In his recent piece in the New Statesman Russell Brand advises his readers he they ought not to vote. I think he is wrong and will very briefly take a quick look at his arguments for this claim.
As far as I can tell Brand basically has three reasons/arguments for not voting:
1) The complicity argument – by voting one becomes complicit in the inequity of the political system, so you shouldn’t vote.
2) The ineffectiveness of voting argument – voting is ineffective as a means of social revolution so it is pointless to vote.
3) The Consciousness argument – Real change in society requires a change of consciousness not merely voting, so voting doesn’t matter.
Unfortunately I’m in the middle of teaching and have time to do reconstructions and of these arguments and analyze them in more detail, but maybe that isn’t necessary. As much as I love what Russell Brand is doing, what he stands for, and how he is using his platform I think he is dead wrong on the issue of voting.
In short, the problem with the first line of reasoning is that not acting is a kind of action so by not voting it looks like you are complicit as well. So, you can’t avoid complicity by merely not voting. I think Brand may be getting voting confused with participating in a global capitalist system. I think there are very real moral questions about complicity in the injustices perpetrated by the global economic system but I don’t see how not voting is the right response to those. I think Brand gets the two confused.
The problem with the second is that it is just not true. Voting has brought about powerful changes in society. We haven’t come nearly far enough and we do need radical changes but voting does bring about positive change and if more people voted we could have change more quickly.
The third argument has some truth to it but the conclusion doesn’t follow. It is true that we need ethical leaders, think Plato’s philosopher king, but that is precisely the reason we should vote, so we can get people in office who are closer to the ideal.
I guess I would also add is that voting does not preclude other forms of activism. Direct activism can and should be used to put pressure on elected officials.
Ultimately I’m assuming Brand wants to see a more egalitarian democracy, but still a democracy. In the western world there is no monarchy or dictatorship that needs to be overthrown we just need to make the current system more just.