Skip to content →

Against Voting In Self-Defense

Dealing with the ethics of voting is a difficult thing. The fact of the matter is that all political arguments are ethical arguments, that is, anyone who argues in favor of one policy or another must inherently do so on moral grounds (including those who argue from a utilitarian ethic). So, dealing with this issue is not at all an easy one, as in every election there are a huge number of moral factors involved.. I have previously written a longer essay on the topic more broadly, which I strongly encourage you to read here. However, this shorter essay is written to deal with a specific argument about the ethics of voting, namely the issue of voting in self-defense. There is a great deal of disagreement on this issue in the libertarian camp, but many (headed up by Walter Block, and invoking Murray Rothbard in defense of position) argue that one may use their vote as a form of self-defense to protect their life, liberty, and property. Block formulates his argument in the following way:

Suppose we were all slaves, and the master said we could have a democratic election; we could vote for overseer Baddie, who would whip us unmercifully once per day, or overseer Goodie, who would do exactly the same thing, but only once per month. We all voted for the latter. Is this incompatible with libertarianism? Would this make us worse libertarians?

Block’s argument seems intriguing on its face, but when we dig further down we will find that it presents a false analogy as it relates to voting. The principle of self-defense is completely and entirely consistent with a libertarian ethic of politics. Since you have a right to your life, liberty, and property, you have a right to defend those things using force (up to and including lethal, should the aggressor persist) from any aggressor who may attempt to take them away. With this in mind, and looking at Dr. Block’s argument, it would seem that one has a right to use the electoral ballot to defend themselves from “overseer Baddie.” However, this is not the case. Since Dr. Block has used a thought experiment, allow me to do the same. Imagine overseer Baddie breaks into your home and tries to kill you and take your stuff (he is named overseer Baddie for a reason, afterall).

Now, any libertarian worth their salt will affirm your right to repel his invasion with use of proportional force. However, imagine overseer Baddie makes a break for it, and as he runs away you shoot at him with your automatic rifle. Unfortunately you don’t aim as well as you should have, and you injure three innocent bystanders while trying to repel overseer Baddie’s aggression against you. Are you justified in harming those bystanders in your attempt to stop overseer Baddie from hurting you and taking your stuff? Anyone who accepts the Non-Aggression Principle must say no. The bystanders who were not participants in overseer Baddie’s violence against you also have a right to their life, liberty, and property, and by hurting them (even unintentionally while trying to defend yourself) is wrong. The question of how wrong it is exactly could have a variety of answers, depending upon how much knowledge you had of the location of the bystanders, your level of intent to shoot in their direction in order to take down overseer Baddie, etc. But the conclusion in that circumstance is that you are at fault for doing damage to those persons and their property illegitimately.

This is where Dr. Block’s argument breaks down. By going into the voting booth and casting your support in favor of someone who will violate others rights to life, liberty, and property, you are an accomplice to any crimes against those rights committed by the elected in office. So, when Dr. Block argues that voting for Donald Trump (who he views as overseer Goodie in this instance, still a bad person, but a lesser evil than overseer Baddie) is legitimate because it could help us to avoid at least some of the damage that overseer Baddie (in this current election Hillary Clinton) would cause if placed in office. The problem is that this reduces the Non-Aggression Principle into a utilitarian ethic, rather than what it must necessarily be in order to be a functional ethic, that is a duty-based or duty-bound ethic. In order to retain any level of consistency, any libertarian must affirm that every man always has a right to his life, his liberty, and his property, unless and until he commits a crime against another person. So, to vote for the so-called “overseer Goodie” in this election, or any other where one is presented with something resembling Block’s Goodie/Baddie analogy is in fact an act of aggression (albeit indirectly, since not everyone who votes for overseer Goodie directly takes up arms to violently enforce overseer Goodie’s NAP violating commands).

Dr. Walter Block’s argument for voting as a form of self-defense is, on its face, attractive. However, when it is examined further it proves that it allows for the harm of innocent bystanders and as such fails the test of libertarian ethics. Whether the election is the upcoming Trump vs. Clinton, or Kang vs. Kodos in the year 2104, voting for the so-called “lesser evil” is a participation in the evil of that lesser evil, and should be rejected by both libertarians and Christians everywhere.

Published in R Campbell Sproul

  • kim Ringsmose

    After wrestling with this issue for a long time I had finely been persuaded of Block type reasoning. That was before I read this post. Thanks a lot! Back to wrestling.

  • Brian Meuser

    Does that mean a follower of the “NAP” could not vote for anyone, due to the possibility of said person causing harm?