Clear Your Conscience; Voting Does Not Imply Consent to the Government

no treasonRecently, I got into a short discussion on Facebook whether voting implies a Lockean “consent of the governed.” My (friendly) opposition claimed voting is consent because voting is an affirmation of your United States citizenship. They claimed it is a voluntary action; nobody is putting a gun to your head to make you choose whether to vote or not. Hence by virtue of voting, you are signing a contract agreeing to abide by the Constitution and laws passed by the government, regardless of the outcome of the election. I didn’t think it was appropriate to (nor would I have been capable of) respond in a Facebook post, so here is my response.

My initial reaction was an intuitive feeling that voting, or participating in the system in some other way, cannot be considered consent. In the same way we may assert someone who is coercively imprisoned cannot be said to be consenting to their imprisonment if they accept food from their imprisoner, we cannot say that participation assumes consent. Likewise, someone using government roads or some other service cannot be said to be consenting to the government; in the case of roads, individuals are left with very little choice but to participate and use the government roads since it has monopolized the production and maintenance of roadways, through its coercive system of taxation, by which they can provide this benefit for free. This effectively monopolizes the system because no business can compete with free goods and services. In both situations, individuals are left with no real choice but to participate in the system, since the State has all but made it impossible to withdraw from it.

To understand the underlying issue of whether voting may imply consent, we must first reference the 14th Amendment, which states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States.” For some, this is a blessing; so many individuals have crossed over the border between Mexico and the United States illegally in the past few decades with the intention of having a child on U.S. soil so their child can become a U.S. citizen and be entitled to all the perceived blessings that come with it. For those radical libertarian, anti-government, and anarchist individuals born in the U.S. who consider U.S. citizenship more of a burden than a benefit, this presents a problem. Whether they like it or not, from the moment they are born on U.S. soil they are subject to the coercive power of the US government even though they never originally consented to it. The 14th Amendment, de jure, at the moment one is born, implements an initial condition of coercion upon any individual born within United States borders. Even should they totally abstain from participation in any government services throughout their life, they will be subject to U.S. laws by virtue of the barrel of a gun pointed at them by a federal agent should they not obey government dictates like taxation. The government’s claim on you may be illegitimate, but that won’t save your from being unjustly victimized at the hands of a despot. Certainly, an individual who abstained from government obligations would be morally justified in doing so and the government would be acting as a coercive criminal if they did not recognize it as such. The government threats of jail or death for such a refusal can readily be classified as circumstances in which any contract created between government and (unwilling) subject was created under duress, and is void. The initial and ongoing compulsion executed by the American government is the compelling evidence leading to a rejection of the sentiment voting implies consent to the government.

With the 14th Amendment, the government has presented the choice of either refusing to participate in the system and be punished, or participate in a system in which one has a minute chance of rectifying one’s abject condition (prior to this they would have claimed dominion over the individual anyway, albeit with a fuzzier justification, mostly through property taxes). And with the 16th Amendment granting the government the unwarranted ability to tax one’s income, the ruthless circle of plunder was completed. This is the true nature of the so-called “voluntary” decision of whether to vote or not. As Lysander Spooner said in No Treason, voting, in these circumstances, is a defensive measure adopted in the hope of rectifying the wrongs perpetrated by an illicit government. As an analogy, imagine you were kidnapped and held in prison against your will. Let’s say your captors decide to give you the choice of playing a game of dice with them; if you roll five 6’s in a row, they will release you. They say you can either participate in this game of dice or you can persist in this state of involuntary bondage. However, they stipulate that your participation in the dice game constitutes consent to further imprisonment should you not roll the five magic 6’s that grant you your freedom. Would anyone say this is a valid contract? Would anyone assert since you were given the choice of whether or not to participate in this dice game it was a voluntary action expressing consent? I think we may see, after some reflection, the absurdity of claiming that voting, or any other participation in the government, may constitute consent to the government. We could make a similar analogy with a slave being born into slavery and coerced to operate within the system. Pretending they had a choice by giving them the chance to choose a white slave master, in the hope of their being treated less harshly by a more benign master, no more validates their slavery because they voted on it than does the above situation legitimize their imprisonment because they agreed to play the dice game. The voting paper could explicitly state “voting is a contract and participating is a declaration of consent” but this contract isn’t valid because they are actively threatening the individual with compulsion.

