Vote! That’s what students in Britain are being told on election day. But here’s an alternative view: Abstain and withhold your approval of a flawed system.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, holding her polling card, arrives to vote in Sonning, near Reading, Britain, 8 June 2017. (EPA/Facundo Arrizabalaga)
British voters go to the polls today in a snap election that Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May called to strengthen her hand in Brexit talks. Below, a student in Britain urges voters to exercise their right to abstain.

By Arsentiy Novak

It is a near impossible task to find a student who has not been pressured to vote in Britain’s snap election today.

Widespread dissatisfaction — to use a gentle term — with Prime Minister Theresa May, with a lack of consistency in her Conservative Party’s manifesto and with her inability to extinguish rising terrorist aggression sets young hearts ablaze. The majority of youngsters stand behind the meek and mild Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party.

But no matter how Thursday’s election ends, there is a deep and growing sense of unrest over an inconspicuous illusion: that the individual matters and that the election offers a genuine choice.

I want to present an alternative view.

A vote by itself confers consent.

Voting is a necessary part of any democracy and underpins our state. Voting keeps the wheels of democracy turning. But we, the voters, only make up the tractor’s engine. The government is in the driver’s seat, and propaganda is its fuel.

So what gives a government legitimacy? Quite simply, our consent. Before I turn to the notion of a vote, there is a proposition that must be rejected: That we offer our consent simply by acquiescing to an elected government. That we are free to leave the country if we don’t like it, and we should accept this as fair.

This notion — that we are free to depart if we are not content — is undiluted masochism, and its proponents are sadistic. Their claim is this: I provide a life that I decide is best for you, and in return you repay me with your freedom and gratitude. Failing this, you will be punished. You must accept this bargain as well-deserved and proper.

Well, I don’t.

A vote by itself confers consent. It provides legitimacy to a system designed mainly to correct deviants — those who stray from the designated path. With our vote, we legitimize a system that works like a parasite, eating away at its creators and forcing us into a contract of coercion. We select our leaders, and so face the consequences.

Abstaining from voting is one of the few liberties we can still enjoy.

Slavery is often tempting to our species. We want a government that’s strong and rigid to outside oppressors, and just and good to these within. May promises the former, Corbyn the latter. Whomever you “choose,” remember this: Tyranny takes root in the erosion of individuality. One is coerced into bowing to the wishes of the majority. A majority whose consciousness is formed by the government.

To simplify, let’s substitute “father” for “government.” We are told that we are free because we can vote and therefore choose between options presented to us. These options are chosen by the father, put forward by the father, limited by the father, and our choice is influenced by the father.

Want to say this is not true? Want to say you are the one who makes the decisions? But who are you if not the consequence of your parentage? Our very way of thinking is molded by our father. In Britain, we can chose how the father looks, but do you really think the choice is free?

Abstaining from voting is one of the few liberties we can still enjoy, something our friends in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Luxembourg and North Korea — where voting is compulsory — have lost. Use it.

If you question the legitimacy of state rule, voting is nonsensical. Abstain while you can, and you will still have a right to complain.

After all, you will have had nothing to do with the forthcoming circus.

(The views are the author’s.)

Arsentiy Novak was born in Ukraine and has lived the past 12 years in Britain. He is studying Philosophy at King’s College London and is particularly interested in religion, political theory and metaphysics. He hopes to pursue a career in theater and film.


Elections in Britain: Why you should not vote

  1. I mostly accept your argument, except that you say that the available choice is limited – at least in UK you can expand this choice by standing for election yourself, so that’s an option. However the electoral system in UK is indeed badly designed for the modern age, and for new candidates and ideas. It’s not even close to being representative (for all his faults Donald Trump at least has a mandate from 46% of American voters, the last Tory Government swept to power with just 37%).

