Should You Vote?

Fixing what is or building what is to come.

Published in The Freedom Scale .

Recently, in response to a conversation with a reader, we discussed the fact that democracy is, in essence, a constant battle to secure government permissions to exercise rights that are, of natural fact, already yours. This is a problem.

And it is by no means the only problem, as we have been discussing here over the last half a year. Imposed government is always morally wrong, and making the government a “democracy” does not fix this fundamental problem. Indeed, it creates problems of its own.

Having had these realizations—both the recent ones and the ones that have been bubbling for many years—I now understand libertarians a lot better than I did previously. I understand why they are frustrated with (and try to distance themselves from) the system, the political process, and the two “teams” that are duking it out for control of this lumbering and vicious beast. I even get why some of them don’t vote.

Not voting, and opting out of participation in the system in general, is not merely a protest or an abdication of responsibility. It is a different approach to the quest to find a brighter future. The argument, in part, goes something like this:

The system is morally unsupportable—it automatically and always violates individual rights even when it is operating correctly. Contrary to the sanitized brochure description of government, it is not the solution to anything. Indeed, it is the source of most of our problems. Its only legitimacy comes from the fact that we grant it legitimacy. Stop doing that.

In essence, they are saying that we cannot move on until we stop pretending that any of this is okay. Participation in the system—and especially insisting that we have no other choice—only serves to perpetuate it. And the human tendency to idolize ‘leaders’ and beg them to rule us just makes it all worse.

This can be further clarified with a related analogy…

The public school system is a monstrosity. It is a jobs program for government workers that provides children with a crappy education as a casual byproduct. Academic outcomes continue to fall, and knowledge is being replaced by indoctrination. (We could go on and on—the problems could fill several books.)

So you have two choices:

You can fight the system: Speak your mind at school board meetings, vote for politicians who promise to fix the situation, beg for school voucher programs, and so on.

You can exit the system: Homeschool your children and build alternative institutions.

Fighting the system grants that system legitimacy. Pulling your kids out of the system deprives that system of oxygen.

I get the fight-the-system mentality. I have had it my whole life (even when I was a kid). But I have finally begun to realize that participating in the system—even if you are fighting it—legitimates the system. It sends a message—to yourself, to your fellows, AND TO THE SYSTEM—that the system is all we have, and all we can ever have. I am no longer willing to consign humanity to that.

Some will naturally object—especially those who have not yet fully accepted this realization—that the system is all we have now, and that we have to make things better now. What choice do we have? I understand this objection, and I believe a synthesis is possible…

There is absolutely no doubt that things can be better or worse under any government, including ours. Who gets elected, and what policies are imposed upon us, does have an impact. Right now, there are highly effective people working in politics and public policy to make the system better (or at least to keep it from getting worse).

Even if the changes they make are only temporary…even if government is morally flawed and democracy is on an unavoidable one-way slide…the actions of these highly effective people do make a difference. Like ancient soldiers forming a shield wall, these people are holding the line. Now we have to ask ourselves…

How long do we make them stay there?

How long must humanity scramble to defend an indefensible system? How long do they stand, their feet trying to gain purchase in the mud, trying to prevent things from going from bad to worse? Their whole lives?

And when their shield-arm finally fails from age and abuse, do they hand off their burden to their children, and they to theirs? When do they get to do something productive, rather than simply engaging in this endless war? When do they get to be happy and feel safe?

How long are we going to go on like this? What are they holding the line FOR?

The answer cannot be that they are just holding the line until they can hand off the same task to the next generation, and so on down into the future, forever. There has to be something better. I have come to believe that Ronald Reagan wasn’t quite right when he said that, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” That remains true so long as we allow it to be so—so long as we continue to fight the current fight as if it is the only possible way to live. It isn’t. We will always have to protect our rights, but at least we can end the practice of empowering a system that violates rights by its very existence, and that automatically places individual freedom in the hands of others.

Once the curtain is pulled back to reveal the fundamental flaws in the system, people begin to ask themselves, as my reader did—At what point do we quit trying to work within the system? At what point do we break away? Should we even vote?

My views on this have somewhat recently evolved, but my best answer now is this:

If you are on that shield wall—if you are one of the people who is truly effective at holding that line—thank you. I, for one, do not want to demoralize you with the feeling that your task is pointless. But I want you to know that you are not being asked to stay there just to wait for reinforcements in an endless battle. You are holding the line to give the rest of us time to find a way to end this battle once and for all. To find a new way.

Most people are not on that shield wall. Most people opine in social media, and then every two years cast their votes like confetti into an uncaring gale. They do little else, other than tell us how important those votes are, how great this or that candidate is, and how this is the only way humanity can possibly live. Indeed, that it is a good system that we can fix if only we bear down, fight harder, and elect the right leaders.

To this latter group—and even to those who perhaps do a little more (local political activism and the like)—I have a different message:

Yes, this is the system we have now, and what happens affects our lives now. And yes, who gets elected, and what policies are imposed upon us, do have an impact.


  • Please realize that the system is fundamentally flawed. It cannot be fixed, and fixing it should not be our long-term objective.
  • Vote if you wish (and perhaps I will join you), but please stop speaking as if this or that candidate or policy will save us. We all know the left’s incredibly dishonest claim that Real communism hasn’t yet been tried—that its failures in the past were just because it was done the wrong way, by the wrong people. This claim has cost millions of lives and continually consigns humanity to making the same hideous errors over and over. Don’t make the same claim with “democracy” (yes, even our constitutional republican kind) in place of “communism” in that sentence.
  • Many of us know someone who really is on that shield wall—someone who is working terribly long hours, year in and year out, to hold the line against a dangerous foe. Don’t consign them, their children, and all of us to live this way forever…

Acknowledge the problem. Don’t pretend it’s not there.

Start learning about new ways of doing things. They do exist!

An evolution of consciousness is underway. More people are starting to get it. Join it! Even if you do nothing else—and even if you want to keep a toe in the pond of the system—become a part of that evolution. Ultimately, a shift in consciousness is what will change all this. Recognize that. Break your chains. (At very least, don’t assail those of us who have broken ours!)

Even if you still have a toe in the system, opt out where you can. And support the people who are working on building parallel institutions. The work is already underway, and there are more of them than you think.

We all love those moments in stories when the good guys, beleaguered and facing imminent defeat on the field of battle, see reinforcements on the hillside, just as the dawn breaks. (I still get chills when I think of the Battle of Helm’s Deep.) But if all those reinforcements do is take their place and form row after row of shield walls, in a fight that never ends, that is not a battle…it is hell.

If we’re going to ask that shield wall to hold the line until we get there, let us make sure that when we get there, we have something better to offer.

Christopher Cook writes at The Freedom Scale and guest writes at Underthrow.

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