I would recommend reviewing what Lysander Spooner wrote on why “Voting Does Not Imply Consent”. This is a succinct portion of his longer treatise, No Treason, addressing the issue directly. Here he touches on a slightly different analysis of voting, but still reaches the same conclusion that voting does not imply consent. “To take a man’s property without his consent, and then to infer his consent because he attempts, by voting, to prevent that property from being used to his injury, is a very insufficient proof of his consent to support the Constitution.” If it were the case that anyone born within the United States was not automatically a U.S. citizen and therefore not automatically subject to the jurisdiction of the federal government, and that the government did not attempt to expropriate the property of individuals with or without any actual consent, only then could we say that an individual, by voting, may be expressing consent. Only then would their choice truly be voluntary because they could live free of the laws and jurisdiction of the State by refusing consent and because they were not actively being expropriated by the government.

The idealist thing to do may be to refuse to vote or in any way participate in the government, knowing that you are vindicated when the government tyrannizes you and exercises its illegitimate dominion over you. For all intents and purposes, though, it is a rather foolish endeavor, especially in light of the above proof voting is not consent (at least not in the current and historical state of affairs in the United States).

Woodrow Wilson: Prescient President

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“Does not every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for the future peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia? Russia was known by those who knew it best to have been always in fact democratic at heart, in all the vital habits of her thought, in all the intimate relationships of her people that spoke their natural instinct, their habitual attitude toward life. The autocracy that crowned the summit of her political structure, long as it had stood and terrible as was the reality of its power, was not in fact Russian in origin, character, or purpose; and now it has been shaken off and the great, generous Russian people have been added in all their naive majesty and might to the forces that are fighting for freedom in the world, for justice, and for peace. Here is a fit partner for a League of Honor.” – Woodrow Wilson speaking of the communist Bolshevik Revolution in the soon to be Soviet Union, April 2, 1917. Who would have thought, Communist Russia: A Beacon of Freedom

The Colorado Secession Movement

Image courtesy of koratmember / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of koratmember / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Two More Counties in Colorado will be voting on whether to secede from the state on their upcoming ballot. I say bravo to these counties on taking initiative to remove themselves from under a regime in Colorado they want no part of. Self-determination is on of our most sacred rights, which Americans from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln have long understood (Old Abe capriciously changed his views at a later date when he decided to undertake a War of Subjugation on the seceding Confederacy; either than or he maintained the logically inconsistent point that secession was not consistent with self-determination). Even the former Soviet Union allowed secession and believed (to an uncertain extent) in self-determination! It was enumerated in the Soviet Constitution that the right to secession was granted; Lithuania and other soviet Republics began seceding from the Soviet Union in 1990 which ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Naturally, the Federal Government will be in uproar if Northern Colorado secedes from the body of the extant state and creates a more conservative state that generally opposes government intervention. They will of course make the claim that if this is allowed in Northern Colorado there will be waves of secession all across the country, some being so bold as to try to secede not just from the state, but from the United States itself. This would be devastating because, as we know, our country could not possibly exist with one less or one more state; we have a Perfect Union! As Joseph Story would say, secession of a single state would mean dissolution of the entire government! Except, as Tom Dilorenzo has shown, “This is nonsense. After eleven southern states seceded in 1860-61, the U.S. government proceeded to field the largest and best-equipped army in the world up to that point. The government was hardly ‘dissolved.'”

Politicians will not approve of this secession simply because it means that the liberal majority of Colorado will no longer rule over the oppressed minority of Coloradans who want to be left alone, or, at least, want to be able to have a say in the policies pursued by their state government. Majority rule works fine for those in power belonging to said majority. But for those individuals whose views are not expressed by the majority, they must abide by whatever tyrannical measures adopted. Those in power naturally want to maintain both the status of their power and the number of individuals they may exercise power over. It is likely as well that Colorado may not even allow the counties to secede for this reason. They would rather keep the conservative minority silent than allow the dissenting counties to secede and actually be able to exercise some influence on federal issues. Plus, Colorado will naturally lose revenue and have to scale down their bureaucracy; for the state, bigger is better.

There will, of course, be cries that secession is racist and Congressman will ask why we want to go back to the 1800’s and secede making the impression that someone who believes in secession wants to re-institute slavery. This is of course a sophomoric appeal to emotion which fails to realize that our Declaration of Independence was a Declaration of Secession. What else can we possibly call removing ourselves from under Britain’s authority than secession? I won’t even get into the ridiculous non sequitur that “Revolution” and secession are totally different phenomenon and that since the American Revolution was not specifically designated as “secession”, it cannot possibly be secession (ahem, Rich Lowry).

Yet, as we’ve seen, if a country as tyrannical as the Soviet Union allowed secession, how can the United States deny this basic freedom to its people? The answer is that secession represents a threat to those in power, not a threat to the American people. The government has never been concerned with protecting the American people; it’s chief concern is maintaining its own power.

