L. Neil Smith's
Number 295, October 31, 2004

The Nightmare After Halloween

The Nightmare After Halloween
by L. Neil Smith

Please Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Election Day 2004 is almost upon us. Indeed for some, the early voters, it has already arrived and passed. And as sometimes happens, the number of things I think and feel about it, things I experience a need to say and do, is so overwhelming that to get it all out in one essay like this is like trying to drive a Kenworth through a drinking straw.

For libertarians (and since I was fifteen years old, I have never been anything else), what it all boils down to is a pair of questions: should I vote in this or any election, and if so, for whom should I vote?

For the benefit of non-libertarians who may be reading this, the first question arises because some of the movement's most illustrious leaders and teachers have held that voting is immoral. Voting, they maintain, is a ceremony in which it is decided how money and power—illegitimately collected—will be redistributed for the next four years.

They also say that government consists of nothing but force, and an election is simply a ritual to determine upon whom that force is to be used. Libertarians are defined by their unwillingness to initiate force, and one famous libertarian teacher used to insist that pulling a lever in a voting booth (which handily establishes the vintage of the quote) is precisely the same act, morally speaking, as pulling a trigger.

They say, too, that participating in an election only legitimizes and sustains a system that many, if not most, libertarians intend to see abolished. Indeed, by casting a vote, you promise to abide by the results of the election, however morally repulsive they turn out to be.

Finally, they say, voting is futile and ineffective, and that if it could change any of the things that need changing, it would be illegal.

I once believed many of these things, myself. For about a decade, beginning in the early 1980s, I refused to register and I didn't show up to vote. My wife Cathy and I had it all figured out, and we even published a little magazine that expressed the views that we had back then.

But we began to notice certain things. Foremost, if you wish to discuss political philosophy with folks in this culture, the context in which it's done, like it or not, is electoral politics. Candidacy—or the enthusiastic advocacy of a particular candidate—puts you in a spotlight that you can't get into any other way. For libertarians it may be an exceedingly dim spotlight, but that's another problem altogether.

Second, while libertarians argue over the efficacy of parties, campaigns, and political action, one thing is absolutely certain: your refusal to participate has never stopped the badguys from taking your rights, your property, or your life. It hasn't even slowed them down.

Now let's get something straight right away, once and for all. I am an individualist. If you're reading this—unless you're a lightbulbs-and-earthworm muncher for Homeland Security, assigned to reading politically suspect material—so are you. As such, we do not recognize any obligation we haven't voluntarily and explicity agreed to.

Keep an eye on that word, "explicitly".

I vote as an act of self-defense. Collectivist oppression is my lifelong, mortal enemy, and I will fight it any way I can. I never agreed to abide by the outcome of any election (whatever the hell that means—what does it mean, exactly?), especially when its results turn out to be very much the opposite of what I consider acceptable. I have never acknowledged any such condition on my vote and I never will.

I vote as an act of self-defense. This insistence by libertarian theorists on an obligation without explicit consent is pretty damned collectivistic for people who claim to be individualists, don't you think?

I vote as an act of self-defense. And who is it who claims that you have to accept this obligation, anyway? Your third grade teacher? The Weekly Reader? Your high school civics classes? If you never believed them about anything else—and education consists largely of learning not to believe them—then why should you believe them about this?

I've often said that libertarians are better than anybody in the world at thinking up perfectly logical reasons to do nothing, to avoid taking necessary action. Frankly, the whole non-voter thing reeks of pacifism to me. Electoral pacifism. I think that's why I gave it up in the end. I'm nobody's pacifist, I'm a strong believer in—and advocate of—self-defense. Did I mention that I vote as an act of self-defense?

Here I am, minding my own business—trying to, anyway—when I discover to my horror that there's a chimera—the grotesque result of recombining DNA, half elephant and half donkey—bearing down on me, about to trample all of my hopes and dreams beneath its mutated hooves.

I have no weapon on my person, but ahead of me in the road, I see a rusty old .25 automatic pistol. I don't really hold by such weapons. It's too small and weak to be much good, even if it actually works. But small and weak as it may be, it's the only thing I have to defend myself. Should I pick it up and shuffle the slide, try to chamber a round? Or should I turn up my nose disdainfully because I prefer a .44 Magnum?

What do you think? I'm almost certainly going to wind up getting trampled into the dirt—again—but I'm absolutely determined to make it cost the donkephant as much as I possibly can. Amd who knows? I might get lucky. At least I'm acting like a man, not somebody's doormat.

