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Non-voting is a strategy employed by various radical libertarians and anarchists who wish to promote a free society yet who view voting to be either unethical or impractical.


In support for this non-political strategy, some non-voters claim that voting does not make any positive difference. “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal,” is an oft-cited sentiment attributed to anarchist Emma Goldman.[1]Some also suggest that the mainstream media or plutocrats actually choose the candidates. However, non-voting ought not be confused with apathy. Those who advocate non-voting typically hope to see mass segments of the populace refusing to vote, on the grounds that such a mass movement will show clear discontent with the Establishment. Thus, strategic non-voters claim that non-voting is more practical than voting. Counter-arguments for this stance are that each vote for an anarchist does more to legitimize anarchism than to legitimize the state, and that even if votes for anarchists constituted 50% of the votes cast — enough to prevent statists from obtaining a plurality — the anarchist votes would still have only increased the overall voter turnout twofold. Some critics claim that the very notion of an "anarchist candidate" assumes the legitimacy of government and the voting system and as such undermines anarchism.

In addition to strategic non-voters, there are also ethical non-voters, those who reject voting outright, not merely as an ineffective tactic for change, but moreover because they view the act as either a grant of consent to be governed by the state, a means of imposing illegitimate control over one's countrymen, or both. Thus, this view holds that through voting, one necessarily finds themselves violating the non-aggression principle. Herbert Spencer noted that whether a person votes for the winning candidate, votes for a losing candidate, or abstains from voting, he will be deemed to have consented to the rule of the winning candidate.[2]


Murray Rothbard, while a libertarian himself, criticized the New Libertarian Manifesto's arguments that voting is immoral or undesirable:[3]

Let's put it this way: Suppose we were slaves in the Old South, and that for some reason, each plantation had a system where the slaves were allowed to choose every four years between two alternative masters. Would it be evil, and sanctioning slavery, to participate in such a choice? Suppose one master was a monster who systematically tortured all the slaves, while the other one was kindly, enforced almost no work rules, freed one slave a year, or whatever. It would seem to me not only not aggression to vote for the kinder master but idiotic if we failed to do so. Of course, there might well be circumstances—say when both masters are similar—where the slaves would be better off not voting in order to make a visible protest—but this is a tactical not a moral consideration. Voting would not be evil but, in such a case, less effective than the protest.

But if it is morally licit and nonaggressive for slaves to vote for a choice of masters, in the same way it is licit for us to vote for what we believe the lesser of two or more evils, and still more beneficial to vote for an avowedly libertarian candidates.

Samuel Edward Konkin III responded:[4]

Can you imagine slaves on a plantation sitting around voting for masters and spending their energy on campaigning and candidates when they could be heading for the “underground railway?” Surely they would choose the counter-economic alternative; surely Dr. Rothbard would urge them to do so and not be seduced into remaining on the plantation until the Abolitionist Slavemasters’ Party is elected.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Goldman's actual writings expressed a distinct sentiment: "There is no hope even that woman, with her right to vote, will ever purify politics." Goldman, Emma (1911), "The Tragedy of Women's Emancipation", Anarchism and Other Essays (Second revised ed.), Mother Earth Publishing Association, pp. 219–231 
  2. ^ Spencer, Herbert (1851), The Right to Ignore the State 
  3. ^ Rothbard, Murray (November 10, 1980), Konkin on Libertarian Strategy 
  4. ^ Samuel Edward Konkin III, Reply to Rothbard 

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