Don’t blame the victim. A defense of voting.

This will be a response to Wendy McElroy’s:
Why I Would Not Vote Against Hitler” Published in 1997.

I consider such a bullet to be an act of self-defense in a manner that a ballot could never be. A bullet can be narrowly aimed at a deserving target; a ballot attacks innocent third parties who must endure the consequences of the politician I have assisted into a position of power over their lives. Whoever puts a man into a position of unjust power – that is, a position of political power – must share responsibility for every right he violates thereafter.

It’s hard to know where to start. Let’s look at the broadest aspect of this first: the environment. This argument must assume that we are within a situation of consent that has led to the voluntary interaction and thus to a non coercive decision, that has, in turn, led to the responsibility of my vote and how it affects other people. This is of course completely false. I do not live in a free society. The environment I find myself situated within is coercive, it is threatening, it is an environment that is unjust and one that I have not consented to.

Let’s look at a little “parable of the voter” I worked up.

A man with a gun has taken 10 people hostage, and for the sake of this exercise the man can not be killed in any way. He takes the 10 people into a room. In the middle of this room sits a lever. The lever in the middle position, means no one is harmed, but everyone remains the man’s slave. The lever in the left position kills 3 members, by stripping years of their life away for every degree the lever moves in that direction, but frees the rest immediately, while giving them riches and fame. The lever in the right position frees everyone, but they must remain on the island for one year away from their families and loved ones. Quickly, 5 men rush to push the lever to left to escape the island immediately and be rewarded with riches and fame. The 3 men who will die rush to counter the men who want the lever pushed to the left and proceed to push the lever to the right. Two undecided men remain. Of the two remaining, 1 man joins the three pushing the others right. The final man condemns the 4 men who are trying to push the lever right because they are acquiescing to the demands of their captor and trying to enslave the other 5 trying to push the lever left. The final man demands that argument and education must be used to convince the other 5 men that they are wrong and any use of the lever is aggression. The 5 men who are pushing right are talked to by the fifth man, while the other 3 men are slowly having their life stripped from them. Eventually the final man convinces one of the 5 men to stop pushing on the lever and not exert any force at all. The captor merely introduces another person who he has convinced that pushing the lever left will set him free and the process begins again. This is the state’s torment of Tantalus.

This parable I think aptly demonstrates the situation in which the state has encapsulated us all. It has, as a matter of fact, taken us hostage without our consent and afforded us only one means to preserve our lives and liberties. I do not, and would not deny that voting is force, but I do deny that it is aggression in any form. What does it say about the man who refuses to help the dying men at least recapture some of their life? Is he an immoral actor? I think he is immoral, but I do not think what he has done violates anyone’s rights. The state is solely responsible for that.

Morality cannot be defined by rights alone. Take for instance, a man with immense wealth eating at an outside restaurant. When a starving child crawls to him, he need only lower his food to the child, but refuses. Has this man violated anyone’s rights? No, and the thought of punishing him is repugnant. However, he is immoral, and I would not wish to live in any community with such a man. Would you?

There is no doubt in my mind the quoted section above is a veiled attack on Lysander Spooner. So let’s see what he actually had to say about voting.

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Excerpt from No Treason
(click for full size)

 

Spooner states that we can look at votes as bullets on a battlefield of coercion. I have not consented to tyranny I have found myself situated within, just as the drafted soldier doesn’t. However, others will use votes against me. So if other people are going to shoot votes at me, I’m going to shoot votes back at them. I’d be pretty stupid not to do so. I have a limited choice, Slave or Master, the dichotomy the state has created. I refuse to be a slave to another person’s will, so I must choose to be a master.

The thing the author misses is that the person firing the round (vote) is just as much a victim as the other innocents. There is no collateral damage because all the damage is collateral damage. Coercion absolves us of complete responsibility in a coercive environment. The tools the state gives you to defend yourself aren’t your problem or responsibility, they’re what you have.

