Newsletter of the Campaign to Defend the Right to a Secret Ballot (CDRSB)
August 2013 Issue No. 7
ISSN 1756-4964 (Print)

The Campaign to Defend the Right to a Secret Ballot (CDRSB) was formed in 2002 to oppose the unlimited use of postal ballots begun by the Blair government in 2000. The 1872 UK Ballot Act protected this right by requiring that voters be witnessed to cast their vote in secret at polling stations. Postal ballots could only be used throughout the 20th century by voters unable through absence from home or illness to cast their vote in a polling station. In this way employers and landlords were prevented from demanding that their employees and tenants vote under their scrutiny. Unlimited use of postal ballots undermines the right to a secret ballot: it also leads to an increase in electoral fraud. It is the Left who are the chief advocates of reforms supposedly aimed to encourage voter participation by lowering standards of integrity in regard to the electoral process. The CDRSB held a conference on this matter at the UN in New York in 2006. Preparations for the second conference include research on what the first conference recognized to be the main underlying cause of electoral fraud and malpractice: the conflict between conservatism and radicalism.

It may be reasonably stated that most conflict in the last two centuries arose ultimately as a consequence of the failure to fulfil the aspirations of American revolutionary radicalism in the regulation of inherited wealth and the development of non partisan forms of political participation and decision making most especially in regard to their role in facilitating ongoing systemic change. This failure may be attributed principally to two main factors: first, the incompetence of French revolutionary radicalism; second, the insufficient strength of American revolutionary radicalism in overcoming single-handedly the forces of global conservatism following the French defeat. The reasons for these shortcomings are rooted in the comparatively more backward level of French and European social and political development. Democratic progress may therefore best be assured by reaffirming the main achievements and aspirations of American revolutionary radicalism. These are first, the Bill of Rights as constitutional safeguard against government tyranny; second, the principle that the earth belongs to the living in its implications both for ongoing systemic change and the taxation of inherited wealth; thirdly, the further development of sortition by way of the jury form of democracy.

The development of sortition as a complementary form of election and appointment needs to be developed both in regard to its merit in promoting egalitarian methods of democratic participation and also in regard to its merit in helping to constrain the influence of factions, most especially secret factions, on the political process. Suspicion regarding secret factions gripped the public imagination in the formative years of the American republic and led to the formation of the American Antimasonic party. Such fears were exploited by extremism in World War Two, and remain of continuing importance in the modern era. Since the demise of Marxism in both its openly Leninist as well as its dictatorial, Stalinist expression career Leftism has increasingly favoured the secret factional methods of Fabian strategy: stealth, spin, infiltration and deception. Obama, Blair and even Saul Alinsky’s Tory disciple David Cameron are leaders who have all acquired somewhat suspect reputations in this context. The European Union is largely a product of such tactics and is based on an assemblage of treaties which exclude virtually all provisions of the US Bill of Rights.

This is the background against which the conflict between conservatism and radicalism is now escalating. If however general agreement can be reached in regard to the above goals then conflict between radicalism and conservatism may be better contained within the parameters of peaceful constitutional development properly protected against the threat of factional monopolies and attempts to promote tyranny by stealth. These parameters may facilitate multisystemic options in which socialist and capitalist forms of economy can be tested upon an impartial foundation of democratic participation. These principles of approach can divided into two parts.

Part A: These are constitutional requirements which are clearly necessary as ultimate goals for minimum international standards in relation to democratic development upon an increasingly integrated global scale. These requirements rest upon self evident truths of common sense and accordingly do not necessarily require testing in practice: first, all government and administrative decisions affecting individual liberty should be subject to appeal to and review by a jury; second, taxation policy should include recognition that inheritance tax is the most socially just class of taxation.

Part B: These are constitutional innovations which should be examined through pilot projects but which we are not promoting as necessary without testing in practice. We propose that long term policy and ongoing systemic change in regard to environmental, economic and other matters of a systemic nature may be better facilitated by instituting in parallel to and complementary to existing electoral arrangements a longer term cycle of elections to assemblies of randomly selected citizens. Their chief purpose would be to decide upon long term policy changes. Details of how best these decisions can be coordinated with existing democratic decision making procedures can be arrived at through experience over time.

