Why I Do Not Vote

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originally appeared November 14, 2000.

the 2000 election behind us – if, indeed, it will ever be behind
us – I have now gone 36 years without participating in the
voting process. It was not always thus. Upon my graduation from
law school, my first full-time job was that of executive secretary
of the Nebraska Republican Party. I later became a member of the
State Central Committee, the Young Republican State Executive Committee,
one of the incorporators of Barry Goldwater's first national fund-raising
campaign, and a member of the Nebraska delegation to the 1964 Republican
National Convention. The Goldwater movement was the precursor to
the modern Libertarian Party, and was largely energized by young
men and women who were convinced that state power had become destructive
of individual liberty and social order, and that "working within
the system" could change all of that. My experiences in the
Republican Party convinced me otherwise. Like Karl Hess, a man who
was to become one of my dearest friends years later, I quickly lost
my appetite for politics and have never returned.

Is there a case to be made for voting? Indeed there is, if
one believes that social order is a quality that can be instilled,
by violence and other coercive means, by political authorities.
I do not accept this proposition. To the contrary, I believe that
social order is the product of unseen, spontaneous influences of
which most of us are not consciously aware. The study of economics
helped me to understand how we respond, marginally, to fluctuations
that are continuously generated by one another's self-seeking pursuits.
I also came to understand that politics – like a rock thrown
through a spider's web – disrupts these informal processes
as well as the existing patterns of interconnectedness upon which
any social order depends.

suspect that most of those reading these words share my sense of
liberty and social order, and so I shall not address the mindset
of the statists herein. I understand the temptation, born largely
of a sense of frustration, of wanting to participate in the political
process in order to get persons elected who more closely reflect
one's views. The illusion of a short-term reduction in the rate
of increase of state power clouds the longer-term consequences inherent
in political participation. Political systems derive their power
not from guns and prisons, but from the willingness of those
who are to be ruled to expend their energies on their behalf. For
state power to exist, a significant number of men and women must
sanction the idea of being ruled by others, a sanction that
depends, ultimately, upon the credibility of those who exercise
such power. When we vote in an election, we are declaring, by our
actions, our support for the process of some people ruling others
by coercive means. Our motivations for such participation
– even if they be openly expressed as a desire to bring state
power to an end – do not mitigate the fact that our energies
are being employed on behalf of the destructive principle that liberty
and social order can best be fostered through the coercive machinery
of the state.

of the sadder comments that I heard, just prior to the recent election,
was from a radio talk show host whose thoughtful and analytical
mind I generally respect. In response to a caller who complained
that Gov. Bush was philosophically inconsistent upon some issue,
he declared that "politics is the art of compromise,"
and that if one wanted principled consistency, one could find it
"only in a religion." It is this attitude upon which I
wish to focus, for I believe that the conflicts we experience –
both within ourselves as individuals and socially – derive
from a sense of division. The attitude that one's philosophic
principles are nothing more than interesting "ideas" that
have no relevance to how we behave with others – an attitude
that is implicit in this talk show host's remarks – is what
is destroying us, both individually and societally. It derives from
the same sentiment, articulated in the actions of Bill Clinton,
that truth-telling is simply one of a number of strategies available
in efforts to reach political "compromise"; that a lie
is as good as the truth if you can get others to believe it. It
is the notion that principles are nothing more than fungible commodities
– to be traded according to the prices dictated by prevailing
fashion – that now directs the seemingly endless cycle of vote
recounts in Florida. As Groucho Marx put it: "Those are my
principles. If you don't like them, I have others."

I have long found nourishment in the words of Richard Weaver: "ideas
have consequences." If I am of the view that politics is destroying
our world – and let us not forget that politics managed to
kill off some 200,000,000 of our fellow humans in the 20th
century alone – am I prepared to direct my energies into such
a destructive system? If I answer "yes," which I would
do if I voted, then do my philosophic principles have any real-world
meaning to them, or are they simply amusing ideas to be talked about,
debated, or dispersed across cyberspace? If I cannot end the division
within myself by living with integrity (i.e., by having my
behavior and my principles integrated into a coherent whole) then
what hope is there for the rest of mankind doing so? I am mankind,
as are you, and as Carl Jung so eloquently put it: "if the
individual is not truly regenerated in spirit, society cannot be
either"; that the individual must realize "that he is
the one important factor and that the salvation of the world consists
in the salvation of the individual soul." To participate in
politics is to consciously devote one's energies to mass-mindedness;
to the statist proposition that collective thinking and collective
behavior preempt the will of the individual.

there is a basis for optimism. Just as the marketplace generates
its own responses to government regulatory schemes, there are informal
processes at work undercutting the foundations of statism. The collapse
of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of state socialism generally;
anti-taxation and secessionist movements throughout the world; the
study of chaos – whose major tenet that complex systems are
unpredictable strips away any rationale for state planning and control;
the Internet as an unrestrained expression of information and ideas;
and, in America, the contributions of Clinton and Gore to bringing
discredit upon and destroying the credibility not only of the presidency,
but of government itself, have all been major contributors to the
terminal condition of Leviathan. How remarkable, that the Internet
– which Al Gore advised us he created! – should now be
the undoing of the imperial presidency that he and Mr. Clinton sought
to enlarge! What better confirmation of the power of unintended

At no period in my lifetime have the opportunities for reversing
the dehumanizing nature of politically dominated societies been
greater. Leviathan is dying as a consequence of its inner contradictions.
Those of us who love liberty should rethink any temptations we might
have to rush to the deathbed of statism and attempt to revivify
its corpse by giving it a transfusion of our energies. The society
upon which statism has fed will doubtless undergo a few headaches,
fevers, and upset stomachs in the interim. But like a case of the
flu, it may be better to let the sickness run its course rather
than continue our habit of suppressing the symptoms.

Shaffer [send
him e-mail
] teaches at the Southwestern University
School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In
Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition,

and of Calculated
Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival
His latest book is Boundaries
of Order

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