Voting and Freedom

Years ago I wrote a post called "I don't necessarily treasure the right to vote" wherein a discussed a number of individual freedoms that were far more important than voting.

The other day, Don Boudreaux said it more succinctly:

Freedom is not a synonym for the right to vote in fair and open elections.  Fair and open elections with a wide franchise might – might – be a useful instrument for promoting freedom.  But contrary to much shallow thinking, the right to participate in such elections is not itself “freedom.”  Freedom is the right to choose and act as you please, with this right bound only by the equal right of every other peaceful individual to do the same.  (Or to quote Thomas Sowell, “Freedom … is the right of ordinary people to find elbow room for themselves and a refuge from the rampaging presumptions of their ‘betters.'”  I would add that freedom requires also elbow room from the rampaging presumptions – and from the enviousness, ignorance, myopia, and even the good intentions – of one’s peers and, indeed, from those of everyone.)


  1. Q46:

    Voting serves a single purpose, its sole value: it avoids periodic civil wars.

    The same could be done as effectively by coin toss and without the expense, but then the citizenry would not get the individual satisfaction of participating.

  2. Mercury:

    All the recent BS about "The Russians Interfering With Our Democracy" (as if, at worst, assisting HRC and the DNC to incriminate themselves publicly, by their own hand is equal to "election meddling") misses the point as well.
    You'd much rather live in a monarchy that has specific civil and property rights, the rule of law, enforceable contracts and a reasonably fair judiciary than in a democracy that doesn't have those things.
    I'd even go further and say that liberty is the desired goal, not mere freedom. Unless you are in chains you have the freedom to pile one rock on top of another in your own back yard (for instance) but if the government can penalize you for that action you clearly do not have the liberty to do so.
    How many elections in Europe offer more of a choice than candidate #1 who wants the VAT to be 19% and candidate #2 who wants the VAT to be 21% (or whatever). Let Freedom Ring!!

  3. Dan Wendlick:

    Democracy is a virtue only to the extent that it preserves and extends liberty. 51% of the population voting to seize the property of the other 49% may be democratic, but is still tyrannical.

    The incorruptible platonic Philosopher-King is still probably the best model for securing liberty, however, like many models, doesn't compare well to it's real world implementations.

  4. mlhouse:

    On the other hand, voting is a necessary condition of freedom. You cannot have freedom without some method of political input.

    But voting is not a sufficient condition for freedom.

    The interesting thing about our Constitution is that it is, overall, mostly an anti-majoritarian document. It defines and LIMITS the powers of Congress, and creates checks and balances to this institution that are decidedly not majoritarian (the Executive and Judicial). So, even if every other person, including your wife, wants Congress to pass a Bill of Attainder against you, the Constitution prohibits this majority from taking action.

    The Founders had the People themselves ratify their constitution and also gave the People the power to alter and amend the document. While I get that sometimes this is overstated, it is also understated. Whatever freedoms we are denied by our constitution were limitatins well reasoned and denied by ourselves.

  5. Nehemiah:

    Democracy is 2 wolves and 1 rabbit voting on what to have for dinner. A well armed rabbit makes it a Republic. I think it was Benjamin Franklin on that one. We are so far afield of our founding principles that I don't think we'll get them back. However, as Thomas Jefferson once said, "the Tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants from time to time".

  6. Just Thinking:

    Coyote's post and the comments here are astute. Democracy is an invitation to tyranny unless liberties are well defined AND respected in a Republic's documents and operation of law. A Muslim country may have a democratic process, but it does not have liberty if minorities do not have religious freedom. Allende may have elected through a democratic process, but he did not bring freedom to Chile. Apartheid South Africa may have had elections, but freedoms and rights were not universal.