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Voting Rights and Suffrage

What have religious and philosophical traditions contributed to our understanding of this right?


Millian Utilitarianism 🖉 edit

John Stuart Mill’s widely read philosophical essay On Liberty uses Utilitarianism to analyze politics and civil society. Of the will of the nation, or the nation’s people, Mill says: “Let the rulers be effectually responsible to it, promptly removable by it, and it could afford to trust them with power of which it could itself dictate the use to be made.” In other words, Mill shares Bentham’s belief that a nation’s leadership must be responsive to the needs of its citizenry. Broad suffrage ensures that ineffective leaders are punished by a democratic removal from power. On Liberty indicates Mill’s endorsement of democratic ideals generally but says relatively little about which members of society should have the right to vote. Some of his later work, however, sheds more light on the subject.

Mill addresses the issue of gender inequality head-on in The Subjection of Women. He begins with the blanket statement that “The legal subordination of one sex to the other – is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hinderances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality.” Mill demands proof from those arguing that the legal subjugation of women is somehow beneficial to society. He elaborates on his own reasoning in saying: “By leaving them the free choice of their employments, and opening to them the same field of occupation and the same prizes and encouragements as to other human beings, would be that of doubling the mass of mental faculties available for the higher service of humanity.” Mill’s Utilitarian outlook can be followed here, as he argues for social and legal changes that would maximize both pleasure of productivity throughout society. The piece, published in 1869, goes on to discuss the suffragette movement that had been occurring in England throughout that decade. Mill remarks that “recently many thousands of them, headed by the most eminent women known to the public, have petitioned Parliament for their admission to the Parliamentary Suffrage.” Mill did not only contribute to the movement through his writing, but took had taken a more active role in 1867 when he spoke to the House of Commons on the suffragettes’ behalf. While women’s suffrage was unpopular among most English men of his day, Mill argued boldly: “There is nothing to distract our attention from the simple question, whether there is any adequate justification for continuing to exclude an entire half of the community, not only from admission, but from the capability of being ever admitted within the pale of the Constitution.” John Stuart Mill’s written works and his advocacy in British Parliament demonstrates his commitment to the expansion of suffrage.


Mill, John Stuart. 1867. “On the Admission of Women to the Electoral Franchise.” Women’s Suffrage and the Media. May 20, 1867.

Mill, John Stuart. 1859. On Liberty. London: John W. Parker and Son, West Strand.

Mill, John Stuart. 1869. The Subjection of Women. London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer.

Benthamite Utilitarianism 🖉 edit

Often called the father of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham posited the foundational form of the philosophy, which had a focus on the quantity of pleasures that would result from an action. In practice, this would qualify an act as “ethical” if it brought pleasure to a relatively large number of people. Individuals obtain pleasure in the context of suffrage when they are able to freely exercise their right to vote, and even more so when their favored candidate wins. Theoretically, the more people that are able to cast a vote, the more people can access the pleasures associated with suffrage. Following this logic, a Utilitarian such as Bentham would be expected to support widespread voting rights and robust legal protections for them. Speaking on the right of the public to criticize government officials, Bentham writes:

Every man is at liberty to express as well by visible as by audible signs, and in any way and to any extent to make public, whatsoever in his judgment it will be contributory to the greatest happiness of the greatest number to be informed of: and this although disapprobation be thereby expressed towards persons in authority, or any of them, whether on account of the general tenor of their conduct, or on account of their conduct on this or that occasion in particular (Bentham 1838, p.584).

Government accountability and public scrutiny are recurring themes in Bentham’s writing. In discussing the role of citizens, he writes: “Operating thus as judges, the members of this same community may, in their aggregate capacity, be considered as constituting a sort of judicatory or tribunal” (Ibid., p.561). Voting rights make this public tribunal effective by giving citizens the power to make officials responsive to their needs. Bentham elaborates on the makeup of this electorate in saying: “Taken in its utmost latitude, this tribunal would include all of them without exception. But, of no question, on any occasion, can any such multitude, in such their capacity, by physical possibility, actually take cognizance. Those less than a certain age, and the infirm, for example, not to mention any other classes, cannot but be excepted” (Ibid., p.561). Bentham expresses no desire to restrict political participation to a certain class of citizens based on gender or race. Instead, he simply weighs the practical considerations of who can and cannot vote based on age and physical or mental capacity. Bentham’s writing seems to indicate his support for universal suffrage with some clarity.


Bentham, Jeremy. 1838. The Works of Jeremy Bentham. Edited by John Bowring. Vol. 8. 11 vols. Edinburgh: William Tait.

Pragmatism 🖉 edit

The philosophical school of pragmatism relies on the success of practical application to determine truth (McDermid, n.d.). Pragmatism has been applied most frequently to social and political issues since being linked to civic interaction by American philosopher John Dewey (Talisse 2014, p.123). This seems straightforward, however it proves difficult to objectively evaluate the success of something abstract, such as voting rights. The pragmatist would support voting rights if they were considered practical for society or were seen as making society function in a better way. Establishing the extent to which democracy makes life “better” is no simple task. Comparative political scientists have long debated which metrics offer the best comparisons of quality of life between democracies and autocracies. Likewise, Dewey and his pragmatist contemporaries explored the ways in which suffrage shapes civil and political society.

John Dewey’s political philosophy embraced democracy as a solution for social and political disfunction. Modern pragmatists like Robert Talisse have used the term “Deweyan Democratic Perfectionism” to reference Dewey’s idealistic theory about suffrage perfecting the function of society (Talisse 2014, p.123). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy links Dewey’s pragmatism to his political stances, reading: “As a public intellectual, Dewey was a supporter of such causes as women’s suffrage and the Settlement House movement” (Festenstein, 2019). Dewey also served as an early member and co-sponsor of organizations like the ACLU and NAACP, both of which have long fought to expand suffrage and defend minority voters against disenfranchisement. This political advocacy work speaks to the ways that pragmatism guided Dewey’s support for voting rights. In thinking that democracy can lead to perfection in society, the pragmatist would certainly support the rights of all citizens to vote. “While Dewey sometimes refers rather scathingly to the ‘machinery’ conception of democracy, he is committed to improving this machinery (by supporting the equal distribution of the franchise, for example) rather than merely dismissing it as unimportant” (Festenstein, 2019). The institutional “machine” of democracy allows citizens to pursue their interests in a collective way, and a way that pragmatists see as beneficial to society.

Dewey’s work alone cannot provide a complete understanding of pragmatism’s connections to voting rights. It is also important to consider the ways in which suffrage can shape political events as an outcome of practical application- the pragmatist’s primary tool. Citizens are generally content when their government meets their perceived needs. When public needs are not met, two different possibilities emerge. In democratic societies, citizens exercise their right to vote in a way that rewards those who seek to meet their needs and interests and punishes those who do not by legally stripping them of power. The second possibility occurs when citizens do not have the right to vote yet no longer consent to the way in which they are governed. If needs continue to go unmet, the public has no legal recourse to air their grievances and could eventually make the collective decision to work against their own government. The difference between these two scenarios is the presence of voting rights. Pragmatism dictates that the concept of voting or the ideals of democracy have merit if they succeed in practical application. The voting society described here is successful in that it has measures in place that incorporate and accommodate political dissent. Dewey himself noted that suffrage allows individuals to pursue their own interests while also making civic contributions. We can see this relate once again to Deweyan Democratic Perfectionism, encapsulated here in the idea that “democracy is a way of life in which each individual exercises and cultivates his unique capacities in a way which contributes to the flourishing of the whole society” (Talisse 2014, p.123). The belief in such a level of “perfection” underscores the pragmatic argument in favor of voting rights.

Another well-known pragmatist, William James, also studied pluralism and how it can cause disfunction when not incorporated or accepted politically. With labor strikes as the example in mind, James’ view is described: “Far from being the basis for reconciliation, we see here how the contradictory pluralism within radical empiricism explains the emergence of social insurrection, but also civil war” (Rogers-Cooper 2017, p.257). Labor strikes are an example of what James labels “radical pragmatism” because the workers seek to disrupt typical societal function but do so because it appears to them a pragmatic and effective type of political activity. If the workers are instead presented with the option to voice their approval and disapproval by voting (and they have faith that the voting system is fair and equal), then they are likely to take that option rather than bear the costs of insurrection. James’ outlook is likened to a theory known as formal democratic enclosure, which states that “elections operate ‘at the level of the demonstration’ to prevent ‘outlaw’ forms of collective politics” (Rogers-Cooper 2017, p.244). In other words, the “outlaw” approaches like strikes and insurrections are made to appear impractical if citizens feel they can express themselves sufficiently through voting. The citizens are thereby “enclosed” into the formal, regulated spheres of democracy and kept away from the populist democratic uprisings that threaten order and stability. In relation to pragmatism, James’ outlook seems to prioritize societal function similar to Dewey’s. He indicates that voting rights are beneficial as a bulwark against explicit class conflict and revolutionary sentiment.

Through the analytic lens of pragmatism, democratic choice and voting rights seem to excel. Because it reduces the threat of class conflict and improves public health outcomes, there is much evidence to conclude that suffrage improves societal function. Professor and philosophy scholar Dr. John R. Shook writes: “Pragmatism can criticize the mistakes of public democracy, but at the same time pragmatism praises public democracy as the best form of government that has been invented at this time” (2010, p.12). Given that pragmatism hinges on the results of practical application, modern democracies serve as natural experiments which provide adequate evidence that voting rights are advantageous to society.


Festenstein, Matthew. 2019. “Dewey’s Political Philosophy.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Winter 2019. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2019/entries/dewey-political/.

McDermid, Douglas. n.d. “Pragmatism: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed July 15, 2021. https://iep.utm.edu/pragmati/.

Rogers-Cooper, Justin. “Truth Written In Hell Fire: William James and the Destruction of Gotham.” William James Studies 13, no. 2 (2017): 240-81. Accessed August 3, 2021. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26493681.

Shook, John R. 2010. “Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Public Democracy.” Revue française d'études américaines. 124 (2): 11–28.

Talisse, Robert B. 2014. “Pragmatist Political Philosophy.” Philosophy Compass 9 (2): 123–30. https://doi.org/10.1111/phc3.12102.

Ancient Chinese Philosophy 🖉 edit


Confucianism presents that a virtuous person, and therefore a virtuous society, can only come about through the understanding of an individual’s place within their society, and the eager participation in the rites and rituals of the society by that individual (Mark, 2020). If both these things are realized, there will be a righteous and happy culture. The two major parts of understanding one’s place in their social system is honoring ones familial and social superiors: “Filial piety and fraternal submission,--are they not the root of all benevolent actions?” (Analects, 1.2). Within the Analects, there are many rules emphasizing the actions and attitudes one must take to those one should honor. Confucianism proposes that interest in oneself is limiting and: “To subdue one’s self and return to propriety, is perfect virtue”.

This importance on the collective can harshly rub against one of the founding traditions towards the right to vote, as the right usually implies a dissatisfaction found within the current leadership when the right is expressed—certainly the modern origins of voting were led by that dissatisfaction. In fact, the insistence of usurping the power traditionally given to political superiors is greatly disrespectful and damaging under the Confucian view: “The requisites of government are that there be sufficiency of food, sufficiency of military equipment, and the confidence of the people in their ruler” (12.7). Confucianism reveals the highly individual nature of the right to vote which rises from a discontent towards the present politics.

