In his latest Substack post Glenn suggests something I’ve been in favor of myself for years now.
Vivek Ramaswamy Channels Robert Heinlein, and Me
Raising the voting age, and demanding a commitment
So Vivek Ramaswamy is channeling a weird mix of me and Robert Heinlein with his new voting age proposal. (Hey, he could do worse).
The proposal is that the voting age should be raised to 25 by constitutional amendment (necessary to overcome the 26th Amendment, passed in 1971, which set the voting age at 18). Younger people could vote, but only if they had served in the military or as first responders, or if they could pass the same test given to foreigners applying for U.S. citizenship.
The first part of the proposal echoes a column I wrote some years ago about raising the voting age. After some unfortunate events at Yale and the University of Missouri, I wrote:
To be a voter, one must be able to participate in adult political discussions. It’s necessary to be able to listen to opposing arguments and even — as I’m doing right here in this column — to change your mind in response to new evidence.
This evidence suggests that, whatever one might say about the 18-year-olds of 1971, the 18-year-olds of today aren’t up to that task. And even the 21-year-olds aren’t looking so good.
We tend to treat voting as an act of self-expression, but it is also, in a sense, an act of violence. It is both a sort of proxy for violence, measuring the size of the forces on either side of an issue, and it leads, eventually, to real violence, since voting establishes the mechanism for passing and instituting laws that will eventually be enforced with violence. (As my old law professor Stephen Carter says, when you want a law passed, you say that you’d be willing to kill the people who don’t obey your wishes. That it’s at second hand, through the institution of government, doesn’t make it less violent, just less obvious.)
So we want voters to be reasonably informed, and capable of mature judgment. (At present it looks as if a college education may often actually make them less capable of mature judgment).
Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, in his famous novel Starship Troopers, envisioned a society where voters, too, had to demonstrate their patriotism before being allowed to vote. In his fictional society, the right to vote came only after some kind of dangerous public service — in the military, as a volunteer in dangerous medical experiments, or in other ways that demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice personally for the common good. The thought was that such voters would be more careful, and less selfish, in their voting.
That seems to be at the core of Ramaswamy’s proposal for letting people with military or first responder service vote sooner. Military service is a sort of “expensive signaling” of one’s willingness to serve the nation even at high personal cost. Such people are, on average, likely to be more public spirited.
The part of Ramaswamy’s proposal that I’m least enthusiastic about is the citizenship test. America had those sorts of tests before, and in the abstract they sound fine, even laudable. But historically they were applied/graded very unfairly, so as to disadvantage marginalized groups (chiefly, but by no means exclusively, blacks) and keep them from voting. I have no faith in the institutions that would apply and grade such tests today.
In the days following our Founding the franchise was limited to landowners, based on the idea that, pace Heinlein, they’d earned the right to vote via having what one might call skin in the game. After reading Starship Troopers about, oh, a dozen times, the relentless drumbeat advocating endless expansion of the franchise started to clang quite discordantly in my ear. The problem we have, it seemed to me, isn’t that not enough Americans vote, but that way too many of them do.
And most of them do so ignorantly, almost blindly, without even the most cursory of nods towards researching the candidates, the relevant issues, and the positions on said issues espoused by a given candidate. They pull the lever for the name that’s most familiar to them—or the incumbent, depending on the particular voter’s level of awareness—and go home congratulating themselves on having done their civic duty so nobly, so selflessly. Then, they forget the whole ordeal until another four years have flown by.
Well, bollocks to all that rot. With millions upon millions of complete stupes voting not their convictions or the issues they care most about, but based entirely on who they’ve seen on TeeWee the most during the month or so they’ve actually been paying any attention to politics whatsoever, is it any wonder the Republic is in the dire shape it now is?
Bottom line: Limbaugh used to rail about “Low Information Voters,” but it’s my carefully-considered opinion that no healthy polity ought to allow those Low-Infornation types to vote in the first place. If it does, it won’t BE healthy for very long. Most of these LIVs couldn’t tell you who James Madison or John Jay was, much less what the guy running for their State House or Senate thinks about anything.
But hey, he’s the one with the nice hair and smile, right?
Pshaw. I know, I know, just another of the myriad things that ain’t ever gonna happen, not a snowball’s chance of it. But still—I’m right just the same, and you damned well know I am too.