Individualism and the “libertarians”

I’m at a conference this week so there isn’t as much time for blogging, but I can’t resist drawing your attention to a new data point I’ve just come across on a long-running philosophical question.

Many people on the right, whether or not they call themselves libertarians, have a strong self-image as individualists: anti-authoritarians, non-conformists, people who don’t like following directions. And it’s not hard to find some examples that support that correlation. But there are also reasons to be sceptical.

Step forward Antony Green, who, like other election experts, has been attacking the undemocratic system of group voting tickets (GVTs) being used for the upper house in this month’s Victorian election and urging people to vote “below the line” so as to be able to allocate preferences the way they want, not the way party powerbrokers have decided.

Two weeks ago, Green posted a careful explanation of how GVTs work and why they’re so subversive of democracy. It’s a bit heavy going – if you’re relatively new to the issue, you’re better off with Ben Raue’s account in the Guardian – but it includes a fascinating chart. You’ll find it about halfway down, headed “2018 Victorian LC Election – Vote % and ATL % by Party.”

What it shows, in the final column, is the percentage of voters for each party who, in the last state election, voted “above the line”: that is, who waived their right of individual choice and simply adopted the GVT dictated by the party bosses. You might think, then, that there would be less above-the-line voting in the case of parties that appeal to self-styled individualists. But you’d be wrong. Very wrong.

The correlation is quite striking, but it’s in the other direction. The minor parties with the lowest rates of above-the-line voting are Reason (left-liberal), Victorian Socialists (Trotskyist), the Greens and Sustainable Australia (leftish anti-immigration), all below 80%. The four with the highest rates, by contrast, are Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party (law-and-order), the Aussie Battlers (hard right), the DLP (hard right) and, top of the table with 94.2%, Australia’s “libertarian” party, the Liberal Democrats.

You could argue that for some of these parties the numbers are so small that they’re just statistical noise with no real significance. That might account, for example, for the Australian Liberty Alliance, the only far-right party with a fairly low above-the-line rate (84.5%) – its vote is only 0.56% in total, so the below-the-line votes amount to only about three thousand people. But the Liberal Democrats have no such excuse; they are the fourth largest minor party, a quite serious force with almost 90,000 voters.

And no doubt many, perhaps most, of them think of themselves as rugged individualists. But they don’t behave that way.

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