Confucianism can reveal the other, more collective side of the right to vote as well, however. The overcoming of the self is key for Confucianism which is realized when: “…one de-emphasizes the boundaries between oneself and others, and gives one’s own and others’ concerns as much weight as is appropriate to the situation” (Chang & Kalmanson, 2010, pg. 109). This is immanently compatible with the right to vote. Moreover, public rituals were seen as the path towards peace and virtue: “In practicing the rules of [ritual] propriety, a natural ease is to be prized. This is the Way of the ancient kings, a quality of excellence, and in things small and great follow them” (Analects, 1.12). Later: “The management of a state demands the rules of [ritual] propriety” (11.26). Under this lens, the right to vote is a ritual with which the current political and social order is being upheld, as well as an opportunity for citizens to participate together. Confucianism reveals how the right to vote is also a modern ritual of political participation, and Confucianism shows how the right to vote has a paradoxical nature. On the one hand, it is a mechanism that allows citizens to privately disrespect their leaders and voice their resentment with the qualities of their current political system. At the same time, voting also acts as a modern-day ritual that is experienced with other citizens.


Central to Taoism is the full acceptance of the Tao. Describing the Tao is difficult as the very first lines of the Laozi texts state: “The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the ternal Name” (Tao Te Ching, 1). It both creates and holds everything that is existing. With this expansiveness, the ambitions and anxieties of man’s daily life are unimportant and giving them special attention would be a personal mistake: “Heaven and earth are not like humans, they are impartial” (Tao Te Ching, 5). The strivings that people have create a paradoxical relationship between our ambition and their outcomes and this relationship is found all throughout the foundational text: “The pride of wealth and position brings about their own misfortune” (9). What we strive towards will usually bring what we are trying to avoid. The Taoist prescription to this issue is wu wei, which is a type of nonattached, spontaneous action. With wu wei, one doesn’t struggle to get anywhere, rather they are just expressing their natures as part of the Tao: “To win true merit, to preserve just fame, the personality must be retiring. This is the heavenly [Tao]” (9).

The connection between Taoism and the right to vote can be readily made. The Taoist political life and rule is decidedly hands off. If it were intentional and active, one would reach similar problems to the ones that result from striving for things in one’s daily life. The Taoist errs on the side of not-intervening: “Among people the more restrictions and prohibitions there are, the poorer they become…The more laws and orders are issued the more thieves and robbers abound” (57). Later it states: “If a ruler practices wu wei the people will reform themselves” (57). The implication is that the more active a society’s politics is, the worse outcomes will occur for the state and its people. This shows that the Taoist has a preference towards a freer politics where the ruling forces are not apparent: “When great men rule, subjects know little of their existence…How carefully a wise ruler chooses his words. He performs deeds, and accumulates merit! Under such a ruler the people think they are ruling themselves” (17).

As with Confucianism, Taoism provides two insights about the right to vote. On one hand, the right to vote for citizens is a decidedly more emphasized version of the allowance for people’s self-reformation. While this reformation decidedly occurs through the changing of one’s rulers, voting rights allow the people to go their own way, and live according to the ever changing, spontaneous desires and ideas that they hold, and the elected leadership reflects that.

On the other hand, Taoism shows that the right to vote can come from a misguided ambition to change society, usually for unnecessary reasons. It is this discontented impulse which is responsible for the right to vote, and according to Taoism, this impulse brings with it dire consequences. Under this view, voting is unnecessary, and just another expression of man caring for things that are not his business. Of course, voting could also be an act of concession where the voter chooses for what their society already believes and approves of. Voting in this way is not to change anything, but rather to continue what is already present. However, it is arguable that the Taoist would still be against this as this prevents the spontaneous change present in the Tao.


Wonsuk Chang, Leah Kalmanson / Wonsuk Chang. Confucianism in Context: Classic Philosophy and Contemporary Issues, East Asia and Beyond. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010. Confucius, Analects

Laozi, Tao Te Ching

Mark, Joshua J.. "Confucianism." World History Encyclopedia. Last modified July 07, 2020. https://www.worldhistory.org/Confucianism/.

Aristotelian thought 🖉 edit

An Aristotelian approach to voting is complex, in part because democracies of his day functioned differently than those today. Aristotle broke the selection of officials into three main categories. The first was selection of officials by lot in which case office would be open to all citizens. Aristotle viewed selection by lot to be a democratic feature. The second category was selecting officials by means of elections, which he considered to be more oligarchic and aristocratic. The third category was a combination of the first two, in which some members were elected for the purpose of certain matters and others were chosen either by lot from all or by lot from a preselected group, or these two groups worked together in the same offices (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1298b 5).

Aristotle outlined election features of different types of democracies that were considered democratic because of their incorporation of the assembly. The first type would be that in which offices were open to all but would be appointed in turn by magistrates. In this case few things would be decided by all in the assembly, but the assembly would decide on the passage of laws and they would approve or withhold the selection of officials by magistrates. Aristotle did not specifically explain how magistrates would go about selecting officials in this type of democracy (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1298a 9). Another type of democracy was one in which more matters were decided by the assembly, including legislation and selecting offices. Offices would be chosen by lot, except in the cases where an office required a special skill or knowledge, in which case they would be chosen by election (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1298a 24). In the final form of democracy, the assembly would decide all matters. Officials would only be necessary for organizational purposes to ensure the assembly ran properly, and officials would not have final judgment on matters (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1298a 28). In the case of democracies, Aristotle suggested paying the poor to attend the assembly and fining the rich for not. He also recommended limitations on payment for attendance in order to ensure the common people would not outweigh the rich. Aristotle wanted to avoid oligarchy by evening the influence of the rich and the poor, to ensure the common interest was at hand (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1298b 11).

Aristotle also outlined differences in voting procedures in different types of oligarchies as well as mixed regimes and aristocracies and polities. One type of oligarchy was that in which officials were elected from among those who had the requisite amount of wealth. Another type was that in which all who had the requisite amount of wealth shared in rule. There were also cases of aristocracy or polity in which case all had control over matters of war, peace, and taking audits, but magistrates had control of everything else, including laws and electing officials. This type of regime would not be democratic because officials were not chosen by all, or at least not approved by all in the assembly. However, because all still decided on other matters such as war and peace, the regime would not be an oligarchy. “Lot is a democratic feature and will make them [regimes] polities by opening up office to many; election is an oligarchic and aristocratic feature and will either confine office to the wealthy (in which case the regime will be an aristocracy in the sense in which oligarchic polities are aristocracies) or to those with a certain quality or virtue (in which case the regime will be genuinely aristocratic…)” (Simpson 2002, 345). In general, Aristotle believed that rulers should rule in the common best interest, rather than solely in their own best interest (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1279a 28). In the case of oligarchy, Aristotle recommended affording the populace the ability to give some input on political decisions, as this could promote peace, even if they were not given power in final decision making (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1298b 26).

Aristotle had two large concerns with elections, campaigning and demagoguery. In terms of campaigning, Aristotle was concerned that only the people who wanted to be in office would be, rather than the people who necessarily deserved to be in office. He believed that a man who was worthy of office should accept the position regardless of if he wanted to (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1271a 10). He also thought that campaigning “promotes love of honor, the cause, along with love of money, of most voluntary wrongs or deliberate acts of injustice” (Simpson 2002, 118). It is the pursuit of these wrongs that leads to tyranny. Additionally, regarding demagoguery, Aristotle worried that class interests would dominate elections, rather than the good of the whole. To prevent this, he recommended that the populace be divided into local groups for voting in elections. He believed that by voting in such groups, people would be less concerned with their general class interest, and would be more alert to local ties (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1305a 28).

While Aristotle strongly believed citizens should participate in politics, he did not support extending political rights to slaves, women, or laborers. He thought that slaves did not possess the intellectual skills to be able to govern themselves, and hence would be subject to the governing of others (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1254b 16-23). Similarly, women were viewed as naturally inferior to men with less capability of leading (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1259b 1-2). An important point that Aristotle emphasized was that citizens should be ruled by their equals, resulting in a reciprocal equality, unlike that between slaves and their masters or women and men, and therefore women and slaves were not considered citizens. As for laborers and artisans, Aristotle believed that “there is a need for leisure both with a view to the creation of virtue and with a view to political activities,” which laborers and artisans did not have sufficient time for (Aristotle 350 B.C.E., 1329a 1-2).


Aristotle, Politics

Simpson, Peter. A Philosophical Commentary on the Politics of Aristotle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Behaviorism 🖉 edit

The understanding of how and why human beings act was and still is often described as a dualistic interaction between mind and body. Usually this is described in terms of feelings. We feel a certain way, and that feeling prompts us to act. We eat because we feel like eating. We attack others because we feel angry. This causal explanation for behavior is taken for granted, but in the 19th century, a group of psychologists believed that behavior could be studied, not as an effect of the non-observable, ethereal mind, but rather as the outcome of changes from the environment. This was behaviorism, and William Baum states: “the central idea in behaviorism can be stated simply: A science of behavior is possible” (Baum, 2017, pg. 3).

One of the most influential behaviorists, BF Skinner, was a radical behaviorist where instead of merely positing that only behavior could be objectively observed, went one step further in saying that all interior phenomena was a behavior like any other, and was subject to and created by the same environmental pressures as external behavior.

According to Skinner, all of our behavior and dispositions are determined by our environment. What we call freedom is merely the ability to free ourselves from “harmful contacts” (Skinner, 1971, pg. 32). Slavery is when we are unable to escape of avoid harm, and what Skinner calls the “literature of freedom”—philosophical and political traditions based around rights, emancipation, and the immorality of oppression—are merely ways to “..induce people to escape from or attack those who act to control them aversively” (pg. 35). The idea of freedom as an inherent right towards autonomy in one’s actions and beliefs is wholeheartedly rejected by Skinner, and instead is reduced to being able to do what one desires when the desire arises; a desire whose arising the individual has nothing to do with.

Dignity is an attribute that we use to describe someone’s character—character of course meaning a quality essential to someone’s internality, something that a radical behaviorist is very skeptical of. We do not respect someone’s action if it is done automatically, instead we value the individual who does a particular action despite whatever the environment compels them to do: “We give credit generosity when there are no obvious reasons for behaving differently…” (pg. 72). Our caring towards dignified action and character then reveals a blind spot that we have towards reality—if every behavior we do is determined and selected by the environment, no one deserves any credit towards their action, and no one is dignified for acting in a certain way.

Democracy and the right to vote for behaviorists like Skinner are then merely an expression of the fundamental biological mechanism of avoiding or escaping harmful contacts. If it weren’t for the aversive state of affairs that were present in the past, the right to vote would have never come about. Voting rights came about as a way to justify the public’s resistance to the restrictors, and this is in great contrast with the “literature of freedom’s” claim that the right to vote is a way to uphold god given rights. Voting, at base, was a way to control the behavior of those in power.


Baum, William M. Understanding Behaviorism : Behavior, Culture, and Evolution. Third edition. Chichester, West Sussex, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017.

