Libertarian Candidates Jump Out of the Crazy Closet
By Wendy McElroy - September 25, 2014

It is voting season and a fever of straw hats is falling. Hundreds of 'libertarians' have jumped out of the crazy closet in their candidate costumes that are emblazoned with "this time for sure!" Hundreds of thousands more will tick a box, as the media and politicians implore, and call the act a blow for liberty. The national Libertarian Party site lists hundreds of candidates who are currently running for offices ranging from tax assessor to the school board, from mosquito control to revenue commissioner. Millions of dollars will be wasted to try and ensure taxes are assessed and mosquitoes controlled by libertarians.

Even worse are the offices of real state power, such as senator, being sought by 'libertarians.' No less than a Democrat or Republican, these 'libertarians' are trying to join a gang of thugs. No one can properly occupy a position of unjust power over the lives of innocent and unconsenting others; and everyone who did not vote is unconsenting. No one can properly facilitate such a position of unjust power by enabling.

But a libertarian senator would be a lesser evil, it is argued. He would be a good politician. Nonsense. It is not the particular man that is objectionable; it is the position of power itself. Moreover, a successful libertarian politician would take an oath to uphold massively unjust laws. Either he would be lying then or he would have been lying beforehand when he claimed to be libertarian. In either case, he is another lying politician.

Nevertheless, both candidates and voters will fall back on the "lesser of evils" argument. This article addresses voters. (Note: This article refers only to electoral voting. Voting in referendums is also objectionable but for different reasons.)

The most common defense of voting is "self-defense." It generally takes three forms.

Voters defend themselves against a politician who would be more draconian than the candidate they favor. Instead of firing a bullet in self-defense, they fire a ballot to knock out worst alternatives. The problem is that a defensive bullet can be narrowly aimed at a deserving target. A ballot attacks innocent third parties who must endure the consequences of whichever politician is assisted into a position of unjust power. Innocent people will bear the brunt not only of government actions but also of being robbed to pay for them. Every voter bears moral responsibility for this injustice.

Voters are like slaves who wish the plantation (all slaves) to have a kinder, gentler master. The economist Walter Block offered the classic formulation of this argument. "Suppose we were slaves, and the master offered us a vote for either Overseer Baddy, who beat the crap out of us all the time, or Overseer Goody, who only beat us once in a while, and then more gently." Thus, voting for Goody is allegedly self-defense and not an endorsement.

The most interesting aspect of the analogy, perhaps, is that it implicitly admits politicians are slave masters by drawing a direct parallel. It implicitly concedes that political office is the moral equivalent of slave owning. This means a libertarian could no more run for political office than he could own slaves.

But refocusing on voters … Again, whatever right a person has to vote for a lesser evil within his own life, there is no similar right to enable evil to rule over someone else's. The politician and slave master wields authority over everyone in a given jurisdiction, not over merely the voter. There is no right to knowingly harm innocent others in the name of self-defense.

Other problems attend the slave analogy. For one, the slaves would presumably confront physical violence for a refusal to vote. Block follows up with another analogy: "Now posit that a mugger held us at gun point, and demanded either our watch or our wallet, and we gave him our time piece." In both alleged parallels to voting, real physical violence is in play. But electoral voters do not confront that situation. They are not punished for refusing to cast a ballot.

Frankly, postulating a framework of violence to justify voting is puzzling. If voting is a morally neutral act, as Block and defensive-voters argue, then why introduce the presence of violence to justify it? You don't justify other morally neutral acts, like cheering one football team and not the other, by pointing to a framework of violence that compels the cheers. If voting requires threats in order to be justified, then something is wrong with doing it voluntarily.

The slavery analogy also provides an unrealistically limited set of alternatives. In the analogy, the slave has no other means to ease his oppression than by casting a vote. No rebellion, no escape, no assassination of slave-owners … The question becomes, "If no other strategies were possible and you were compelled to vote, would you?" Frankly, I don't know. I don't live in a reality in which no political or moral alternatives exist but to vote one way or the other. There are a myriad of other strategies available through which to fight for rights and freedom without facilitating politicians or harming others.

The slavery analogy cancels out one of the most basic realities of existence: the constant presence of alternatives, even for a slave. The contrived question becomes, "If the fabric of reality were rewoven into a different pattern, would you still take the same moral stand?" Since my morals and my judgments are derived from the nature of man and reality as it exists, the question is impossible to answer … except in an equally contrived manner.

The anarchist Larken Rose presented a realistic view of slaves voting in his parable, "The Jones Plantation." Slave-owner Jones laments to slave-owner Smith about risking the disobedience of his slaves by pressing them to work harder. Smith offers a solution. He gathers the slaves and declares them to be free men who will work for themselves henceforth. He advises them to stay on the plantation, however, as slave-owning neighbors would recapture them immediately. He adds: Since only Jones has experience in running a plantation, Jones will remain as administrator. The 'former' slaves go to work in the cotton fields with the renewed vigor of free men.

The next day, a handful of 'former' slaves become supervisors to ensure the rules are followed in order "to benefit all equally." The rest work with renewed vigor.

On day three, a man named Samuel is whipped for holding back some cotton for his own use; this is called "stealing" from everyone else. When Samuel complains there is no difference between freedom and slavery as long as Jones makes all the rules, Smith gathers the 'former' slaves and tells them there will be an election every three months in which either Jones or Jones's cousin will be voted administrator; the 'former' slaves are in control. Moreover, everyone now has two minutes in which to speak out at each gathering.

Eventually, Samuel uses his two minutes to say that nothing has changed. Jones and his cousin are exactly the same; they take the wealth and leave next to nothing for the 'former' slaves. The other workers turn against Samuel.

Rose presents some of the key elements of voting, especially in the context of slavery. Voting provides an illusion of freedom, a delusion of control to which the slaves cling. It turns them against each other both as supervisors and as workers who are either pro-Jones or pro-cousin. It turns the slaves against the one man who speaks the truth in protest. And nothing, nothing about the conditions of slavery change … except the words describing it. Voting is called "freedom," "democracy," "civic responsibility," or "self-defense."

Often, this is a point at which the argument of "no alternatives" is re-introduced. Voting is justified because there is nothing else but to slink passively away into the night. Exactly the opposite is true. A vast range of other options are available, and voting acts as an obstacle to them. It drains massive amounts of money and energy into doing precisely what all politicians want: the casting of a ballot. It gives people a false sense of fighting for freedom so that they don't go on to achieve anything real in that area. In the end, it creates senseless disillusionment when a candidate fails … or, even worse, he succeeds and is revealed as a politician.

Injustice gains power by masquerading as less evil than its alternatives. This is never more true than in elections whether or not the candidates and voters call themselves libertarian.