David R. Henderson  

Earl Long on Not Voting

Me and the Elephants... Democratic Defeat: Median Vote...

I have friends who refuse to vote because their vote doesn't matter. I understand that. I have friends who make voting a moral issue and say it's wrong to vote. I kind of understand that. But what I don't get is people who proselytize fellow libertarians not to vote. To the extent they succeed, they make libertarians a target for politicians or, at least, a group that politicians do not need to worry about upsetting.

Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes from one of my all-time favorite books, The Earl of Louisiana, A. J. Liebling's book about then Louisiana governor Earl Long. Here's the paragraph, which is Earl Long's speech, punctuated by Liebling's comments:

"I'm so glad to see so many of my fine Catholic friends here--they been so kind to me I sometimes say I consider myself forty per cent Catholic and sixty per cent Baptist" (this is a fairly accurate reflection of the composition of the electorate). "But I'm in favor of every religion with the possible exception of snake-chunking. Anybody that so presumes on how he stands with Providence that he will let a snake bite him, I say he deserves what he's got coming to him." The snake-chunkers, a small, fanatic cult, do not believe in voting.

Comments and Sharing

CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Travis writes:

Be a snake-chunker or be patronized by a politician...tough choice.

Zac Gochenour writes:

I encourage my libertarian friends not to vote for the same reason I encourage them not to use hard drugs, drink too much, stay with an abusive partner, go on fad diets, buy ineffective nutritional supplements, etc.. I don't think it's in their best interest to do it and I believe primary reasons they would do it is that they are either misinformed about the consequences or they are facing social pressure. By providing correct information and a counteracting social pressure I hope to help them make a utility maximizing decision.

michael writes:

Bad analogy. There are many religious denominations that would be fine and moral to choose.

How many politicians can you say that about?

Besides, it seems silly for me think that politicians would adjust their policies to keep my vote but not to gain it.

David C writes:

I believe in the Median Voter Theorem, so my main goal in voting isn't for my candidate to win, but to adjust politicians' opinions about the beliefs of the median voter. In my eyes, it's wrong for people to vote based on issues they know nothing about because that moves the median voter in a poor direction, but I'm also bothered (not sure if it's morally wrong) by those who choose not to vote about issues they know a great deal about because that's allowing the median voter to stay in a poor position.

dmitchell writes:

Principled nonvoting is the most direct and lethal possible attack on the state: an attack on its legitimacy. I urge all libertarians to visibly withdraw their consent by staying home on election day. Don't provide the moral cover of an election -- instead help to peel away the mask of legitimacy by not participating.

Evan writes:

dmitchell, I've never really got the concept some people have that "associating with something legitamizes it." To me it smacks of magical thinking, of equivocating evil with a disease that you have to stay away from to avoid getting infected.

To me voting, even though it rarely matters, is a small way of turning the machinery of the state against itself (I would also support accepting welfare state money and then using that money to oppose the welfare state). But then, I seem to personally admire clever, underhanded, and sneaky ways of fighting, so maybe it's just me.

Steve Miller writes:

‎"If it is now believed that my fellow men may sacrifice me in any manner they please for the sake of whatever they deem to be their own good, if they believe that they may seize my property simply because they need it - well, so does any burglar. There is only this difference: the burglar does not ask me to sanction his act." - Hank Rearden

Like Hank, I refuse to sanction the act. I don't see why other believers in personal liberty should, either. To cast a statistically meaningless vote in favor of liberty against millions of votes to take more liberties away legitimizes the view that our rights are all subject to the whim of the majority. I don't have the guts to not offer a plea even in traffic court, but I'll make a stand against the incessant screaming about how it's everyone's DUTY to vote.

James writes:


While you assert that encouraging others not to vote is analogous to snake handling, you fail to get the right religious analogy: pointing out to others that they are sinning and don't know it.

When I encourage my friends not to vote, it's because I know that they don't actually want to be complicit in the violation of anyone's rights and, whether or not they realize it, when they vote they are delegating a power to violate the rights of others.

dm writes:

Evan, I'm not actually picking a side on that question (the philosophical question of association and legitimization). Instead I am recognizing that in the mind of the average man on the street, the state gains its legitimacy largely through elections. Principled nonvoting is meant to be a direct attack on the legitimacy of the state.

As for turning the machinery of the state against it, there are several cases against that. There is the question of means and ends: can you achieve the ends of liberty through the means of coercion? Would it be moral to attempt to turn the machinery of the mafia against it by insinuating yourself into the mafia, either by joining it or trying to influence its officers? And haven't Americans been attempting to do this for over 200 years by voting for limited government? Is it working?

Pietro Poggi-Corradini writes:

People like to vote their favorite blogpost or FB update: they press the "like" botton, etc...I think those actions are more consequential than actual electoral voting, in the grand scheme of things.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top