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Monday, 9 November 2009

Rose Wilder Lane on the Right to Vote

The White Man is on a Laura Ingalls Wilder kick right now, so the next few posts will probably be on that general topic. I wrote earlier on Laura's views on voting as of 1919. I'll get back to her later, but for now, here's what her daughter Rose wrote in the early 1940's, in her epic work The Discovery of Freedom, p. 202ff (emphasis mine):

WHEN American politicians took the election of the President of the United States into their hands, they had no idea that this would be the result. No one then imagined that everyone should vote, or ever would vote. In all the States, voting was restricted.

Today, voting is an American superstition. Hardly anyone ever thinks about it. Americans take it for granted that every human being has a natural right to vote. Of course this is not true. No one has a natural right to vote. Everyone is born with inalienable liberty, but nobody is born with an inalienable ballot. . . .
Then what is the actual value of an American's legal right to vote? The Constitutions restrict this Government. Voting can restrict it further, but only when voters elect delegates to conventions to make their Constitutions stronger. Or, when voters have an opportunity to elect men who will repeal laws and reduce Government's area of activities.

Voting for Congressmen can not repeal laws. Voting can never control Government. Men in public office are individuals, and nothing outside an individual can control him. The Constitutions limit the time that a man may stay in office, but during that time he controls himself. At the end of that time, a majority of voters can put him out of office. So an American's legal right to vote can be used as a threat to office-holders who want to be re-elected. 

But a majority of voters can never use that threat. A majority can not even know what their Congressmen are doing. Human beings must use their energies in productive work, and they want to, and they do. The more freely they can act, the more energetically they improve their living conditions, and the less attention they give to anything else. The fact is that Americans pay no attention to Government so long as it does not interfere with them. Normally they never think of it except at election time. Americans are busy; not half of them even know the names of their Congressmen. Ask the next forty persons you meet, if you doubt it.

So the threat of the vote does not operate to restrict Government and protect human rights. The fact is that pressure groups use it to increase Government and restrict the use of natural human rights.
Every American politician is constantly assailed by small groups fiercely determined to make the men in this Government exceed the Constitutional limits of their use of force. Stupid men believe that force can improve other men's morals; they want force to stop men's drinking, or smoking, or gambling. Superstition clouds their minds; they imagine that force can produce economic results; they demand that police clubs control the growth of crops, and the making of goods, and wages and prices and trade. They dream that because a law can make any action a crime, it can stop that action. (Though they know nothing of the history of smuggling and graft, they should be able to remember the law that stopped drinking in these States.)

To these ardent reformers who want to do good (as they see good) by using force upon the greatest number of their inferiors, add the groups of those who want to rob others by force without risking going to jail. Since Government has the only legal use of force, all these groups try to persuade and compel the men in Government to use force as these reformers and these thieves want it used. Their weapon is a threat to use the vote, at the next election, to put out of office the politicians who resist them.

And whenever they succeed, and do increase the Government's use of force, they reduce the area of every American's free action. They decrease the productive use of energy in this country. And they weaken the only legal protection of every American's property and liberty and life. Groups have been trying to do this ever since the first Congress met. The Constitutions, and the morality and patriotism of a few politicians—who are almost never thanked—have all this time protected the natural human rights of Americans, from these pressure-groups who use the threat of the vote.

The majority of Americans can not use that threat. They haven't time, they are too busy, they are making their livings and supporting the Government; they can not spend their time in Washington or in their State capitals, watching Congressmen. Now and then, in a crisis, they can send up a roar from this whole country, and they do. But their voting can not undo anything that Congressmen have done.

If there is a candidate who promises to repeal laws and to reverse a course of action begun by men in Government, then voting can elect him. But electing him is no guarantee that he will keep his promise. He may not be able to keep it. He may be one of those politicians who make promises only to get votes. An average citizen has no means of knowing a candidate personally; no means of knowing how honorable he is.  In any case, while he is in office he controls himself; the voters have no control over him.

On the whole, of course, this is fortunate. For why does anyone suppose that a majority of citizens should control their Government? No one imagines that a majority of passengers should control a plane. No one assumes that, by majority vote, the patients, nurses, elevator boys and cooks and ambulance drivers and interns and telephone operators and students and scrubwomen in a hospital should control the hospital. Would you ever ride on a train if all passengers stepped into booths in the waiting-room and elected the train crews by majority vote,as intelligently as you elect the men whose names appear in lists before you in a voting booth?

Then why is it taken for granted that every person is endowed on his twenty-first birthday with a God-given right and ability to elect the men who decide questions of political philosophy and international diplomacy? This fantastic belief is no part of the American Revolution. Thomas Paine, Madison, Monroe, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, did not entertain it for a moment. When this belief first affected American Government, it broke John Quincy Adams' heart; to him it meant the end of freedom on earth; it made him doubt the goodness of his God.

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