As America rallies to elect its 44th President in less than a month, Americans are once again swimming in a sea of misinformation and equivocation regarding the nature of democracy and our right to vote (which absurdly has somehow come to mean our obligation to vote). Most of this confusion could be easily avoided if we took the time to carefully define our terms and clarify our understanding:
What is Democracy?
The answer to that is very simple: Democracy is a system of government run by elected officials. That's it. What Democracy essentially says is "might makes right" where "might" means "numbers." If enough people vote for something in a Democracy, then it comes to pass. At present, the oldest surviving Democracy is the United States of America. Another example would be Athenian Democracy (you know- the one that killed Socrates?). Another would be Hitler's Third Reich, which rose to power with the electoral support of a plurality of the German citizenry (that would be the one that tried to conquer the world and that killed 12 million people in concentration camps). These are all examples of democracies.
From Cox and Forkum
Why should I agree to trade one tyrant three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants one mile away? -Benjamin Martin (played by Mel Gibson) in The Patriot
What isn't Democracy?
Though we often use the word "Democracy" when we mean "liberal government" (and I am using the word "liberal" here in its classical sense, meaning "free" or "pertaining to Freedom"), it is incorrect to equate Democracy with Freedom. The two don't always come together in the same package. The simple act of voting in itself does not entail freedom. In fact, it can be (and is) used to curb and violate the freedoms of minorities who don't have enough votes to defend themselves. This is why spreading Democracy overseas does America little good, because spreading Democracy does not mean spreading Freedom. As Fareed Zakaria is often credited with pointing out, the democracies we create overseas can easily become illiberal democracies.
A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine. -Thomas Jefferson
Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few. -George Bernard Shaw
Your right not to vote.
Some Americans can go a little overboard with all of their "Get out and vote!" rhetoric. Many have turned your right to vote into your obligation to vote, and look down their noses at people who don't. You can see the absurdity by applying the same reasoning to other rights: Freedom of speech means that you must tell us all what's on your mind. If you don't you're ungrateful. Freedom of assembly means you must be a member of at least one organization. The right to bear arms means you should own a gun, or else you're insulting the blood of all those soldiers who died for you to enjoy this right! Doesn't quite make sense, does it?
There are perfectly good reasons not to go out and vote. For example, you might just not like any of the candidates. Imagine an election where Hitler ran against Stalin. Would you really go out and vote for one of them? I wouldn't and if someone actually voted for one of those two and tried to judge me afterwards, I'd just laugh. Now I'm not saying any of our presidential candidates are morally or politically equivalent to Hitler or Stalin. I know those are extreme examples, but they still serve to illustrate my point. Frankly, four or eight years from now, I'd rather not say that I helped either one of our current candidates into office. And yes... you still have a right to complain even if you don't vote.
The best argument against democracy is a five-minute talk with the average voter. -Winston Churchill