Posts tagged Voting

WWLSD?

(Link via Austro-Athenian Empire 2008-01-23.)

happylee, in comments (2008-01-22) on Randy Barnett’s Volokh Conspiracy post on Lysander Spooner 200th birthday:

And we all know who Lysander Spooner would support for President in 2008: Ron Paul.

Happy Birthday indeed.

Rahul, in comments (2008-01-22) on the same post:

Amen HappyLee - ironically some folks who do appreciate Lysander Spooner find it difficult to support Ron Paul. One of the mysteries of this election cycle to me has been the abandoning of Ron Paul by most influential libertarians. Sad, but true.

Lysander Spooner, in comments (1886-05-15) on President Grover Cleveland’s inaugural address:

SIR, — Your inaugural address is probably as honest, sensible, and consistent a one as that of any president within the last fifty years, or, perhaps, as any since the foundation of the government. If, therefore, it is false, absurd, self-contradictory, and ridiculous, it is not (as I think) because you are personally less honest, sensible, or consistent than your predecessors, but because the government itself — according to your own description of it, and according to the practical administration of it for nearly a hundred years — is an utterly and palpably false, absurd, and criminal one. Such praises as you bestow upon it are, therefore, necessarily false, absurd, and ridiculous.

… You have not so much as the honest signature of a single human being, granting to you or your lawmakers any right of dominion whatever over him or his property.

You hold your place only by a title, which, on no just principle of law or reason, is worth a straw. And all who are associated with you in the government — whether they be called senators, representatives, judges, executive officers, or what not — all hold their places, directly or indirectly, only by the same worthless title. That title is nothing more nor less than votes given in secret (by secret ballot), by not more than one-fifth of the whole population. These votes were given in secret solely because those who gave them did not dare to make themselves personally responsible, either for their own acts, or the acts of their agents, the lawmakers, judges, etc.

These voters, having given their votes in secret (by secret ballot), have put it out of your power — and out of the power of all others associated with you in the government — to designate your principals individually. That is to say, you have no legal knowledge as to who voted for you, or who voted against you. And being unable to designate your principals individually, you have no right to say that you have any principals. And having no right to say that you have any principals, you are bound, on every just principle of law or reason, to confess that you are mere usurpers, making laws, and enforcing them, upon your own authority alone.

… But the falsehood and absurdity of your whole system of government do not result solely from the fact that it rests wholly upon votes given in secret, or by men who take care to avoid all personal responsibility for their own acts, or the acts of their agents. On the contrary, if every man, woman, and child in the United States had openly signed, sealed, and delivered to you and your associates, a written document, purporting to invest you with all the legislative, judicial, and executive powers that you now exercise, they would not thereby have given you the slightest legitimate authority. Such a contract, purporting to surrender into your hands all their natural rights of person and property, to be disposed of at your pleasure or discretion, would have been simply an absurd and void contract, giving you no real authority whatever.

… Every man has, by nature, the right to maintain justice for himself, and for all other persons, by the use of so much force as may be reasonably necessary for that purpose. But he can use the force only in accordance with his own judgment and conscience, and on his own personal responsibility, if, through ignorance or design, he commits any wrong to another.

But inasmuch as he cannot delegate, or impart, his own judgment or conscience to another, he cannot delegate his executive power or right to another.

The result is, that, in all judicial and executive proceedings, for the maintenance of justice, every man must act only in accordance with his own judgment and conscience, and on his own personal responsibility for any wrong he may commit; whether such wrong be committed through either ignorance or design.

No one could justify, or excuse, his wrong act, by saying that a power, or authority, to do it had been delegated to him, by any other men, however numerous.

For the reasons that have now been given, neither any legislative, judicial, nor executive powers ever were, or ever could have been, delegated to the United States by the constitution; no matter how honestly or innocently the people of that day may have believed, or attempted, the contrary.

… Such, Mr. Cleveland, is the real character of the government, of which you are the nominal head. Such are, and have been, its lawmakers. Such are, and have been, its judges. Such have been its executives. Such is its present executive. Have you anything to say for any of them?

Yours Frankly, LYSANDER SPOONER. BOSTON, MAY 15, 1886.

Lysander Spooner, in comments (1877-02-04) in J.M.L. Babcock’s New Age, on woman suffrage:

Women are human beings, and consequently have all the natural rights that any human beings can have. They have just as good a right to make laws as men have, and no better; AND THAT IS JUST NO RIGHT AT ALL. No human being, nor any number of human beings, have any right to make laws, and compel other human beings to obey them. To say that they have is to say that they are the masters and owners of those of whom they require such obedience.

The only law that any human being can rightfully be compelled to obey is simply the law of justice. And justice is not a thing that is made, or that can be unmade, or altered, by any human authority. It is a natural principle, inhering in the very nature of man and of things. It is that natural principle which determines what is mine and what is thine, what is one man’s [sic] right or property and what is another man’s right or property. It is, so to speak, the line that Nature has drawn between one man’s rights of person and property and another man’s rights of person and property.

… The excuse which the women offer for all the laws which they propose to inflict upon us is that they themselves are oppressed by the laws that now exist. Of course they are oppressed; and so are all men—except the oppressors themselves—oppressed by the laws that are made. As a general rule, oppression was the only motive for which laws were ever made. If men wanted justice, and only justice, no laws would ever need to be made; since justice itself is not a thing that can be made. If men or women, or men and women, want justice, and only justice, their true course is not to make any more laws, but to abolish the laws—all the laws—that have already been made. When they shall have abolished all the laws that have already been made, let them give themselves to the study and observance, and, if need be, the enforcement, of that one universal law—the law of Nature—which is the same at Rome and Athens—in China and in England—and which man did not make. Women and men alike will then have their rights; all their rights; all the rights that Nature gave them. But until then, neither men nor women will have anything that they can call their rights. They will at most have only such liberties or privileges as the laws that are made shall see fit to allow them.

