Column on Throwing Away One’s Vote

It Isn’t Throwing it Away
Tibor R. Machan
Over the years, since when I voted for Barry Goldwater back in 1964, I
have supported libertarian candidates and ballot measures, few of whom or
which had any chance of winning. Often my more pragmatic, realistic
friends tell me that I am throwing away my vote and I should stop this if
I want to be serious about giving concrete support to my political
convictions. They sometimes even suggest that it is irresponsible to keep
up this practice of voting for hopeless candidates and measures.
I disagree. The reason is that political campaigns are very effective ways
of taking certain topics to the media (and to other forums where remote
possibilities) are being considered, ones that would otherwise be mostly
ignored. Consider just recently how many stories were run about Ron Paul
even though almost all of them admitted that Paul’s chances of becoming
the Republican presidential candidate are nil!
So if there is a libertarian candidate or ballot measure, however little
chance there is for their victory, libertarians and their critics will
likely be asked to appear on radio, TV, and in other forums to discuss
these ideas. Arguably, then, they will be able to keep the dim flame of
liberty from being extinguished. They may even give the flame a bit of
strength over time.
Moreover, it doesn’t appear to me to be a good idea to give additional
credibility to the candidacies of people who really have no interest in
furthering the cause of liberty. In the current race of the nomination
there is no viable candidate who seems to care one tiny bit about whether
this country is loyal to the ideas of the American Founders, to the
effective protection of the unalienable individual rights of all. It just
seems to be an act of betrayal to vote for a person with no interest in
human liberty, one who has fully bought into the currently fashionable
politics of special interests and entitlements.
The only sensible alternative, barring a full scale revolution, is to
educate the electorate. And here is where a bit of optimism can also be
justified. After all, it is no secret that the ideals and ideas of a fully
free society are radical, novel, hardly explored by most people in the
country and around the world. What John Locke and the American Founders
proposed had only been considered by very few thinkers and most of them
paid attention only to certain limited aspects of the political philosophy
that the Founder’s sketched in the Declaration of Independence. Yes, there
had been talk of limiting the power of government, of restraining
absolutism, of abolishing serfdom and slavery, or of freeing the press and
even markets. But very few influential thinkers came out in favor of a
totally free society, one in which government exists only to secure the
basic rights of citizens.
So it makes sense to suppose that one good way of giving this radical,
novel political idea a good college try is to keep discussing it over and
over again. As I have stressed many times, bad habits are not easy to get
rid of even when one knows them to be bad. But in the case of statism–the
belief in the omnipotence and omniscience of government–most people who
embrace it are self-deceived into thinking that government really is the
answer to most of our problems. Even in these United States it is nearly a
knee jerk response to any problem that has been identified that some level
or branch of government must be called upon in order to solve it. The
self-deception is powerful enough to resist all the evidence staring us in
the face that points to the futility of that belief.
All too many people also think in what can be called a fantastic fashion.
They believe that if government might be of help, it will be of help. Of
course, “might” is something for which no good argument is necessary, no
history need support it. It need only be a matter of imagination, of
speculation, of unsupported hypotheses. Then if you add to this the famous
insight of the 19th century French economist, Claude Frédéric
Bastiat–namely that what isn’t seen is often completely ignored in
assessing the merits of policies–you can figure out pretty well how
difficult it is to make progress on the path to liberty.
So to those who claim that supporting libertarian candidates or measures
amounts to being totally ineffectual in the field of politics I answer
that “Not in the long run.” Moreover, the career of the free society is
more a matter of the future, actually, than of the past! So focusing on
the constitution of that future would seem to me to make sense, at lest
for some of us.

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