Mises Daily Articles
Mock the Vote
Jesse Ventura, when he's not talking about 9-11, makes a lot of sense. Describing the two party system to Larry King, he said,
[W]hat you have today is like walking into the grocery store and you go to the soft drink department, and there is only Pepsi and Coke. Those are the two you get to choose from. There is no Mountain Dew, no Root Beer, no Orange. They're both Colas; one is slightly sweeter than the other, depending on which side of the aisle you are on.
In an interview with Newsmax, he described politicians in the two party system as pro wrestlers.
In pro wrestling, out in front of the people, we make it look like we all hate each other and want to beat the crap out of each other, and that's how we get your money, [and get you to] come down and buy tickets. They're the same thing. Out in front of the public and the cameras, they hate each other, are going to beat the crap out of each other, but behind the scenes they're all going to dinner, cutting deals. And [they're] doing what we did, too — laughing all the way to the bank. And that to me is what you have today, in today's political world, with these two parties.
Jesse's right. Our political system is a farce. This year, we have running for president a warmonger who's a reluctant socialist versus a socialist who's a reluctant warmonger. We have two parties that claim they're different, but when the Establishment, the Complex, our shadowy overlords, whatever you want to call them, really want something, they get it. When the Establishment wanted the Bailout in the face of almost universal grassroots opposition, they got it. When the Complex wanted immunity to the telecoms who knowingly spied on Americans, they got it. When our shadowy overlords wanted stormtroopers to brutally stifle protesters during the party conventions, they got it.
But even if voters had a real choice — and even if the politicians followed the majority will on issues that matter — the system would still most likely be a farce. As Augustine observed, without justice, a government is nothing but a band of thieves. Augustine was writing about kingdoms, but his insight applies to democracies as well. Without justice, the ability of the subjects of a government to vote on the laws and rulers that govern them doesn't make a government any more legitimate than an unjust monarchy. And the founders of this country did not believe democracies were likely to be just.
As Walter Williams points out,
We often hear the claim that our nation is a democracy. That wasn't the vision of the founders. They saw democracy as another form of tyranny.
In Democracy: The God That Failed, Hans-Hermann Hoppe notes that
it is difficult to find many proponents of democracy in the history of political theory. Almost all major thinkers had nothing but contempt for democracy. Even the Founding Fathers of the U.S., nowadays considered the model of democracy, were strictly opposed to it. Without a single exception, they thought of democracy as nothing but mob-rule.
In order to create a just government, the founders established a constitutionally limited republic, in which the popular vote was to be just one check among many. Notably, the word "democracy" does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. Yet today, the word is sacred. As election day approaches, Americans dutifully watch inane debates, respectfully watch commercials in which celebrities harangue them to "rock the vote" or other such nonsense, and compulsively ask each other who they're going to vote for.
On election day, they go to the polls as if they were receiving Holy Communion and then go through the rest of the day wearing "I Voted" stickers as if these stickers were ashes on Ash Wednesday. Pat Buchanan calls the blind reverence to and awe of the seemingly divine force of democracy "democracy worship." He notes it was the prospect of spreading democracy to the Middle East that ultimately convinced The Decider to decide on war in Iraq. So how did we get from the founder's deep suspicion of majority rule to the deification of democracy?
Once, humans lived in small bands and were free. True, life was dangerous, but no one told you what to do. As Philip Jackson explains,
Men might hunt individually or in groups. But when they cooperated, leadership was not based on official rank, but rather on one hunter proposing a group hunt and recruiting others to follow him. None were compelled to follow, however, and different hunts might have different leaders based on the relative charisma of different individuals at different times. Women needed even less coordination. With them leadership would be more a matter of the wiser or more skilled giving advice as the need arose.
Then came the great collusion, followed by the long oppression. As humans increased in number and food became harder to come by, bands became tribes and tribes became chiefdoms. Big Chief, hungry for power, convinced the high priest to delude the people to his consent. Big Chief was divinely appointed, they were told, and maybe even divine himself. Therefore, the people must do what he says.