And so on Tuesday, for whatever it's worth, I'll cast my vote. It may be feeble, it may not make a difference, it may amount to using a tiny, underpowered weapon on a monster. But it's the only weapon I've got.


As publisher of The Libertarian Enterprise, I would be remiss not to reveal how I intend to cast my vote, and, more importantly in the light of certain recent discussions, how I don't intend to cast it. My plans are not particularly original, many others plan to do the same.

To my unspeakable horror and disgust, I recently received an e-mail message from one of a handful of individuals I looked up to and admired when I was a young libertarian back in the 1960s. You may have received such a message, yourself. In it, another of my mentors and idols—an individual who helped to shape the movement itself, as well as my understanding of it—offered what he believes are reasons for voting, not for the Libertarian Party candidate, Michael Badnarik, but (I'm almost too embarrassed for him to write it here) George W. Bush.

It is the definition of the word "libertarian" that they oppose—and reject—the initiation of force against anyone for any reason whatever. Libertarians are not pacifists. In fact, they are some of the most ardent proponents of self-defense in the world. But unless someone has initiated force against them, they refuse to initiate it themselves.

George W. Bush, on the other hand, is a known initiator of force, from a long, ugly line of initiators of force. Given the political opportunity represented by the horrifying attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, he chose not to pursue the real perpetrators, but only to give that idea lip service, and invade Afghanistan, instead, where his oil-company sponsors had wanted to put a pipeline for at least a decade.

While the iron was still hot, to gain control of Earth's second largest pool of oil, Bush and his petropals exaggerated the threat represented by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, lied about that nation's weaponry, invaded and occupied it, destroying the civilization they found there, while claiming to be rebuilding a thing that wouldn't have needed any rebuilding if they hadn't destroyed it in the first place.

All the while, the real perpetrators of 911 were sitting in their hideyhole in the Pakistani mountains, laughing at America and taunting it like that French guy in the castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

In the process, the lives of thousands of young Americans and tens of thousands of Afghanis and Iraquis—ten-year-old goatherds and pregnant women who never did anything to us—have been ruined or ended.

Standing on a foundation of greed for somebody else's property and lies to justify taking it by force, George Bush is a mass-murderering monster. The idea—put forth by the e-mail I started this with—that Bush's opponent John Kerry can be any worse, is utter nonsense. Kerry will almost certainly continue the War-on-Everything madness, but ...

But ...

Because people like him need to be in control of everything, it will take Kerry six months to a year to gear back up to the current level of mass-murdering overseas and dissent-crushing at home. In that time, a better resistance movement can be organized against him. This is especially true if, as a great many libertarians hope, two things happen.

First, if it's close, the outcome of the election will likely be thrown into doubt. Voter numbers are already setting records, usually a good thing for Democrats, but if Kerry's margin is slim, so much the better. If he wins the electoral but not the popular vote, that will be hilarious. If he wins because we Libertarians acted as a spoiler, Yippee!

Second, Republicans will likely retain the House and Senate, and we'll have that wonderful thing called "gridlock"—nothing political will get done (to us)—and we could easily enjoy two to four years' respite.

I could use a respite, how about you?

I plan to do my bit on Tuesday by voting as straight a Libertarian Party ticket as I can. Where there's no libertarian candidate, I will be "casting a blank"—not voting for anybody else in that particular category.

They hate that.

Possibly the worst may happen: Bush gets reelected and keeps the legislature; or just as bad, a complete proctonic reversal occurs (probably in two election periods) that takes us back to the one-party Democratic rule of the bad old Johnson days some of us remember so well.

I don't know what's going to happen, and neither does anybody else. Let the chads fall where they may, on Tuesday, November 2, for the first time in a long while, I will vote with a clear conscience and a very happy heart, for the best candidate on the ballot anywhere, and the best candiate that the Libertarian Party has ever offered to America.

Good luck, Mike, and good luck to all of us, as well!

Three-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith is the author of 23 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collection of articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at lneilsmith.org. Autographed copies may be had from the author at lneil@lneilsmith.org.

Neil is presently at work on Ceres and Ares, two sequels to his 1993 novel, Pallas, a decensored and electronically published version of his 1984 novel, Tom Paine Maru, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May. A 180-page full-color graphic novel version of The Probability Broach will be released later this year.


Lever Action by L. Neil Smith, and Hope by L. Neil Smith & Aaron Zelman, both at Discount Prices. www.aspubs.com

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