Politics Is Beneath Contempt

by David E. Shellenberger on October 1, 2015

I share economist Donald J. Boudreaux’s view of politics: “repulsive and beneath contempt.”

I also share his view of politicians:

As a rule, politicians are untrustworthy, duplicitous, and cowardly; they are people who have an unusually powerful craving for power and fame; and the successful among them typically possess an unusual talent for camouflaging their craving for power and fame as a saintly calling to ‘serve the people.’

The current presidential campaign season in the United States is well underway. If the election process serves any constructive purpose, it is to demonstrate the despicable nature of politics and politicians.

The State and its Politicians

The fundamental problem is the existence of the state, an illegitimate institution. It is natural that the state attracts the worst people to harness its power.

States are not like criminal organizations; they are criminal organizations. The acceptance of states’ claim to legitimacy makes them the most dangerous criminal organizations.

The presidential candidates are all well-qualified — for crime. Their ignorance is fathomless, their need for power is pathological, and their scruples are undetectable.

The Media

The media cover politics as news, while treating campaigns as entertainment and politicians as gladiators. The correct category for political coverage is crime — con men scheming for power.

Ignorant of economics and oblivious to morality, the media blindly flail in their reporting and analysis of politics. Unable to comprehend substance, they focus on style. Unwilling to question premises, they regard popularity as legitimacy.

Watch the absurdity as reporters and pundits ponder candidates’ pronouncements. Politicians’ opinions are worthless. Wisdom is not a qualification for running for office. The opposite is true: the quest for illicit power reflects the absence of wisdom.

The media serve as the state’s cheerleaders. Their vacuity makes them perfect tools.

The Mob

The mob encourages politicians’ worst ideas. It applauds idiocy with delight, bigotry with smug cruelty, and the promised theft of liberty with thanks. It views freedom as controversial and the growth of state power as commendable.

The state appreciates the mob’s stupidity, but does not reciprocate its affection. It mocks the mob, viewing it as a force to be tricked and exploited. The state serves itself and its cronies, accommodating the mob only as necessary.


H.L. Mencken put elections in the proper perspective: “The plain fact is that government is always an imposition.  It represents in the last analysis a conquest, and when that conquest is made with ballots they are no more than surrogates for bullets.”

Ballots are more than a surrogate for bullets, however. They signify the legitimacy of the use of bullets. As Professor Boudreaux observes, the state “will not hesitate to load real guns with real bullets in order to force the losers to obey the winners’ commands.

Voting is immoral. As Aaron Ross Powell notes, voters are “not just expressing a preference …, but also expressing a desire to see that preference made, through the application of violence or the threat of violence, the law of the land.”

Mr. Powell dismisses the rationalizations for voting:

You may think there are good reasons for doing this, that a world where you vote for violations of basic human dignity and autonomy will be more livable — happier, freer, wealthier, more equal — than one where you don’t. But you’re still party to countless immoralities. You’re still expressing approval as politicians fail to live up to basic moral standards — and as they do so in your name.

Voting is not only immoral, but also foolish and undignified. It accommodates the state, encouraging its false legitimacy, and degrades our dignity.

Rejecting Politics

Reject politics. Debates, polls, and elections are distractions from what can be.

Historian Will Durant wrote,

Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks.

Politics is in the stream. Liberation will come on the banks.

Embrace a vision of liberty — life without rulers.

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