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Mill’s Consideration on Voting in Contemporary American Democracy

“His vote is not a thing in which he has an option; it has no more to do with his personal wishes than the verdict of a juryman. It is strictly a matter of duty; he is bound to give it according to his best and most conscientious opinion of the public good. Whoever has any other idea of it is unfit to have the suffrage…” (Considerations on Representative Government, X: 299)

For as much onus as Mill thrusts unto individual voters in order to emphasize the significant sociopolitical ramifications of voting within a framework of universal suffrage, I tend to think that this kind of suffrage should not be stipulated upon the kinds of expectations and obligations of jurors. Not only do I disagree with Mill’s take here philosophically, I find his analogy between jurors and voters rather dubious, particularly in the contemporary context of American democracy.

The individualism and competition fostered in our economic system, our culture, and our society at large have provided for a wealth disparity greater than that of pre-revolution France. What’s more, the United States government is arrested by a political stagnancy that was considered by Mill to be the bane of state stability. Here come into play the detriments of representative democracy, as well as Unger’s theoretical pursuit of destabilization to the effect of an evolved democracy.

For even under a unified government, Americans in crisis would be daft to expect a raise in the federal minimum wage to one just above the poverty level. Even though grounded economists and specialists consistently acknowledge the comprehensive socioeconomic advantages therein. Even though any wage raises would be made incrementally over half a decade. Even though a federal minimum wage raise is something that an overwhelming majority of Americans support. Even though the last federal consideration of inflation while raising the minimum wage was over fifty years ago. This is all in consequence of corruption and an aversion to the novel, even in procedure.

The American people have been nothing but burdened by the financial and public health crises our government continues to sanction through its brazen efforts in neoliberalizing. Mill’s ideal of a citizen electorate well educated by its government and society is one that is simply beyond the capacity of the systems and processes to which we have gradually consented. Rather than providing education, the powers that be pummel into the American public propaganda in the interest of bolstering existing class dynamics.

This propaganda, a concerted orchestration of the government, media, and corporate oligarchs, is meant not only to placate the masses, but to distract us with identity politics and trivial pursuits of aligning ourselves with a criminal ruling class. It makes sense, then, that individuals in this society would (and perhaps should) vote to ensure their personal interests in the Madisonian tradition. In reality, however, this is a problem that presents itself in tens of millions of people thinking state welfare is directly antagonistic to their programmed conceptions of freedom.

There is merit to be found in the school of thought that proselytizes a generationally transcendent greater good being the responsibility of each member of society. There is also merit to be found in the intellectual elitism Mill posits in his philosophies of governance. However, here lies a glaring contradiction. If it is the responsibility of a government to educate its citizens and impart unto them the primacy of public welfare, then it also becomes the obligation of a government to accept and respond to the will of the majority under the universal suffrage that government has awarded. Surely, if a society has earnestly devoted the time and resources to educating its public, the individual values therein will already be aligned with those that promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Conversely, if the corrupt government of an empirically failed state, such as our own, disseminates insidious lies and actively pursues gaslighting over justice, individual values will be forged in the flames of identity politics and voters will be inclined to solely look out for the best interests of their immediate communities. Of course, these interests are often misguided in consequence of the aforementioned lies being emboldened by political actors and government agents. This model necessarily forces interest groups to play a larger role in government than Mill might have found acceptable.

All things considered, it should not be the responsibility of the voter, particularly the modern American voter, to substantively weigh broad policy ramifications while voting. As Mill well knew, not every citizen has access to — or even the faculties to process — nuanced analyses in relation to social or economic policies. In the United States, this public disconnect is not only exacerbated, but exploited by our government and economic system. And when it comes down to our lawmakers and the Biden administration considering, during an unprecedented time of need, raising the minimum wage over the next five years to $15 per hour, Democrats will lean on the opinion of an undemocratically appointed parliamentarian they could easily ignore in order to block legislation they never truly wanted in the first place.

My point here is that the people have no political party looking out for them in government, they have no independent journalists looking out for them in main stream media, and they have no strong networks of unions to actually fight for their rights. Individualism and competition are so engrained in our society that the expectation of citizens voting for others is one beyond reason. Moreover, it shouldn’t be the individual who is obligated to improve governance and the station of his fellow citizens. This is a state obligation that is derelict in this country, as the imperative of public education has been co-opted by a neoliberal agenda.

If we expect our citizenry to vote in the genuine interest of the public good, the people must first be institutionally acquainted with many of the sociopolitical and socioeconomic nuances of certain policies. As this has never been the prerogative of our government, it is not reasonable to expect an enlightened electorate under the conditionally universal suffrage the United Sates awards. Our concern, therefore, shouldn’t lie in the elevation of the moral fiber of individuals, it should be channeled toward combatting the corruption and stagnancy in our government that render voting futile.