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Rothbard on Voting

November 4, 2014 in Economics

By Jeff Deist


Murray Rothbard discusses the merits and morality of voting in a great interview from 1972:

[This interview was first published in the 25 February 1972 edition of The New Banner: A Fortnightly Libertarian Journal, Vol. I, No. 3.]

NEW BANNER:  Some libertarians have recommended anti-voting activities during the 1972 election.  Do you agree with this tactic?

ROTHBARD:  I’m interested to talk about that.  This is the classical anarchist position, there is no doubt about that.  The classical anarchist position is that nobody should vote, because if you vote you are participating in a state apparatus.  Or if you do vote you should write in your own name, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with this tactic in the sense that if there really were a nationwide movement — if five million people, let’s say, pledged not to vote.  I think it would be very useful.  On the other hand, I don’t think voting is a real problem.  I don’t think it’s immoral to vote, in contrast to the anti-voting people.

Lysander Spooner, the patron saint of individualist anarchism, had a very effective attack on this idea.  The thing is, if you really believe that by voting you are giving your sanction to the state, then you see you are really adopting the democratic theorist’s position.  You would be adopting the position of the democratic enemy, so to speak, who says that the state is really voluntary because the masses are supporting it by participating in elections.  In other words, you’re really the other side of the coin of supporting the policy of democracy — that the public is really behind it and that it is all voluntary.  And so the anti-voting people are really saying the same thing.

I don’t think this is true, because as Spooner said, people are being placed in a coercive position.  They are surrounded by a coercive system; they are surrounded by the state.  The state, however, allows you a limited choice — there’s no question about the fact that the choice is limited.  Since you are in this coercive situation, there is no reason why you shouldn’t try to make use of it if you think it will make a difference to your liberty or possessions.  So by voting you can’t say that this is a moral choice, a fully voluntary choice, on the part of the public.  It’s not a fully voluntary situation.  It’s …read more


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