Leave Politics Behind

In his argument on the folly of using a ballot box to achieve freedom, Ken Gregg advises, "Take the next step to freedom, my friend. Leave politics behind."

Gregg writes of libertarianism's fatal infatuation with electoral politics from a unique perspective. LIke me, he was in the L.A. area when the Libertarian Party was born and, so, witnessed its dynamics up-close.

Leave Politics Behind

by Kenneth R. Gregg, Jr.

A lot of highly-motivated and principled people have put an incredible amount of hard work and money into getting thousands to voting booths for Libertarian Party (LP) and Republican Liberty Caucus (RLC) candidates when in most, certainly in all non-local, elections, there was no realistic prospect of election. The numbers show it and these friends of liberty should be justly proud of it. There may even be a state-wide candidate or two who received a majority of votes somewhere, although I have yet to hear of any. There will most certainly be a few local offices filled by some open, out-of-the-closet, libertarian who will be touted as the latest poster-child for the LP or RLC, allowing them to point and proclaim, "Yes, You See! We've won again!" The totals may be lower, the popularity of the Great Libertarian Elect may not have been noticed as well as the last campaign, but it sure felt good to see that candidate gallop to the victory circle with the flowers, didn't it? I even had a twinge of pride for a moment. A fellow libertarian won! Even if it was only for garbage collector or animal control.

But did we?

Over the last thirty-five years, libertarians have been pouring scarce resources, our labor, finances and heart, into such campaigns, and the result has not weathered the test of time. The state is stronger than ever, engaging in futile wars without a thought about the U.S. Constitution, growing like a cancerous tumor metastasizing in every possible direction. The individual states have increased in power and influence, with state taxes, regulations, controls, prohibitions and the like. Local municipalities have grown with financial budgets the size which can only be compared to nations abroad; and even the invention and massive growth of "quasi-municipalities" such as Homeowner Associations has occurred without individual citizens' recourse to civil liberties and rights.

Has either the LP or RLC stopped this growth? Has either group even slowed the process? Not that anyone can see.

When John Hospers arrived at the Los Angeles Airport from the first Libertarian Party Convention in Colorado, June, 1972, I was there waiting for a friend of mine arriving on the same flight from the same convention. When I saw Dr. Hospers (we had met previously at a USC Conference), I asked him if he had seen my friend, and then asked him what fool had received the LP Convention nomination as their presidential candidate. He looked at me somewhat oddly and mumbled to me as he passed on. I discovered later that he was the Grand Elector. My opinion has yet to change about the consequences of the LP. It is an exercise in tomfoolery.

The only options, outside of third-parties, as I have been told time and time again, are working within major parties or the dreaded non-participation alternative: non-voting, to which the old canard is tossed--"if you don't vote you have no right to complain!"

Well, I have tried working within the regular parties and found it wanting. As I initiated my own process of discovery about politics after discovering the libertarianism of Paine, Chodorov and Rand, I quickly became Area Coordinator for a group of Young Republican clubs (campus and community) for the Southeastern section of Los Angeles County and worked with YRs and the upper levels of the Republican Party in L.A. County, both elected and appointed. It didn't take long to notice a significant difference in attitude between the two groups: the individual members wanted freedom. They wanted the government off of their backs and out of their pockets. That was what the GOP meant to them. The goals of the leadership was another thing altogether. They wanted funds, services, and the influence which more and more active supporters were to provide for them. The ultimate goal was the accumulation of power in their own hands and in their control, and they wanted me to be part of it. Party politics is a racket and it didn't take long to discover this. I considered moving further up the political ladder but I was more constituted for freedom than authority. I quit. I would neither be a controller nor one of the controlled. For some, it would have been a dream come true--money, power, and more power. Not for me.

I then began working with the "Peace and Freedom" party in California, but saw power-politics almost immediately. I came to the realization that corruption was inherent in the political process, and left politicking forever. Third-party politics left a sour taste in me.

That left me with the last option, the anti-ballot.

I found, upon reflection, it isn't strictly nonvoting, but rather voting in the marketplace as opposed to participating in ballot-boxing. In the marketplace, your choices and decisions are unanimously made. You and another party agree on a purchase price and sales price. You make the trade. That's it.

