extent of the right to vote would endanger that supreme good, the public peace? Is it likely that the excluded classes would refuse to peaceably await the coming of their right to vote? Is it likely that those who had the right to vote would jealously defend their privilege?
If the law were confined to its proper functions, everyone’s interest in the law would be the same. Is it not clear that, under these circumstances, those who voted could not inconvenience those who did not vote?

Anything That's Peaceful

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