Our government has done horrible things recently. To show our dissent, some of us protested by posting the #notinmyname tag. I myself tweeted no fewer than eight times using this tag.
We wanted to stand apart, to be excused from the inhumane policies, to prevent others from judging us by what our authorities are doing. We wanted to calm our conscience.
But – with all due respect – this is a lie. We are deceiving ourselves.
These people got in power through elections. Twice. Someone must have voted for them.
Voting for a governing majority is an action with consequences. Formally, by voting, we delegate both the power and the responsibility to those who get to govern. But morally, it is not possible to delegate such responsibility because the initial action remains ours.
In 2010, millions of Hungarians eagerly voted for a party that had no program whatsoever. They said nothing, repeat, nothing about their plans. Would these people have voted differently if they had known they would be at least morally responsible for what happened afterwards?
In 2015, (almost) the same governing majority cracks down on refugees, violating international law God knows how many times, and committing violence that seem acts of war against a neighboring country and potentially crimes against humanity – by using tear gas on unarmed refugees on the soil of Serbia.
According to Kim Lane Scheppele, the Hungarian government is deliberately escalating the refugee crisis in order to introduce more repressive and surveillance measures against its own citizens – to build a police state. Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t, so one might just choose to believe it.
Is it an acceptable excuse that I didn’t vote for the governing party? Not really – I remained in the country and, as a law-abiding citizen, I pay my taxes. Morally speaking, this is also a degree of consent. It’s true that doing otherwise would bring considerable hardship on me and my family, but – again, morally speaking – that still doesn’t acquit me.
Here’s my problem with democracy: when you vote, and your side wins, you exercise power over those who didn’t vote your way. This is the immorality of entitlement: you are perfectly right to decide about your life – but you have no business deciding about the lives of others.
Of course, in other systems, way fewer people get to control the lives of immensely more other people, so democracy seems to be a setup that causes the least damage in this respect.
But I think voters should be aware of their responsibility. I think that society must hold voters liable for the consequences of their votes. It shouldn’t be possible to shed all responsibility by voting once every few years.
In my eyes, the vote isn’t a basic human right. It’s a privilege because it gives one power over the lives of others. Because of that, if one commits a crime, the first thing they should lose is not their freedom but their vote.
People should be taught about this – Hungarians are learning it the hard way right now. They’re not the first in history, though.
So, let’s not brandish #notinmyname – because, as much as I reject collective liability, our government still uses our names to commit horrible acts.
But what does it mean to take the responsibility for the consequences? Two things: we must do everything in our power to prevent the government from committing further abominations, and we must do everything in our power to alleviate or potentially undo the damage they have caused. Not doing so also amounts to consent.
Criminal law – the supposed defense against bad things in a healthy society – calls these incapacitation and restoration. But then criminal law operates from a position of official power, which we dissenters don’t have.
By acting thus, we don’t claim we stand apart. On the contrary: we acknowledge that we are somewhat responsible for what is happening – which makes it our task to undo the damage.
[…] because he who is silent is an accomplice of the guilty ones,
brother is called to account for the deeds of his brothers […]
(Mihály Babits: The Book of Jonah, translated by István Tótfalusi)