There isn’t a rational person in the world who thinks a hostage is in any way responsible for the actions a hostage taker. That’s why they’re called HOSTAGES. They’re forced to be there, and making themselves heard is an act of self-defense. Not voting, not saying anything, the hostage taker always takes as tacit approval or at the very least compliance.

I can address only the reality in which I live and, in a world replete with alternatives, I would not vote for or against Hitler. Let me address a more fundamental question: What is the nature of the state? According to Max Weber, a state is an institution that claims a monopoly of force over a geographical area. It is a form of institutionalized power, and the first step in dissecting its essence is to analyze the defining terms “power” and “institution.”

Albert Jay Nock wrote of two sorts of power: social and state. By social power, he meant the amount of freedom individuals actually exercise over their lives – that is, the extent to which they can freely make such choices as where and how to live. By state power, he meant the actual amount of control the government exercises over its subjects’ lives – that is, the extent to which it determines such choices as where and how people live. There is an inverse and antagonistic relationship between social and state power. One expands only at the expense of the other.

I stress the word “actual” because the power of the state does not rest on its size – the number of laws on the books or the extent of the territory it claims. A state’s power rests on social conditions, such as whether people will obey its laws and how many resources it can command to enforce obedience. A key social condition is how legitimate the state is seen to be. For without the veil of legitimate authority, the people will not obey the state, and it will not long command the resources, such as taxes and manpower, that it needs to live.

In other words, freedom does not depend so much on repealing laws as weakening the state’s authority. It does not depend – as political strategists expediently claim on persuading enough people to vote “properly” so that libertarians can occupy seats of political power and roll back legislation. Unfortunately, this process strengthens the institutional framework that produced the unjust laws in the first place: it strengthens the structure of state power by accepting its authority as a tool of change. But state authority can never strengthen social power.

Does it really posit an unrealistic fantasy world? What options do you have to use against the state? Education, legitimacy denial, and counter economics are the only three that come to mind. These are the only three I can imagine have been put forth other than political action. So let’s look at those quickly as viable options. Since we don’t live in fantasy world, let us dispense with hypotheticals and deal directly with realities.

 

Education.

For every one person you educate, the state educates one hundred thousand. No contest, you lose. It’s as simple as that. If you want to make education work for you, guess what you have to do? Yep, vote for people who want to return education back to communities and away from the state. Even wonderful things like Tom Woods’ liberty classroom can’t compete with the state and its’ compulsory education.

 

Legitimacy Denial.

The state doesn’t care if it’s legitimate and never has. Its existence is illegitimate and it knows this. Do you think the people in North Korea think the state is legitimate? Do you think the people in the Cambodian killing fields thought the state was legitimate? Showing other people the state isn’t legitimate is nothing other than education, dressed up as a moral position. Stopping people from voting obviously would have little effect as over 50% of eligible voters in the population don’t vote as it is, and the state is still here. It would be here if, 75% or 80% or 90% of people didn’t vote.  The state takes this silence as consent, whether you like it or not. Most people don’t care about the state, even if they realized it was illegitimate. They’re too caught up in their lives and as long as the state doesn’t take drastic measures, it knows it can maintain its’ hold over society and culture. Even extreme circumstances like rounding up Japanese citizens and putting them in camps still isn’t wholly recognized by everyone as illegitimate.

Does anyone think not voting or convincing people not to vote in North Korea would change the state there? Obviously not, so why would it change it here? Clearly though, if North Korea did have the legitimate possibility of replacing its dictator, that would be an avenue for them to pursue change. However, even that considers the people of Korea would do such a thing. The state’s education system would seemingly always outweigh any counter efforts. Unfortunately, the state in North Korea is under absolute control, we must recognize the distinction between dictatorship and systems in which we can have influence. Denying there is a difference between these ideas is absurd. Waco, Ruby Ridge, Eric Garner, Gulf of Tonkin, Iraq War, I could go on for hours of examples of state illegitimacy. This strategy is not based in reality.

