Last week, I wrote a column about universal suffrage that provoked campus-wide outrage (“Universal suffrage is immoral,” Nov. 13). I have not read enough of the comments to determine if more people believe I am Mussolini or Stalin – Hitler was thrown in a few times for good measure.
Some responses from readers were respectable criticisms of my argument, but most distorted my message. I will now address a few of the misrepresentations.
First, many claimed that I am arguing that some people are superior to others. I never made a claim about any person’s self-worth. I argued if somebody pays more in taxes, he or she should have more voting power. But my critics inferred that more voting power implies superiority. My view, incidentally, is every person deserves respect as an individual, and no person is any better than anyone else.
Second, I was lectured about my misunderstanding of democracy and America’s founding tenets. Yes, my proposal is undemocratic. But the United States of America was not meant to be a democracy. In fact, the founders despised democracy. James Madison, the “father of the Constitution,” argued in the famous Federalist 10 that democracy is an undesirable form of government, incompatible with “personal security or the rights of property.”
The founders established a republic, not a democracy, and deliberately did not give a vote to everyone. In the original text of the Constitution, those eligible to vote for representatives in the House “had to have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.” Then, many states only allowed the vote to white male property owners. U.S. senators were appointed by state legislatures. I am not endorsing the voting restrictions at the time of our founding. I am pointing out that universal suffrage was not among America’s founding principles.
Third, many say the government acts on non-economic as well as economic issues, so it is wrong to apportion the vote based on economic contribution. There is no such thing as a non-economic issue. Any government action, even if not explicitly economic, must be implemented or enforced with some mechanism – a court system, for example. This costs money. Thus, the government is only able to act to the degree of expected tax revenue collected. Therefore, the “non-economic argument” offers little resistance to apportioning the vote by taxes.
Fourth, many claim that my voting scheme prevents upward mobility. History disagrees. The late 19th-century United States, the “awful” Gilded Age that I want to drag us back to, witnessed the greatest increase in the standard of living of the average man than any other time period. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average annual income of nonfarm workers rose by 75 percent from 1865 to 1900, after adjusting for inflation. Between 1860 and 1900, America’s per capita wealth increased from $500 to $1,100. Government during the Gilded Age was very limited. The government did little besides maintaining tariffs and the postal service. The tremendous economic growth benefiting the average man in the late 19th century was not a result of votes at the ballot box.
Finally, I was, of course, called a racist. It is true that my proposal would give more voting power to whites than non-whites. This is an effect of the proposal – the purpose is not racist. The effect of choosing the fastest runners for the U.S. Olympic Sprinting Team leads the team’s roster to have a disproportionate number of African Americans. Does that mean the act of choosing the fastest sprinters is racist?
To address the situation as a whole, I would like to end with a quote from Ruth Simmons, former Brown president.
“When I was your age … I was passionate in my views, particularly about the manifest evil of apartheid and its adherents in South Africa. One day … in a classroom discussion about apartheid, in which every student in the classroom agreed with me that apartheid was corrupt and indefensible, a lone young white South African woman spoke up in class and defended (apartheid). I have now forgotten all the comments of those in the class who spoke against the horror of apartheid, a hideous system that has now been justly abolished. But I have never forgotten these simple words spoken in opposition to my own. They taught me more about the need for discourse in the learning process than all the books I subsequently read. And I have regretted for 30 years that I did not engage this woman’s assertions instead of dismissing her as racist … Those moments will come to you in this place. You can look away, you can turn away when they do, or you can engage them and not look back 30 years later wishing that you had the opportunity to do it.”
Oliver Hudson ’14 may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this column included a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson stating, “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49.” While this quote has been attributed to Jefferson in the past, it has not been verified and historical sources contain no record of it. Due to its unknown origin, it has been removed from the column.