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Why I Won’t Vote (Part One) January 24, 2008

Posted by Josef K Buenter in Political Philosophy.

Why I Won’t Vote (Part I)

I find it odd that I’m not expected to explain why I don’t eat broccoli, or like hockey, or prefer Paris to Costa Rica, but the fact that I refuse to vote seems to require an explanation. What I find odder still is that average people seem to understand my position much better than do educated people. Being a political year I sense I will be asked to explain myself more than once, and because of that I thought I might detail my position in one space here and base all subsequent fending on this posting.

First off, I’m not advocating that anyone follow my example, but I might have the temerity to ask that my reasons be duly and soberly considered. Some issues that find themselves on a ballot may very well be close to the heart (or the pocketbook) of any dedicated voter, and in their case I find it perfectly understandable why they may be moved to vote.

I might very well begin all this by maintaining that the issues of this election really don’t pertain to me, or even move me. Let the Indians decide the issues that pertain to them, I might say. But I won’t begin there. It is the very nature of American politics that I wish to put my finger on, not its issues. The political foundations leading to my nonparticipation have been known long and well by the finest minds of America, and spelled out much better that I can do here. But I’ll begin with some sketching of their influence on me here.

Henry Cabot Lodge wrote in 1876, “Politics have ceased to interest me. I am satisfied that the machine can’t be smashed this time. As I feared, we have ourselves saved it by a foolish attempt to run it, which we shall never succeed in. The [political] caucus and the machine will outlive me. . . When the day comes on which it will be considered as disgraceful to be seen in a caucus as to be seen in a gambling house or brothel, then my interest will wake up again and legitimate politics will get a new birth.” (June 4, 1876, Letters Vol. 2)

Tocqueville is something of an American mania, but I think largely because it is so easy to find and cite flattering and placating passages about America to suit any purpose. But the American psyche seldom taxes its conscience when it comes to some of his much more sobering observations. One idea noted well by John Stuart Mill (1840) in his piece on Tocqueville was the inherent dilemma of the American system: in a liberal society deference succumbs to egalitarianism and to a deep suspicion of ‘elites,’ and because of that our best and sharpest people will never get elected to office. This idea was fully recognized in the Federalist papers. Our system is not designed to promote the recognition of excellence. Rather, it is designed to defend us from the unfortunates we do elect. Ultimately, it is a system designed to mitigate the consequences of our lamentable choices. (How many will confess their vote for Nixon TWICE?—he won in two landslides).

In this past century Walter Lippmann made such observations central to his diagnosis of what ails the American political body. His book, Public Opinion, is a thinly veiled meditation on the ‘Platonic cave’ of American political discourse where ‘the people’ have been disconnected from their power by the rhetoric of the modern hypertrophic media.

Madison maintained that “all governments rest on opinion,” and in this he anticipated the problem that consumed Tocqueville, and later Lippmann. They saw in ‘public opinion’ the powers of conformity that would stifle dissent and threaten individual liberty. But for Lippmann the opinions of the people become much more ominous and threatening to democracy because the power no longer rests with the legislature, as designed by the founders to protect us from ourselves, and in its stead this power has been stealthily purloined by the media that shape the very ‘opinions’ our people are expected to base their opinions on. In this way popular “consent” is now manufactured by a constant barrage of ‘factoids,’ ‘pols,’ graphs, ads, and ‘consultants’ and the Jeffersonian ideal of each American duly considering the fate of his choices on his fellow countrymen has become a quaint and unfathomable ideal.



1. Moriae - January 24, 2008

As Twain mentioned: “If the vote made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.”

2. Cyrus Ghahremani - January 25, 2008

Entertaining, but perhaps a more fitting quote is, “Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote.”

While I do not question the ethic of a non-voter (and there are certainly more of them this time around, jaded from the 2004 upset), I can’t agree with their decision – particularly with the system as broken as it is now.

I still believe that your vote is your voice…if your opinions are ratified, you have cause for celebration; if they are not, only then may you complain. Leaving yourself out of this decision-making process, regardless of how trite and tired it is now, selfishly increases the margin of misrepresentation that allows unfit candidates to take the office.

You have backed your opinion with strong words from strong minds, yet I find it impossible to believe that the non-voter’s motive is anything but apathy or anarchy. (Other beliefs – rigged elections, New World Order, etc are better fit for the Conspiracy On The Mesa blog.)

Despite your intention, I still feel you have not even begun to justify your decision – at least factually.

Looking forward to Part Two.

3. Political Base - January 25, 2008

[…] Why I Won’t Vote (Part One) […]

4. philagon - January 27, 2008

Via non-interference I encourage everyone who is not voting to continue to do so. Not only will it make the pool of actual voters more powerful because there are less of them, but there in no virtue in voting per se. I have never understood voter registration drives as a type of obligation: convincing the ignorant, apathetic and uninformed to vote! It would be outrageous to ask anyone to make a joint decision with us in a vote whom we would not trust to watch our kids or be satisfied that they could appreciate the nuances of a philosophical argument.

5. Why I Vote (in plenum) « Philosophy On The Mesa - January 31, 2008

[…] trackback Josef has an interesting (albeit dispersed) argument for why he doesn’t vote. (Here, here, and here) I agree with (most of) his premises but come to a different […]

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