    But you don’t suggest an alternative course of action. If I myself chose not to vote I might feel ideologically at peace with myself, for not having endorsed the system, but nobody beyond myself would recognise this act. Nor, I fear, would the Government. Even if you promoted this idea everywhere to encourage people not to vote, and there was a 99% abstention rate, then what? I fear the people in power would just carry on enjoying being in power.

    1. My claim is that choice is not only limited, but rather perilously close to non-existent. The power flexing is known to all: really it is either option A or B. Whichever one you chose, you can be sure that it is your hedonism that will serve as justification for being on a leash to these who satisfy it. And these very convictions — which you shall wish to satisfy — are also a direct result of the political propagations that you live through. Think you are free? Well, even if you are the lucky emancipated kind, can you say the same for all the other voters? Necessarily your future depends on the whims of the majority, so too bad if your choice is different.

      Now this brings me to the notion of ‘choice.’ To me it seems that for it to hold validity, it must be genuinely realizable. It must have a definite effect on the course of the decision; whatever is decided, it could have been otherwise. You eloquently outline the faults in representation – does it not greatly negate the potency of the individual’s choice? Apply this to a choice that is not of option A or B. More so, lets apply it to an individual voting for themselves – do you think it has any chance whatsoever of being realizable? I think to the contrary.

      Nonetheless, for the sake of argument I’ll accept this as a valid option. I fail however, to see much difference between this and abstention, for if one abstains – is it not a statement that one knows better? By abstaining, does one not vote for their own candidature against the established powers of the state?

      On the final point, ideological peace with oneself is the first step toward escaping ‘doublethink.’ I am sure you remember the dangers that Orwell warned us of. As to the others, I find solace in hope they will recognise this act. The government, thankfully, is still contingent on the people, thus if there was a mass abstention rate it would certainly switch on the sirens. Not only for the government but the citizens under it.

  2. I think there are many reasons for being dissatisfied with the voting system in the UK and the choice between parties persons are given. Yet, I cannot see how your conclusion follows that we should abstain from voting. Doesnt one want to have a say whether a fascist, hard-lining socialist or whoever is in charge. Not voting just amounts to being an irresponsible ignorant citizen and allowing for whatever follows. Regarding your talk of legitimacy: first of all, it is a very contentious thesis that consent (through vote) grounds political obligation and legitimacy. Hence, you would do good to consider the consent thesis not as an apriori truth. second, even if the consent story is correct you are still obliged (perhaps not morally, but at least on the basis of consequential reasons or coercion) to adhere to the dictates of government. Hence, (even if we buy into the very contentious consent story) realistically speaking abstaining does not make a difference to the coercive force that government can and will exercise over abstainers in cases of civil disobedience.

    1. I hope you understand that there are other ways to resist fascism than through a vote. Pacifism is amongst the last things I would wish to be accused of, and I fail to see any notion of it in the article. On the contrary, abstention is our greatest weapon, for one chooses not to abide by the options imposed upon them.

      On your first point, it is an a priori truth that consent grounds legitimacy. For something to be legitimate – it must be accepted. If something is accepted – it is deemed legitimate (at least in relation to the body whom accepts it). This is tautological. Now my claim is this: consent = acceptance. If so, then the social contract between a governing body and its citizens its legitimate, for the latter consent to having that governing body. Having accepted it, the citizens are politically obliged to abide by the rules designated by the ruling body, because 1) they engage in the method propagated by it and 2) laws and covenants are the very reason the government exists.

      Moving on. You second point seems to suggest that one will be coerced regardless, so why not at least choose one’s master. Well, agreed. Such is the nature of a state, its power must be all encompassing to work. However at the very least the non-voter can claim to have their freedom taken away through no wish of their own. Their enforced conformity is involuntary. Their coercion is not consensual. Not enough? Well, after this step is taken — I hope with sound justification — then one can move on to challenge the coercive powers on civil matters, but this time wearing the garments of individuals, rather than these who chose to conform out of fear of being on the wrong side.

      Now I do like the accusation of ignorance and irresponsibility, however fear you still have you work cut out for you, to prove how this is a fault on my part.

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