November 19, 2008 § 7 Comments
There seems to be reasonably wide agreement that when one formally cooperates with grave evil in how and why one votes, it is grave matter: the “grave matter” in the triad of conditions for mortal sin, that is, grave matter, knowledge, and deliberate consent.
On the other hand the gravity of various acts of remote material cooperation with grave evil in how and why one votes is more controversial.
I think voting for Obama even if it was [remote material] cooperation was grave matter. Faithful Citizenship says that your proportionate reason to do it must itself be a grave reason, meaning that the vote is grave in the first place.
I think this argument has some force; but it may be worthwhile to consider other situations where the Church has authorized certain practices under a rubric of “grave reasons”:
“But if, according to a rational and just judgement, there are no similar grave reasons of a personal nature or deriving from external circumstances, then the determination to avoid habitually the fecundity of the union while at the same time to continue fully satisfying their sensuality, can be derived only from a false appreciation of life and from reasons having nothing to do with proper ethical laws.” – Pius XII, Apostolate of the Midwife
And yet the same Pope Pius XII later tells us:
“Therefore, in our late allocution on conjugal morality, We affirmed the legitimacy, and at the same time, the limits — in truth very wide — of a regulation of offspring, which, unlike so-called ‘birth control,’ is compatible with the law of God.” – Pius XII, Morality in Marriage (emphasis mine), from Papal Pronouncements on Marriage and the Family, Werth and Mihanovich, 1955
So there is precedent for a Pope in the exercise of his teaching office – let alone the USCCB – to say on the one hand that “grave reasons” are required, and yet that the discretionary limits of action are still “in truth very wide”.
This leads me to the question of gravity when we are talking about remote material cooperation with grave evil. Jeff Culbreath suggested below that the gravity of an act of voting (as remote material cooperation) for a candidate who actively pursues a policy of murdering the innocent probably depends on the reason why one does it, even if that reason is not proportionate in truth. I think that makes a great deal of sense. For the answer to the question “is X a proportionate reason” is not always an unequivocal “yes” or “no”. That is to say, prudence is a scale, not binary: one may act very imprudently, somewhat imprudently, somewhat prudently, or very prudently; or anywhere in between. In addition, everyone’s understanding of the facts will vary to some extent, and one can only act based on facts one actually knows and one’s understanding of how things work. If I believe I am acting prudently that doesn’t mean I am in fact acting prudently, but there is a morally nontrivial difference between willful imprudence, apathetic imprudence, and simply mistaken imprudence.
So I think it is, well, imprudent to assume that every act of voting for Obama (or McCain for that matter) was necessarily grave matter simply because Faithful Citizenship says that reasons for voting for a pro-abortion candidate must be “grave”. There is precedent for the Magisterium to require grave reasons, on the one hand, and yet say that the acting subject has wide lattitude on the other. In addition I think Jeff Culbreath’s suggestion that the actual reasons why make a significant difference here is eminently reasonable; even if, as an objective matter, the reasons why the voter voted the way he did were not proportionate.
October 22, 2008 § 19 Comments
The Catechism tells us:
2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country:
Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
[Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.
The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”
Despite the lack of any mention of game theory in this passage, some people seem to want to interpret it to mean that there is always a proportionate reason to vote for a medical cannibal who supports aborting children and using their body parts for research (like, say, John McCain), as long as the other major party candidate is worse. I’ll just point out that this interpretation involves more than a little bit of filling in of the blanks. If anything, a much more plausible interpretation is that exercising the right to vote is, when morally licit, about submission to authority, respect, co responsibility for the common good, living a pure Christian life in a pagan culture, etc — that is, it is about outcome-independent considerations, not about making sure I am on the winning team.
May 30, 2008 § 47 Comments
Lydia has posted at What’s Wrong with the World on the question of the moral essence of voting. After reading the interesting post and the discussion which followed, I posted the following comment in the thread:
I think there may be a thought process that goes something like this, at least among Catholic moralists and those who even bother to follow such things. (Which, let us grant, is laudible in itself: most people just vote however they choose without consciously reflecting on what a vote is at all. That is, most people don’t even consider the possibility that they might be doing evil simply by choosing to vote at all, given some particular ballot option permutation space).
