More extravagant types would claim I've actually consented to the actions of the Tories, or New Labour, or the Emergency National Unity Government, or whatever shower we end up with. No I bloody haven't!
Those who love democracy not wisely, but too well, will unite with its despisers in objecting to my contempt for what I have supposedly endorsed. The lovers will object to the contempt, and the despisers will object to the endorsement. They will be equally wrong. The remarkable Lysander Spooner said it well in big beefy nineteenth-century prose:
In truth, in the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent, even for the time being. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money, render service, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a master; if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self- defence, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man takes the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot — which is a mere substitute for a bullet — because, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, in an exigency into which he had been forced by others, and in which no other means of self-defence offered, he, as a matter of necessity, used the only one that was left to him.
- Lysander Spooner, No Treason No.2: The Constitution (1867).
If the vote is a true franchise, that is to say a freedom, it is mine and everybody else's to do what the blazes we see fit with. It places no constraints on our subsequent political actions that our morals didn't place there already. Because we used what influence we had to stop a powerful involuntary organization from running right over us, that does not bind us for one moment to accept its power, or its coercion, or its desire to use our human selves as a highway to the country of its dreams.
I do strongly believe that certain moral duties are bound up with the franchise. When I vote, I do agree some things implicitly. By the Golden Rule, I most plainly should not vote dishonestly, nor sway my fellows with arrant lies, nor use force or fraud or legalistic tricks to hamper others from honestly voting and counting the votes. This is simple fair play.
I take this rule further. I have no business casting a vote with the intent of exerting any power over anybody, which I deny their right to exercise over me. Since I demand very little authority over the unconsenting - indeed, I deny that I have many kinds of authority over them to delegate, either by voting or otherwise - this will not be a hard row for me to hoe. Conversely, I have reason to complain about electors who vote to impose more government upon everybody because they are Right, yet will object to being themselves governed Wrongly.
After the vote, though, the load lies heavy on those who take my line. The responsibilities to myself and my neighbours I once thought I could and should delegate through the public authority, I now find myself saddled with in that authority's spite.
I hope my shoulders have grown broader since the nights I used to sit with fellow-idealists in murky pubs, setting the world to rights and plotting our electoral course there. Coaxing desired results out of fluid voluntary networks is a great deal harder than legislating them into existence, via either the edicts of Whitehall or the tipsy ramblings in the snug-bar of the Dragon and Dolphin. I spend more and more time thinking about how, and patiently smashing down my own arguments in the hope of finding the odd nugget amongst them somewhere. But it's the only way.
One vote in fifteen hundred days: a slight noise in the struggle for power overhead. Fourteen hundred ninety-nine days in between: every day a vote for something better or worse on the ground, and none of them wasted or disallowed by the overlords' gatekeepers.
It's election day again, as always.