More fundamentally, how can voters “want” a majority or a
minority, or a coalition of parties X, Y and Z, or any
particular result? There is no such option on the ballot,
under any system: whatever party you vote for, you are
voting to elect their local candidate (or increase their
seat share, under PR). There is no such option as, “A
Conservative government, but with a minority.” Or, “Jack
Layton in Stornoway, but not 24 Sussex Drive.” Or, “The
Liberals in third place, but not totally wiped off the map.”
A group the size of the Canadian electorate, whose members
will mostly never meet, cannot engage in anything that can
reasonably be called “collective decision making.” The fact
that the aggregation of millions of individual voting
choices led to a majority Conservative government, an NDP
official opposition, a historic loss for the Liberals and
the near-extinction of the Bloc Québécois is not the result
of any conscious decision or intention. To claim otherwise
makes as much sense as inferring that drivers stuck on a
highway “wanted” a traffic jam.
To the victor go the spoils?
After the election, democracy demands that until the next
ballot we all accept the decisions of the legislators as
legitimate. After all, they were elected to govern!
The libertarian objection is that voters have no right to
use coercive force on others and therefore have no right to
delegate that power to legislators, election or no election.
If another person takes your money, we call him a thief. If
he prevents you from peacefully going about your daily
business, we call him a bully or a thug. In neither case is
it a valid defence that others, no matter how numerous,
supported or aided him in his actions. How can marking slips
of paper with a pencil somehow transform these morally
reprehensible acts into some kind of noble undertaking?
Granted, this reasoning will go nowhere with most people.
They feel that they have consented to the rules and
therefore accept the result. Good for them―but what about
those of us who disagree? How do we withhold our consent?
Obviously not by declining to participate since, as we all
complain. And if you’re thinking of spoiling your
ballot, Elections Canada takes the position that
it’s illegal… although they do helpfully point out that
you can always run for office yourself.
There is no positive action involved in giving consent, so
one cannot simply withhold that act. Remember the
uproar over Rogers Cable’s negative-option billing
practices? Clients were incensed that a corporation they had
chosen to do business with intended to charge them for
services they didn’t order unless they said no. And if they
didn’t pay, their cable might be cut off! Now consider the
state: We never asked it for anything; it simply took
authority over us at birth. It bills us every day, on pain
of imprisonment, for services we didn’t order and may never
use or even know
exist. And despite what any
cranks might tell you, you cannot politely inform it
that you’d rather just be left alone. Frankly, the “Rogers
approach” seems benevolent by comparison.
The clichéd response to the libertarian position is that if
you don’t like it, leave. Well, for one thing, legal
barriers to entry―also known as immigration restrictions―are
prohibitively high, without mentioning enormous natural
obstacles to movement, such as cultural differences and
recognition of job experience. Besides, legal systems do not
change much between developed countries; tax rates vary,
bureaucracy is more or less responsive, but the fundamentals
are often very similar.
Most crucially, how can it be that by living somewhere we’ve
accepted that others in that area may use coercion against
us? No one would accept the argument that a mugger or a
burglar is entitled to someone’s property if he’s walking
down a given street or living in a given neighbourhood. So
what entitles the state to make that identical claim?
This argument is not anti-democratic. Churchill was right in
noting that democracy is the worst system besides all the
others we’ve tried, and if there have to be people who wield
coercive power over us, it’s best that they be elected.
But as Bryan Caplan explained in
The Myth of the Rational Voter, the real alternative
to unrestricted democracy is not authoritarianism, but
limited government. We need not grant any group of people
the power to decide how we live our lives, regardless of
whether they are self-appointed or democratically elected.
Given how candidates win votes, given the difficulty of
reading anything into election results, and given the
impossibility of not consenting to the state’s power,
wouldn’t a system in which none can be forced to live by
another’s rules be far more legitimate and far more moral
than the status quo? Shedding our belief in the existence of
“the will of the people”―a fiction so cherished that it take
precedence over our individual liberties―would be one more
step forward on humanity’s long and winding road to genuine