Skinner, B. F. (Burrhus Frederic). Beyond Freedom and Dignity. [1st ed.]. New York: Knopf, 1971.

Early Indian Philosophy 🖉 edit

In early Indian philosophy, there is little or no mention of voting rights. However, many ancient scriptures in different civilizations mention representative forms of government. In various regions of ancient India, republican governments existed. During the nineteenth century, research into the Buddhist Pali Canon revealed existing republicanism at the time. (Muhlberger, 1998) . The Pali Canon provides a far more complete, though somewhat oblique, account of democratic institutions in Indian Philosophy, confirming and expanding on Panini's vision. The Maha-parinibbana-suttanta, the Mahavagga, and the Kullavagga are three of the Canon's oldest and most revered parts. Taken together, they preserve the Buddha's teachings for the proper operation of the Buddhist monastic community – the Sangha – after his death. (Muhlberger, 1998) . They were the most reliable source on voting processes in a corporate body during the early Buddhist period. They also provide some insight into the development of democratic thought.

According to Panini, all northern India's states and territories (janapadas) during his time were founded on the colonization or conquest of a specific area by an identified warrior group who still controlled the political life of that area (Basham, 1959) . Some of these peoples (known as janapadins by Panini) were ruled by a king who was, at least in theory, of their own blood and maybe reliant on their support (Muhlberger, 1998) . Other than that, the janapadins handled their affairs in a republican fashion. Thus, in both types of state, the government was dominated by persons classed as ksatriyas, or members of the warrior caste, as later times would describe it (Hays, 2015) . Another example is a republican federation known as the Kshudrak-Malla Sangha which posed serious resistance to Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. Many more republican regimes in India have been mentioned by the Greeks, some of which were classified as pure democracies and others as "aristocratic republics” (Muhlberger, 1998) .

According to Prakash ( 2006) , a vote was called a 'chhanda,' which literally translates to a 'wish.' This evocative word was used to communicate the concept that voting expresses a member's free will and choice. There used to be multi-colored voting tickets called 'shalakas' (pins) for voting in the assembly . When a division was called, they were handed to members and collected by an officer of the assembly called the ‘shalaka grahak' (collector of pins). This official was chosen by the entire assembly. It was his responsibility to conduct the vote, which may be secret or open. However, Indian republics are beginning to sound extremely undemocratic by our modern standards, with real power concentrated in the hands of a few patriarchs representing the leading lineages of one privileged section of the warrior caste.


Basham, A. L. ( 1959) . India as Known to Pāṇini (A Study of the Cultural Material of the Ashṭādhyāyī). By V. S. Agrawala. pp. xx + 549, 3 maps, plate. Lucknow University, 1953. Rs. 50. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 91(3-4), 181–183. https://doi.org/10. 1017/ S0035869X00118544

Muhlberger, S. ( 1998) . Democracy in Ancient India. https://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/h_es/h_es_muhlb_democra_frameset.htm

Prakash, A. ( 2006) . Law relating to elections: an essential revision aid for law students. Universal Law Pub.

Hays, J. ( 2015) . ANCIENT INDIA IN THE TIME OF THE BUDDHA. Facts and Details. http://factsanddetails.com/india/History/sub7_1a/entry-4105.html

Hobbesian Thought 🖉 edit

In discussing his argument about the social contract theory and the idea that people must give the government their consent to be ruled, Thomas Hobbes explores the right to vote and what that would look like in a government with absolute authority and power over the people. When it comes to the right to vote, Hobbes would say that every individual has the right to vote on who they consent to govern them, but upon voting for the form of government and its leaders, the existence of right to vote is dependent on the type of government they consent to.

Hobbes claims that individuals have the right to vote and should exercise their right in order to consent to a form of government and therefore leave the warring state of nature. In his book De Cive Hobbes noted that, “for it is not from nature that the consent of the major part should be received for the consent of all, neither is it true in tumults, but it proceeds from civill institution, and is then onely true, when that Man or Court which hath the supreme power, assembling his subjects, by reason of the greatnesse of their number, allowes those that are elected a power of speaking for those who elected them, and will have the major part of voyces, in such matters as are by him propounded to be discust, to be as effectuall as the whole” (Hobbes 1651, 89). Hobbes’ revolutionary idea for his time was the idea that the people consent to being governed and determine the type of absolute government which they consent to. Hobbes’ main concern was how these types of government would be consented to and who would be allowed to run these governments according to the desires of the people. To remedy this question, Hobbes claims that the people should be allowed to vote on who to consent to and because voting is the only way to measure the sentiments of the people. Hobbes views the right to vote in general as the means of consenting to a government that will make decisions in the best interests of the people and without this initial vote, there is not true consent the people can give to a government. Hobbes does notes that the type of government agreed upon after the initial voting determines whether this right to vote stays intact during the life of the individual.

The right to vote is to allow initial consent to be governed by a governing body or group and changes according to the government in place. Throughout De Cive, Hobbes continued this theme writing that, “a Councell of many men, consists either of all the Citizens, (insomuch as every man of them hath a Right to Vote, and an interest in the ordering of the greatest affaires, if he will himselfe) or of a part onely; from whence there arise three sorts of Government: The one, when the Power is in a Councell, where every Citizen hath a right to Vote, and it is call'd a DEMOCRATY. The other, when it is in a Councell, where not all, but some part onely have their suffrages, and we call it an ARISTOCRATY. The third is that, when the Supreme Authority rests onely in one, and it is stiled a MONARCHY. In the first, he that governes is called demos, The PEOPLE. In the second, the NOBLES. In the third, the MONARCH” (Hobbes 1651, 91). Throughout his initial description of the idea of consenting to being governed, Hobbes goes on to describe what voting looks like within each system of government in which the people vote differently. However, despite the differences in the right to vote according to types of government, there is a consistent pattern that if the government were to dissolve and resort to the warring state of nature, then the right to vote for every citizen is restored and the people have the right to consent to a new form of government which they vote on and reestablish consent. The different forms of government have varying levels of voting, but most voting is held in order to re-establish the government and reconsent to a new body because the people have the inherent right to consent to the government that is formed. However, Hobbes makes the point that once the people have used their right to vote to consent to a government, the government uses their absolute power to make the best decisions on behalf of the community and the common good. This feeds into the idea that the right to vote only pertains to giving consent to being governed by a certain government.

Hobbes’ views on voting vary according to the form of government the people consent to. Specifically in his book titled Elements of Law, Hobbes details that within a democracy, “The first in order of time of these three sorts is democracy, and it must be so of necessity, because an aristocracy and a monarchy, require nomination of persons agreed upon; which agreement in a great multitude of men must consist in the consent of the major part; and where the votes of the major part involve the votes of the rest, there is actually a democracy” (Hobbes 1640, 119). Within his democracy the people have the inherent right to vote in which the people decide the direction of the government by a majority rule which is the most fundamental part of the democracy according to Hobbes. He notes that the democratic form of government is not perfect since the decision-making process would have to take time and quick decisions are hard to arrive upon especially in times where quick decisions are needed for the good of the community. It is within this democratic process that power is lost, especially since coming upon a single decision is hard to make when there are various voices with different opinions about the state of the government. The idea of democracy is important to Hobbes when it comes to initially consenting to the government and choosing the type of government that the people will allow themselves to be governed by.

Throughout his work, Hobbes details what each form of government looks like once consented to and his form of aristocracy poses very interesting insights into what the right to vote looks like in this form of government. In his most famous work titled, The Leviathan, Hobbes wrote that, “A Common-wealth is said to be Instituted, when a Multitude of men do Agree, and Covenant, Every One With Every One, that to whatsoever Man, or Assembly Of Men, shall be given by the major part, the Right to Present the Person of them all, (that is to say, to be their Representative;) every one, as well he that Voted For It, as he that Voted Against It, shall Authorise all the Actions and Judgements, of that Man, or Assembly of men, in the same manner, as if they were his own, to the end, to live peaceably amongst themselves, and be protected against other men” (Hobbes 1651, 144). Compared to democracy, the aristocracy is more limited when it comes to the right to vote. Like the democracy there is this inherent right to vote in order to establish the government and the assemblymen, but once given the power, the assembly retains the power and no longer requires the votes from the people to make decisions. They are given absolute power to make decisions for the people according to their thoughts on the state of the community and the state of the government. Each member of the state is allowed to vote on the initial assemblymen and each citizen consents to each member being given power, but after the assembly is responsible for ruling and deliberating on the issues of the state. The people are just expected to follow the rules of this assembly because they consented to being governed by these individuals and only upon returning to the state of nature, is this right to vote restored in order to re-establish consent to the government. One might assume that when a member of the assembly resigns or dies the people get to elect a new member, but according to Hobbes the right to vote is still not granted. Hobbes remedies this situation by claiming that those within the government should elect a new member to replace the others because they have more power and should therefore choose on behalf of the government. Hobbes does not describe how this body would return to the state of nature under an assembly so if the other representatives continue to elect one another, the right to vote may not ever exist for the citizen after they have consented to the larger government.

Finally, Hobbes spoke specifically about the monarchy and what voting would look like when a single ruler had absolute power upon being given consent to govern. When it comes to the right to vote within the monarchy, like the other forms of government, the individual has the right to vote on who they want to govern them, but like the aristocracy, once electing a monarch, the people lose the right to vote. Like the aristocracy, by voting they are consenting to who they want to govern them, thus giving them absolute power over the public and the decisions made on their behalf as well. Like the assembly, the monarch makes decisions for the public based on being given the consent to make decisions for the people. Hobbes argues that this is the best form of government because of the immediate decision made by the monarch that will increase the efficiency of the government for the people. Further discussing the monarchy within The Leviathan, Hobbes continued his argument stating that, “And first, concerning an Elective King, whose power is limited to his life, as it is in many places of Christendome at this day; or to certaine Yeares or Moneths, as the Dictators power amongst the Romans; If he have Right to appoint his Successor, he is no more Elective but Hereditary. But if he have no Power to elect his Successor, then there is some other Man, or Assembly known, which after his decease may elect a new, or else the Common-wealth dieth, and dissolveth with him, and returneth to the condition of Warre. If it be known who have the power to give the Soveraigntie after his death, it is known also that the Soveraigntie was in them before: For none have right to give that which they have not right to possesse, and keep to themselves, if they think good. But if there be none that can give the Soveraigntie, after the decease of him that was first elected; then has he power, nay he is obliged by the Law of Nature, to provide, by establishing his Successor, to keep those that had trusted him with the Government, from relapsing into the miserable condition of Civill warre. And consequently he was, when elected, a Soveraign absolute” (Hobbes 1651, 161). The monarch differs from the aristocracy when it comes to the process of succession in the cases of retirement or death of the monarch. Unlike the aristocracy in which new members are voted in by the current members, the new monarch is either determined by the old king or by the people in the case in which the old leader has not appointed someone new due to his absolute power. Hobbes claims that the monarch has the absolute power and authority to nominate a new successor in the case of his demise, but if he does not appoint someone new, the people have the right to vote in someone new since they are reduced to the state of nature again. Within the monarchy, Hobbes points out that returning to the state of nature is a more frequent phenomenon when the monarch dies and there is no successor to automatically take the position. In the case that there is no clear successor, society returns to the state of nature in which the people must vote and reconsent to being governed by some entity and therefore, their right to vote is restored.

