Above: Advertisement for Might is Right by Ragnar Redbeard in the Chicago Sunday Tribune of 12 November 1905. Might (represented by a rampaging tiger) defeats popular opinion (represented by publisher W. R. Hearst) and democracy (represented by a ballot box).
DORA MARSDEN ON DEMOCRACY
Understanding, however, is the fruit of making mistakes, and it is now clear that the “woman movement” must find its definition and activity in matters unrelated to voting “rights.” [...] Democracy is a weed of the tuber order. When its visible leaves are lopped off, the underground root remains strong as before. Proof that the worship of democracy is just the apotheosis of tyranny, that democracy is tyranny erected into a cult, does not make patent the absurdity of the conclusion that democracy is the gospel of the free. [...] Democracy viewed on its own merits of course reveals itself almost as a mathematical error. Starting from an aversion towards the tyranny of One – the historic Tyrant – the impulse towards democracy has spread tyranny – i.e. government – through a wider area, through oligarchy, and plutocracy, the Few, and the Rich, and presses onwards as to a desired goal, to the government of All by All. [...] Democracy is a special form of government, that is, a particular form of according to some or all the privilege of meddling with the lives of the rest.
RAGNAR REDBEARD ON DEMOCRACY
No doubt our ancestors were somewhat rude in their manners, somewhat deficient in sweetness and culture, but in matters of frozen fact they were decidedly logical. They did not sneak to public meetings and swagger about “Liberty,” “Justice,” and “Equality of Opportunity,” or “Rights of Man,” but they knew full well that not only their lives, but everything they nominally possessed was “by leave” of their conquerors and proprietors. They accepted their position pro-tem, and when again ready, honestly reentered the doom-ring to test anew their Fate. If they could come alive again how those old pirates and freebooters would stare in shame and scorn at the sight of their “tenderfoot” posterity, walking up in solemn, horny-handed, hump-backed processions in shoddy rags, before an idol-altar called a ballot-box, dropping into its gilded maw printed invocations for Justice, Mercy, Liberty, “peace in our time O Lord!” – protection – cheap money – “more laws! more laws! more laws!” How our blonde, clean-limbed ancestors would guffaw! Indeed, they would probably keep on guffawing, till they guffawed themselves to death again. “Oh!” they would say. “To think that our seed should have sunk so low!” [...] The principles that govern a “hold-up” are the self-same principles that govern government. No government on earth rests on the consent of the governed. [...] Although Equality (in any shape) has never been scientifically proven nor logically defended: nevertheless is passes from tongue to tongue, from brain to brain in current discussions for “gospel truth” – just as clever counterfeit coins are passed unsuspectingly from hand to hand. The Equality superstition is tolerated by clear-seeing men, for one reason only. It assists them to govern the thoughts: and by governing the thoughts, to exploit the property, energy and labor-force of their soft-minded, good-natured neighbors: who really believe it to be true – who think it glad tidings of Great Joy.
MALFEW SEKLEW ON DEMOCRACY
Democracy is an attempt to find an ego in the crowd: to make the individual feel he is a somebody, while all the time he is a nobody. [...] Democracy is a delusion and must ever be the tool of the unscrupulous because democrats delegate their personal power to others and patiently await the result – which is much different from what they expected. Democracy is that part of humanity that is behind the times – and in front of the future – without hope of success. [...] Democracy is the madness of the many for the benefit of the few.
MAX STIRNER ON DEMOCRACY
Man is man in general, and in so far every one who is a man. Now every one is to have the eternal rights of man, and, according to the opinion of Communism, enjoy them in the complete “democracy,” or, as it ought more correctly to be called, anthropocracy. But it is I alone who have everything that I procure for myself; as man I have nothing. People would like to give every man an affluence of all good, merely because he has the title “man.” But I put the accent on me, not on my being man. [...] I elect for myself what I have a fancy for, and in electing I show myself – arbitrary. [...] We are accustomed to classify States according to the different ways in which “the supreme might” is distributed. If an individual has it – monarchy; if all have it – democracy; etc. Supreme might then! Might against whom? Against the individual and his “self-will.” The State practices “violence,” the individual must not do so. The State’s behavior is violence, and it calls its violence “law”; that of the individual, “crime.” Crime, then, – so the individual’s violence is called; and only by crime does he overcome the State’s violence when he thinks that the State is not above him, but he above the State.
