Come November 6th, this political theorist is going Galt. I’m the only effective advocate for my interests. No voice but mine can adequately represent them. To make a conciliatory choice and vote for a political representative whose ideology departs from mine is an act of self-alienation.
Coercion is generally perceived as a negative, especially any time government is concerned. Except, apparently, when it comes to the choosing of political representatives. Then, not only is at acceptable for current and politicians to use fear and guilt to emotionally manipulate citizens into voting, but for big corporations whose attempts to sway opinion in any other context would be roundly denounced to do the same. Indeed, the idea that Facebook, which so recently faced the wrath of a public enraged at the selling of their personal data to opposition research firm Cambridge Analytica, is now a trusted source of election information is supremely ironic.
The point is, cyberspace and the public airwaves are chock-a-bloc with people who are eager to project their opinions onto you. The most perfidious of these actors are not partisans of any stripe, who are rendered innocuous by the ridiculousness of their rhetorical excess, but those who wrap themselves in the seemingly altruistic mantle of democratic participation.
“Vote,” they tell you, “it’s in your own best interest. And there’s too much at stake to let your voice be silence.”
“If you don’t participate, you can’t complain.”
So the platitudes run.
But this logic is fallacious. Not voting is a perfectly legitimate exercise in self-government. The only illegitimate act is allowing someone else’s perception of the world to influence your behavior, and this includes capitulating to the guilt of anyone who attempts to parlay the landscape of elections for another. The seemingly inoffensive message of those who lobby for self-empowerment through democratic participation is belied by those who give voice to it: anyone who tells you to vote is pushing their viewpoint, not really serving yours.
Besides, the extremely narrowminded idea that voting is the only significant means by which citizens participate and influence government stands in flagrant violation of the foundational ethos of American government. The representative system does not absolve members of the polity from involvement in the day-to-day machinations of government. It does not export one’s interests to a champion in Congress whose responsibility it is to then lobby on behalf of his constituents for policies amenable to their welfare, or rather to his perception of their welfare.
A government founded upon the concept of popular sovereignty demands that its citizens be active participants in their own lives, that every single act taken in the course of daily living be one in which the individual is a proactive lobbyist for his or her own interests. This ought to be taken to such a degree that one’s representative is a mere afterthought, particularly if that individual happens to be one whose views stand in contrast to one’s own. Self-government requires the individual do everything in his or her power to insulate personal wellbeing from the decisions of far-removed federal powers.
There is nothing wrong with representative government per se, but when one is told by the social and political powers-that-be that being a citizen in good-standing rests on the compunction of an electoral choice—even a choice that requires compromising one’s core values and bolstering the influence of thoughts antithetical to one’s own—voting is no longer an act of empowerment, but an act of enthrallment.
When parsed in terms of the wins and losses of the party system, whose members vie for ownership of the population, voting is not an act conductive to personal empowerment, but one that promotes the subservience of the individual to the collective, as Alexis de Tocqueville details in Democracy in America:
“Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large that holds the end of his chain. By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master, and then relapse into it again.”
If there is a candidate whose ideas or policies resonate with your own ideology, then, by all means, go out and vote. But, if there is no option that truly represents your interests, you should feel no guilt about staying home on election day. It is a far less degrading act to reason to stay home than to give with your vote an endorsement of a candidate with whom you fundamentally disagree. Such an act is a betrayal of personal integrity and flies in the face of the spirit of freedom of conscience.
Elections are of no use to the spirit of popular government if they do not hold as their primary value the inviolability of the individual’s choice.
One cannot disenfranchise oneself by choosing not to vote. The real act of disenfranchisement is allowing any entity other than your own conscience to dictate how you behave and to assert itself over and above your own perception of where your interests lie.
The only element of real significance is you: you and your values and the capacity for reason by which you judge the world around you.
Also published on Medium.