The thought process:
Premise 1: Voting as an act is never intrinsically immoral: it is just throwing a lever.
Premise 2: Voting as an act is nothing but remote cooperation (material or formal) with whatever specific things a candidate actually does as an elected official.
It follows that the only thing that voting always is, is remote material cooperation with the things a candidate actually does as an elected official. It would be formal cooperation in those cases where I will some specific thing the candidate does: so if I will that Obama issue an executive order authorizing abortions on military bases I am formally cooperating in that act, and if I will that Obama withdraw the troops then I am formally cooperating in that act; but in general, I don’t will everything that he does or has promised to do. Therefore under its moral aspect – unless I am formally cooperating with one of his specific acts and that act is evil – a vote is simply remote material cooperation, and this exhaustively describes its moral parameters.
It further follows that the moral aspect of voting resides solely in (1) avoiding formal cooperation with specific evil acts on the part of the candidate (everyone will of course claim this as a matter of internal forum: will claim that they don’t want Obama to authorize abortions on military bases, and because they don’t want it they aren’t choosing it and don’t intend it); and (2) a prudential evaluation of the external consequences of the candidate actually being elected.
I think there are a lot of problems with this narrative, though it dominates contemporary Catholic thinking on the subject. Those problems start with the fact that it assumes an antiessentialist theory of what a vote is in the first place, leaving moral evaluation of (say) voting for Obama in the realm of strictly material external consequences; and the narrative goes downhill from there. Another problem is that ‘voting’ may simply be an inadequate moral specifier of a species of act, much as ‘firing a gun’ is an inadequate moral specification of a species of act. “Voting for Obama” may be deontologically more akin to “firing a gun into a living baby’s brain” than to simply “firing a gun”.
As I mentioned on my blog, I don’t feel as though I understand with clarity the deontology of a vote: I don’t really know what a vote is with enough clarity to give an even semi-rigorous definition. But I have intuitions of what a vote is not, and Lydia’s “intuition pumps” in this post are pretty helpful in clarifying my own intuitions on the subject.
September 26, 2006 § 26 Comments
There are some really great comments in the voting thread below. But there is a key point which I think may be getting lost in the larger discussion. Tom hits it directly when he says:
This may express the intent of the voter, but before we get to intent we need to know what the object of the act of voting is. We need to make sure that the means of mitigating a greater evil is not itself evil. And we need to make sure without making the “everybody does it” fallacy.
When we drop a 500 pound bomb on a military target, and an elementary school filled with children is a mile away, it is pretty clear that “destroying a school filled with innocent children” is not a part of the object of our act. When the military target is in the same building as the school that is far less clear.
Likewise, when we vote for a mayoral candidate who favors torturing suspected terrorists it is pretty clear that the object of our act is not to choose a policy of torturing suspected terrorists, because the mayor doesn’t really have anything to say about how suspected terrorists are handled. But a President is a different matter. When a candidate has promised to do something specific which is within the role to which we are electing him, the argument that we are not choosing the actual thing he has promised to do becomes weaker. And if in our own minds we make the decision “the torture is bad, but it is a small and confined evil, and I therefore choose it as a lesser evil than the abortion policies of the other candidate”, then the argument that we aren’t choosing the evil policy becomes very weak indeed.
December 16, 2012 § 20 Comments
I’ve been having a discussion with Kristor in email about usury, and the subject of government-issued treasury bills has come up. With treasury bills the government borrows fiat dollars from an individual and then pays him back both principal and profitable interest later. There are no specific assets backing those treasury bills, so on its face it looks like usury.
The fact that companies and individuals can issue their own currencies, for example common stock, is part of the picture. It can be confusing though because some ‘tradable instruments’ are denominated in other currencies and some aren’t. When I sell a note to a third party, the principal and interest owed on that note is usually denominated in dollars or some other sovereign currency. But some tradable instruments like common stock are not denominated in another currency: its value is just whatever transactional value it has right now on whatever market trades in it.