Murray Rothbard (1926–1995), economist, historian, and political theorist, was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. Perhaps Rothbard's greatest achievement was his identification of the "court intellectual." In contrast to the masses, who "do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through these ideas independently," intellectuals are society's opinion shapers. The court intellectual is the intellectual who, "in return for a share of, a junior partnership in, the power and pelf offered by the rest of the ruling class, spins the apologias for state rule with which to convince a misguided public."
Until recently, the propaganda put out by the court intellectuals was linked to traditional religion. To quote Rothbard again,
particularly potent among the intellectual handmaidens of the State was the priestly caste, cementing the powerful and terrible alliance of warrior chief and medicine man, of Throne and Altar. The State "established" the Church and conferred upon it power, prestige, and wealth extracted from its subjects. In return, the Church anointed the State with divine sanction and inculcated this sanction into the populace.
In the West, the myth of the divine right of kings held sway until the Enlightenment.
According to Keith Preston, "A principal achievement of the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries was the demolition of the notion of the divine right of kings." The word "enlightenment" may conjure up images of a man sitting in the lotus position on a mountaintop, at one with the universe, but in regard to the time period, enlightenment refers not to mystical insight but to the realization that much of the received wisdom — including the myth of the divine right of kings — was a pack of lies. With the courage to question the lies and disseminate their conclusions, the writers of the Enlightenment began a revolution in thought that culminated in the Declaration of Independence.
Unfortunately, at the same time they were knocking down one pillar of the old order, another writer, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was planting the seeds of democracy worship. In Rousseau's mystical vision of a society governed by what he called the "general will," each of us would put "his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we [would] receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole." The resulting sovereign, "being formed wholly of the individuals who compose it, neither [would have] … nor … [could] have any interest contrary to theirs; and consequently the sovereign power [would] need give no guarantee to its subjects. In his imagined world, "[t]he Sovereign, merely by virtue of what it is, [would] … always [be] what it should be."
James Bovard, who calls Rousseau the "modern state's evil prophet," contends that in promoting his concept of the "general will," Rousseau "unleashed the genie of absolute power in the name of popular sovereignty, which had hitherto been unknown."
Rousseau's concept of the general will proved irresistible to future court intellectuals, as it perfectly conflated society and state — a useful trick indeed. Rothbard wrote,
With the [subsequent] rise of democracy, it is common to hear sentiments expressed which violate virtually every tenet of reason and common sense: such as "we are the government." The useful collective term "we" has enabled an ideological camouflage to be thrown over the reality of political life. If "we are the government," then anything a government does to an individual is not only just and tyrannical; it is also "voluntary" on the part of the individual concerned. If the government has incurred a huge public debt which must he paid by taxing one group for the benefit of another, this reality of burden is obscured by saying that "we owe it to ourselves"; if the government conscripts a man, or throws him into jail for dissident opinion, then he is "doing it to himself" and therefore nothing untoward has occurred.
Observing the power of "the myth that says we are governing ourselves," Lew Rockwell notes that whereas "[k]ings of old would have been overthrown in short order if they had tried to grab 40 percent of people's earnings, or told them how big to make their toilet tanks, or determined how schools taught every subject," modern Americans "turn a blind eye to petty tyrannies in our midst."
As Bovard comments, it is as if "[b]eing permitted to vote for politicians who enact unjust, oppressive new laws magically converts the stripes on prison shirts into emblems of freedom."
Wise up, America. There's nothing special about 50% plus one. Truth and justice cannot be determined by a show of hands. We are not the government. Voting is not a sacrament. And as it stands today, when we're only given a choice between two Establishment-approved candidates, voting is a joke.
Voltaire, the undisputed leader of the Enlightenment, used humor and wit as two of his primary weapons, and, as Robert Ingersoll remarked, "In the presence of absurdity he laughed…" It was largely by making the divine right of kings a laughing stock that the Enlightenment writers destroyed it. It is time for us to do the same thing to the divine right of the majority.
This year, vote laughing or stay home.