As I see it, electoral politics is our Quixotic imaginary giant. It’s a distraction. No matter how many laws are on the books, all that matters is government currently has the legitimacy and the power to enforce them. If we undermine its legitimacy, its power won’t matter. They will still hold the gun in the room, but we’ll all know they have no bullets. We don’t need to convince a majority of our ideas either. We need a determined minority who will withdraw their consent in spirit and in practice. Many already have. It’s easy to get started. They practice their trade outside the strictures of government regulation, enjoying the benefits of an open market. Others can do the same and in such a way as to build trusted, decentralized networks of traders and entrepreneurs who directly and immediately benefit from these ideas.
I don’t propose abandoning the electoral process entirely. So long as a majority of people give the concept of democracy some weight, it provides a free soap box to spread our ideas. I wouldn’t look to electoral progress as a sign of our influence either, as the conventional political process is a lagging indicator of intellectual progress. Part of the reason that conventional politics can only be practiced marginally is because it demands “compliance with, acceptance of, and payment to its institutions,” as Samuel Edward Konkin III said.
Government enjoys the tacit approval of Americans to belligerently harass them and confiscate their wealth so the military and government-founded corporations can belligerently attack and confiscate the wealth of poorer peasants in other countries. There is nothing redeeming about it. It is extortion. But people put up with it because the devil they know is better than the devil they don’t know. We can cast a light on the possibilities of what freedom looks like by practicing it ourselves and leading by example. What could be more libertarian?
If we want to win, we’ve got to stop playing by the government’s approved rules. “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal,” as Emma Goldman quipped.
Instead of trying to free an entire country, we begin somewhere we have control — ourselves — making steady pragmatic progress individual by individual, and eventually social institutions will reflect these values we hold.
[Note: This is a lightly edited excerpt from a longer post published in 2010 title “Tilting at Electoral Windmills.”]