Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Why Even Anarchists Should Vote

Noted and highly influential individualist anarchists Lysander Spooner and Murray Rothbard weep at the 'logic' of the non-voting anarchist population...

"In truth, in the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent, even for the time being. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having ever been asked, a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practise this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defence, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself." -- Lysander Spooner, 'No Treason'
"Many anarchist libertarians claim it immoral to vote or to engage in political action--the argument being that by participating in this way in State activity, the libertarian places his moral imprimatur upon the State apparatus itself. But a moral decision must be a free decision, and the State has placed individuals in society in an unfree environment, in a general matrix of coercion. As Lysander Spooner pointed out, in an environment of State coercion, voting does not imply voluntary consent." -- Murray Rothbard, 'Ethics of Liberty'
"I'm interested to talk about that. This is the classical anarchist position, there is no doubt about that. The classical anarchist position is that nobody should vote, because if you vote you are participating in a state apparatus. Or if you do vote you should write in your own name, I don't think that there is anything wrong with this tactic in the sense that if there really were a nationwide movement – if five million people, let's say, pledged not to vote. I think it would be very useful. On the other hand, I don't think voting is a real problem. I don't think it's immoral to vote, in contrast to the anti-voting people. 
Lysander Spooner, the patron saint of individualist anarchism, had a very effective attack on this idea. The thing is, if you really believe that by voting you are giving your sanction to the state, then you see you are really adopting the democratic theorist's position. You would be adopting the position of the democratic enemy, so to speak, who says that the state is really voluntary because the masses are supporting it by participating in elections. In other words, you're really the other side of the coin of supporting the policy of democracy – that the public is really behind it and that it is all voluntary. And so the anti-voting people are really saying the same thing.
I don't think this is true, because as Spooner said, people are being placed in a coercive position. They are surrounded by a coercive system; they are surrounded by the state. The state, however, allows you a limited choice – there's no question about the fact that the choice is limited. Since you are in this coercive situation, there is no reason why you shouldn't try to make use of it if you think it will make a difference to your liberty or possessions. So by voting you can't say that this is a moral choice, a fully voluntary choice, on the part of the public. It's not a fully voluntary situation. It's a situation where you are surrounded by the whole state which you can't vote out of existence. For example, we can't vote the Presidency out of existence – unfortunately, it would be great if we could – but since we can't why not make use of the vote if there is a difference at all between the two people. And it is almost inevitable that there will be a difference, incidentally, because just praxeologically or in a natural law sense, every two persons or every two groups of people will be slightly different, at least. So in that case why not make use of it. I don't see that it's immoral to participate in the election provided that you go into it with your eyes open – provided that you don't think that either Nixon or Muskie is the greatest libertarian since Richard Cobden! – which many people, of course, talk themselves into before they go out and vote. 
The second part of my answer is that I don't think that voting is really the question. I really don't care about whether people vote or not. To me the important thing is, who do you support. Who do you hope will win the election? You can be a non-voter and say "I don't want to sanction the state" and not vote, but on election night who do you hope the rest of the voters, the rest of the suckers out there who are voting, who do you hope they'll elect. And it's important, because I think that there is a difference. The Presidency, unfortunately, is of extreme importance. It will be running or directing our lives greatly for four years. So, I see no reason why we shouldn't endorse, or support, or attack one candidate more than the other candidate. I really don't agree at all with the non-voting position in that sense, because the non-voter is not only saying we shouldn't vote: he is also saying that we shouldn't endorse anybody. Will Robert LeFevre, one of the spokesmen of the non-voting approach, will he deep in his heart on election night have any kind of preference at all as the votes come in. Will he cheer slightly or groan more as whoever wins? I don't see how anybody could fail to have a preference, because it will affect all of us." -- Murray Rothbard, 

Source, here.

You will be oppressed by a president and his government. His vision of morality will be imposed on you, whether you like it or not, regardless of your ideology. You might as well support someone who will try his darndest (with the limited extent of his power) to remove as much oppression and maximize as much individual liberty in your lives as possible.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Anarchy, Government, and the State

While the anarcho-capitalist and voluntaryist movement has certainly been growing *significantly* (at the extreme disdain of 'left' anarchists) - I don't think we make certain *very* important distinctions clear enough.

I believe part of why many others have trouble grasping anarchy is because they are (including many anarchists, even) conflating 'the State', with 'government' or 'governance'. There is an essence of 'talking past eachother'.

Understand, all States are governments, but not all government (or 'governance') requires the State.

In an anarcho-capitalist (which is a tautology supported by theory as well as historical evidence) society, there would still be government. Government by your peers through social and commercial ostracism and acceptance. Government of social behavior, civility, disputes and justice by competing courts, defense/security agencies to ensure protection, and the recognition / respect of property rights. Government of businesses and the market through the free market, the price signal, profit & loss, competition, customer satisfaction, commercial ostracism (credit ratings, boycotting, reputation, etc), and supply and demand. Government of risk and socialization of that risk, through insurance agencies. Self-government through individuals' pursuit of their *rational* self-interest, having themselves to bear the responsibility of their actions through the decentralized accountability systems arising out of the market to maintain it.

I could go on. Anarchism does not necessarily mean 'no government' so much as it means 'no State' or (etymologically speaking) 'without ruler'. In a purely capitalist, free market society - you have no coercive authority over you. All commercial and social relationships are voluntary. Your employer is not your ruler (despite what so many 'left' anarchists like to claim), since you can leave your employer at any time and choose another employer who pays and/or treats you better, or choose to work for yourself, even.

Your typical 'left' anarchist heads are exploding at these words right now - but anarcho-capitalism is the only realistic, moral, practical and workable way to abolish the State and still not just maintain civilization... but maximize prosperity, liberty and justice, above and beyond what any flavor of the State could ever come close to deliver.

For many anarchists, like many of us here - the conflation of 'government' and 'the State' is probably more semantic than anything. For many non-anarchists - it's not semantic so much as different perceptions leading to problems in understanding - the issue of 'talking past eachother'.

To the extent that I understand the real concept of 'no government' - then I completely agree with the critics in criticizing their perception of anarchy - because it's true... with a complete rejection of all forms of 'government' in how I described it above - there certainly *would* be chaos and misery.

The rejection of universally preferable behavior (such as engaging in theft, murder, rape, etc). The rejection of the price signal and laws of supply and demand. The rejection of any and all forms of voluntary authority as well as the rejection of all self-government, in that individuals reject acting in their own*rational* self-interest in the name of holding no restraint and acting purely on whim and animalistic tendency (while being able to force others to bear the cost) would certainly result in chaos and misery for many people.

Anarcho-capitalists do not advocate rejection of these things, nor do they think they would be rejected absent the State. Rather - justice, moral behavior, and prosperity would be maximized.

I think anarcho-capitalists and voluntaryists could do a *much* better job of communicating this. Then people would not only be not talking past eachother anymore - but others may be much more open to discussing such ideas.

This post is a COPYPASTA that was originally published under my old pseudonym, 'Sentient Void', at the Ron Paul Forums Blog, on 06-11-2011.