In politics, your vote publicly acknowledges that the question at issue can be rightfully decided by majority vote, and you tacitly agree to the consequences, whatever they may be. If you participate in voting for prohibition of marijuana, or for an immoral war, you have acknowledged the justice of the decision-process as well as the outcome. It may have been one vote short of unanimity or one less than a majority, it's your acceptance of the process which provides it with legitimacy.

In effect, this is a recognition, not of the "if you don't vote you have no right to complain", but of its inverse: "if you vote, you have no right to complain"--a point which politicians, in their attempt to push their civic religion upon you, fail to mention.

If we play a game of chance with set rules and you win goodies from me, there is no reason for me to object, for you have played by the rules. Likewise, if I win, you have no objection (being a non-cheater myself, of course!). That the way it's played. If you decide to play and I don't want to, that's another matter. If you take my goodies from me, proclaiming you are playing the game and I'm not, then of course I have a right to object! And I will, too!

The political vote may be for a particular agenda, like a proposition or referendum, or for a person, which is more unpredictable in its outcome. When you vote for a particular issue, then it is presumed the agenda will proceed once the ballots are tallied and the agenda agreed upon. A person in an election has an immediate vote, yes or no, whether they attain power or not. If the vote is no, assuming a yes or no, up or down, choice, then that person has not gained the office of power and will have no control over you. However, the voting process in a representative democracy such as in the U.S., is not as simple as that. There will be a choice of multiple candidates, or parties, upon which you are to choose. Once one person or party is chosen, then they are in power until another vote takes place and sends them away. This leaves you without control over the matters which The Chosen One can decide upon.

Unlike the marketplace, where the purchase of goods and services is definite and specific, The Chosen One can do pretty much what he wants to do until re-election comes back around. Whereas the marketplace operates constantly throughout the year, The Chosen One has no such restrictions, save for ballot-boxing day. We're not mind-readers, and we will never know the intent or plans hiding in any person's brain, especially someone in politics.

But what if The Chosen One is a libertarian, you ask? What if The Chosen One is part of an elite corps of libertarians who have made a pact with each other to toe the libertarian line, sing the libertarian song and salute the libertarian flag? What if he is a member of the Libertarian Party?

Hey, libertarians are great people and I love being around them! I love socializing with fellow libertarians and think the world of them (some of my best friends are..., well, you know). But the Libertarian Party can only go so far and no more in promoting libertarianism. Libertarians are human, and political institutions direct thoughts and energies toward specific goals; not only because it is political power which is sought, but because it is the prospect of obtaining power which directs the energies of the LP. Indeed, even the whiff of a chance of a possibility of attaining power will completely cloud men's minds.

Politics is the Great Moral Compromise, and political institutions, in order to attain power, must follow the dictates of moral compromise. Regardless of the personal morality of any individual in power, once having obtained the reins of power, power can and must be used. The effort to seek office leads one in giving up ones principles because we do not live in a libertarian world. Some people want the state to provide one service; others prefer another, each person's moral values will come into conflict with another's and some form of compromise must occur. That's politics. Each service requires the use of force, if for no other reason than to receive taxes which maintain the instrumentalities of the state. The stronger a state becomes, the more taxes it requires; the more taxes required, the more force needed to enforce the dictates of the state. The cycle of abuse is inherent in the state, and proclamations about limiting the power of government will do little to alleviate this matter.

Agents of the state use the fact that many vote as evidence they are legitimate representatives. They need this legitimacy if their actions are to be viewed as acceptable by the general populace. It being discovered long ago that so long as the proportion of the populace which holds the state in favor increases, the fewer resources a state needs to use in order to keep the rest under control. That is, the greater legitimacy a state has, the less it needs to use violence against any single person or faction. A state which continually uses violence to achieve its ends would soon be seen for exactly what it was: a criminal ring.

Where does this lead the LP? In order to become successful, it must limit its own conscience and principles to fewer and fewer ideals. If it doesn't, it will fail to collect an ever-growing number of votes. If a member of the LP were ever elected, you would still never know what he was going to vote for in office. He has been elected, not to represent the LP, but to represent the needs of his electorate--and they will be very demanding of him--both the citizens and the special interests who have provided the financial support for his election. The opportunities offered, the reputation among his all-important peers, and his admiring interest groupies will turn him in a direction which he may never have considered before.