Our view is that it is a self evident truth of common sense that inheritance tax is the most socially just form of tax. This postulate would hold as a general principle both under a high tax, socialistic tax regime and also under a low tax, capitalistic tax regime. Jefferson was informed by the British philosophical tradition of common sense realism in formulating the principle that the ‘earth belongs to the living,’ which he regarded as a self evident truth. This is not a simple left versus right question. John Rawls, a ‘communitarian’ leftist informed by the philosophy of Kant, opposed the contention that inheritance tax is the most socially just form of tax. Marx did not regard inheritance tax as a central feature of his doctrine: in fact he condemned such emphasis upon this tax as ‘Saint-Simonist nonsense’ and argued against its adoption on the grounds that it would provoke too much hostility from the ruling classes and that only socialist production could bring about social justice.

A concise account of the conservative viewpoint can be seen in the work ‘Euthanasia for Death Duties’ by Barry Bracewell-Milnes. The arguments presented in it are, essentially, economic in nature. They can be broadly encapsulated in the following statement: Inheritance tax distorts spending, harms savings, and consequently leads to a decline in economic efficiency.

From the point of view of practical, economic experience it may be possible to prove this conjecture correct. However this does not invalidate the main substance of the CDRSB position. This is that, on the basis of self evident truth, not that of practical experimentation, it is more socially just to tax inherited wealth than either labour or enterprise. In fact it is quite possible to uphold both ends of the argument – pro and anti inheritance tax – at one and the same time because these arguments apply in different areas of human understanding: those against inheritance tax rest chiefly upon economic criteria as a result of evidence gained through practical application over time; those for inheritance tax rest chiefly upon moral grounds which are self evident in nature, that is to say, they do not rest upon the results of practical experimentation. A similar example of such distinctions can be seen in regard to the question of slavery. Marxist dogma holds that slavery is less economically efficient than free labour, but the facts, most especially in the antebellum south, indicate otherwise. Yet the moral argument against slavery is, without any need for reference to questions of economic efficiency, self evident.

Many conservatives may believe that constitutional arrangements to date have provided a satisfactory framework to test out the economic consequences of inheritance tax and that no further reforms are necessary even if only at the level of pilot projects. Our view is that global experience so far has been too problematic, unstable and conditioned by too great a tendency towards conflict to provide sufficiently convincing evidence that inheritance tax cannot yield positive benefits of such magnitude as to outweigh negative considerations. Moreover, it may be possible to develop constitutional arrangements which would be less polarizing such that conflict between left and right in regard to issues of social justice could be managed upon a more reliably peaceful foundation.

For purposes of clarification the following is an outline indication of how reforms which may provide a constitutional framework with particular regard to the question of inheritance tax wherein ongoing systemic change – for example between capitalist and socialist policies – could be undertaken upon a more reliably peaceful foundation.

Firstly, assuming these proposals in regard to the status of inheritance tax are accepted as valid across the political spectrum, a program of voter education could take place to inform the general public of these distinctions. Once inheritance tax is recognized as the most socially just form of tax independently of practical economic consequences society at large will judge the relative merits of taxing inherited wealth differently than has been the case to date. We cannot say beforehand how differently the emphasis in taxation of inherited wealth, labour and enterprise will be changed. It is conceivable that there will be no change anyway, but it seems quite possible that there will be a changed public consensus for higher levels of inheritance tax than at present. Assuming the resulting changed spectrum of public opinion as a given, ongoing systemic change can then proceed upon a more egalitarian, and accordingly less polarized foundation. This foundation of understanding could be further improved by recognizing a further aspect of Jefferson’s self evident truth that the earth belongs to the living: that each generation should have the right to effect systemic, long term change, based not merely upon a short term, usually four yearly, electoral cycle, but upon a much longer cycle. As Jefferson also hoped, these changes should be accompanied by development of the jury form of democracy. In the legislative branch, alongside present electoral forms, this would help moderate the polarization of political opinion upon questions of systemic change, since it is a self evident truth of common sense that sortition is not only a more egalitarian method of selecting representatives but must also tend to constrain the influence of factions, most especially secret factions, upon the political process.

On the basis of these changes it may be possible, following verification by means of pilot projects of increasing scale, to effect ongoing systemic change upon a more reliably peaceful foundation than has been the case to date in global experience. This would thereafter provide a less imperfect constitutional framework through which the specifically economic cases for and against inheritance tax could best be tested.

CDRSB, 27 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3XX

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© Dr. Keith Nilsen