So did the greatest science-fiction writer of the Twentieth Century:
“To vote is to wield authority; it is the supreme authority from which all other authority derives….Force, if you will!—the franchise is force, naked and raw, the Power of the Rods and the Axe. Whether it is exerted by ten men or ten billion, political authority is force.” – Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers
Heinlein published that novel in 1959. Over the sixty-four years since its debut, it’s been pummeled about for virtually every characteristic it possesses…but seldom for the insight above.
Apparently, presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has openly found some fault with the American scheme of enfranchisement. He’s proposed a Constitutional amendment to raise the age of enfranchisement to 25. That would be a sharp departure from the trends of the past few decades, over which the franchise has been extended to ever larger and more dubious groups. Glenn Reynolds discusses the notion here:
The first part of the proposal echoes a column I wrote some years ago about raising the voting age. After some unfortunate events at Yale and the University of Missouri, I wrote:
To be a voter, one must be able to participate in adult political discussions. It’s necessary to be able to listen to opposing arguments and even — as I’m doing right here in this column — to change your mind in response to new evidence.
This evidence suggests that, whatever one might say about the 18-year-olds of 1971, the 18-year-olds of today aren’t up to that task. And even the 21-year-olds aren’t looking so good.
Hard to disagree, isn’t it? But your Curmudgeon digresses. Mike Hendrix adds a concurrence:
In the days following our Founding the franchise was limited to landowners, based on the idea that, pace Heinlein, they’d earned the right to vote via having what one might call skin in the game. After reading Starship Troopers about, oh, a dozen times, the relentless drumbeat advocating endless expansion of the franchise started to clang quite discordantly in my ear. The problem we have, it seemed to me, isn’t that not enough Americans vote, but that way too many of them do.
It is from here that your Curmudgeon will begin.
Way, way back at Eternity Road, your Curmudgeon wrote:
There’s an election coming in November of a hypothetical year. Said election will determine who will hold offices at the federal, state, county, and town levels; more, there are referenda to be decided at the three local levels. All these elections are important — and the various levels of government affected have resolved to treat them that way. So a new system has been instituted.
Early in June of the year, John Q. Smith receives mailed notices from each of four Boards of Elections: one each from the federal, state, county, and town levels. Why four? Because the qualifications for voting, and the offices and referenda of interest, are unique for each. Each notice instructs him that as an enfranchised citizen presumptively qualified to vote in that division’s upcoming elections, should he submit a tax receipt (for a tax paid to that division) for a statutorily determined amount in the enclosed envelope, he will receive a ballot for that division’s elections no later than October 1.
That essay drew a lot of flak, for a predictable reason: it implies that there is no “right” to vote. Indeed, there is not and has never been a “right to vote.” The privilege of voting, a.k.a. “the franchise,” is conferred upon the individual by the political entity upon whose officials and referenda he may vote. If it were not so, non-citizens, felons, and children of all ages would be enfranchised. That has never been the case, here or in any other country that permits elections.
The great Frederic Bastiat discoursed on the logic behind this:
The motive is that the elector or voter does not exercise this right for himself alone, but for everybody. The most extended elective system and the most restricted elective system are alike in this respect. They differ only in respect to what constitutes incapacity. It is not a difference of principle, but merely a difference of degree. If, as the republicans of our present-day Greek and Roman schools of thought pretend, the right of suffrage arrives with one’s birth, it would be an injustice for adults to prevent women and children from voting. Why are they prevented? Because they are presumed to be incapable. And why is incapacity a motive for exclusion? Because it is not the voter alone who suffers the consequences of his vote; because each vote touches and affects everyone in the entire community; because the people in the community have a right to demand some safeguards concerning the acts upon which their welfare and existence depend.
Ignore for the moment Bastiat’s casual and highly inaccurate use of the word “rights.” The point “should” be clear: Each vote potentially affects the outcome of the election in which it’s cast. The point of the election is to confer political authority — force — on someone or something. When a man votes, he is stating his choice for who and what will be permitted to wield force over him.
Give that a few moments’ thought.
Of the above observations and quotes, the most important one is from Mike Hendrix:
The problem we have, it seemed to me, isn’t that not enough Americans vote, but that way too many of them do.
Mike implies a question that he does not stay to answer. (Shades of Pontius Pilate!) It’s plain that many who do vote should not. To whom, then, shall we entrust the franchise, confident that it will be used “properly?” Bearing in mind that the exercise of the franchise confers political authority – the privilege and power of wielding coercive force over others – upon the winner of each election?
Your Curmudgeon is a curmudgeon: viz., a permanently cranky old man who’ll argue with anyone about his position on any subject, from the highest and most abstract propositions all the way down to what condiments belong on what cold cuts. Moreover, he’s been thus since he was about five. It doesn’t earn him a lot of love, but it does occasion some lovely arguments. Today’s topic for argument is one of his favorites, even though it can be summarized in a single short sentence:
Answer it for yourself. Take your time. Ponder the question in its widest scope, for there is no question of greater consequence. Then, when your brain has cooled to some semblance of rationality, consider your Curmudgeon’s answer:
…for all values of “you.”
Refute it if you can. And do have a nice day.