Voting is an issue that anarchists will likely remain divided on as long as there exists politicians to vote for. It is also an issue that I continue to grapple with, and have bounced around on since I started considering myself an anarchist. So let’s take a look at the arguments.

Although I can’t produce any corroborating data, my observations make me believe that the majority of anarchists today (most of whom are relatively young, coming out of the Ron Paul movement) choose not to vote at all. For the moment, at least, this is where I find myself. But even for the non-voting anarchists, there are complexities to unravel.

Because of the concept of the non-aggression principle that a great many, particularly Austro-libertarian, anarchists adhere to, some anarchists argue that voting is an act of illegitimate aggression. The logic is rather straightforward: if I vote, I’m advocating that my chosen group of elites initiates force against otherwise peaceful citizens so as to appropriate tax revenues for programs that I desire. Ergo, voting is an indirect use of force.

This logic is reasonable and in many cases, it would be true. If somebody is voting for a politician on their platform of wanting to raise taxes to increase education funding, then such a voter would be guilty of violating the principle of non-aggression (along with other obvious anarchist contradictions). No-Treason-The-Constitution-of-No-Authority-0

But leaving the argument at this oversimplifies the matter. As long as we have a vote-based system of government, voting may also be a counter to the aggressive votes of others; in other words, argued Lysander Spooner in No Treason, one may vote in self-defense:

In short, [the voter] 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.

If we follow this logic, Murray Rothbard’s views on voting make a bit more sense. In an interview, he was asked about anti-voting strategies regarding the elections of 1972, which Rothbard referred to as the “classic anarchist position.” Citing Spooner, Rothbard argued that we are already in a coercive situation to begin with, and if there is any level of good that can come of voting, it is hardly hypocritical to participate. Furthermore, Rothbard adds an additional perspective. He challenges anarchists to ask, “Who do you hope will win the election?” He argues that it is perfectly fine to not vote, but it is difficult to deny the significance of the presidency (for good or bad), and when an anarchist goes to bed on election night, there is likely a candidate that he or she prefers to have won the following morning. Voting for this person is hardly a manner of condoning government.

If we accept this argument, then the next logical take on anarchist voting seems more consistent. This is what we might refer to as “The Lesser Evil” or “The Overseer Goodie vs. Overseer Baddie” argument. Dr. Walter Block is particularly well known in libertarian circles for not only voting, but actively and openly advocating that other anarchists vote for his preferred candidate on the grounds of this argument.

On April 18th of last year, Dr. Block published a piece online arguing that libertarians should support Rand Paul. In it, he describes his logic:

If the master allows his slaves to vote between Overseer Goodie (who beats them once per week) and Overseer Baddie (who does so hourly), and they choose the former, they are making a reasonable choice. Goodie is not great but Baddie is horrid. Rand Paul is no Murray Rothbard, he is no Ron Paul. But the other Republicans, from a libertarian point of view are vile, disgusting, despicable. There is simply no comparison, even fully acknowledging all of Rand’s flaws from a libertarian point of view.

This was the logic upon which I (to my eternal shame) cast a vote for Mitt Romney in the last presidential election. Additionally, Dr. Block applied this logic in his vote for Barack Obama in the election of 2008. In fact, it is this glaring issue — namely, the casting of a vote for somebody that appears to be manifestly evil, even if he is “less evil” than the alternative — that urged me to abandon this argument. That said, Dr. Block’s libertarian credentials vastly exceed those of nearly anybody still living today, and in my view, his voting logic doesn’t undo that.

These analyses, however, do little to help me land on a concrete position on the correct anarchist voting practices. For the moment (because my views on this issue have hardly been static), I subscribe to the idea that I’m willing to vote on pretty rigid grounds. I have decided that because the government today is so pervasive, it is impossible (save a rare candidate such as Ron Paul) to demonstrate consistent libertarian principles, I’m willing to settle for those issues that I deem of far greater importance than all others.

From my view, this would be the issues that directly and immediately destroy lives (rather than indirectly and gradually, like most government programs). In addition, they must be issues in which the president has the authority to make significant changes with impunity, so as not to have Congress thwart the otherwise libertarian intentions of my hypothetical president.

The two best examples of direct and immediate government destruction would be foreign interventions and the so-called “War and Drugs” (as well as its corollary, the militarization of the police). While I will never abandon my capitalist views, I think these are issues so monumentally important that I truly believe that a purely anti-war socialist such as Eugene Debs (who, unlike the wishy-washy Bernie Sanders, was willing to go to jail for his anti-war demonstrations, from which he actually ran for president) would be preferable than a pro-war “capitalist” (I have to use the quotations to denote my belief that it is logically impossible to be both capitalist and pro-war, regardless of otherwise free-market policies).

Furthermore, according to the War Powers Resolution of 1973, the president has the authority to move all military troops for ninety days with impunity. That means that with one swipe of the pen, the United States can withdraw from every foreign conflict. Although the president doesn’t have this level of autonomy with the War on Drugs, he does have the ability to immediately pardon any non-violent drug offenders (as long as they were convicted under federal law).

None of this, of course, touches on the entirely applicable argument of the futility of voting or alternative strategies for political reform, such as education in libertarian ideas (which I emphatically believe is far more valuable than voting or campaigning, even for candidates such as Ron Paul). But I like to point out these arguments not to convince libertarians to vote, not vote, nor tell them how to vote, but rather to simply remind everybody that any libertarian voting can do so for any candidate, and — as long as their logic maintains libertarian consistency — I’m not willing to vilify them. In short, I don’t know that there necessarily is a right answer on the question of voting.

But a vote-based system is here to stay.

Unfortunately, despite his merits, Rand Paul does not seem to have either the principles or the cajones to actually use his potential presidential power to carry out the reforms I detailed, and until a candidate convinces me that he or she will, I’ll be writing in Obi-Wan Kenobi as my vote for president.

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After all, he’s our only hope.