If a company decides to issue more shares of stock, that debases the value of all existing shares. But it isn’t usury. The shares of stock are not denominated in some other currency: they are their own currency. In the case of stock you get voting rights and other rights; so it has value. But that value is not denominated in any other currency. If the company borrows its own shares from me and then returns them along with newly issued shares as “interest” on the loan, that isn’t usury. It isn’t that my stock in itself begat more stock: the company issued new stock.
If the sovereign decides to issue more fiat currency, that debases the value of all existing fiat currency. But it isn’t usury. The sovereign agrees to accept his currency as payment for taxes, so it has value. Its value is not denominated in any other currency. When the sovereign borrows fiat dollars from me and returns them later with interest, it isn’t that my dollars begat more dollars: the sovereign has issued new dollars as interest.
In a case of usury, though, no new currency is being created by the issuing entity to pay the “interest”. A usurious transaction is a mutuum (person recourse) loan between two third parties independent of the sovereign who issues the currency. Currency is not in itself capable of creating more currency. Therefore in a mutuum loan (where a borrowing person is on the hook to repay the principal amount in full, independent of a specific and limited recourse to specified contractual assets) the lender is really only entitled, in justice, to return of precisely what was lent and nothing more. On the other hand if a “lender” purchases shares in real assets for production or consumption he can contract for the investment or consumption of those recoverable real assets in an asset-recourse loan, which is not usury.
Interestingly it follows that it is possible for third parties to make usurious loans to each other of (say) company stock. Lending 100 shares to Bob and demanding that he repay me with 110 shares at a later date no matter what, independent of what he does with the shares, would be usury.
Now, it is certainly possible for company management to commit an injustice against shareholders by debasing its stock. It is possible that many government actions w.r.t. currency are unjust under this sort of rubric rather than a rubric of usury. But showing that would take more work.
With his permission, I’ve included the pertinent background exchange with Kristor below the break:
November 26, 2012 § 5 Comments
Calumny is when someone tells falsehoods about a person in a way damaging to that person’s reputation or standing in the community. In the case of the Todd Akin affair, many people have told lies about what he actually said. I’ve said my piece about that here, here, here, and here; but one thing I haven’t done is explicitly give examples of the lies.
There are far too many to document, in truth, and in any case I’m not interested in making accusations against particular individuals. But to the extent that my thesis has been resisted it has mainly been by those who object by characterizing lies as not lies: by claiming some right to uncharitable interpretation, such that one may licitly assert that Akin said something when he actually didn’t say it, contributing to the pile-on damage to his reputation in the process, without committing calumny.
It has also been suggested that if a lot of the lies told about what Todd Akin said really are lies then a significant amount of political speech and blogging is immoral. With this latter I agree. I’ve suggested before that things like voting and blogging provide plenty of vicarious opportunities to do evil; and where there are pervasive opportunities for fallen human beings to do evil we usually see lots of fallen human beings doing evil.
Notice what I am not addressing here: I am not addressing Todd Akin as a candidate, politician, pro-life leader, or human being. I am addressing specifically and only what he actually said in his widely disseminated comments about rape and abortion. It is not acceptable to tell lies about what he actually said just because we object to other things about him. To take it all the way to the Godwin asymptote, it is not morally acceptable to lie about Hitler: lying about Hitler in a way which damages Hitler’s reputation is still calumny, and we shouldn’t do it.
Notice also that I am not accusing people who think his actual remarks were untoward or insensitive or whatever of asserting falsehoods. What I am addressing specifically is claims that Akin said X, when in actual fact he did not say X and may have even said the opposite of X. Lying about what someone said in a way that piles on damage to his reputation doesn’t become morally acceptable under some postmodern subjectivist rubric of “interpretation”. Either he said it or he didn’t; and if we claim he said it when he didn’t actually say it, we are liars.
