October 16, 2012 § 50 Comments
I’ve argued before that to morally evaluate the act of voting in modern mass-market universal-suffrage democratic elections we have to look at more than just the possible election outcomes. In fact when we consider the effects of a personal act of voting in a national election the effect of your vote on the outcome is negligible. At the same time the outcome-independent effects of your vote are not negligible. So it is the latter, not the former, that rightly takes on the primary role in making a moral evaluation of the act.
One outcome-independent consideration I’ve discussed before is that for most people, voting involves formal cooperation with evil. So even when you, dear reader, are well-formed enough to avoid formal cooperation with grave evil in voting, there is the scandal that most people are not. I’ve also argued that because the effect you have on the outcome is literally negligible, the particular outcome you prefer cannot be invoked as proportionate reason to materially cooperate with grave evil, especially when that grave evil is some form of murdering the innocent. I’ve suggested that the main function of democratic elections is not what people think it is: it isn’t a process whereby we choose how we are governed, it is the process by which we pledge allegiance to the liberal consensus which governs us. If you are going to do it you should at least have a clear-eyed idea of just what the “it” is that you are doing.
But another consideration is that for a great many people, voting in Presidential elections seems to make them stupid. There are quite a few examples of epic dumb in that editorial and in the author’s comments in the thread below. I’m lazy, so I am just going to point out the one that interests me most from the author’s comments and leave the rest as an exercise.
It is true that bishops and individual citizens materially cooperated with the Emperor Constantine in many ways, and that the Emperor Constantine did some evil things. But material cooperation in general is a poor analogy for voting: there are as many different kinds of material cooperation as there are human acts. One might almost get the impression that the invocation of material-cooperation-in-general is a deliberate canard; but I think we can stick to the charitable interpretation, that the person invoking it is simply being obtuse.
Voting is a specific, personal, concrete act of endorsement of a particular candidate. When we look at the history of Christendom, there does happen to be a particular kind of act that is very analogous to voting, inasmuch as it involves a personal quasi-sacramental act of personal endorsement. But I don’t think the example of offering a pinch of incense provides much of a boost to the “you MUST vote for my candidate even though he supports murdering the innocent” shibboleth; because what is notable about such personal endorsements is when Christians refuse to make them. St. Polycarp’s choice isn’t notable because he offered a pinch of incense to the lesser pagan gods to limit the evil of the greater pagan gods. So if we are all called to become saints, as the Church teaches that we are, we can add “teach us not to do the saintly thing” to the list of lessons that regular ritualized personal endorsement of evil candidates teaches.
I can see the hagiography for St. Compromise now: “He voted for the lesser evil, even though his personal endorsement had negligible influence”.