The Will to Vote

Voting is a sham,” writes Vox Day. That’s based on the story sold by Republicans over the last few years, that George W. Bush was the logical “conservative” choice. The standard line is that you “have” to vote against the other guys.

Well, if you expect voting against “the other guys” to always result in the most rational decision, you will be disappointed. I believe it usually results in the phenomenon of cyclical majorities, wherein voters are presented with a series of limited choices that result in irrational decisions. For example, if a majority of voters prefer A to B, B to C, and C to A, it’s easy to see how consecutive elections would result in the same kinds of leaders over and over. It all depends on who chooses A, B, and C, and how they are matched up.

“But every vote counts,” they say. Of course it does, but it doesn’t. All the votes add up, but no major election has ever been won by “one” vote. So what does each vote really mean? Does it mean that each person has a voice, a way to influence the course of government? No, because each individual vote is meaningless by itself.

What gives a vote meaning is how it aggregates with other votes to form a plurality (not necessarily a majority). So your vote only means something to the extent that you vote the same as a large group of other voters. Many people know this instinctively, so they spend their political calculations trying to figure out who is most likely to win. Hence, political reporters spend most of their time reporting on the two candidates most likely to win at any given moment. From this point of view, voting for someone not likely to win is a waste of time.

A majority is not necessary to win, but it looks better than a plurality. That is why it is preferable to have only two candidates, because then one is likely to take a majority. Electing a candidate who has merely a plurality offends our sensibilities. The credibility of democracy to Americans rests almost completely on the idea that a democratic result will be a majoritarian result and therefore will adequately express the collective will of the people.

As a purported expression of collective will, democratic elections serve to legitimize the winner. Therefore, voting may be viewed cynically as simply a ploy to grant authority to whoever wins. To the extent that democratic elections result in a peaceful transfer of power, voting does serve a useful political function. This is the meaning of the truism that voting is a “civic duty.”

Moreover, although it is not true that broad-based democracy grants a “voice” to each voter, it does lead politicians to fear alienating groups of voters. Of course, if an individual does not belong to a recognizable voting caucus, they will be ignored, despite the supposed “power” of their vote. Therefore, even a democracy with a broad franchise cannot guarantee “equality” among individuals. Rather, it ensures parity among identifiable groups or coalitions of groups. This is the whole sense of the political strategy of the American Liberal in the Democratic Party: Identification with a group is said to enable full political rights, hence the reliance upon “identity politics.”

The majoritarian myth was the only credible explanation of collective will in America in the 20th century. Valuing plurality opinions leads to a parliamentary form of government; valuing the intuition and inspiration of “great men” leads to monarchical or aristocratic government; and valuing spiritual insight leads to theocratic government. Americans had long before rejected these expressions of collective will, in national government at least.

However, in the 21st century the hegemony of majoritarianism is being challenged by increasing social fragmentation, as expressed in “balkanization” and “niche marketing.” This will naturally lead to greater pluralism, a more or less anarchic arrangement of groups having widely varying ideologies and expressions of will. Being libertarian in spirit, however, such an arrangement will be at an odds with any militant system of liberal idealism and enforced rights.

The national elections of 2000 and 2004 illustrated attempts to compress the fragments into cohesive majorities by characterizing the country as “sharply divided” into two opposing camps. It remains to be seen whether people are stupid enough to continue believing this fable, against all the evidence of atomistic fragmentation in other areas of life.

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