The Internet was probably the greatest innovation to help freedom that could have ever have been created, and today the state is hell-bent on regulating and controlling it. Many would have us let them do it and abstain from trying to prevent it. This is a horrible idea.

 

Counter Economics.

The state doesn’t care about your counter economics, it will hunt you down and throw you in a cage if you start to threaten its hold over the economy. It has the absolute power of the monopoly on force. For all intents and purposes, un-permitted lemonade stands are “counter economics” but amount to little more than simple civil disobedience. Let’s look at two of the largest examples of counter economics to ever exist.

First we’ll look at the Silk Road and its creator Ross Ulbricht. The silk road was shut down by the government, and its creator was put in a cage for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, this has given the state a political platform to trash Hayek, Mises, and Rothbard. During the trial they took that opportunity. What did the Silk Road accomplish? It brought libertarianism a bad name and created a private murder market, that would in any free society be denounced by even the most radical libertarians. It is a qualified failure. The dark net continues to be raided constantly by government agents, including Dark0de, considered one of the best dark net black markets.

Second, we’ll look at Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed’s 3D printed firearm. Let me say I have immense respect for Mr.Wilson and his projects. I hope to purchase a ghost gunner myself soon. That being said, while Mr.Wilson has met some success by introducing a file that can basically never be erased from the Internet, what effect has that had on the state? It may have changed the way people see firearms, but what was the state’s response? The state shut down Mr.Wilson and required him to go through a an extensive FFL licensing process.The state shut down his site so no more innovation in the 3D gun printing market can occur. Much to his credit, Mr.Wilson is taking this to court and using the only means available to him to resolve this, and is attempting to fight for all of our freedom however he can. Some would call him a statist for this. I call him an intelligent strategist who knows his options and knows how to pick his fights.

Beyond this, many people state Cuba’s black market as another success of counter economics. That’s nice, people aren’t starving because they do what they have to do in order to survive. You call that a success though? No, success is abolishing the state or reducing its size so far down you can barely see it. Internal counter econ has done little more than keep people alive in Cuba, and has done basically nothing to stop Castro’s tyrannical hold. What will free Cuba? External trade and the global economy. Completely different from internal anti-state counter economics. No doubt, some will still champion Cuba’s coming market upheaval as a success of counter econ, despite the fact that nothing has changed after 50 years of isolation and a basically failed black market. I wouldn’t be so foolish as to claim this as a victory if I were you, agorists.

 

Here’s what Rothbard has to say on strategy.

I see no other conceivable strategy for the achievement of liberty than political action. Religious or philosophical conversion of each man and woman is simply not going to work; that strategy ignores the problem of power, the fact that millions of people have a vested interest in statism and are not likely to give it up. Violent revolution will not work in a democratic political system. Konkinian agorism is no answer…

Rothbard, as always, nails it. Power, it is absolute in its supremacy. As shown, every strategy above fails to address it. With it you can control vast swaths of humanity, without it you are doomed to slavery. It is the very much the grail of human existence. The state will always have power, and the only way to conceivably reduce that power is to wield it upon itself.

This brings up the issue of institutional analysis. People apply the word “institution” to such wide-ranging concepts as “the family,” “the free market,” “the church,” and “the state.” An institution is any stable and widely-accepted mechanism for achieving social and political goals. To a great extent, these institutions function independently of the good or bad intentions of those who use them. For example, as long as everyone respects the rules of the free market, it functions as a mechanism of exchange. The same is true of the state. As long as everyone respects its rules – voting, going through state channels, obeying the law – it functions as a mechanism of social control.

The differences between the state and the market are obvious and numerous. The state forces you to take part in its system under threat of death. The market invites you participate at your own risk and at to no threat to your personal well-being, only your capital. The market is not a tool for political and social change. Political change is merely a byproduct of the market, not its intent. The market itself may influence political upheaval toward a more market friendly system, but it won’t change people’s opinion of the state, because the state will use the change as a justification for its own existence.