When it comes to rights in general, Thomas Hobbes’ views of the government and the relationship it has with the people is an interesting concept considering how centralized he believes that the power the government should have. His overall belief holds that if the people consent to the government, the government should be allowed to wield unlimited power since the people gave the government permission to rule as they do. What is interesting and important about this perspective is the way that the modern take on rights has built upon the idea of consent but moved away from the absolutist view on government that Hobbes proposes. It is held true today that the government has enough power to protect the people, but not so much that it can infringe on the rights of the people because of their own values and goals. The same holds true for the right to vote today and the way that ultimately the people hold power through the means of voting and electing people rather than allowing the government to have absolute power as Hobbes proposes. The right to vote was and always will be a contested right that varies as people debate the relationship between the government and the people.


Hobbes, Thomas. De Cive. Cambridge University Press. 1998.

Hobbes, Thomas. Elements of Law. Oxford University Press New York. 1994.

Hobbes Thomas. Leviathan. New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, INC. London: J.M. Dent and Sons, Limited. 1950

Kantianism 🖉 edit

Kant thought that citizens of a state could only be property-owning male or active members of society, and that they were the only individuals who could vote (Kant, 1991, p.27, para.1). With that in mind, as well as his hypothetical social contract theory, maintaining a just state under Kantianism seems unlikely. This is especially true when victims of the system, such as women, youth, the poor, minorities, and others, do not have a voice in what happens to them or their lives through voting and representation. Kant's system is geared on keeping the property owner and independent, while keeping the rest of society silent and dependent (Glawson, 2016) . One might expect from this emphasis that Kant would insist that the proper political system is one that not only allows individuals to think for themselves about political issues, but also contains a mechanism such as voting to translate those well-reasoned opinions into government policy.

In his discussion in “Perpetual Peace” of the traditional division of the types of government Kant classifies governments in two dimensions. The first is the “form of sovereignty” (forma imperii), concerning who rules, and here Kant identifies the traditional three forms: autocracy, aristocracy, and democracy, “the power of a prince, the power of a nobility, and the power of the people” (Kant, 1991, p. 100). The second is the “form of government” (forma regiminis) concerning how those people rule, and here Kant offers a variation on the traditional good/bad dichotomy: either republican or despotic (Kant, 1991, p.101). The term ‘republican’ in Kant’s writings, “could be interpreted to represent what nowadays is generally called parliamentary democracy” (Kant, 1991, p.25, para.2). Despotism is defined as a state of unity in which the same ruler makes and enforces rules, thus transforming an individual's private will into the public will. Kant differentiates between a republicanism and despotism emphasizing that a ‘republican’ form of government is “where the executive is separated from the legislature, and the despotic, where it is not” (Kant, 1991, p.29, para.1)

Republics require representation to guarantee that the executive authority exclusively executes the will of the people by requiring the executive to enforce only laws enacted by representatives of the people, not the executive itself. However, a republic may function with just one lawmaker if other people serve as executives (Rauscher, 2016) . Kant warns from the danger of a monarch becoming a tyrant. A monarch would enact laws in the name of the people, but the monarch's ministers would oversee enforcing them. Thus, like Rousseau, Kant is convinced that the adage of a republican government is the respect of law by the people and also by the ruler and the sovereign. (Kant, 1991, p.30, para.2). Kant's argument that such a government is republican demonstrates his belief that a republican government does not need real participation of the people in creating laws, even though elected representatives, as long as the laws are issued with the people's entire united will in mind.

When Kant addresses voting for representatives, he conforms to many of the time's prevalent biases. The right to vote necessitates, in Kant’s words, "being one's own master," (Kant, 1991, p.27), which entails owning property or having a talent that can sustain oneself. Kant classes those who are independent as ‘active’ citizens and those who are not as ‘passive’. He also excludes women from voting, claiming that “ [Women] are, on principle, disqualified. But any legislation should always be enacted and carried out as if the passive citizens too were participating” (Kant, 1991, p.27). His thesis is that these people are unsuitable to vote because they lack the ability to reason and have no free choice “being one’s own master” (Kant, 1991, p. 27). The mentally sick and the elderly who are unable to function are further instances of people who lack reason and are not their own masters. According to Kant, the presumption of being "one's own master" is essential for citizenship eligibility. For example, at least in Kant’s time, when a woman got married, her possessions became her husband's, and she is expected to completely rely on him, thus she does not own property and consequently excluded from voting (Glawson, 2017) . To summarize, Kant did not believe that married women could be active members of a state or citizens since they are incompetent and dependent by their very nature as women (Glawson, 2017) . Thus, Kant believes that just by adopting the people's point of view, a single individual or small group may properly represent the people at large. Insistence on a representative system is not the same as insisting on a representative system that is elected.

Regardless, Kant clearly believes that an elective representational democracy is preferable. Republican constitutions, he says, are more likely to prevent war because, when the people's permission is required, they will weigh the costs of war (fighting, taxes, property damage, and so on), but a non-republican ruler may be immune to such considerations. He also mentions in the "Doctrine of Right" that a republican government represents the people "by all the citizens united and acting via their delegates" (Rauscher, 2016) .


Glawson, J. D. ( 2017, November 24). Immanuel Kant on Suffrage: With a Libertarian Disagreement. Medium. https://medium.com/@JoshuaGlawson/immanuel-kant-on-suffrage-with-a-libertarian-disagreement-d6f149df3658

Kant, I. ( 1991) . Kant: political writings. Cambridge University Press.

Rauscher, F. ( 2016, September 1). Kant's social and political philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-social-political/

Lockean Thought/English Empiricism 🖉 edit

In his second treatise of government, John Locke rejects the divine right of kings, stating that men are, by nature, equal and free. When a political society is therefore formed, it will reflect this state of nature, existing only with the consent of the governed and practiced under majority rule. There is an inherent relationship between the people and the state, wherein citizens give up some of their natural rights with the trust that the government will act in the common good - if the government fails to do so, the people also have the autonomy to choose a new government. Locke therefore, makes the argument that humans naturally govern under the consent of the majority, staunchly supporting political franchise.

In the first two chapters of the treatise, Locke disproves the divine right of kings and establishes the natural state of man to be equal and free. Most of the first chapter addresses Sir Robert Filmer, who made the argument that Adam had authority from God to rule, therefore enshrining the divine right of kings, as his heirs would assume positions of power. Locke states that “Adam had not…any such authority over his children or dominion over the world…[and] if he had, his heirs yet had no right to it…[and] that [even] if his heirs had…the right of succession, and consequently of bearing rule, could not have been certainly determined” (Locke, An Essay, 695). Locke makes the argument that Adam had no such inherent right to rule by distinguishing that “private dominion and parental jurisdiction” (Locke, An Essay, 695) are not the basis of political power; instead, God, as the ruler of all men, created them in “a state of perfect freedom” (Locke, An Essay, 696), where no one individual holds advantages or superiority over another. This natural state of freedom is “not a state of licence” (Locke, An Essay, 696), however, as the law of nature - reason - ensures that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke, An Essay, 697). Freedom and equality, therefore, are the basis of the natural state, governed by reason, and ultimately rejecting absolute rule as a violation of this natural state.

Locke then discusses the formation of political societies, reflecting the natural state, which exists with the consent of the governed. He states that “men being… by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent” (Locke, An Essay, 743), thereby establishing the right of citizens to choose their leaders. Once a civil society is established, it must operate under majority rule, as “the consent of every individual… made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority” (Locke, An Essay, 743). The operation of a political society is the will of the majority, which reflects the consent of each individual to participate within such a society. He claims that majority rule, therefore, is not only naturally assumed, but the most practical form of governance, since “the consent of every individual… next to impossible ever to be had” (Locke, An Essay, 744). Locke claims that this is a phenomenon to be seen throughout all of history, even in the cases of “nations which have no certain kings, but as occasion is offered, in peace or war, they choose their captains as they please” (Locke, An Essay, 745). He uses this to show that even in these cases, there was a mutual agreement between subject and ruler, and that these political societies began “from a voluntary union” (Locke, An Essay, 745). Therefore, Locke asserts the rationale behind the conclusion that “all peaceful beginnings of government have been laid in the consent of the people” (Locke, An Essay, 751).

However, despite the existence of the natural state and natural laws, there is still a purpose for the government. Locke explains that because men do not respect others’ freedoms, the state of nature must be governed by authority. Being “ constantly exposed to the invasion of others… it is not without reason that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates” (Locke, An Essay, 757). He identifies three key traits lacking in the state of nature, that being the relativity of right and wrong, the lack of an impartial judgment, and the inability to enforce punishment (Locke, An Essay, 757). It is for these reasons that the government has a purpose to serve in the common good - safeguarding the life, liberty and property of citizens through the creation of legislation and enforcement of such. In return for this service, citizens can be expected to give up some of their own natural rights, namely the right to self preservation and the right to punishment (Locke, An Essay, 758). Locke states that “both these he gives up, when he joins in a private, if I may so call it, or particular political society, and incorporates into any commonwealth, separate from the rest of mankind” (Locke, An Essay, 758). This is the form of social contract, wherein citizens exchange some of their natural rights for the protection of the state, which is expected to use its powers to act in the common good (Locke, An Essay, 758).

If this social contract is violated by the government, then “the people are at liberty to provide for themselves, by erecting a new legislative, differing from the other by the change of persons, or form, or both, as they shall find it most for their safety and good” (Locke, An Essay, 809). There are two instances when this may occur: firstly, the dissolution of the government, and the second when the government acts contrary to the trust of the people (Locke, An Essay, 808-810). Locke concludes that the power which individuals hold is given to the government so long as the commonwealth lasts, as “[the people] have given up their political power to the legislative, and cannot resume it” (Locke, An Essay, 823). However, there is a limitation to this power, in that it is only a temporary one, and in the instance of the abuse of power, forfeiture, or completion of term, the people have the right to “erect a new form [of government], or under the old form place it in new hands, as they think good” (Locke, An Essay, 823).

Throughout the second treatise, Locke makes the case for universal suffrage. Locke, by establishing the natural state of man, asserts that there is an inherent right to choose a government under majority rule. The government is expected to act in the common good of the people, and if these terms of the social contract are not met, the government can be replaced by the people as well.


Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding: with the second treatise of government. Wordsworth Classics of World Literature, 2015.

Platonism 🖉 edit

In the Republic and Laws, these dialogues of Plato attempt to firstly address the conception of the ideal state, and further, the practices and implementation of such a state. Plato’s Republic provides an insight into the possibility of a new system of governance, outlined primarily with the guided discussion of Socrates. Throughout the series, Socrates defines the nature of justice and the conditions under which one would be incentivized to act justly, drawing parallels between the state and the individual. Socrates argues that the just state will provide stability and prosperity to society. Plato’s Laws comes to a similar conclusion about the just state, however, justice here is maintained through the enforcement of virtuous law. Throughout several dialogues with the Athenian stranger, the conception of the state is presented through a more democratic lens. Although Plato does not officially endorse voting rights, the system in Laws is a controlled form of voting, whereby citizens nominate candidates, who are then selected through subsequent rounds of voting and the drawing of lots. Emphasis is placed on the scrutiny of final candidates to ensure that virtuous people are put into authoritative positions.

