Two-Choice Tyranny


In these United States, we are proud of our nontotalitarian system. We call ourselves a “democracy,” and — good for us! — we have actual choices. But how many of us really know that?

A totalitarian political system is, essentially, an exclusive operation: a done deal. What makes it totalitarian is that it serves a closed system of big-government power. But is our own, in its present condition, so very different? It certainly offers us a proposition more seductive than the mailed-fist slam dunk of power characteristic of North Korea, Nazi Germany, or the former Soviet Union. Since we get two choices instead of one, we are assured that we are truly “free to choose.”

Those choices are, however, very narrowly defined. We are pressed to choose only between the two offered by the powers-that-be. The state monopoly on legalized force still needs to keep us contained within borders enabling it to hold its power without any real opposition.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney . . . how many millions of people do we have in this country? Yet these are the two candidates between whom we have to choose? Obama and Romney can honestly be said to represent the best, the smartest, the highest to which our chief executive may aspire?

Excuse my sacrilege against popular piety, but I must revise a line from that Lee Greenwood song that’s played every national holiday to get us all glowy: “God help the U.S.A.”

My friends know I’m a libertarian, so they generally indulge my eccentricities. But lately they’ve been getting very tired of me. I simply won’t fall into line and declare my allegiance to either major party. I don’t like either one of them, and I refuse to accept that my choice must be limited to such a gruesome twosome.

I participate in a local group of gay conservatives, and this group generously embraces libertarians. Most of the time. They’re not so sure about us now. I’ve been stirring up trouble on our blog, and have been sternly chastised for being “rude.”

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney . . . how many millions of people do we have in this country? Yet these are the two candidates between whom we have to choose?

I probably could have been nicer to the commenters with whom I tangled — one of whom I’ve since met, and is quite nice — but my blood is up. I’m the oldest member of the group, and I’ve been hearing the same mindnumbing and intelligence-insulting “either/or” ultimatum in every presidential election for 24 years. Ronald Reagan (for whom I voted both times, in the first two elections in which I was old enough to vote) entered office with the very best of intentions. He was thwarted at nearly every turn, not only by those dastardly liberals but by big-government “conservatives” in his own party. George W. Bush was certainly no small-government devotee, but he might have been nudged farther in that direction had he not spent all his time being dictated to by war hawks and religious zealots.

Republicans’ choices are being dictated to them by Republicans, and Democrats’ by Democrats. There is no evil “other side” bewitching them into behaving like soldiers in an army of zombies. We are tyrannizing ourselves.

We get a feel for the narrowing of the funnel — the constriction of the process — in the constant reminders that “we could have been stuck with Rick Santorum,” the GOP’s runner-up for presidential nominee. “No,” I tell my Republican friends, “you could have been stuck with Rick Santorum.” I am only slightly more likely to vote for Mitt, come November, than I would have been for Little Ricky, so I may not choose to stick myself with either of them. But come November, we are all going to be stuck with somebody few of us can stand. Again.

I sense fatalism in my friends’ repeated rationalizations for their conformity. “This is simply the way it is,” they tell me. When I ask them why they think so, they look at me the way they might look at a 3-year-old who’s asked them why ponies can’t fly.

They seem to think that of the millions of Republicans in the United States, the only two of presidential timber were Romney and Santorum. The multitude was scared away from even considering Ron Paul, the evil Doctor No. And Gary Johnson couldn’t get the media to ask him about any subject other than marijuana, so the country has never found out why he would be a possible choice (and, I still believe, the best one). For three and a half years, Republicans have been gathering forces to battle the Obama Antichrist, yet this is the best they can do?

The choice, as always under a two-choice tyranny, comes down not to a fight for principles but to the preservation of power. The only principle that big government mandarins care about is power. Citizens of the former Soviet Union were unhappy because they knew they had no choices. We are pacified in our servitude by the myth that two choices mean freedom, simply because two choices are — theoretically — better than one. But if both choices serve a closed big-government system, we may rightly ask whether our victory in the Cold War was truly all it’s been cracked up to be.

Eventually, Soviet citizens grew so unhappy that they forced a revolution. We may well question what’s become of it, but at least they’ve replaced their old tyrants with some new ones. Perhaps, when people live for too long under tyranny of any sort, they lose the will to be truly free and are content with the illusion of freedom. Like frogs in water brought to a boil too slowly to perceive the rising heat, will we make the leap out of the kettle before we’re cooked?

Share This



Approval voting or (even better) range voting are the best ways to do that, along with deregulating campaign finance and better ballot access laws.

Fred Mangels

Most of these ideas suggest that by changing the way we elect our representatives we'll achieve something close to libertopia. I'd submit that there's no real significant advantage to any of them as they all have the potential to end up with the same outcome. After all, electing by popular vote might well result in the same candidates winning as using an electoral college. In fact, that's usually the way it works.

I'd suggest it's not so important how we elect people, or what issues they campaign on but what they do after they get elected.

"Fifty-one percent of a nation can establish a totalitarian regime, suppress minorities and still remain democratic." - Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.

Rodney Choate, P.E.

The method chosen to run elections is NOT inconsequential!

I'm not any expert on voting schemes. In fact, over the last few days I've exposed myself to a few additional methods I hadn't seen before! Surprisingly to me (and I think any other very keen observer), one thing that all the spoken-for methods have in common is that they (the methods) attempt to assure that, ultimately, the candidate who an absolute majority of voters would prefer does win the election- thus giving the "majority of idiots" their way EVERY TIME. At the extreme of these methods is "proportional representation", where all factions with enough political power get to elect a representative, thus packing the legislative branch with a bunch of statists (that is the motive of proportional represenatation).

I am simply proposing something different, something our state has used for a long time- the "two step runoff system". In this method the two top vote getters in an open primary proceed to the runoff election, where the winner gets 50+% of the vote, there. In this sytem the "primary" is NOT strictly democratic. It is not a guarantee that either one of the two candidates will be one that 51% of the voters "really wanted". Indeed, the runoff election doesn't have the same set of voters as the primary. All statists hate this system I'm proposing.

What I'm speaking for really bothers some people, but I don't see that it should. What I'm proposing is a way to stop the "majority of idiots" from controlling our society the way they do now.

Fred Mangels

That sort of primary, if I'm reading you correctly, is exactly what California tried for the first time last election. All candidates are on one ballot and voters cast their vote for one of them, regardless of party.

The two with the most votes win and move on to the primary. The result can be two Democrats or two Republicans facing off against each other in the General Election, which is exactly what happened in some districts.

No big change. In fact, no change at all in the outcome as far as I can see. Incumbents are still likely to win the vast majority of races.

Rodney Choate, P.E.

Thank you for providing those observations.

The situation you describe in some California districts is just like in the Old South, where Democrats always won there too. It would be wrong to devise a system that completely negated the will of the people- that would be called dictatorship. I'm not shocked or disturbed by your report from California.

I simply promote the two-step runoff system. It is not a magic pill, but of all the systems I've heard of, I think it gives a principled alternative candidate the BEST shot at giving the establishment a run for their money. It achieves this by the first step in the method (the primary) not being strictly democratic. All other systems are ultra democratic with their nature being to knock out alternative candidates. The exception to this last statement being the "plurality system", which is grotesque, and the one we are stuck with now in the presidential election, in the states.

Thanks for the opportunity to further explain my ideas to anyone who might be interested.

© Copyright 2020 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.