If the women, instead of petitioning to be admitted to a participation in the power of making more laws, will but give notice to the present lawmakers that they (the women) are going up to the State House, and are going to throw all the existing statute books in the fire, they will do a very sensible thing,—one of the most sensible things it is in their power to do. And they will have a crowd of men—at least all the sensible and honest men in the country to go with them.

But this subject requires a treatise, and is not to be judged of by the few words here written. Nor is any special odium designed to be cast on the woman suffragists; many of whom are undoubtedly among the best and most honest of all those foolish people who believe that laws should be made.

You don’t have to agree with what Lysander Spooner says about legal or presidential authority in order to count as a libertarian (in at least some meanings of that term). You don’t even have to agree with what Spooner says about politicking or voting in government elections, as a matter of strategy, to count as an anarchist. But if you are going to confidently assert that we all know that, were he alive today, Lysander Spooner would favor efforts to get Ron Paul named President of the United States, and if you sneer at libertarians who don’t agree with the position that you imagine Lysander Spooner would be holding, then I do think that you ought to at least show some sign of having read something or another by Lysander Spooner that touches on the matters under discussion.

The only reasonable explanation I can give for these assertions is that the people making them have simply never gotten it into their head, in any way that matters, that someone with passionately held political views might not favor any political candidate at all, might in fact object on principle to the elective oligarchy that we fatuously term our democratic government, and might indeed believe that worthwhile political change must be achieved through means entirely different from any form of majoritarian party politics. Indeed, they’ve likely never gotten it into their heads, in any way that matters, that there even are other means for achieving political change. If I’m right, then maybe reading some Spooner, as they ought to anyway, will help them break out of narrow-minded devotion to electoralism and legalism. If not, as would be best, by changing their convictions, then, at very the least, by expanding their imagination.

Res ipsa loquitur

For those who may be curious, here’s my attitude towards the Ron Paul primary campaign. I would not vote for Ron Paul, even though I don’t have any in-principle objection to voting defensively in government elections. The short explanation is that I don’t vote for anti-abortion candidates, and I don’t vote for candidates who are significantly worse than the status quo on immigration. Unfortunately, whatever it’s other merits, Ron Paul’s campaign features both of these poison pills. On the other hand, currently he is running in a primary, and so to some extent I wish, without much hope, that he might somehow manage to defeat his current opponents, i.e., the other Republicans, i.e., that bunch of howling bare-fanged war-fascists.

But that’s about all the enthusiasm I’ve got. Many anti-war types and many libertarians are getting positively gleeful about the campaign, claiming that even if Ron Paul has little real hope for electoral victories, the campaign will at least provide a platform for outreach and education about libertarian and non-interventionist ideas, both through media notoriety and also through attracting an obviously enthusiastic and organizationally clever following of base supporters. For my part, I certainly hope that the Paulians learn something in the process, but the first problem is that Ron Paul’s positions, however preferable a select set of them may be to the positions espoused by the rest of the pack, are not libertarian; they’re Constitutionalist, which is something different. He can’t even always be counted on to mount principled, non-legalistic arguments against the war, and that issue’s the centerpiece of his campaign.

The second problem, even setting aside the ideological differences, is that the usual dynamics of electoral horse-racing, and the sometimes ridiculous tone of uncritical personal adulation toward Ron Paul’s personal virtues and the shining radiance of Ron Paul Thought, give me a lot of reason to fear that whatever lessons are drawn may very well be the wrong lessons, and that in any case the enthusiasm and activity around his campaign is likely to collapse into frustrated torpor more or less immediately after their sole vehicle for activism, the Ron Paul political machine, closes down for the season, and stays shuttered for the rest of a multiyear election cycle. Unless something changes, but soon, I see no reason to believe that the flurry of activity, as exciting as it may seem, is going to survive the end of this one maverick candidate’s personal electoral prospects.

Micha Ghertner recently posted a good article at The Distributed Republic, which touches on some similar themes and makes a number of other good points besides, focusing on the way in which the choice of electoral politics as a vehicle seriously hobbles the prospects for accomplishing much in the way of successful education about freedom or anti-imperialism through the Ron Paul machine. Thus:

But it is unreasonable to expect most of the target audience, having been successfully persuaded that Ron Paul is the candidate to support, to then go through the trouble of seperating the wheat from the chaff and come to the self-realization that implicit in Paul’s message of liberty is the notion that our focus should not be on selecting a candidate with admirable qualities such as honesty, integrity, and devotion to constitutional limits on government, but instead our focus should be on the inherent threat to liberty of the system itself, regardless of who happens to be temporarily at its helm. Bundling these two things together involves a self-contradiction between the medium and its message. Expecting people to ignore that contradiction, expecting people to hear the message we actually intend to send while rejecting the message of the medium itself, is expecting too much.

— Micha Ghertner, The Distributed Republic (2007-11-28): The Medium Is The Message: Why I Cannot In Good Conscience Support Ron Paul

Meanwhile, in the comments section, in order to prove that Ron Paul’s supporters really are approaching this from the standpoint of fair-minded principle, really are making the necessary careful distinctions, and really are putting principled concern for liberty over electoral politicking and partisan cheerleading, an anonymous paleo comes along in the comments to reply that You beltway libertarians are morons and that Micha’s remarks sound like the uninformed commentary of Hillary Clinton pollster.

Well, I guess it’s a fair cop. What could be more inside-the-Beltway than considered opposition to making an incumbent Congressman’s candidacy for the Presidency of the United States the main vehicle for your social and political vision, or encouraging means of activism, education, and resistance that bypass the machinery of the federal government?