States will only be effective if they are ruled in a just manner, however, just leadership must come from just men. Socrates addresses the nature of justice both within society and pertaining to individuals in the Republic. The structure of Kallipolis is based upon both the individual and collective will to act virtuously - if the state is successful in cultivating just citizens, just policy will be enacted. A similar principle is presented in Laws, but importance is emphasized here on the role of the lawmaker, who enacts virtuous laws, and the education of citizens, which indicates virtue within a society.

The Myth of the Metals, or Noble Lie, lays out the foundation for social order in Socrates’ Kallipolis. He proposes that a noble lie is needed in order to allow for citizens to accept their position within the state, as well as to instill a sense of unity, as citizens will regard themselves as “brothers and sisters, sprung from the self same earth.” (Plato, The Republic, Book III, 414E). Justice is defined in the Republic as each of the three classes performing their respective duties, and not engaging in the affairs of the other classes. “In relation to the excellence of the city, the capacity of each person therein to engage in what belongs to himself is on an equal footing with its wisdom, its sound-mindedness and its courage (Plato, The Republic, Book IV, 433D),” thus, the city retains unity and is able to cultivate a collective virtue. Upon the basis of the individual, Socrates alludes that “a just man will not differ from a just city with respect to the form itself, of justice” (Plato, The Republic, Book IV, 435B). The argument that Socrates proposes is that the state cannot be just unless man is just, and vice versa; that justice is contingent upon practice within the individual as well as the state. A unified state is created through the enforcement of this class system, and the unified state indicates a just society.

In the Laws, the Athenian stranger proposes internal warfare is the greatest threat to a society, which he describes as the threat of faction. Here, he states that, “the highest good, however, is neither war nor civil strife (Plato, Laws, Book I, 628C)…the city itself winning a victory over itself is not to be counted among the best outcomes, but among those that are necessary” (Plato, Laws, Book I, 628D). Additionally, a distinction is made between divine goods and human goods, in which the former are composed of virtues such as wisdom, sound disposition, justice, and courage. The purpose of the law is to regulate the behavior of citizens, so that they will pursue the divine goods over human; the stranger suggests that “[the citizens] should be watched and supervised, and censure or praise should be bestowed…through the laws themselves” (Plato, Laws, Book I, 632A). The just state will ultimately arise from the virtuous citizen, and the method by which one achieves virtue is through abiding virtuous laws.

Thus, the role of the lawmaker is such that dictates virtue within society, and it is the citizen’s responsibility to follow these laws to achieve personal virtue. The stranger suggests that “the lawgiver has set out, in detail, what’s disgraceful and evil on the one hand, and what’s good and noble on the other, [and] whoever is not prepared to refrain from [evil] by every means at his disposal (Plato, Laws, Book V, 728A)… is heaping vile dishonor and deformity on his most divine possession, his soul” (Plato, Laws, Book V, 728B). Virtuous law will uphold the divine goods, and the citizen will protect his most divine element (the soul) by following the law. This law acts as a form of unity within the state, so when there is faction, this indicates that citizens are not abiding to the laws and therefore disregarding virtue itself - this is described as an “excess of [human goods] bring[ing] about enmity and faction…[which] is good neither for [citizens], nor for the city” (Plato, Laws, Book V, 729A). In the Laws this unity plays an essential role in shaping the legislation of the city-state; insofar that the citizens are not divided, the most effective state will unify if just laws are enforced. This unification is not contingent on the basis of equality, which differentiates Plato’s discourses from modern conceptions of suffrage.

Once the connection between justice in the individual and the state is established, the question of leadership arises. Who is fit to be in the ruling class, and is it possible to ensure they will not be corrupted to act in their own interests? Socrates proposes the theory of forms and the allegory of the cave as an answer to this. The philosopher king is the sole entity fit to rule, who must be trained rigorously in order to fulfill such a position. Conversely, in Laws, it is suggested that although absolute rule will be most effective in enforcing laws, it is impossible to ensure that citizens will abide by them through compulsion alone. Therefore, a system of voting including the drawing of lots is proposed, which combines both democratic and monarchic elements.

Socrates uses the allegory of the cave to establish the flawed nature of human beings. The cave is representative of the physical realm, shadows of the images of physical objects, statues of the physical objects themselves, and the fire as the Sun. What is physically tangible is easier to comprehend, however belief concerning visible things alone is perceived as a low perception of the truth. The analogy of the cave proposes that most are blind to the good, therefore they are unable to act truly virtuously.. Instead, they comprehend the intelligible realm through the means of the physical realm, as a desire for worldly possessions and physical objects. The shadows presented to them are seemingly the truth, therefore they have an unwavering belief in what is idealized to them (the statues, ie. physical objects). The only one who can truly perceive the intelligible realm and act virtuously is the philosopher - therefore, Socrates suggests that the state should be ruled by a philosopher king who is able to maintain virtue within society. Additionally, Socrates warns of the unrestrained freedom within democratic systems, which eliminate systems of law and order. He equates this to the loss of virtue within society, as the citizens become weary of authority and “don’t even pay attention to the laws, written or unwritten” (Plato, The Republic, Book VIII, 563D). The future of democracy is dependent on the sentiment of the masses, in which the rulers fear the people - Socrates compares this to the father who is subservient to his son, and the teacher who is afraid of his pupils. For fear of displeasing the public, rulers will attempt to appease the masses, and this is the tactic that will eventually lead to the rise of the tyrant. This version of Kallipolis disparages the concept of democracy and democratic rights such as suffrage, equating these systems to the downfall of society.

However, in Laws, the concept of the philosopher king is disputed. Although the Athenian states that the most efficient way to rule would be under a just tyrant and virtuous lawmaker (Plato, Laws, Book IV, 710E), it is recognized that human nature does not reflect the ideal state, and that “any [city] ruled by some mortal, and not by God, finds no escape from evils and hardships for their citizens” (Plato, Laws, Book IV, 713E). He proposes that law plays the important role of regulating the behavior of both citizens and leaders, as it “[regulates] by reason,”(Plato, Laws, Book IV, 714A) both the public and private spheres. This is presented as the divine element of reason, by which rational laws will mirror a divine rule - rational law will allow for citizens to “[obey] the immortal element within them,” (Plato, Laws, Book IV, 713E) acting rationally, and therefore virtuously. He uses the doctor analogy to support this, wherein the slave doctor represents the tyrant who rules by compulsion alone, and the free doctor represents the legislator who creates laws using both compulsion and persuasion (Plato, Laws, Book IV, 720C). Only with the cooperation of the patient, who represents the citizen, is the doctor able to successfully restore his health (Plato, Laws, Book IV, 720C). Similarly, within the state, the rational laws can only have effect within the city if the citizens are willing to adopt them - absolute rule, therefore, is not a realistic solution, as compulsion alone is not enough to ensure compliance with the laws (Plato, Laws, Book IV, 720C). The stranger concludes that the legislator should be like the free doctor, so that citizens will willingly obey the laws (Plato, Laws, Book IV, 720C). Additionally rulers should be “servants of the laws,” (Plato, Laws, Book IV, 715C) as the “salvation…of the city hinges, most of all, upon this” - the subservience of the entire populace to the laws (Plato, Laws, Book IV, 715D). The Athenian acknowledges the role of the legislator as shared with the public, and rejects the concept of absolute rule.

The proposed voting system would “maintain a mean between monarchic and democratic constitution” (Plato, Laws, Book VI, 756E), as candidates would first be nominated, and proceed through several rounds of public voting until the top thirty seven candidates were chosen (Plato, Laws, Book VI, 756C). At this point, half the candidates would be selected through a lottery, and then subject to scrutiny before appointment (Plato, Laws, Book VI, 756E). In the case of positions of office, the vote is to be cast by “all who were involved in the military” (Plato, Laws, Book VI, 753B). In the Republic, Socrates designates a specific military class in the Myth of the Metals. If a similar class system were to be assumed here, it may be reasonable to suggest that suffrage would not be universal, due to the strict class segregation argued for in Kallipolis. The Laws, however, as previously established, operate outside of Kallipolis, so it is reasonable to assume that military status would not be limited to a specific class within society. The Athenian stranger places importance on physical education in the development of good character and military training of citizens. When discussing the city-state, he exalts military exercise as amongst the noble pursuits (Plato, Laws, Book VIII, 831E), and proposes physical contests for each of the military classes - for the horsemen and chariots, archers and hoplites - where victors can win prizes (833B). He suggests that there should be three classes of competition for all members of society: one for the women, children, and men, respectively (Plato, Laws, Book VIII, 833C). The military education is not only stressed but encouraged for all and therefore the vote may be at least relatively accessible. When considering the origins of hoplite warfare, linked to the agrarian sector of Greek society (Hale, “Origins of Hoplite Warfare,” 177), it can also be assumed that citizens of various classes were involved in the Greek military. Hoplite service was also mandatory during the Classical Age and eventually became enforced by record, where conscription was based exclusively on age (Christ, “Conscription of Hoplites in Ancient Athens,” 398). Taking these points into account, the Athenian stranger would likely have been advocating for a relatively universal form of voting, as most citizens were under conscription.

The Athenian stranger proposes two types of equalities, one that is measurable by weight and number, and the other, the pure virtue of equality itself, described as the “truest and most excellent quality…the judgment of Zeus” (Plato, Laws, Book VI, 757B). This pure equality, therefore, is likened to the divine good; this divine equality acts as a form of justice itself by “giving due measure to each, according to their own nature…bestowing greater honors upon those whose excellence is greater” (Plato, Laws, Book VI, 757C). The voting system is able to merge this divine equality with its measurable counterpart - divine equality is exercised in the casting of the lots, as chance or fate determines who is best suited for leadership. The stranger explains this when discussing the appointment of priests, stating that “we should allow God to bring about what is pleasing (Plato, Laws, Book VI, 759B) to himself, by entrusting the matter to the divine chance of the lot” (Plato, Laws, Book VI, 759C), and purity is maintained through the process of scrutiny, ensuring that those who are appointed truly display qualities of integrity and legitimacy, “pure and untainted by slaughter and all such transgressions of divine precepts (Plato, Laws, Book VI, 759C). Measurable equality is seen in the nomination and subsequent rounds of voting, whereby candidates are evaluated by citizens on the basis of their character and virtue. Here, importance is stressed on the education of the selectors, as they should be “reared in lawful habits, and well enough educated to be able to decide…who deserves to be accepted as satisfactory” (Plato, Laws, Book VI,751C). If citizens are educated on principles of virtue, then this will be reflected in their scrutiny, benefiting society overall in the appointment of proper leaders.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates disparages the democratic system for its failure to uphold virtues within both the individual and society. He argues that an “insatiable desire” (Plato, Republic, Book VIII, 562B) for freedom will lead to injustice in the state, as class divides will cease to exist and individuals are dictated by their appetitive desires. The system proposed in Laws, however, acts as an intermediary between the ideals of Kallipolis and the reality of human nature, by merging principles of absolutism with democratic practices. A measured equality is maintained through the casting of lots, and importance is stressed on the education of citizens to be able to maintain virtue within society, reflected in the appointment of leaders.


