Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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ABSTENTION. This word was formerly employed in the civil law, and was synonymous with renunciation of the right of inheritance. It is now used only in a political sense, and means the renunciation of the exercise of one's rights.


—Abstention is resorted to by political parties in a minority. These parties, sometimes, seeing that their efforts to bring about the triumph of their views are fruitless, feel loath to allow their adversaries to witness their defeat. Sometimes they propose to protest against oppression, real or imaginary. At such times they think that by voting they recognize the rightfulness of the act or of the government which they oppose.


—Abstention is likewise resorted to in cases arising from a conflict of duties, feelings or interests.


—We would call attention only to the case in which persons abstain from voting through neglect. An abstention so causeless and even so culpable can not be justified.


—Can abstention by a political party be justified? We think not. In the first place, it is a species of self-annulment, a kind of political suicide, which can no more be excused than the act of taking one's own life. Besides, by retiring from the field, a party loses the chance of gaining an advantage by a sudden change in public opinion. By taking a part in political movements, by mingling with his fellow-citizens at election times, and by presenting himself as a candidate for their votes, a man may expect to propagate his political views with more or less success, and to exercise some influence on the destiny of his country. One owes his country not only his blood, but his self-devotion and his talent.


—To the orator who remains silent, we might say: If you had spoken, we should perhaps have yielded to your arguments. You have no right to question the intelligence, the loyalty and the patriotism of your fellow-citizens, even when they profess opinions opposed to your own. What right have you to consider yourself infallible? Are you very sure that our reply would not have convinced you of your error, and converted you to our way of thinking?


—We might remind those who practice abstention—which generally happens in special cases—on account of a conflict of duties or interests, of the law of Solon, which provided that every citizen should decide in favor of one or other of the parties of the country, because abstention often prolongs intestine struggles. Besides, it is seldom that after sifting things to the bottom, we do not find that one or other of these duties or interests should prevail. Under these circumstances, the failure to come to a decision is an evidence of intellectual indolence.


—In conflicts of feeling or sentiment, if patriotism is at stake, there can be no doubt as to which side one should take. Did Brutus hesitate between patriotism and paternal love? A private citizen may hesitate; a public man, never: noblesse oblige.


—It is apparent that we do not approve abstention in any case, and we seldom see cases in which it can be excused. Sometimes we are forced to look upon it as a weakness, and for weakness there can be only pity.


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