P.S.  It’s totally mind-boggling how someone can say that there is a right of revolution, which entails the entire dissolution of government (likely meaning the violent overthrow of those in power), but not of peaceable secession which involves simply removing one’s consent to be governed by a particular government. If we look at it in those terms, it is clear that the American Revolution did not involve overthrowing those in power; we did not seek to overthrow the British government. Rather, it involved removing the consent of the colonists to be governed by Great Britain, or secession.

Is Corrective Democracy Our Saving Grace?

Can We Correct Democracy?, as The Freeman’s Tom W. Bell poses, is one of the most pertinent questions facing modern democratic nations, which I will begrudgingly label the United States. I say begrudgingly because it makes me cringe when i hear the rhetoric that “we are a democracy,” and attaching a stamp of approval on this as if democracy yields desirable results.

Going back to the birth of our nation, our founders (with almost no divergence) expressed their misgivings regarding the inherent deficiencies of a democratic state. They knew, before John Stuart Mill famously expressed it, that there were two kinds of tyranny: tyranny of the magistrate and tyranny of the majorityA democratic system such that a voting majority may grant positive rights (rights which we cannot enjoy unless we force someone else to provide them for us) or take away natural rights because “the people will it” is not a system any righteous lover of liberty would feel safe under.

The mythical quote from “Alexander Tyler”expresses this view aptly when it decrees, “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a louse fiscal responsibility, always followed by a dictatorship.” As long as government is able to maintain a monopoly on force and expropriate its people at the barrel of a gun, it doesn’t matter whether a king or a majority are causing the mischief; it still lacks legitimacy so long as the results mean violations of individual rights.

We must also remember that the Constitution did not guarantee a democracy; rather, it guaranteed “a republican form of government,” because, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, democracy is “nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine percent.” It is no more just for a democratic majority to decree that (to use Murray Rothbard’s famous example) all redheads must be put to death than if a totalitarian ruler does the same, and this principle extends down to the minutiae of any individual rights violations.

In light of all this, we must ask: Are these defects of democracy capable of being corrected, or at least subdued, by some process so that each individual will be able to live a free and prosperous life? Tom Bell uses an example involving ice cream to show that under democratic decision-making it is difficult to arrive at a consensus of what action should be taken or, in his example, what flavor of ice cream they should buy, since they can only buy one. However, his example shows that although agreement on what should be done is difficult to achieve, even in small groups, what not to do or what mistakes can be avoided tend to prove easier to achieve unanimity. For example, we can observe that it will be difficult to reach a consensus on what single beverage everyone should drink, but it will be easy to come to a consensus that the single beverage everyone should be drinking is not bleach.

A corrective democracy, which Tom Bell lays out in his article, is one where a law, regulation, or ordinance may be struck down if a majority (or other agreed upon percentage) of voters decide it’s deleterious. This system would offer an added protection to our liberties because if a representative should violate some right the people believe they have and impose an onerous and/or costly law or regulation, they may vote it down. It allows a greater oversight of our government’s activities than simply waiting to “vote them out” of their office, which does not (and likely will not ever) correct the error made by the official.

Particularly concerning federal government, any new law or regulation added to the books becomes nearly impossible to remove and new regulations end up being piled onto it. Robert Higgs discusses this idea in depth in Crisis and Leviathan and shows how government initiates massive amounts of legislation during crises (such as wartime) as temporary measures, yet these measures never end up being temporary. The functioning corrective democracy would be able to alleviate the burden caused by these permanent-temporary measures through the power of the ballot box.

However, the downside of corrective democracy would mean that voters could use the ballot box to strike down measures that were in favor of protecting their freedom and their natural rights. What if, through the corrective process, the people struck down these “good” laws rather than the “bad” ones? Historically, it has been the case that the masses are generally in favor of “free handouts,” of one kind or another, so what is the likelihood that they would eliminate measures that provide benefits to their special interests?

If, Congress today eliminated Social Security, but, through a corrective democratic system, they struck down the law repealing it, wouldn’t we consider this as a hindrance rather than a help? We have seen the historical outcomes of laws or systems which were intended for one use, but ended up being used for other, more nefarious intentions. Our own Constitution is the prime example of intent versus reality. For example, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the government insists the Interstate Commerce Clause means Congress may regulate anything they want, even down to the wheat grown on your own farm for only your own use, because it can roundaboutly “affect” interstate commerce (Wickard v. Filburn).

The question of whether democracy can be corrected is an important one to ask, from a practical standpoint. The ability to eliminate the worst excesses of (democratic) government would be of immense benefit to the general public, and if corrective democracy can do this, I would wholeheartedly support it.