Christ, Matthew R. “Conscription of Hoplites in Classical Athens,” The Classical Quarterly, 51, no. 2 ( 2001) : 398–422, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3556519

Hale, John R. “Not Patriots, Not Farmers, Not Amateurs: Greek Soldiers of Fortune and the Origins of Hoplite Warfare.” In Men of Bronze: Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece, edited by Donald Kagan and Gregory Viggiano, 176-191. Princeton University Press, 2013.

Plato. Laws, Book I. Translated by David Horan. The Dialogues of Plato, Platonic Foundation, 2021. https://www.platonicfoundation.org/laws/laws-book-1/

Plato. Laws, Book IV. Translated by David Horan. The Dialogues of Plato, Platonic Foundation, 2021. https://www.platonicfoundation.org/laws/laws-book-4/

Plato. Laws, Book V. Translated by David Horan. The Dialogues of Plato, Platonic Foundation, 2021. https://www.platonicfoundation.org/laws/laws-book-5/

Plato. Laws, Book VI. Translated by David Horan. The Dialogues of Plato, Platonic Foundation, 2021. https://www.platonicfoundation.org/laws/laws-book-6/

Plato. Republic, Book III. Translated by David Horan. The Dialogues of Plato, Platonic Foundation, 2021. https://www.platonicfoundation.org/republic/republic-book-3/

Plato. Republic, Book IV. Translated by David Horan. The Dialogues of Plato, Platonic Foundation, 2021. https://www.platonicfoundation.org/republic/republic-book-4/

Plato. Republic, Book VIII. Translated by David Horan. The Dialogues of Plato, Platonic Foundation, 2021. https://www.platonicfoundation.org/republic/republic-book-8/

Postmodernism 🖉 edit

Postmodernism evolved during the late 20th century in opposition to modernism and as a response to the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment encouraged a shift from intellectual dependence on the church and theology to a belief in a universal moral and intellectual historical experience legitimated by reason (Woods 1999, 227). Modernism supports the belief in this type of organization of knowledge and the human experience, suggesting that such reasoning would be unified by scientific thinking, teleology, and rationality. Modernism uses reason and scientific procedure to establish universal truths from which knowledge can be claimed and order established. The Enlightenment led to the spread of democratic values in the west, and likewise, influenced the creation of modern democratic institutions, a form of reason in practice (Gaete 1991, 149). An important change that stemmed from modernism and the Enlightenment was the acceptance of human rights as ethical truths. The statement, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations (United Nations 1948) was offered as a universal truth that would provide social order based on the objective reasoning suggested by modernism (Gaete 1991, 149). For example, from this claim, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could uphold that “The will of the people shall be the basis of authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be universal and equal in suffrage…” (United Nations 1948). From the acceptance of the initial statement of objective rights as a universal truth, equal political participation and voting rights could be theoretically promised.

The postmodern response to modernism reflects a difference in attitude, but does not imply that postmodernism will supersede modernism. In this way, postmodern thinking offers a critique of reason (Woods 1999, 9). According to Sabina Lovibond, “Postmodernism… rejects the doctrine of the unity of reason. It refuses to conceive of humanity as a unitary subject striving towards the goal of perfect coherence (in its common stock of beliefs) or of perfect cohesion and stability (in its political practice)” (Lovibond 1989). Modernism relies on metanarratives, an overarching pattern and interpretation of society, while postmodernism rejects this idea of an “all-encompassing rationality” (Woods 1990, 10). There are two relevant points to consider regarding postmodernism in relation to voting rights. First off, postmodernists are largely opposed to the hierarchical structure of government and tend to question their trust in institutionalized government (Green & Roberts 2012, 85). Philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard who helped to formulate postmodernism suggests that postmodernists are suspicious of political narratives. Examples of such narratives include the idea of progress that is associated with the Enlightenment and ‘social liberation’ associated with Marxism. Lyotard refers to these types of narratives as “violent” and “tyrannical” for attempting to impose a universal pattern on human experience and knowledge. Instead, Lyotard believes knowledge can only be understood as partial and nonexclusive. According to Lyotard, “Scientists, technicians, and instruments are purchased not to find truth, but to augment power” (Lyotard 1984, 46). Postmodernists are opposed to this type of hierarchical structure, suggesting that older proponents of modernism were “being blind to the destructive and oppressive nature of all totalising ideologies” (Arslan 1999, 205). In terms of voting rights, this ‘totalising ideology’ may be the claim that voting rights provide the best method of citizen political participation. Postmodernists would instead suggest that the human experience is constantly changing and developing, so this ‘totalising ideology’ may not be all inclusive. While they may be in favor of voting rights in practice, they would reject the idea of voting rights and human rights as universal truths, suggesting that successful political commitments are not necessarily the result of institutional calls to universal truths, but rather of continued innovation (Woods 1999, 13).

The second point to consider with regard to voting rights is that postmodernists believe that the marginalized should be accounted for. Postmodernists suggest that meaning is constantly evolving and is contingent on situational factors and dependent on the interpreter. For the individual, postmodernism means liberation from fixed identities. Postmodernists do not believe that metanarratives can describe each individual, but rather believe that identity can be diverse despite sharing a common situation (Woods 1990, 44). They argue, “There must be an attempt to recoup the power of the individual to tell his or her narrative; that is, anti-foundationalism in this guise becomes the access to the control of one’s own politics” (Woods 1999, 21). One way to afford power to the individual may be by means of voting rights for all in order to provide representation for those who are otherwise marginalized and to account for the diverse individual human experience. Postmodernists do not think that minorities and all individuals are correctly represented by political metanarratives, and therefore, they would support representation for all by means of voting as a way to avoid the miscategorization of individuals into metanarratives. In fact, the feminist movement is an example of this type of resistance to popular culture, which has contributed to the spread of postmodernism (Woods 1999, 170).


Arslan, Zuhtu. “Taking Rights Less Seriously: Postmodernism and Human Rights.” Res publica (Liverpool, England) 5, no. 2 (1999): 195–.

Gaete, Rolando. “Postmodernism and Human Rights: Some Insidious Questions.” Law and critique 2, no. 2 (1991): 149–170.

Green, Daryl D., and Gary E. Roberts. “Impact of Postmodernism on Public Sector Leadership Practices: Federal Government Human Capital Development Implications.” Public Personnel Management 41, no. 1 (2012): 79–96.

Lovibond, Sabina. “Feminism and Postmodernism.” New Left review, no. 178 (1989): 5–28.

Lyotard, Jean-François, Geoffrey Bennington, and Brian Massumi. The Postmodern Condition : a Report on Knowledge. Translated by Geoffrey Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984..

Woods, Tim. Beginning Postmodernism. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999.

Process Philosophy 🖉 edit

Process philosophy is a philosophical tradition that describes reality as primarily being made up of processes or events, rather than objects (Rescher, 2000, pg. 4). This means that when we look at supposedly static objects in our world, we are actually seeing a constantly changing event or an action taking place, and things that seem like they are static are just processes that are relatively more stable than others. Nicholas Rescher describes the main claim succinctly: “Even on the surface of it, verbs have as good a claim to reality as nouns. For process theorists, becoming is no less important than being…The phenomenology of change is stressed precisely because the difference between a museum and the real world of an ever-changing nature is to be seen as crucial to our understanding of reality” (pg. 4).

While a political connection to Process Philosophy’s metaphysical and ontological claims seems far-fetched, Alfred North Whitehead—perhaps the most rigorous and defining theorist for Process Philosophy in the 20th century—claimed that the goal of philosophy is to “…voyage towards the larger generalities” of human life and behavior (Whitehead, 1979, pg. 94). This meaning that an understanding of the nature of reality will then give you access to insights of psychology, aesthetics, ethics, sociology, language, and virtually every other human enquiry and experience.

The majority of political history, static roles were assigned to rulers and their subjects. A king and his identity were stamped definitively, and this title was described as chosen by God; the king’s unchanging identity was a thing in the universe. The Process Philosophy critique of this type of conception is decidedly an aesthetic one: “People instinctively dislike being described in thing-classificatory terms…Such object-property attributions indicate a fixed nature that we naturally see as repugnant to ourselves” (pg. 14). This is to say, a political system which tries its hardest to stay the same and not go through changes in power and interactions goes against how reality is presented and organized to us, as well as what we value in ourselves and others.

With this analysis, the right to vote can clearly be understood. After thousands of years of static politics, people began to advocate for a political system which would better reflect the dynamism, novelty, and change seen in reality. The right to vote allows for processes like changes in leadership, as well as changes in the law and governance. Due to the ever-changing opinions and contexts that individuals go through, the right to vote allows for a reflection of this novelty. Such a system is empowering due to it allowing individuals to express themselves as ever changing processes themselves as opposed to static objects and it is metaphysically accurate according to our natures and the nature of reality. Also, it is telling that such political ideals came about during the Enlightenment, a period of time where understanding of the world without appeal to philosophical and religious tradition was given major emphasis. As we learned more about the world, we learned about the ideal political system.


Rescher, Nicholas. Process Philosophy : a Survey of Basic Issues. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.

Whitehead, Alfred North, David Ray Griffin, and Donald W. Sherburne. Process and Reality : an Essay in Cosmology. Corrected ed. / edited by David Ray Griffin, Donald W. Sherburne. New York: Free Press, 1979.

Roman Legal and Political Thought 🖉 edit

The Constitution of Ancient Rome consisted largely of unwritten laws and was commonly enforced according to precedent and tradition. Hence, the right to vote and to participate in the electoral process was not written explicitly within the Constitution of the Roman Republic (Lintott 2015, 3). Greek historian Polybius did explain, however, that “the people had the right to make or rescind any law,” and he emphasized the sovereignty of the Roman people who would validate Roman political decisions (Atkins 2018, 9). Within Ancient Rome, voting assemblies would give their approval of the laws and the magistrates. Such assemblies were referred to as “the people,” and these groups, which excluded women and slaves, would represent the Roman citizens (Atkins 2018, 19). This differed from a system of “one-man, one-vote” as was employed in Athens. The three assemblies of Rome included the Curiate Assembly, the Tribal Assembly, and the Centuriate Assembly. Roman assemblies were formed on the basis of wealth, military status, and sometimes religion (Hall 1964, 270). The election of consuls, the gathering of assemblies, and other voting procedures were not explained within the Constitution or in any specific legislature, however, they were commonly referred to in books from religious colleges, which had some authority at the time (Lintott 2015, 4).

The right to vote was often limited by the fact that not all votes carried the same weight. The successive order in which groups voted could have influenced election outcomes and the speed with which election outcomes reached a majority. Members of the higher class were commonly in assemblies with fewer people, allowing their individual voice and vote to be more impactful than that of someone from a lower class in a larger assembly. Similarly, group decisions dictated the vote, rather than individual votes. It is likely that more powerful men or families within each assembly would have had more power and influence over their assembly (Hall 1964, 270). To this extent, voting blocks could be organized in order to favor certain political agendas (Atkins 2018, 21). The sovereignty of the citizens of Rome was subject to limitations. In Rome, the citizens were limited insofar as the electoral decisions made by voting assemblies had to be approved by the Roman aristocratic council. Citizens taking part in voting assemblies were not given the ability to propose new legislation, rather they were only able to vote for or against legislation introduced by magistrates (Atkins 2018, 19).

