The 2019 election is around the corner and, as usual, South Africans are faced with political parties proposing to interfere more in our daily lives and affairs. With only a select few exceptions, like the Capitalist Party and the Cape Party, the 2019 election is again going to be a battle between authoritarians of different flavours. Understandably, classical liberals and libertarians are reluctant to vote, with many having already decided that they will not make their mark on the ballot on 8 May. I hope to convince them to reconsider.
Liberty and democracy
Classical liberals and libertarians are not democrats. This must go without saying, for if the primary political value is the liberty of the individual, we cannot endorse a system that puts that liberty up for a vote.
This is not to say that libertarians are necessarily anti-democratic. This is simply one of those cases where it depends on the form of democracy and the context of that society at the time. Where democracy tends to expand and entrench liberty, as it historically has done in the West, it is a potential vehicle for classical liberalism without necessarily being part of classical liberalism. This explains why most classical liberals in the West also happen to be democrats. A classical liberal in Eritrea or in 1930s Germany, on the other hand, is unlikely to be democrat in the traditional sense, given those societies’ tendency to expunge rights rather than protect them.
One of the most notable criticisms by classical liberals on voting is that they do not wish to legitimise an inherently illegitimate system; that is, a system that makes the watering down and extinguishing of their rights possible. In the abstract, this idea does hold water, but in reality, it is dangerous. Our sometime opposition to and general rejection of democracy should not mean that we do not participate in elections, especially when our participation could turn the tide of politics ever so slightly in favour of liberty.
Why you should vote in the 2019 election
Vote in self-defence
I identify myself fully with the idea that classical liberals and libertarians should vote in self-defence. The fact is that the system will not collapse or stop infringing on our liberties simply because we did not vote. In fact, it is likely to infringe on our liberties even more if we do not vote, because we opted to not choose a party or candidates who intended to be less heavy-handed than the competition.
Classical liberals’ apoliticism has also undermined us. Our opponents decided to play the political game, and they have undoubtedly emerged victorious in part because of it. The notion that libertarians exist above politics is as old as the movement itself, and is false.
Up to the 1950s, classical liberals in South Africa preferred to engage in social activism and intellectual pursuits. It was only with the splintering of the United Party into the Liberal and Progressive parties during that decade that a decision was made to form the liberal movement into a political force. The result of this was that the Progressive Federal Party at one point became the Official Opposition to the National Party regime. The strength of the liberal movement as the third largest and most reasonable political force in South Africa after Afrikaner nationalism and black nationalism, had as a consequence the adoption of a compromise between the latter two variants of collectivist nationalism. This compromise was embodied in the Constitution, which by and large accepted the principles and doctrines of liberal constitutionalism, despite the fact that neither the National Party nor the African National Congress truly believed in those principles and doctrines. When this happened, liberals won perhaps their first and last major political victory.
We are in dire straits today, because the liberal political force has fallen apart after we put all our eggs in the one basket of the Democratic Alliance. The least we can do as classical liberals and libertarians is to give our votes to those political parties that do not propose to harm us any more than we are currently being harmed, and for that we have several options: The Capitalist Party is by far the best choice, but then there are also options like the Congress of the People, the Freedom Front Plus, and if you’re feeling edgy, the African Christian Democratic Party and the Inkhata Freedom Party. I have explained elsewhere why I think voting for the Democratic Alliance in the 2019 election would be a bad idea, at least at the national level.
Democracy as an annoyance
Within the statist paradigm, democracy is an inefficient annoyance. Dictators and social engineers dislike democracy because it determines how easy it is going to be for them to enforce their grand projects on ordinary people. Without democacy, they can do what they please without pomp and circumstance, but with democracy, there are various hoops they need to jump through. This is why politicians engage in gerrymandering of electoral districts and why they wish to restrict voting among their opponents.
An example from our own history is the case of the enfranchised blacks and coloureds of the Cape Province. The 1910 South Africa Act guaranteed that those who already had the qualified franchise in the Cape, of whatever race, would not be robbed of that franchise unless a special procedure was followed. The United Party government succeeded in robbing blacks of their franchise in 1936 by following said procedure, and the National Party tried to do the same with the coloured franchise in the early 1950s. The coloureds of the Cape voted overwhelmingly for the United Party, and the Nationalists sought to put that to an end. They could not, however, drum up the votes to follow the special procedure set out in the South Africa Act, so they simply enlarged the upper house of Parliament, the Senate, so that more National Party senators could be appointed. Thus, the regime manufactured votes for their policy when they couldn’t get them at the ballot.
Libertarians should take advantage of the in-built methods within the statist paradigm to retard, or simply annoy, those who wield unjustified power over us. This includes democracy, but also other things like the courts. The political class will try to overcome these hurdles, but we shouldn’t make it easy for them.
There’s a lot on the line
In the 2019 election, there is a lot on the line. The increasingly-radical Economic Freedom Fighters and their little cousins, Black First Land First, have been making waves, and are backed by serious foreign money. Both these parties will destroy any semblance of civilisation and prosperity in South Africa within a year of being in power.
The African National Congress, too, with its sights set firmly on destroying the Constitution with expropriation without compensation, must be kept away, along with its ideological comrades, from winning 66.3% of the National Assembly. This means the parties that oppose the constitutional amendment, cumulatively, need to increase their share of the National Assembly by around a mere 7%. In the 2014 election, 1% translated to roughly 180,000 votes, meaning 7% might only require 1,260,000 South Africans to vote for any one of the constitutionalist parties.
Classical liberals can contribute significantly to achieving this threshold.
Of eligible voters in 2014, 43% did not vote — and of eligible voters in 2014, only 35% voted for the governing party. This means the ANC today governs with a super minority of votes. Keeping the authoritarian coalition away from government, thus, is easy, and it is extremely easy to keep it away from amending the Constitution. All it takes is for you to show up on Election Day.
It is all but confirmed that the EFF and the ANC will get in bed with one another after 8 May, to pursue their nefarious and destructive agenda. This will include bringing the so-called National Democratic Revolution to the forefront, by extinguishing private property rights and likely ending freedom of expression in the name of combating bigotry.
The Constitutional Court is unlikely to come to freedom’s assistance, not now and certainly not in the future, because government now controls the formerly-independent attorneys and advocates’ professions through the Legal Practice Council. The days of the private sector screening and vetting of judges is over.
Our salvation lies in taking off the kid gloves with which we have been working for the past several decades, and getting our hands dirty. This means organising ourselves politically. In the meantime, we need to ensure that those who propose to do us less harm must get our votes. As perverse as this might sound, it’s the only realistic option available to us. Once they start amending the Constitution, there’s no knowing what will happen next, so let’s not be regretful in a year’s time because we couldn’t be bothered to spare a few hours on Election Day 2019.