October 5, 2012 § 6 Comments
In the previous post I discussed the actual function of democratic elections. The actual function of democratic elections is to take liberal governance as a given and build social consensus around that liberal governance. Voting is a kind of pledge of allegiance to liberal governance: I’ve described this before by suggesting that elections are the lex orandi to liberalism’s credendi.
As in the case of going to Mass, there isn’t a necessary connection between faith and practice. Plenty of people go to Mass without being faithful. This in no way disconnects Mass attendance from the fostering of belief, however. The lack of a necessary connection in no way undermines the fact that the social function of the Mass is to bring believers to God and God to believers. Likewise with democratic elections and liberal governance: the logical possibility of denying the faith while participating in the ritual is no objection to the pastoral connection between faith and ritual.
But there is another objection which is sometimes raised, which is that the American Founders did not intend a connection between the structural practice of democracy and an ideologically liberal polity. Setting aside the veracity of this denial as an historical claim, I will merely point out that it is completely irrelevant. When a human designer designs something, his intentions in making his design cease to be relevant once the object in question is out in the world. The object functions as it actually functions, not as the human designer wishes it did and did not function: the fact that Tim Berners-Lee presumably did not intend for the World Wide Web to become the largest scale pornography distribution channel in history doesn’t in any way undermine the fact that it is, in fact, the largest scale pornography distribution channel in history.
So it isn’t that questions like “what did the Founders intend” are uninteresting in some transcendant academic way. Surely they are, at least to people who have those sorts of interests. But they are completely irrelevant when it comes to assessing how liberal democracy actually functions in the real world. The fact that Ork never envisioned his Wheel on a Model T is completely irrelevant to an analysis of how wheels actually function in the real world: physically, socially, and in every other domain in which wheels are of interest.
October 5, 2012 § 10 Comments
Modern people are under the impression that the main function of democratic elections is to exercise individual influence over how we are governed. This is not the case. The main function of elections is to build and maintain social consensus over how we are in fact governed, which is under the political philosophy of liberalism.
Now in general social consensus over how we are governed is a good thing. The problem with liberal democracy though is that it pretends that elections are about something else: it pretends that when you vote you are influencing the outcome of the election, rather than pledging your allegiance to a preexisting governing consensus. In fact this is what leads most people to go out and vote: this idea that in so doing we are having our personal say in how we are governed. Absent this motivation far fewer people would voluntarily go out and cast their ballots.
This gives rise to the “viability” argument. The viability argument starts with the premise that only the major party candidates are “viable” – that is, likely to win. So far so good. It then leaps to the conclusion that you are “wasting” your vote – that is, self-censoring, making your voice in governance go unheard – if you fail to vote for a major party candidate.
What is going on here is that two extremely low probability events are being implicitly pitted against each other: the probability that someone other than a major party candidate will win versus the probability that you will cast the deciding vote (or alternatively, the probability that your personal influence will alter the election outcome, including such things as the work you do convincing others to vote the way you do). But we are only supposed to notice the infinitesimal probabilities involved in the first one, not the second. We are supposed to take note of the fact that the influence of third parties and conscientious abstention are very small without noticing that your personal influence is very small no matter what you do. As I wrote in the combox at Mark Shea’s:
The odds of a third party outcome, or even of the Second Coming happening on Election Day, are greater than the odds that your vote will decide the election. People who vote for “pragmatic” reasons are being anything but pragmatic. People who claim that it is mathematically illiterate to vote third party or abstain are, themselves, mathematically illiterate.
If you are not idealistically voting (or abstaining) your conscience, it might not be because you are making an evil choice. But it is definitely because you are making an ignorant choice.
So the viability argument consists in convincing people to irrationally deploy their personal infinitesimal influence in support of candidates they find morally abhorrent, but somewhat less morally abhorrent than the “viable” alternative. This builds social consensus around the major party candidates, the liberalism they represent, and the kind of governance that results from advanced liberalism: gay “marriage”, abortion, misandry, divorce and cohabitation becoming the norm rather than the exception, endless war to impose democracy everywhere: the whole package.
Should it come as any surprise, then, that over time liberal democratic elections build a social consensus in favor of things which are morally abhorrent?