Roman historian Titus Livius was more concerned with achieving political ownership rather than equal citizen participation. Livius argued that “equal liberty” for the people meant that they would be able to elect whoever they wanted to the magistrate. To this extent, “equal liberty” meant citizens having complete decision making power over who would govern (Atkins 2018, 51). Gaius Canuleius, like Livius, supported opening up the consulship to allow plebeians to join, though he was more concerned with equal citizen participation, suggesting that all citizens should have an equal vote in order to avoid domination (Atkins 2018, 52). Although Ancient Rome did not necessarily achieve to the fullest extent such political ownership or equal citizen participation, and hence there is some debate over whether Ancient Rome truly was a democracy, Romans did recognize the need for checks and balances in a stable regime.


Atkins, Jed W. Roman Political Thought. Cambridge, United Kingdom ;: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Hall, Ursula. “Voting Procedure in Roman Assemblies.” Historia : Zeitschrift für alte Geschichte 13, no. 3 (1964): 267–306.

Lintott, A. W. (Andrew William). The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford ;: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Rousseau's Thought 🖉 edit

In Rousseau's Social Contract, he discusses how society is designed to be a give and take between governors and the governed. This relationship is probably most evident in his discussion on elections and democracy. Rousseau believes that democracy is a perfect form of government, as it holds the sovereign to the general will and separates the "maker of laws [from the one] to execute them" (Rousseau 1953, 71). However, there are many flaws with democracy in Rousseau's mind, primarily being born from the inherent flaws of the people within it. People need the government to be governed as they are not perfect; therefore, there will always be problems with the "influence of private interests in public affairs" (Rousseau 1953, 71). This influence of personal interest coupled with the struggle of forming a society "where the people can readily be assembled" for matters of state like a true democracy requires (Rousseau 1953, 72). For both of these requirements to be met, the government must only control a small amount of land with a small population "where each citizen… [is] well acquainted with all the rest" (Rousseau 1953, 72). These criteria allow for a society that can always gather to discuss policy and legislation for each person to cast their vote on each issue presented. However, these criteria, the elimination of personal interest and a small state, are nearly impossible to establish in society sustainably. Inevitably, personal interest, corruption, or any other inhibitor will get in the way, or a city’s population will increase too much and that is why Rousseau believes that "so perfect a form of government is not for men"' (Rousseau 1953, 73). Having a small and compact state is also a utilitarian view. Rousseau knows that for voters to want to participate, they will need to think that their vote matters, for example: "suppose that this state consists of ten thousand citizens… thus the sovereign is as ten thousand to one; that is to say, every member of the state has, as his own share, only one ten-thousandth part of the sovereign power, although he is subject to the whole" (Rousseau 2004) . Therefore, if you make the republic bigger, let us say this time the republic is "composed of one hundred thousand men, the position of the subjects is unchanged, and each continues to bear the whole weight of the laws, while his vote, reduced to the one hundred-thousandth part, has ten times less influence in the making of the laws" (Rousseau 2004) . This means that as the republic thrives and grows, it will become more prominent, and therefore less liberty is guaranteed through the republic's own institutions (Rousseau 2004) . However, Rousseau's apprehension toward a true democracy does not mean that he does not believe in citizens' right to vote.

Since Rousseau identifies direct or perfect democracies as implausible, he discusses the two main ways magistrates, legislators, and the prince should be appointed. Rousseau agrees with Montesquieu in that "'selection by lot… is natural to democracy'" (Rousseau 1953, 119). This is because a democracy facilitates a community "in which each member can participate unreservedly" (Watt 1981, 719), acting on their right to vote and even having "'a reasonable hope of serving his country'" (Rousseau 1953, 119). However, the act of desiring a political position, as prospective representatives would need to campaign for election, is a personal interest that Rousseau sees as a hindrance to government. Rousseau criticizes Montesquieu by pointing out that in a "democracy, public office is not an advantage but a heavy responsibility" (Rousseau 1953, 119-120). Because of this, Rousseau believes that the Venetian and Athenian system for appointing legislators is better for democracy than vote by lot. Since the "selection of rulers is a function of government, and not of sovereignty," and that "common sense, judgment, and integrity [should be] sufficient" in all candidates, then sortition, which appoints the legislators by random chance, allows for a government without infighting and personal interest influencing the functions of government (Rousseau 1953, 119-120). However, even in this system, Rousseau believes that the public should still have a say when voting to "fill those positions which demand particular talents, such as military officers" (Rousseau 1953, 121). The military is exempt from the duty which is associated with public office as it is a position which does not need to follow the general will. The government must be run by the people and not be diluted by their opinions. Therefore, the military can be elected, while the legislator must be appointed by random chance. This is where Rousseau's concept of the general will come in and starts playing a role in his view on voting.

Whether it is the public voting on a member of the government or legislators voting on policy, there will always be a majority and minority, which will form based on differing opinions about what is best for the republic. Rousseau stresses that within the assemblies of government, "the more agreement there is…, the more also does the general will prevail" (Rousseau 1953, 116). Therefore, the more "long debates, dissensions, and tumult" allowed within the assemblies leads to the "ascendancy of private and particular interests and the decline of the state" (Rousseau 1953, 116). Rousseau's solution to this dissent to the general will is "unanimous consent" (Rousseau 1953, 117). If the general will is being challenged, then the only way to refine it is only to pass legislation on which everyone agrees. While technically still allowing each magistrate to vote on policy, this leaves their votes meaning nothing unless everyone can agree. This dilutes the power of each person's vote even further, making the dissent and long discussion that Rousseau pointed to as the things that made the state's decline necessary. Therefore, while Rousseau believes that there is a right to vote, there are restrictions on the power that each person's vote holds due to the chance of the general will being deteriorated by personal interests and intrigues.

While the people's right to vote is guaranteed in democracies, Rousseau does not believe it is an inherent right in all governments. He is relatively straightforward about monarchies stating that "neither sortition nor election has any place in a monarchical government," going further to say that "the monarch is by right the sole prince and magistrate, the choice of his lieutenants belongs to him only" (Rousseau 1953, 121). Therefore, monarchs have the right to hold the sole authority in the government and do not have to give the people the power to vote due to their monarchical rights. However, even in republics, there are situations in which Rousseau believes the right to vote can be curbed. Taking from the Roman institution of the dictator, Rousseau believes that if "the greatest dangers are great enough to equal the danger of changing the public order," then the rule of law may have to be set aside to remedy the dangers (Rousseau 1953, 136). Therefore, the government must "increase the activity of the government" to counteract the issue, and Rousseau believes that "if the peril is such that the apparatus of law itself is an obstacle to security, then [the state] must appoint a supreme ruler who will silence the law" (Rousseau 1953, 137). This ruler's sole goal would be to see that "the state does not perish," and to do this the dictator will use their authority to ensure that "there is no doubt as to the general will" (Rousseau 1953, 137). The dictator will unify the government citizenry of the republic and enforce his will to save the state. However, the dictator must remove the people's voice in the assemblies and their say as to who will be legislators. They will curb the "long debates, dissensions, and tumult" which lead to the "decline of the state," effectively silencing dissenters and saving the state at the expense of the citizens' rights. Therefore, while Rousseau believes in the right to vote, he only believes that a citizen's vote should hold so much power. Furthermore, in some instances, these votes should hold no power, depending on the threats to the state and the form of government.


Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1953. Political Writings. Translated and edited by Frederick Watkins. The University of Wisconsin Press.

Watt, E. D. 1981. “Rousseau Réchaufée-Being Obliged, Consenting, Participating, and Obeying Only Oneself.” The Journal of Politics Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 707-719. https://www-jstor-org.libproxy.furman.edu/stable/2130633?seq=13#metadata_info_tab_contents

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 2004. Emile. The Project Gutenberg EBook of Emile. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5427/5427-h/5427-h.htm#link2H_4_0002

Social Darwinism 🖉 edit

Social Darwinism held that human life in society was a fight for survival guided by the principle of "survival of the fittest", proposed by British philosopher and scientist Herbert Spencer. In his later publications, Spencer's devotion to the right of universal suffrage waned. While he views universal suffrage in Social Statics ( 1851) as a reliable way of keeping government from overstepping its bounds in safeguarding moral rights, he concludes in Principles of Ethics that universal suffrage fails to do so successfully, and therefore abandons his support for it. He subsequently came to the conclusion that universal suffrage posed more of a danger to moral rights than it did to defend them (Spencer on Voting, 1879) . Over-legislation was promoted by universal suffrage, especially when it was extended to women, as it allowed the government to take on tasks that were not its responsibility.

Spencer understood that liberalism's fundamental objective has never been to grant people the right to vote, but rather to limit government authority. In Social Statics ( 1981) , he states that “The function of Liberalism in the past was that of putting a limit to the powers of kings. The function of true Liberalism in the future will be that of putting a limit to the powers of Parliaments” (Spencer, 1981, p. 166). The primary motivation for expanding suffrage is to limit or prevent the government's role from expanding. When this aim is challenged, the law of equal freedom may be jeopardized less by suffrage restrictions than by their removal, according to Social Statics (Miller, 1982, p. 492).

Spencer's work emphasizes the importance of changes in the pattern of interrelationships between the individual and the state in social evolution. The gradual decline of government's function in people's lives, according to Spencer, is the key to optimal social evolution in the future (Miller, 1982, p. 493). Before the publication of Social Statics in 1851, Spencer thought that universal suffrage would eliminate class legislation and protect the interests of the entire community. He even criticized the association of ignorance to the working class saying that “it is a great error to suppose that ignorance is peculiar to the unenfranchised.” (Spencer, 1851, p.232, para. 4). In 1860, Spencer emphasized once more that extending suffrage is only justifiable when it is utilized to preserve or extend individual liberty. However, he praised the suffrage expansion brought about by the Reform Bill of 1867, a good example of the triumph of feeling over intellect.

Spencer's views on women's suffrage are similar to his views on allowing workers to vote. Spencer calls for unlimited political equality for women in Social Statics ( 1851) . He portrays women as being cognitively and physically inferior to men in this book, despite the fact that history shows that some women are equal to men in both regards. They have thrived as rulers, scientists, authors, and artists despite institutional constraints (Miller, 1982, p. 494). If many women are inferior, then many men are as well. In either case, the inferior should not be denied the chance to use the faculties they have. However, Spencer had concluded by 1892 that women could not be trusted with unfettered franchise. His rationale was that women are less capable of abstract thinking than males and are more influenced by emotional appeals. Spencer does not give explicit reasoning as to why this is the case. He simply notes in Social Statics ( 1851) that “[a woman’s] faculties are less powerful [..] because woman is mentally inferior to man she has less extensive rights, amount to ? Just this,--that because woman has weaker faculties than man, she ought not to have like liberty with him to exercise the faculties she has!” (Spencer, 1851, p.158). In addition, “A further difference between men and women is due to the fact that men are liable to military service for the defense of the country in time of war. Since this burden does not fall upon women, they are not entitled to the franchise, until a state of permanent peace has been attained” (Elliot, 2019, p. 205).


