After heating up my spaghetti, leftovers from the previous night's dinner prepared by my lovely wife, we sat down to discuss the issue. He had concluded from my writing that it was my contention that the only way to change a government with which one disagreed was through revolution, specifically violent revolution. I said that that was not the message that I intended to convey with my writing. Instead, my writing was premised upon the language in the Declaration of Independence stating (implicitly) that a just government governs with/at the consent of the governed, and I consider the act of not voting a withdrawal of consent.
At this point, he almost laughed at me and told me that I was sadly mistaken if I thought that any government would give up its power simply because the people failed to vote it into power. In fact, it would be easy and quite likely for a government to regard low voter turnout as apathy, not principled opposition to it. I think that any government, if it intends to pay any fidelity to the concept of the rule of law, would be hard pressed to continue "ruling" if nobody voted, but I conceded the point. However, I continued to argue that to continue to vote would perpetuate said government because the nature of government, over the long term, is to grow regardless of the particular office holders at any given time. He conceded this point. So, I asked him, "if voting is not an effective means to limit government over the long term, and one does not wish to engage in violent revolution, then what alternative does one have?"
He posed a different question, trying to further understand. "If one refused to vote on laws (think speed limits, drug prohibitions, and the like)," he asked, "is one exempt from following those laws?" I replied that regardless of my answer, in breaking these laws, one would find his case being adjudicated in a court instituted by the very government charged with enforcing them. That court's very existence is based on the legitimacy of the government, so a defense based on the illegitimacy of the government would likely be untenable.
This ultimately led back to the idea of revolution as the only viable means by which to oppose a government. I was still not willing to budge on this issue; I could not, in good conscience, advocate violence. In the end, we agreed on two points:
- Violent revolution may be the only viable means of opposing a government; however, it is an illegitimate remedy for someone who votes.
- The act of not voting is not necessarily a withdrawal of consent. For example, there are those who do not vote because they just do not care who governs or how.
[Let me be explicitly clear. I am not, in any way, advocating violence, even in the face of failed attempts at peaceful resistance or resolution.]