by Barry A. Liebling
Who should have sovereignty over your life? Who should have the executive authority to decide what your life goals are, how you will manage your day-to-day decisions, what courses of action you will take? There are two diametric approaches to the question. The older, traditional, collectivist answer is that it is not you. You are owned by entities outside of yourself. You are the property of the king, of the royal family, of the state, of the ruling elite, of society as a whole. You may be given privileges and have a lot of latitude regarding what you will do, but fundamentally you have the permanent duty to serve your masters.
Individualism, which is articulated and defended by the best Enlightenment philosophers, provides the radical, modern, and correct answer to the question. You own yourself and should have sovereignty regarding how you should live and what actions you should take. This is the sentiment that motivated the assertion that all people are created equal and have natural inalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The conflict between advocates of collectivism and defenders of individualism is never-ending and is expressed frequently in public policy debates. The collectivists are perpetually inventing excuses to take personal autonomy away from citizens. You should do what you are told because the expert, scientific, cultural elite knows what is good for you. You should submit to authority because it serves society as a whole. Obey your betters because you do not have the competence to plan effectively.
The individualist position is that everyone has legitimate self-ownership. Even when you make errors, and everyone does, it is your responsibility to use your best judgment in navigating your life. There are rules and boundaries that prohibit you from violating anyone else’s natural rights. But living a good life requires that you make your own decisions and set your own course.
Recently two prominent intellectuals from the collectivist camp (E.J. Dionne Jr and Miles Rapoport) published a book “100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting.” As the title reveals, the authors are recommending that the United States pass legislation to make voting in elections mandatory. Without reading the book it is possible to discern the essence of the argument by one of the advocate’s summary of their thesis in a video interview. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7SL8wuOhNA
The authors believe that the country is better off if more people, rather than fewer people, vote in federal, state, and local elections. They recognize that even with the highest voluntary participation rate, a large number of citizens do not go to the polls. They see this as a problem that needs to be fixed. And their solution is to require Americans to vote in every election. They point out that their policy is not novel, since a lot of countries already demand that their citizens vote – including Australia (an English-speaking country with many similarities to the United States).
Dionne and Rapoport anticipate that many Americans will not be sympathetic to a new legal requirement. So they describe the policy as innocuous and easy to implement. They assert that other civilized countries already do it, with no catastrophic effects. A new legal directive is no more intrusive than mandatory jury duty – to which Americans have complied for many years. And, to make the proposed policy an easy pill to swallow, they envision the penalty for non-compliance to be trivial and mild. According to the video interview, in Australia those who do not vote might be fined about $12.
So what, if anything, is the objection to the proposal? Citizens who are not progressive leftists (think of libertarians and conservatives) would not be disenfranchised. If the proposed law would go into effect the absolute number of non-leftist voters would probably increase. More people than ever before would have a voice in who holds public office.
The problem is that the authors’ proposal is ostensibly about increasing participation in voting during elections. But the deep, fundamental issue concerns who owns your life. In a free society you can vote or not vote as you choose. If leftist intellectuals want more people to participate in elections they can write articles, give speeches, and put on shows designed to convince citizens that voting is personally advantageous. Perhaps their harangues will be effective, perhaps not.
But according to collectivists you are owned by society. It is up to the woke experts to figure out how you should act and to pass laws that make compliance mandatory. Endorsing the Dionne and Rapoport proposal is a big step away from personal autonomy. If the law can require you to vote, the law can insist that you “behave correctly” in other areas as well. If you have to vote should you also be required to attend voting education sessions run by leftist teachers? We certainly cannot tolerate voting that is inspired by “misinformation.” I leave it to the reader’s imagination to speculate on how mandatory voting can open the door to other compulsory actions.
The important lesson for those who value personal liberty is that any proposal for legislation that requires compliant behavior should be looked at with extreme suspicion. Free citizens should not tolerate tyrannical directives.
*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***