Elliot, H., Williams, B. ( 2019) . Makers of the Nineteenth Century Herbert Spencer. United States: Creative Media Partners, LLC.

Miller, W. ( 1982) . HERBERT SPENCER'S DRIFT TO CONSERVATISM. History of Political Thought, 3(3), 483-497. Retrieved July 25, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2621 2267

Spencer on voting as a poor instrument for protecting our rights to life, liberty, and property ( 1879) . Online Library of Liberty. (n.d.). https://oll.libertyfund.org/quote/spencer-on-voting-as-a-poor-instrument-for-protecting-our-rights-to-life-liberty-and-property- 1879.

Spencer, H. ( 1851) . Social Statics . Online Library of Liberty. https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/spencer-social-statics- 1851

Spencer, H. ( 1981) . The Man versus the State, with Six Essays on Government, Society and Freedom (LF ed.). Online Library of Liberty. https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/mack-the-man-versus-the-state-with-six-essays-on-government-society-and-freedom-lf-ed#Spencer_0020_330

Weberian Thought 🖉 edit

Through the democratic process in which citizens elect their representatives to government, Weberian Thought held the promise that it would be possible to rewrite the historically authoritarian regime of Prussia (Germany at Weber’s time) perpetuated by Junkers, wealthy conservative landowners, and monarchists before the war. (Maley, 2011, p.76). Weber envisioned his model as a counterpoint to both the left's Social Democrats and the right's monarchists and Junkers.

According to Weber, equal suffrage meant equal universal voting rights for working classes who had historically been barred from voting. In his writings on equal suffrage in modern citizenship, he clearly states that equal suffrage is “closely related to the equality of certain fates which the modern state as such creates” (Weber, 1994, p. 105). He explicitly focuses on returning soldiers’ rights, and argues that the equality of the modern state functions in the way that people are equal before death, because the “most basic needs [of physical existence] on the one hand and, on the other, that most solemn and lofty fact of all are encompassed by those equalities which the modern state offers all its citizens in a truly lasting and undoubted way: sheer physical security and the minimum for subsistence, but also the battlefield on which to die” (Weber, 1994, p.105, para.2)

Weber does not emphasize on women’s suffrage, he does, however, say that women should have the right to vote as long as “they too are ‘fighting’ the war if they do their duty” (Weber, 1994, p.78, line.14). Moreover, in “Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology”, Weber notes that “the woman is dependent because of the normal superiority of the physical and intellectual energies of the male” (Weber, 1978, p. 1007) . The Weberian Thought on voting was aiming to correct historical gender and class inequities or might at least mitigate the most severe exclusions of women, the urban working class, and the rural peasantry from power and government.

Weber's ideas for equal suffrage might be viewed as a partial erasing of historical discriminatory markings. Weber's suggestions have a deeper element to them than the more neutral sounding ‘counterweight’ to bureaucratic dominance (Weber, 1994, p.104). Equal suffrage emerged as a valuable counterbalance to both types of inequity. Weber saw that the inequities created by capitalism might be just as persistent as those created by prior, more feudal social systems. Against both, Weber advocated for a ‘positive politics’ in which “equal voting rights” means that the individual “is not considered in terms of the particular professional and family position he occupies, nor in relation to the differences of material and social situation, but purely and simply as a citizen” (Weber, 1994, p.103).

During the Russian revolution, enraged workers, students, and returning soldiers took to the streets in protest of the existing regime's ruler, Tsar Nicholas II, who had obstructed their enfranchisement and rights prior to the war and then ordered mass slaughter on the battlefield. Weber recognized their outrage at the collapsing regime, but he dismissed their demands for more revolutionary, far-reaching reform as immature. Although Weber understood the anger of Russian revolutionists against the crumbling regime, he saw it as immature and ‘childish’ (Maley, 2011, p. 99). Weber was concerned that under the Russian revolutionary circumstances of 1918– 19, people would respond out of anger and rage, which would be doubly harmful. In “Parliament and Government in Germany under a New Political Order”, Weber had already wondered “whether such explosions unleash yet again the familiar and usual fear of the propertied classes; in other words, it depends on whether the emotional effect of undirected mass fury produces the equally emotional and equally undirected cowardice of the bourgeoisie” (Weber, 1994, p. 232)

In his wartime newspaper writings, Weber made a strategic case for the Social Democratic Party's participation as a disciplined working-class party. Though Weber considered the working class to be too “immature” to take on the role of a ruling class, he praised the discipline and self-control of the Social Democrats' political partners, the trade unions. He said approvingly that “organizations like the trade unions, but also the Social Democratic Party, create a very important counterbalance [not only against the right, but] to the rule of the street which is so typical of purely plebiscitary nations and so prone to momentary and irrational influences” (Weber, 1994, p. 231).


Maley, T. ( 2011) . Democracy and the Political. In Democracy & the Political in Max Weber's Thought (pp. 77-120). Toronto; Buffalo; London: University of Toronto Press. Retrieved July 16, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttgq2.7

Weber, M. ( 1994) . Weber: Political Writings. United States: Cambridge University Press.

Weber, M. ( 1978) . Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology. University of California Press.

What do the major legal theories (positive law, natural law, critical legal studies, etc.) say about this right? 🖉 edit

Natural Law:

Perceptions of voting as a right under natural law theory have evolved over time. In early natural law theory, the right to vote was not explicitly considered a necessary component of the fundamental goods on which rights and law are founded. While Aquinas posited that “the supreme power belongs to the multitude as a whole, or to that one who represents the multitude,” he never emphasized the importance of expressing the power of the multitude through voting, specifically (Shepard 1913, 114). Additionally, in the Second Treatise of Government, John Locke finds that, while natural law and reason compel humans beings to create civil governments to protect their property and grant powers to sovereign individuals and institutions as a “common superior on earth to appeal to for relief,” widely-recognized suffrage is not a natural prerequisite for this tendency (Locke 1689, 15).

Over time, however, suffrage has received more consideration as intrinsic to natural law. Walter James Shepard describes this shift as part of the “theory of the early constitutional regime,” which moved beyond feudal interpretations of political representation and brought about the notion “that voting is an abstract right, founded in natural law, a consequence of the social compact, and an incident of popular sovereignty” (Shepard 1913, 108). The American Civil Rights Movement also brought about more explicit connections between the right to vote and natural law theory. Martin Luther King Jr., widely considered to have based his political philosophy on the tenets of natural law, often rhetorically framed the right to vote as part of the “eternal moral issue” of the Civil Rights Movement, stating that “the denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition” (King 1957) . King’s commentary on de facto denial of African Americans’ right to vote echoes later writings by King that more explicitly outline the natural law tradition: “A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law” (King 1963).

Legal Positivism:

Legal positivist interpretations of suffrage prioritize the systems that define, carry out, and protect suffrage and the voting process. Unlike natural law, the right to vote is not intimately connected or not connected to the pursuit of human goodness. Instead, it is a product of positive norms in a given society, and can be codified as a right as long as society and its legislators view it as something worth protecting. According to H.L.A. Hart, the right to vote constitutes a “secondary rule”–a rule that regulates how laws in the conventional sense are “ascertained, introduced, eliminated” and enforced (Hart 1961, 92).

Whereas “primary rules” control individual action such as speed limits, environmental regulations, or criminal law, the right to vote as a secondary rule regulates the process by which primary rules are created by incorporating some level of public input on who makes the law. Jeremy Waldron emphasizes the necessity of governmental and legal systems for suffrage, stating that “[o]ne has the right to vote only if one’s vote is counted and given effect in a system of collective decision that determines policy, leadership and authority” (Waldron 1998, 309). While positivists emphasize the importance of systems in the creation and validation of voting rights, voting as a right can also be conferred “as criteria of legal validity” in “conformity with moral principles or substantive values” (Hart 1961, 250). Waldron’s discussion of the inherent connection between individuals and the legal systems that dictate large parts of their lives serves as a positivist articulation of voting as a right: “since it is my duties (among others’) whose performance the state is orchestrating, I have a right to a say in the decision-mechanisms which control their orchestration” (Waldron 1998, 310).

Critical Legal Theory:

Some critical legal theorists maintain critiques against rights-based legal philosophies and methodologies altogether, including voting rights. These critiques include notions that rights-based legal thought “produces a kind of isolated individualism that hinders social solidarity and genuine human connection,” that “the use of rights discourse stunts human imagination and mystifies people about how law really works,” and that “legal rights are in fact indeterminate and incoherent” (Harvard). Drawing on historical precedent, critical legal theorists such as Robert Gordon argue that overreliance on rights-based legal strategy can make modest social gains for individuals, but simultaneously impose a limit on the extent to which individuals can make use of such rights and push back against entrenched power structures. Similarly, Cass Sunstein in describing the views of this school points to a claim that the right to vote is not meaningfully enforced in the United States due to its strict limitation to the public sector:

“The legal system purports to promote democracy through protecting the right to vote and the traditional freedom of expression; but those rights do not allow for democracy in the private sector, where critical decisions are also made. By safeguarding rights in the public arena and ignoring the private sphere, the legal system has eroded rather than promoted democracy” (Sunstein 1983, 128).Under this framework, limiting suffrage to a matter of individual rights imposes unnecessary restrictions on when and where it can be enforced.

Not all critical legal theorists agree with the rejection of rights-based frameworks for suffrage. Critical race theorists such as Kimberle Crenshaw believe that “rights can be defended and reconstructed; the critique of rights neglects the historical potential of rights in the real lives of people of color and women” (Harvard). Framing voting as a right can also empower marginalized groups and mobilize individuals to push back against the existing legal status quo:

“The vast majority are able to sustain a ‘dual consciousness’ – recognizing and capitalizing on the revolutionary potential of legal rights while remaining skeptical of the overall social and political order in which rights are currently embedded” (Harvard). While there is broad consensus in critical legal theory that existing legal systems favor historically dominant hierarchies and do not equally protect all citizens’ ability to vote, there is ongoing debate as to whether framing the issue as a matter of voting “rights” is the best course of action.


King, Martin Luther, “Give us the Ballot”, 1957, from King, Martin Luther and James Melvin. Washington. A Testament of Hope : the Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986.

King, Martin Luther, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, 1963, from King, Martin Luther. Why We Can’t Wait. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010.

Hart, H. L. A. (Herbert Lionel Adolphus). The Concept of Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961.

Harvard University, The Bridge, “Critical Perspectives on Legal Rights”: https://cyber.harvard.edu/bridge/CriticalTheory/rights.htm

Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government

Shepard, Walter James. “The Theory of the Nature of the Suffrage.” The American Political Science Review 7, no. 1 (1913): 106–36. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4616998.

Sunstein, Cass R. Review of Politics and Adjudication, by Lon Fuller and David Kairys. Ethics 94, no. 1 (1983): 126–35. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2380661.

Waldron, Jeremy. “Participation: The Right of Rights.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 98 (1998): 307–37. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4545289.

Are there any philosophical or moral traditions that dispute the classification of this right as a fundamental right? + create