TREVOR BLAKE ON DEMOCRACY
The evidence is my view on things has little influence. But since you asked…
I like that democracy can, sometimes, do damage control. Sometimes, democracy can limit the amount of harm those in charge can do to the rest of us by voting the bums out. I like the idea that the losers can walk out with their head hung low instead of landing in a basket. But I don’t always get what I like. Do you?
All Systems Go! No political system known to man is too crazy not to try, too beneficial not to be cast aside, or too awful to not endure for generation upon generation. They all ‘work’ in the sense that all God’s children gotta suffer. The sustainable social constructs of Rome, China and the Mongol Empire somehow meandered along for millennia without a vote. And plenty of populations empowered with a vote have elected fools (or worse). Citizens and their representatives in a democracy do vote against war when war comes, and they tend to lose. Wars are not ended by democracy, only justified. People will put up with plenty in politics. Men do what they do, no matter what you think they should do. No one solution, including democracy, seems to suffice. All systems go!
Letting someone else run the nation I’m in frees me up for my own projects. These projects decidedly do not include the well-being of people I don’t like and thus my laziness is a fountain of life and love for strangers and foes alike. I’m too dull and uneducated to understand many things, and when someone smarter than me picks up the reigns it’s a relief. Right where you are now there are issues you could vote on – water lines, waste treatment plans, street signs – and I’d bet dollars to donuts you (like me) could take a guess and venture an opinion but you don’t have the background to make an informed choice. That’s a justification for being governed by those who convince us they know what they’re talking about. If we can vote them out of office when they show they don’t know what they’re talking about, there’s some chance failures will end even if successes do not start.
Don’t think I’m delighted with democracy if the clever are in control. What a leader needs to be is appropriately cruel and lawless. Let a green-visored bean-counting accountant handle most things. When the hard times come let there be a man willing to suspend habeas corpus, invade nations, jail authors – you know, a man like Abraham Lincoln.
Democracy is sold as a means for men to manage their self-interests. This is promoted as if men knew their own self-interests, as if men acted on their self-interests, and as if when men were given gratis the full measure of their self-interests they were appreciative. People am dummur than. I are. And by some miracle if a vote is made for self-interest, those in power are only to be trusted (not guaranteed) to act on that vote. Crystalline perfect platonic democracy could exist if we had perfect information, just as a free marketplace could exist if we had perfect information. Not in this life.
There is more madness than wisdom in crowds. Majority rule is mob rule on a good day. What I hold as a good, such as finding a cure for polio, was done by one. It takes a village to spread disease. We don’t ask scientists to vote on the truth, and we shouldn’t be satisfied even when they vote on the truth and get it right. From our scientists we ask for bold conjectures leading to breakthrough refutations, we ask they keep asking questions and chipping away at the walls of the dark cave we find ourselves in. Perhaps a little light might come through. That a majority of people want something, that even a consensus of people want something, is no assurance that what they want can happen or that they will benefit from it. There is power in numbers, and that power is the right of might.
The traditional process of determining who will rule and how he will rule is All Against All. Royal families, republics, theocracies and democracy were all introduced as peaceable substitute. Peaceable, that is, because they substitute All Against All with Some Against Some. We’ve only experimented with these modern problem-solving structures for the past 200,000 years and there is every possibility they will be just intellectual fads and fancies. The vote is a social construct convincing the enfranchised they can have their way without killing those in their way.
“Tax-payer” is one way Americans identify ourselves. We pay taxes, the amount of taxes based on what we own and how skilled a lawyer we can afford. Most states have a sales tax that is charged to all ages, but few argue that children should have the vote. Property is not uniformly distributed among all adult Americans, nor are resources, nor skills, nor opportunities, nor much else. But votes are distributed equally: one each. A person who owns property in two states will pay taxes in two states but only vote in one. Those who pay no taxes, an average amount of taxes, or a great deal of taxes all get one vote and no more. One each happens to be equal to the amount of lives we have to give in wartime defense of the country, suggesting that the representation of our taxation is not based on our property but on our physical form. Businesses pay taxes, but they do not get a vote as they have no body. Those generally able to commit violence to get their way or to fight off outsiders generally get the vote first. Some nations, such as Israel, require military service of both men and women. In the United States all men are required to register for military service and no women are required to register for military service. Neither men nor women in the United States are required to serve in the military. This is a disconnection between taxation and representation, although few clamor to correct it.