Finally, I am not addressing someone’s intentions or culpability in committing calumny against Akin. I am addressing the behaviour such a person chooses. Someone who commits calumny against Akin may have all sorts of conflicting feelings, rationalizations, or what have you. I don’t care about those things. Someone might even have done so while making a completely non-culpable error in judgement. Again, I don’t care: it is never acceptable to equate evil done, even through a non-culpable error in judgement, with a good act. An evil act is a disorder in relation to the truth about the good, and a calumny against Akin is a calumny against Akin no matter what subjective protestations are raised. What people have actually said matters and cannot be swallowed up in the moral disinfectant of subjectivity. Someone who has committed calumny against Akin should retract it, in at least as public a way as it was initially done, and even if doing so was based on a non-culpable error in judgement (trusting some media paraphrase or seeing only some truncated quote that leaves the impression that he said something different come to mind as possible conditions for such a non-culpable error).
I’ve personally only seen one single person retract and apologize, and good for him. That’s the kind of guy I want in the moral foxhole with me.
So without further ado, here are just a few examples of how ostensible pro lifers have falsely characterized Akin’s words. Maybe I’ll add some more over time; maybe not. I am not going to link or attribute them, because the point is not to call out particular individuals. The point is for people of good will to wake the Hell up to what they are doing and stop doing it:
Akin’s deplorable comments were a psychic re-rape.
… when [the victim is] basically being blamed for being raped, …
… implies she should just get over [rape] or not let it bother her …
So there’s nothing offensive about [Akin's] notion that pregnancy is proof the rape victim Really Musta Wanted It?
The implied conclusion that a woman seeking to abort a pregnancy resulting from rape may be assumed to be lying…
Akin demonstrated he believed one of the following:
1. Pregnancy from rape is impossible. This would reveal scientific ignorance, and, in my view, be disqualifying.
2. Pregnancy from rape is too rare to require being addressed specifically.
[Notice how this one is set up too. The first is ludicrous and bears no resemblance to what Akin actually said, but it poisons the well to set up the second falsehood to look like it is a reasonable "interpretation" of Akin's words. In fact Akin not only didn't say the second, he actually specifically addressed pregnancy in the case of legitimate rape in the very comments under "criticism".]
November 22, 2012 § 3 Comments
Just to clarify an issue raised by a commenter here (apparently only Google accounts can comment): I did not support Todd Akin as a candidate. In fact I don’t vote at all, and I wouldn’t support other people voting when I wouldn’t do it myself. Beyond that, I don’t live in Akin’s state, and even if I did vote I wouldn’t know enough about him to opine on his overall merits as a candidate.
So someone reading my posts on the widespread calumny of Akin by ostensible pro-lifers as support of Akin qua candidate have made a mistake. I am against calumny because it is calumny, not because I personally support some Republican political agenda.
I also made the point that you don’t cultivate good leaders by throwing the “purists” under a bus when they make true statements that aggravate liberals. Purist politicians – that is, actual pro-lifers – are rare enough already, and no self respecting “purist” leader would willingly step up on behalf of the kind of ninnies who stabbed Akin in the back. I know I wouldn’t, if I were a believer in universal suffrage democracy and interested in politics (neither of which is the case).
So I’ve taken two positions here, neither of which entails support of Akin qua candidate: one against calumny, and the other against being the sort of pathetic politically correct followers that no self respecting leader would be willing to lead.
November 17, 2012 § 7 Comments
One of the peculiar features of modern society is the extent to which manifestly obvious facts hide in plain sight. Something can be so obviously true that it hits us over the head relentlessly, day in and day out, year in and year out; and yet when we state it out loud we get some combination of outrage and impossible-to-satisfy demands for “proof”. This isn’t a totally new phenomenon, of course: The Emperor’s New Clothes was written in 1837. But political correctness is pervasive in modern society, to the extent that even most pretenses to political incorrectness are just political correctness repackaged.
So it is with the connection between female suffrage and abortion law.
There are really just three basic questions here:
- Does women’s suffrage in itself – that is, the actual voting patterns of women – affect abortion law?
- Does the pervasive view that female suffrage is a matter of basic justice, as opposed to a prudential choice about governance over which reasonable people may disagree, affect abortion law (through everyone’s voting patterns, through judicial and regulatory decisions, and through literally millions of other everyday actions and considerations)?
- If these things do affect abortion law, in what direction do they affect it?
