I Don't Necesarily Treasure the Right to Vote

Every Memorial Day, I am assaulted with various quotes from people thanking the military for fighting and dying for our right to vote.  I would bet that a depressing number of people in this country, when asked what their most important freedom was, or what made America great, would answer "the right to vote."

Now, don't get me wrong, the right to vote in a representative democracy is great and has proven a moderately effective (but not perfect) check on creeping statism.  A democracy, however, in and of itself can still be tyrannical.  After all, Hitler was voted into power in Germany, and without checks, majorities in a democracy would be free to vote away anything it wanted from the minority - their property, their liberty, even their life.   Even in the US, majorities vote to curtail the rights of minorities all the time, even when those minorities are not impinging on anyone else.  In the US today, 51% of the population have voted to take money and property of the other 49%.

In my mind, there are at least three founding principles of the United States that are far more important than the right to vote:

  • The Rule of Law. For about 99% of human history, political power has been exercised at the unchecked capricious whim of a few individuals.  The great innovation of western countries like the US, and before it England and the Netherlands, has been to subjugate the power of individuals to the rule of law.  Criminal justice, adjudication of disputes, contracts, etc. all operate based on a set of laws known to all in advance.

Today the rule of law actually faces a number of threats in this country.  One of the most important aspects of the rule of law is that legality (and illegality) can be objectively determined in a repeatable
manner from written and well-understood rules.  Unfortunately, the massive regulatory and tax code structure in this country have created a set of rules that are subject to change and interpretation constantly at the whim of the regulatory body.  Every day, hundreds of people and companies find themselves facing penalties due to an arbitrary interpretation of obscure regulations (examples I have seen personally here).

  • Sanctity and Protection of Individual Rights.  Laws, though, can be changed.  In a democracy, with a strong rule of law, we could still legally pass a law that said, say, that no one is allowed to criticize or hurt the feelings of a white person.  What prevents such laws from getting passed (except at major universities) is a protection of freedom of speech, or, more broadly, a recognition that individuals have certain rights that no law or vote may take away.  These rights are typically outlined in a Constitution, but are not worth the paper they are written on unless a society has the desire and will, not to mention the political processes in place, to protect these rights and make the Constitution real.

Today, even in the US, we do a pretty mixed job of protecting individual rights, strongly protecting some (like free speech) while letting others, such as property rights or freedom of association, slide.

  • Government is our servant.  The central, really very new concept on which this country was founded is that an individual's rights do not flow from government, but are inherent to man.  That government in fact only makes sense to the extent that it is our servant in the defense of our rights, rather than as the vessel from which these rights grudgingly flow.

Statists of all stripes have tried to challenge this assumption over the last 100 years.   While their exact details have varied, every statist has tried to create some larger entity to which the individual should be subjugated:  the Proletariat, the common good, God, the master race.  They all hold in common that the government's job is to sacrifice one group to another.  A common approach among modern statists is to create a myriad of new non-rights to dilute and replace our fundamental rights as individuals.  These new non-rights, such as the "right" to health care, a job, education, or even recreation, for god sakes, are meaningless in a free society, as they can't exist unless one
person is harnessed involuntarily to provide them to another person.
These non-rights are the exact opposite of freedom, and in fact require
enslavement and sacrifice of one group to another.

Don't believe that this is what statists are working for? The other day I saw this quote from the increasingly insane Lou Dobbs (Did you ever suspect that Lou got pulled into a room a while back by some strange power broker as did Howard Beale in Network?):

Our population explosion not only detracts from our quality of life but threatens our liberties and freedom as well. As Cornell's Pimentel puts it, "Back when we had, say, 100 million people in the U.S., when I voted, I was one of 100 million people. Today, I am one of 285 million people, so my vote and impact decreases with the increase in the population." Pimentel adds, "So our freedoms also go down the drain."


In a society with a rule of law protecting individual rights, how does having a diluted vote reduce your freedom?  The only way it does, and therefore what must be in the author's head, is if one looks at government as a statist tug of war, with various parties jockeying for a majority so they can plunder the minority.  But in this case, freedom and rule of law are already dead, so what does a dilution of vote matter?  He is arguing that dilution of political power reduces freedom -- this country was rightly founded on just the opposite notion, that freedom requires a dilution of political power.

At the end of the day, our freedoms in this country will only last so long as we as a nation continue to hold to the principle that our rights as individuals are our own, and the government's job is to protect them, not to ration them.  Without this common belief, all the other institutions we have discussed, from voting to the rule of law to the Constitution, can be subverted in time.

So to America's soldiers, thank you.  Thank you for protecting this fragile and historically unique notion that men and women own themselves and their lives.


  1. Brad Warbiany:

    Well said. I posted recently on the problems with direct democracy. It is a bad sign when too many people in this culture believe that the majority *should* rule. It's funny how they tend to believe that, right up until they find themselves in the minority. Then, all of a sudden, it's unfair.

    My post was found at http://unrepentantindividual.com/2005/05/25/can-we-quit-with-this-democracy-nonsense/

  2. KurtP:

    But Hitler never was elected to power,
    from http://www.kimel.net/goldhag1.html

    " A parliamentary stalemate developed, and between 1930 -1933 no government could secure a parliamentary majority in the Reichstag. Governments were established by a decree by President Hindenburg, and tolerated by the Reichstag. In 1933 when a new governmental crisis erupted, President Hindenburg reluctantly entrusted Hitler with the formation of a government in coalition with the Nationalist party. The lack of cooperation between the labor parties helped Hitler in gaining power, against the wishes of the majority of Germans.

    After Hitler was sworn-in as Chancellor in January of 1933, he immediately unleashed a rein of terror, terrorizing the opposition delegates and obtaining from the Reichstag the right to govern by decree. Hitler achieved power through semi-legitimate means. "

  3. Michael H.:

    Hi Coyote
    It is the right to vote that protects all those other principles that you value. Voting is the way for ordinary people to oppose the erosion of our rights and liberties and make government our servant.

  4. Matt:

    Voting is, all too often, merely a way for "ordinary people" to sample a share of the corrupting power of politics. Universal franchise is, among other things, the reason our national scheme of massive and unrepentant intergenerational robbery will never go away. However, I believe Churchill put it best, in describing democracy as the worst form of government...except for every other form ever tried.

    On balance we're better off _with_ the vote than _without_ it, all other things being equal...but it nevertheless is lionized far too widely, too exclusively, and too unreservedly for my taste or, indeed, for the good of the republic.

  5. Scott:

    Fantastic post - right up there with Progressives are Too Conservative to Like Capitalism.

  6. R:

    Interesting post, but how do you square your support for the Rule of Law with your support for illegal immigration?

  7. Scottonian:

    A good write, but you it a bit backwards. But to explain: Our inalienable rights comes before the rule of Law; the rule of law can only augment those rights. I think you could have listed inalienable rights first, followed by the rule of law to protect them. That government is our servant is a statement that perhaps should have a ring of fire around it for protection.