The market is self reinforcing because it brings wealth and prosperity to those who embrace it. The state brings death and destruction of personal liberties. So seemingly, this is counter intuitive. If people see voting as having little to no effect, if the comparison holds, the people would move away from the state, not towards it. As reality holds though, this is not the case.

F.A. Hayek popularized the notion of unintended consequences, observing that conscious acts often produce unforeseen results. This explains why good men who act through bad institutions will produce bad results. Good men acting through the state will strengthen its legitimacy and its institutional framework. They will weaken social power. Ultimately, whether or not they repeal any particular law becomes as irrelevant to producing freedom as their intentions.

This is the law of unintended consequences, but this example posits something rather odd. Seemingly “good men” legitimize the state by acting in moral ways. What is moral about the state’s actions? The state is wholly immoral in its nature, and its controllers know that morality makes no difference to the outcome if people don’t wish to use the state against itself. So called “good men” would advocate lessening the state or abolishing it, thus preventing its reinforcement, not encouraging it. Voting for men who will reinforce the state by using it for “good”, whatever that is, isn’t a good idea. This seems like a very well crafted straw man.

So, returning to the question of voting for Hitler: purely for the sake of argument, I’ll grant the possibility that I could morally cast a ballot. Yet even then, I would still refuse to vote against him. Why? Because the essential problem is not Hitler, but the institutional framework that allows a Hitler to grasp a monopoly on power.

This is tantamount to arguing the state is the source of all things bad about the state. Well yeah, so end the state! Yet this posits nothing to accomplish the goal other than asking other people not participate in the only semi effective means the state has provided as a counter against its’ power. Other than the fact that merely ignoring state power could sink us into a more tyrannical government in which finally people would be being killed and would be forced to actively fight the the state. If this is the argument, it is not a moral argument and I will not entertain it. I find, more often than not, the people who advocate for collapse have no idea what that collapse would entail. Not to mention nearly all of human history has seen fallen democracies replaced with absolute tyrannies.

And yes, voting has been effective in many instances from state and local repealing of bad laws and the expansion of things like medical cannabis and concealed carry to what may be a single senator preventing a war in Syria. These things cannot be denied.

 

Without the state to back him up and an election to give him legitimized power, Hitler would have been, at most, the leader of some ragged thugs who mugged people in back alleys. Voting for or against Hitler would only strengthen the institutional framework that produced him – a framework that would produce another of his ilk in two seconds.

I find it hard to compare Hitler and even Barack Obama. There is a disconnect here that is blatantly obvious in its hyperbolic nature. That is especially true if the end game is collapse.

Killing Hitler does less damage. But it – like voting – is an admission of utter defeat. Resorting to brute force means that all avenues of social power have been destroyed and I have been reduced to adopting the tactics of the state. Under tyranny, such violence might be justified as long as I could avoid harming innocent third parties. In these circumstances, however, voting could not be justified, because there is a third party. No one has the right to place one human being in a position of political power over another. A consistent libertarian can never authorize one human being to tax and control peaceful activities. And the state is no more than the institutionalized embodiment of this authorization.

You cannot help freedom or social power by bowing your head to Leviathan.

I admit, voting is absolutely an admission of immediate defeat, it is recognizing the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves compelled by the state to use force against others in self defense. However, it is not a proclamation of surrender. Only a person who admits they’ve lost a battle can win a war. Denial will see more people needlessly die for the sake of a moral victory. A consistent libertarian can not look to condemn the actions of others under duress, who want to further the goals of reducing or removing that state, as a mere moral justification for their own strategy. It is indeed the consistent libertarian who seeks realistic solutions to uncompromising questions about state power.

You cannot further the cause of liberty by ignoring the state.

 

An earlier version of this article appeared at Jared’s website Pericles.Press