The answers to these questions are obvious; and yet every fibre of the modern being resists acknowledging them. (That in itself, ironically, provides additional evidence of the effects that attitudes about womens’ suffrage are having on our culture and our polity).
The first question, even though it is ultimately the least relevant of the three, is the easiest one to answer in the affirmative: yes, the actual voting patterns of women most certainly have an impact on abortion law. I’ve already made the point that it is women’s actual voting patterns specifically which make it nearly impossible for a pro-life politician to be elected without embracing exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.
I would submit that the answers to all three questions are blindingly obvious.
November 8, 2012 § 6 Comments
Bruce Charlton is somewhat of a kindred spirit of mine when it comes to voting. In fact he takes his criticism further than I do: he repudiates voting as a stupid and even demonic decision procedure tout court, at any scale and in any context. So there are bus stops even further down the line than I go.
Below a post on why the political Left feels no qualms about engaging in voter fraud (well worth reading in its own right), I commented as follows (edited and expanded):
The Left recognizes that the process of voting is meaningless – what matters is getting the ‘correct’ answer.
I don’t think that fully captures the relationship between the Left and voting. The Left cares deeply about equal rights. Indeed it cares about little else. All the “social justice”, all the looking out for the little guy against The Man, all the disquietingly clinical “compassion” is fundamentally, for liberals, about rectifying inequalities. ”Equal rights” is justice to the liberal mindset, despite the fact that it reduces the incommensurable value of human beings to utilitarian calculation, setting itself against nature and nature’s God. Universal suffrage voting is the sin qua non of equal rights, the liturgy in which each autonomous individual expresses precisely, quantitatively equal political power. It is the Black Mass in which all of the autonomous Wills of self-created free and equal individual liberals are aggregated into one tremendous Will.
The problem is that humanity doesn’t always choose liberalism; therefore giving precisely equal political power to all of humanity does not in practice result in the undistilled liberalism that it “should”.
Liberalism solves this problem by dividing actual humanity into liberals and enemies of liberalism. But because actual enemies of liberalism cannot exist – if liberalism had enemies, that would imply that liberalism asserts the substantive moral superiority of one group over another, a violation of absolute equality – the enemies of liberalism are viewed as something less than human, as clinical impediments, as subhuman disease rather than human enemy: as the untermensch. In practice then liberalism becomes an expression of the wills of free and equal supermen, self-created through reason and will, emancipated from the chains of history, tradition, arbitrary (that is, non-willed) nature, and anything else that stands in the way of the emergence of the free and equal emancipated new man.
All forms of modernity share this human/subhuman division of humanity as a way of resolving the inherent dissonance: that in order for liberalism to be legitimate on its own terms everyone must equally want it and freely embrace it; but in fact, in the end, nobody really wants it. So those who overtly reject liberalism are Nazis: in one of history’s great ironies, the Nazi becomes the ultimate transcendent oppressor-untermensch, contrasted to liberalism’s free and equal new man.
Right wing racist sexist homophobic Nazis aren’t the only group that leftism dehumanizes, by any means. Anyone who isn’t the emancipated new man – self created through reason and will, the autonomous demigod Chooser precisely equal to every other Chooser – ultimately stands in the way of liberalism, and must either be assimilated or destroyed. Medical waste bins are filled with the hacked up body parts of other subhumans, while still others are slowly dehydrated to death, having lost their capacity to autonomously choose. But political right wingers aren’t just subhuman. They have chosen their subhumanity, chosen to reject and oppress the liberal vision of unfettered freedom and absolute non-judgmental equality for all: a transcendent affront and heresy.
I’ve discussed this dynamic in a number of places over the years; e.g. here (and in the comments there).
Anyway, to the extent the Left uses whatever tactics it has to in order to disenfranchise the illiberal untermensch it is justified (in the leftist’s view), because they are Nazis anyway and ideally shouldn’t be allowed to vote. The liberal sees someone who votes based on illiberal motives similarly to how the average conservative sees felons who vote, or even dead Chicagoans.
Non-liberals[*] haven’t fully accepted the liberal social contract, and so they are not in the proper state of grace to receive the Sacrament.