There is no virtue in favoring democracy in principle. The fundamental flaw with democracy is that people assume it is a nonviolent way of forming a polity; rather, democracy is simply a formality which comes before the inevitable violence.
As someone who is not an American, my interest in the American presidential election is limited, both in terms of my not being directly affected by the outcome and by the political situation in my own country being far more depressing and closer to meltdown.
I’ve never been a small ‘d’ democrat. I have seen, first hand, how democracy can wreck a country with an otherwise prosperous future. If South Africa had decided in 1994 – after the end of Apartheid – to choose property rights over welfare, then it would have become an economic powerhouse with negligible levels of poverty. But democracy intervened, meaning we’ve been stuck with an insanely corrupt and self-serving democratic socialist party for the last 22 years. Indeed, if South Africa’s political situation had to be expressed in American terms, we would currently have three choices: the governing Socialist Party, the Democratic Party, and the Communist Party. A conservative party, like the Republicans, does not even feature on our political landscape, and our national Libertarian Party has all of five or six active members.
Americans often say “America is not a democracy, it’s a republic,” but what they are in fact trying to say is “America is not a direct democracy, it’s a representative constitutional democracy,” which is, of course, to say nothing at all. Most countries around the world today are representative constitutional democracies. In substance, there is very little that distinguishes the “American republic” with any other nation with a constitution that secures certain individual rights within a framework of majority rule. The libertarian flavor in American politics has less to do with the American political system, and more to do with the American political culture.
The American system endorses democracy, which is why I would often roll my eyes at libertarians who are infatuated with the U.S. Constitution. It is certainly one of the best – if not the best – constitution in the world, but in terms of libertarian values, it’s still a deeply flawed and problematic statute.
But democracy is what the world chose, and thus we are stuck with voting.
I wholeheartedly believe in voting – as opposed to many anarcho-capitalists and voluntaryists – because I am not a masochist. If there is even a slim chance that my vote will make the inevitable pain which comes after the election a little bit more bearable, then I will happily participate in the democratic process. It’s a pragmatic thing to do, and has more to do with my desire to be left alone, than with my desire to see the country follow a particular political or ideological path. I recognize that voting has never really been about the individual casting the vote – which is what “vote your conscience” assumes – but is all about imposing “your conscience” on someone else. As far as I am concerned, the most moral way to go about voting is thus to choose the party or candidate which promises the least amount of imposing.
This is not always as cut-and-dry as “then you must vote for the Libertarians!”
If I was eligible to vote in the United States, I would cast my vote quite reluctantly for Gary Johnson and his pandering running mate Bill Weld. I describe my vote as reluctant not just because Johnson and Weld are terrible libertarian messengers, but also because the party has been getting way ahead of itself.
The Libertarian Party can make real waves on the local and state level, where it need not necessarily convince tens of millions of diverse Americans that libertarian values are the way to go. The United States utilizes a federal system, which in essence means that the magic needs to happen in the states, not at the federal level. But the Libertarian Party, which often prides itself as being the party of the American constitution, has largely ignored this. While individuals within the party, such as C. Michael Pickens, have done great work growing the party locally, it appears to me that the national party couldn’t care less. It wants to march into Congress – not to mention the White House – without having one elected representative in a state legislature (Sorry, someone changing their party affiliation from Republican to Libertarian after having already won a seat – while great and encouraged – is not sufficient; they must be elected as a Libertarian.).
I may be wrong, but I imagine that if the national Libertarian Party devoted as much attention to a series of statewide elections in a state where the people generally believe in individual responsibility and community-driven (rather than government-driven) solutions, as it did this year to the presidential election, serious inroads may have been made into becoming an established part of the American political dynamic. The LP needs to start at the bottom, and work its way to the top. Trying to start at the top, means four decades of stagnation.
But I do not expect anyone to vote for the Libertarian ticket.
Indeed, if you, like many small ‘l’ libertarians, believe the lesser evil is Donald Trump, because he rhetorically seems to favor less taxes and a smaller government, you should vote for him. Or, if you, like myself, favor predictability in the political system, Hillary Clinton might be a sour, but better choice, and I encourage you to make that vote.
But whoever you choose, you should choose them because you sincerely believe they will impose themselves less on your fellow Americans, than the other candidates. Don’t vote for them just because you agree with their ostensible values. Voting your conscience – be it the belief that welfare is compassionate, or, like the former libertarian Christopher Cantwell, the belief that it should be illegal for women to not cover up on New Hampshire beaches – is a decidedly bad way to go. The only moral way to go about voting is to choose the least evil available option.
* Martin van Staden is the Editor in Chief of Being Libertarian.
This article was edited for grammar, style, and spelling, but not for content. The views expressed are that of the author, Martin van Staden, exclusively, and do not reflect that of BeingLibertarian.com or Being Libertarian LLC