Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Right To Vote

Response to a question posed on Quora:

Politics: Who uses our right to vote to control our government (and us), how do they do it, and why do we let them?
Those who choose the options, control the outcomes.  In America, political parties control the choice of candidates we are allowed to vote for in our so-called "free elections".

We let them do it because one of our strongest traits is a desire to believe what we're told.  When party politicians tell us they have our best interests at heart, we want to believe them, and, since they are the only options available to us, we exercise our right to vote to put them in public office.

 Politics: Who uses our right to vote to control our government (and us), how do they do it, and why do we let them?
In Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, he spoke of "government of the people, by the people, for the people".  What is the mechanism by which 'the people' provide 'government of the people'?  The standard answer is that the people have the right to elect their own representatives in government and thereby govern themselves.  That would be fine if the people did, indeed, elect their own representatives - but they don't.

When the people vote, what choices are available to them?  The only choices they have are candidates selected by political parties.  Thus, control of the government is vested, not in the voters, but in the parties.  This arrangement is clearly flawed.

As Robert Michels[1] explained one hundred years ago, political party organizations are subject to the Iron Rule of Oligarchy. When choosing between candidates selected by political parties, voting is an oligarchic exercise, not a democratic one.

A party-based political system is the antithesis of democracy. Instead of uniting the demos, the people, and organizing them to advance their common interests, parties incite antagonism among the people.  They dominate by the most basic principle of conquest: Divide and Conquer.

Constructive resolution of public issues requires, first of all, lawmakers with the ability to recognize the value in the various points of view from the people's perspective.  That is impossible for legislators elected to represent partisan interests (as was driven home so forcibly by the recent national debt debacle in the U. S.).

The inadequacy of voting for choices made by others is apparent in our lives.  As long as our parents control the choices we can make (as, indeed, they should), our choices are not our own.  The essence of maturity is learning to make our own choices.

The point is that the ability to choose from options provided by others does not give 'control'.  When we're offered options that affect our lives, options that we've had no voice in defining, the ability to choose one of them is neither free nor democratic.

On the contrary, it expresses our status as subjects of those who defined the options - in the United States, that's the political parties.  That is unacceptable, and yet, thinking it through and trying to convince our peers that it's a problem is tough.

In a representative democracy such as ours, the most vital element is not the right to vote but the right to select the people and the issues on which we will vote.  The question is, "How do we accomplish that?"

The key to solving any complex problem is to break it into its elements.  Politics is no different.  We should not think of 'the people' as a huge amorphous mass which must be 'ruled', we must recognize that 'the people' is a large number of individuals, some of whom are better qualified to represent their peers than others.  The moment we see that, it's easy to see that we must devise a way to identify those 'better qualified' individuals and raise them to public office.


[1] Robert Michels, Political Parties,

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