Blogs > Liberty and Power > Nonvoting (by Carl Watner)

May 31, 2010 1:32 am


Nonvoting (by Carl Watner)



In his On The Duty of Civil Disobedience (1849), Henry David Thoreau asked:

How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. ... What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.

There are two principal demands that governments make: your taxes and vote. (Of course, there are many other 'demands', such as military service, send your children to school, have a drivers license, etc., but many of these are ancillary to the primary means of government survival, which is the collection of taxes.)

Now, of these two principal demands, taxation carries criminal sanctions: pay your money or we imprison your body and/or confiscate your property. However, as yet in most nations of the world, failure to vote in government elections carries no penalty.

Governments, like all other hierarchical institutions, depend upon the cooperation and, at least, the tacit consent over those whom they exercise power. In other words, government soldiers and police can force people to do things they don't want to do, but in the long run - in the face of adamant opposition - such coercion is either too expensive or too futile to accomplish its goals of subjugating entire populations. It is far simpler to motivate people to do what you want them to do, rather than forcing them to do it by pointing guns at them all the time. As Boris Yeltsin supposedly said,"You can build a throne with bayonets, but you can't sit on it long."

Educating generations of parents and children in government schools and teaching them to be patriotic and support their government in political elections is one of the fundamental ways governments garner public support. Citizens are taught that it is both their right and duty to vote. But all this is done with an ulterior motive in mind. As Theodore Lowi, in his book INCOMPLETE CONQUEST: GOVERNING AMERICA pointed out:

Participation is an instrument of [government] conquest because it encourages people to give their consent to being governed. ... Deeply embedded in people's sense of fair play is the principle that those who play the game must accept the outcome. Those who participate in politics are similarly committed, even if they are consistently on the losing side. Why do politicians plead with everyone to get out and vote? Because voting is the simplest and easiest form of participation [of supporting the state] by masses of people. Even though it is minimal participation, it is sufficient to commit all voters to being governed, regardless of who wins.

Not voting in government elections is one way of refusing to participate; of refusing to consent to government rule over your life. Non-voting may be seen as an act of personal secession, of exposing the myth behind"government by consent." There are many reasons, both moral and practical, for choosing"not to vote," and they have been discussed in my anthology, DISSENTING ELECTORATE. To briefly summarize:

Truth does not depend upon a majority vote. Two plus two equals four regardless of how many people vote that it equals five.

Individuals have rights which do not depend on the outcome of elections. Majorities of voters cannot vote away the rights of a single individual or groups of individuals.

Voting is implicitly a coercive act because it lends support to a compulsory government.

Voting reinforces the legitimacy of the state because the participation of the voters makes it appear that they approve of their government.

There are ways of opposing the state, other than by voting"against" the incumbents. [And remember, even if the opposition politicians are the lesser of two evils, they are still evil.] Such non-political methods as civil disobedience, non-violent resistance, home schooling, bettering one's self, and improving one's own understanding of voluntaryism all go far in robbing the government of its much sought after legitimacy.

As Thoreau pointed our,"All voting is a sort of gaming, like chequers or backgammon, ... . Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it." So whatever you do, don't play the government's game, Don't vote. Do something for the right.


For more commentary, please visit WendyMcElroy.com.

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