Republican Duties

In response to my recent post about Australia requiring you to vote, Paul wrote the following:

if i live under a system where i’m free to choose who i wish to vote for, i should also be free to choose to not vote entirely.

let’s bring more fascism to the world. that way The Party could tell us who we voted for without us even needing to go to the poles.

So, with thoughts of our American neighbours, I’d like to hold forth a little bit about this.

In a non-electoral political system, citizens are actively discouraged from taking interest in the politics of the state. Seeding interest would by force seed opposition, which is not in the best interests of a dictatorial system (regardless of the form of non-electoral system, it can be simplified down to being dictatorial). By contrast, an electoral system depends on argument and opposition for its success. It’s a system built on compromises, on checks and measures, on discussion.

However, because the electoral system is based on the input of the citizenry, I would argue with Paul that the chance to vote is not only the right of a citizen, but also a responsibility. While I think there’s something a little scary of the vote-by-party-preference system in Australia (wherein if you don’t know who to vote for, you can hand your vote over to a party, who will then cast it for you in their publicly-stated order of preference), I think forcing people to vote re-inforces the idea that voting is a responsibility. Of course, if you’re forced to vote, I think you should be able to vote for ‘none of the above’. This is similar in many ways to simply not voting, but I think it is a more forceful statement. It is an overt, direct political act, whereas simply not voting can be attributed to laziness, and is a passive political act. I myself used to wear a button that read ‘no matter who you vote for, the government wins’. I was never an anarchist, and since of age, I’ve always voted, but I liked the reminder.

In the current (December) Harper’s magazine, there are several articles talking about empire, in light of recent US political events. Comparisons have been drawn with the end of the Roman Republic (and empire), whose senate was quick to abdicate their responsibilities to the republic by granting extreme powers to the caesar in times of crisis. Of course, congress has failed the American republic by failing to debate much of the recent politcal acts, and granting extensive leeway to the president. If congress’ existence is to check the power of the president, to debate the varied wills of the people in light of the desires of the Oval Office (and please, question this assumption of mine — I’m no student of American Politics, but I’ve always read it along these lines), then they have simply failed in their duties. And how? Well, essentially, by forgoing their opportunity to vote on the matter. They, in advance, have given President Bush the power to go to war with a perceived enemy.

Clearly, the level of influence of an indivual citizen’s vote is far less than that of an individual MP’s (back in Canada now) vote. However, in Canada, your vote will decide which MP gets to have that vote. Which really, is pretty spectacular. It can be a hard decision too: I’ve been torn between voting for an MP who I don’t particularly like because I like the party and voting for an MP who I like, but whose party I don’t. Of course, I generally vote by party, because most parliamentary votes run by party, but you do have the option of voting for either.

So I’ve perhaps lost the thread here somewhat, and rambled on a little long, which tends to happen when I write in breaks waiting for things to compile, but here’s the summary: We live in an electoral system that depends on the participation of its citizens to work. Therefore,voting is not just a right of all of us, but a responisibility (unless you’re actively working to change our political system to something other than an electoral one).