MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘universal suffrage’

If You Vote, You Have No Right to Complain

Posted by M. C. on April 10, 2022

Yes, democracy is the delusion that everyone can live at the expense of everyone else, but the larger problem for those genuinely supporting democracy is to hold two contradictory principles at once: your own view of what’s good policy and what is the best candidate, and your superseding belief that democratic voting makes for the best governance. 

Joakim Book

“Most citizens are not doing us any favor by voting. Asking everyone to vote is like asking everyone to litter.”
—Jason Brennan, Against Democracy

No, the title is not a typo: I mean the opposite of the quip many people use after elections: “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”

The romantic view of democratic government is the idea that we all come together, display our values and give our say, and through the miracles of aggregation we receive a responsible government that somehow reflects those values. And for the next four years, we can happily spend our time on what really matters in life, while our appointed representatives carefully and competently steward our shared public goods in the best interest of our nation.

If you didn’t sneer while reading the previous paragraph, you have either never participated in a democracy or you are in for a brutal shock once you lift your nose from that fairytale-like view. One most astute critic of democracy, Jason Brennan, opens his book Against Democracy by summarizing how his view differs from most others:

Many of my colleagues entertain a somewhat romantic view of politics: politics brings us together, educates and civilizes us, and makes us civic friends. I see politics as doing the opposite: it pulls us apart, stultifies and corrupts us, and makes us civic enemies.

The big promise of democracy and universal suffrage is that you—yes, you!—can make things better if you just get your buttocks off the couch, inform yourself, and go vote. In every election cycle we are told that it’s sooo important to “get out the vote”—which is weird, because in many states in America’s electoral system it’s completely pointless to vote and because why in the world would a candidate say “Go vote!” unless they meant “Go vote … for me”?

The overlooked flipside of democracy’s promise is that you—yes, you—might make things worse. For what do you know about tax rates or environmental legislation or how to structure healthcare or infrastructure needs or what ought to be taught in public schools? How could you possibly have any reasonable grasp of military procurement or how much the federal government ought to spend on x? (Well, the last one does have a reasonable answer: zero.)

I always find it peculiar that those in love with democracy are always so excited and serious in the months leading up to an important election—and always so disappointed afterward. Their candidate didn’t win, and now they must reconcile that consequence with their own (clearly mistaken) worldview. The people didn’t want what we were selling—how odd.

Three common reactions are

  • The opposition stole the election (“It was Russia’s fault!”). While the Russia story in America or Britain in 2016 never made much sense, it was a convenient scapegoat for those who couldn’t rectify their devotion for democracy with the terrifying outcomes it had just delivered. For well-educated, coastal elites it was much easier in 2020–21 to ridicule the evil Trumpers for pursuing this avenue in the January 6 attacks, even though the shoe had been on the other foot in 2016 ( … and 2000). Democracy is about hurling crap at your opponent, while conveniently forgetting that you yourself are full of it.
  • We need more education and to “get the message out.” Clearly, our campaign slogans weren’t good enough or our candidate(s) didn’t resonate with the electorate or there is some ignorance or misunderstanding among the voting public. Because they, like all good and honest people, share our conviction of what’s important. It couldn’t possibly be that many others disagree with our assessment of the world, the values we espouse, or the “obvious” policies we say we wish to pursue?
  • I hate my fellow countrymen! How could they be so stupid? Don’t they understand that Trump/Hillary/Corbyn/Johnson/Macron/Le Pen is so clearly incompetent and dangerous and dumb and that a Good Society™ requires my candidate to progress?

What’s so interesting about all these reactions is that they betray the foundational premise of democracy—the aggregation of the public’s will into one whole. 

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