In supporting the political anti-vote, I'm not going to proclaim the non-voting public are of a single mind about this because there are many reasons for not ballot-boxing. Some may refrain from the voting booth because they dislike taking the time out for such a wasted effort. Some just may have forgotten about it. The reasons go on and on. I can only speak for myself, and encourage others to understand those reasons. At the same time, however, I am continually voting in the marketplace for products, services, and even ideas! And encouraging others to do the same--and educating them about the virtues of the freedom philosophy and the problems inherent in statism.

Now I often hear all about voting as self-defense. It usually goes something like this:

"A vote for the LP is not only a vote for the reduction of the state and its violence, it's an act of self-defense. If I vote to reduce the initiation of aggression, I am not engaging in any act of violence to any degree whatsoever."

Aren't you foolish to turn down the use of the ballot-box? You may even recognize it destroys morality and is pervasive in our society. So many people have used it that you are truly tempted to use it yourself. If others do it, it must be OK. Countless others have, some more successful than most others. Certainly the incentives are there, and it becomes easier each time the ballot-box is used. You're just being civic-minded, that's all.

Ballot-boxing is a process whereby one gives consent to being governed by another. Voting is the most common form of legitimization. It fulfills the purpose of political legitimization because one has tacitly and publicly accepted the principle that those who play the game must accept the outcome, no matter whether you are on the winning or losing side. Why do politicians plead that everyone's civic duty is to get out and vote? It is because voting is recognized as public legitimization of the political process. You have committed yourself to being governed. Through ballot-boxing you have accepted the process of statism as a way of life and proclaimed for all to hear you are part of the ruled. Through ballot-boxing you have sanctioned not only your own victimhood, but of others as well. You have tacitly accepted and publicly informed your family, friends and communicants your primary recourse is political, and you must hire this third party, the state, to inflict violence on others. You have announced to the world, “I must engage the engines of the state to bulldoze a path through all who are in my way!!” This is self-defense? This is not aggression? Who has paid for the ballot booth? Who has directed the state to go forth and prosper! You, my friend. Taxpayers have paid for the process, agents of the state rely upon it and claim it for themselves, and are more than happy to have you involved with them.

There are boundaries to self-defense, a proportionality that limits one's actions from harming the innocent while protecting yourself, and sustaining injury to no others than the perpetrator from whom you need safety. You are responsible for any harm you may do to the innocent, even while engaging in self-defense. Ballot-boxing is a path best avoided, for it is fraught with many dangers in the pursuit of said self-defense. It is a weapon which does not stop on command and is akin to fighting an opponent carrying a stick with an atom bomb—yes, that stops the opponent, but it also maims or kills any nearby and leaves a deadly residue for many years to come. This is a point all-too often ignored.

Ballot-boxing enables statism and gives it the drive and power to continue. People line up to use the ballot booth for the satisfaction of their own dream and desire by giving indefinite power to those who are more than willing to use it for far more. The voting public is not clean of the consequent use of power, for by such voting, each endorses the statism under which he lives. By the act of voting, each is saying:

"It's right and proper for some, acting in the name of the state, to pass laws and to use violence to compel obedience to those laws if they are not obeyed."

Each, through the process of voting, sanctions the violence used by agents of the state. Each voter assumes the right to appoint a political guardian over other human beings.

Our social realm succeeds because we vote constantly in the marketplace for the goods and services which we need and desire. There is no plunder in our profit, only the produce of willing hands and hearts which we purchase and sell with the coin of the realm. The social world advances with every refinement of choice, every act of profit, recompensing each for the products and services which are placed in the hands of others within the marketplace. We perfect our needs and desires through this repetitive compensation of others for their needs and desires. This social vote is far more productive, more powerful than a vote in a ballot-box. This is freedom; the rewards are greater than the state can put into anyone's hands. Each step of discovery of another market alternative to some violent occurrence (whether by the hands of the state or by a different criminal ring) takes us closer to freedom and further from harm. This is the cycle of progress.

Take the next step to freedom, my friend. Leave politics behind.

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