Any libertarian will tell you the most difficult part about being libertarian is that no one ever knows what you’re talking about. Or, if they do, it’s only basic talking points they’ve heard from someplace like The Young Turks about how we just hate poor people and roads. I believe there is one major reason why we struggle to have genuine libertarian principles shared and spread amongst larger majorities of people. Democracy.
Democracy, in theory, is supposed to be able to diffuse power through everyone’s ability to vote and keep tyrannical power a simple vote away. However, in reality, what we have seen is people using their vote to give more and more power to the State and quite literally take away legitimate rights such as our right to bear arms or our right to free speech. Under the guise of democracy, we have seen an unprecedented consolidation of power to the federal government and if you need more proof of this look no further than the $21 trillion debt. No government that is kept in check would ever be able to racket up such a degree of debt and excess spending. So, how does this make libertarian ideas more difficult to spread? Surely, given these clear abuses of power, people would know to curb this and vote it all away. Well, that is the problem. We have been dealt a hand that has no good cards. We are told it is not the system that’s broken, just the people running it. So, every few years we try and pick someone new who says they won’t do any of those things. With each passing election, we see politicians become more and more idolized due to clean smiles or comforting words. They keep making you believe you can make a difference so long as you keep voting for one of them. And, this is where it fundamentally opposes libertarian ideals.
As libertarians, our first instinct is always to make the government smaller. We support decentralization and a system that allows people to make their own money and govern themselves. Democracy, inherently, contradicts these principles. And, yes, I do understand America is a Constitutional Republic, not a direct democracy but even so, the same faults can be applied. By voting for leaders who will then make laws to govern us, we are directly contradicting the idea that we can govern ourselves. Libertarianism requires us to live undemocratically and this is why so many people don’t even come to the table to discuss libertarianism. Without a “vote” people will feel as if they are powerless to the system, despite the fact that the only thing giving the system any power at all is their vote. Let’s take an extreme example to understand the point I’m trying to make.
Let’s say in the next election literally 0 people were to vote. Could any candidate claim legitimacy over governing over us? Be it presidential or midterm, none of these candidates can claim they have any consent to make laws that would govern us. If they proceeded to do things like tax us, imprison us for owning a plant, or start wars in foreign countries despite receiving no votes, we would see through their thinly veiled tyranny for what it is. It would become obvious they are acting only in their interest and not anyone else’s. The truth is, if this were the case, the average person would have more control and power over their own life than any time before.
Nearly every institution in America (academia, media, politicians) urges relentlessly the importance of your vote. Despite the simple fact that no single vote has ever been important in an election. What would these people be without our votes? Given that in most elections non-voters outnumber voters, I believe it’s a pretty clear sign America’s leaders care little for what most people actually want. Libertarianism would dissolve many of the things that people have chosen to vote for. Safety nets for the poor, free education, environmental regulations, large military expenditures, etc. Libertarianism will never spread alongside democracy because democracy would never allow for libertarianism. Can one truly vote to make government smaller?
Leaders would never allow people to vote their power away. So long as people believe their vote gives them some type of choice and power, they will continue voting for people who give them what they want. If people want to make sure sick people can get healthcare, you can be sure they will vote for someone who promises a universal healthcare system. As long as people want “income equality” you can be sure taxes will continue to increase. In order to make libertarian ideas mainstream, you need to destroy the structure that prevents any of its ideas from coming into fruition. People cannot be allowed to vote away your rights, no matter how many people are on their side. Libertarianism is foundationally rested upon the rights of the individual and democracy consistently is used to bend to the will of the majority. Without democracy superseding the rights of individuals, society would have to find a new framework in which to operate and this is where libertarianism could fill that void.
This is not to say this transition would be particularly easy but it would have to be done in order to ever get people to believe that libertarianism is a viable option. Without democracy, it would be considerably more difficult for the government to become socialist given the degree of force necessary to achieve socialism’s goals. Same with fascism. The only other way for these types of systems to exist would be to immediately impose military force to kill all dissenters and establish an authoritarian presence from the start. Democracy enables this type of authoritarianism to go somewhat unnoticed for a time because they are supported by the people voting for them. In a libertarian society, this use of force to achieve a socialist or fascists political aims would be illegitimate and quickly suppressed.
I’m not going to tell you explicitly not to vote. I understand sometimes concessions have to be made, but I would certainly encourage you to fight back against anyone who tries to tell you it’s imperative that you vote or that voting gives you power. It doesn’t. Change the mindset of people who worship democracy as the pinnacle of human achievement. Get them to consider, for probably the first time in their lives, that voting is exactly what the power-hungry politicians want you to do the most and really think about why that is. These are people who can’t imagine a world without a government to do things for them, so of course, they aren’t going to take your ideas of decentralization and the free market seriously. So, before you argue against someone that believes taxation is a necessary evil to get government services, ask him if that same idea would be legitimate if no one voted to allow it. If it is only legitimate because enough people say it is, and not because it is objectively an ethical practice, then maybe you can change someone’s perspective on the system, and not just their opinion on a singular issue.
Liberty Chan is a libertarian doing his best to change peoples minds and expose the corruption in power. Follow me on Twitter @libittertarian for even more on things from politics to video games and comics.