Perhaps some facts and figures on Presidential elections will help muddy the falsely-clear waters of democracy in the United States. Since 1964 the number of women voters in the United States has exceeded the number of men voters. Since 1980 the proportion of eligible women voters who voted has exceeded the number of eligible men voters who voted. Since 1984 the number of registered women voters has exceeded the number of registered men voters. It might reveal information about democracy to ask whether women in the United States have voted according to their (women? American?) self-interests, whether their vote achieved what they hoped it would achieve, whether men and women have achieved equality in suffrage, and whether a majority-women vote has brought about more or less social good. Ask not whether women should or should not have the vote, but whether the vote performed as advertised.
Prisons, like schools, have several functions. They keep people out of the job market, they punish, and once in a while they impart information. There are jurisdictions in America where former prisoners are disallowed to vote. In 2008 that was 5.3 million former felons (out of a population of 305 million). It suits my sense of what words mean that having ‘paid one’s debt to society’ means just that, and I’d favor the reformed should be return to suffrage.
One of society’s many foibles is that outsiders have an insider’s standing. Clergy generally do diddly-bo for the common good, but they are held in high regard. Non-profit agencies are forbidden (in the USA) from taking part in political campaigns and that very limitation gives them the appearance at least of valued impartiality. The vigorous opinions of young people who hold little property or power are nevertheless a strong whip for social change. Critics of capitalism are quick to concentrate on conflicts of interest between groups and government, claiming a cordon between the two is correct. Non-profit health care can focus on health care and not profits. It is a good thing to be outside the halls of power – except when it comes to the vote. When it comes to the vote everyone swears up, down and sideways that they will have no conflict of interest, be well informed, vote responsibly for their and / or the common interest, and most of all be empowered at long last to change the world in ways they could not do without the vote. That those who already had the vote weren’t able to make things perfect is ignored.
Part of the ritual dance done by democracy, taking one step to independence and one step to disenfranchisement, is that buying a vote before the vote is cast is illegal but paying a voter after the vote is cast is expected. Another ceremonial gesture of the democratic dance is that voting can change voting only to a degree, and after that it is fiat (or force). There is no vote to end the vote. I don’t mind ritual dances but I can say some are more engaging than others.
Imagine there existed a large group of United States citizens who were limited in the suffrage liberally granted to much of the rest of the country. Say, the citizens of Washington DC, or soldiers, or US citizens in foreign countries. These citizens are more or less like any other, but geography and occupation puts them in a polling pickle. Agreeing that my terms are vague and adding that they are deliberately so, to grant these citizens the vote would make things better or worse or leave them the same. If suffrage for these people would make things worse, let’s keep them out of the ballot booth. If these citizens are more or less like any other, then granting them the vote will increase the count but not the outcome. If you have some means of knowing that granting them the vote will definitely make things better, I wish you would share it.
I am assured by no less an authority than myself that I’m a fine fellow indeed. I am an egoist (if not a very good one) and a fan of enfranchisement of the individual over all. But that’s this individual, me. I’m not staying up at night worried that others are or are not egoist. That lack of anxiety goes double for democracy. Plenty of people have biological parents, fingerprints and those other attributes said to impart natural rights. And those among those natural rights is a right to vote. But if there are no natural rights, and I’m pretty sure there are not, then it’s a legal right to vote that they are instead speaking of. The legal right to vote is founded on the same firm foundation as all laws: rough men ready to do harm on your behalf. A pretty paradox, the vote based on violence.
Let no one be confused. I do not crave consensus in collectives nor kings in courtrooms. I’m not doubting democracy due to a desire for fairness and equality. Instead I have a preference for plain speech that can include the weakness of a thing as well as it’s strength. I’d like a more modest democracy. A democracy that is one tie-breaking tool among many, and which knows when make itself scarce.
Marsden, Dora: The Freewoman, The New Freewoman, The Egoist (1911 – 1919).
Redbeard, Ragnar: Might is Right 1890.
Seklew, Malfew: The Gospel of Malfew Seklew 1927.
Stirner, Max: The Ego and Its Own 1845. Translation by Apio Ludd.
- Trevor Blake is the author of Confessions of a Failed Egoist and Other Essays (Baltimore: Underworld Amusements 2014)