Render unto Caesar: On the duty of (not) voting

After my last post on voting, I discovered that our friend Zippy Catholic has recently had an excellent series of very compelling posts on what he sees as the moral duty to refrain from voting. I give a brief overview of his arguments and a number of links below the break.

First, he notes that voting “pragmatically” (e.g., X is less evil than Y) is a prudential error, akin to planning one’s budget around future lottery winnings. It’s not that your vote empirically doesn’t have an effect, per accidens; it’s that it cannot possibly have an effect, per se:

[The electoral] process has a signal to noise ratio, like any real process.   People seem to think that 500 votes in this State or that can influence the outcome.   I would suggest that that level of “signal” never actually determines the outcome, not even in Florida in 2000, because a signal that small cannot be accurately resolved by the system (“hanging chads”, anyone?).  For those of you who have no signal processing background and are interested in following up on the concept, I recommend that you explore the precision/accuracy distinction and ask yourself how meaningful, in terms of accuracy, the down-to-one-voter precision of our real-world electoral process actually is.

Because it is an error in reasoning to vote on pragmatic grounds, a person who so votes is acting irrationally, i.e., offending against the cardinal virtue of prudence. And because the act itself is imprudent, the offense obtains whether or not that person’s candidate actually wins, giving rise to ZC’s very accurate label “outcome-independent harm.”

One can get around this problem by voting not on pragmatic grounds but on principled ones, i.e., voting because you actually support candidate X and all that he stands for. If your candidate is either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, that almost certainly makes you complicit in evil, accruing all the theological consequences implicit in that statement.

But there is good reason, Zippy notes, not to vote even for a sound third-party candidate, which is that elections function primarily to legitimate the leftist consensus by which we are ruled:

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.

In the leftist worldview, voting has a kind of sacramental character, and not for nothing does ZC call it the lex orandi to liberalism’s credendi.” Even if we vote for traditionalists across the board and vote “No” on every attempt to legitimate abortion, gay “marriage,” and other perversions, we are still implicitly voting “Yes” on the question of whether or not these things are up for discussion. In being told we must vote, then, what we are being told to do is less like merely obeying Caesar and more likely positively worshipping him — as ZC puts it, “burning a pinch of incense” to him. Refusal to do this is not just praiseworthy but obligatory, and one should prefer martyrdom to such hellish compromise — especially when Caesar is a serial-killer of unborn infants.

ZC admirably dispatches a number of possible objections to his view of voting. Against those who would say that non-voters forfeit their right to complain about the political situation, ZC points out that, on the contrary, one’s principled refusal to legitimate evil by endorsing it increases the credibility of one’s complaints. Those who contradict their own principles in order to legitimate a system they abhor on the specious grounds that their vote might have some negligible influence are traitors and not to be trusted. And against those Catholics who would trot out CCC 2240 as implying a universal and nonnegotiable duty to vote, ZC argues that the Catechism’s exhortation must be properly qualified:

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.

Echoing my argument that the duty to vote must, like almost all moral duties, be subordinated to some higher consideration, ZC cites other magisterial documents:

Quite a few people seem to interpret both the Catechism and Faithful Citizenship as if they constitute a categorical command to vote always and everywhere, no matter what historical cul-de-sac we happen to find ourselves in.  Sure Faithful Citizenship is just a USCCB paper of dubious Magisterial status, so we can ignore it; but the Catechism after all is a universal teaching document.  It applies to the citizens of Banana Republics, dictatorships with only one name on the ballot, the good old U S of A, and everywhere in between.  So golly, isn’t it dissent from the Magisterium to (gasp) exercise prudential judgement in deciding whether or not to vote for Saddam?

No, it is not.

As the papal encyclical Veritatis Splendour puts it:

In the case of the positive moral precepts, prudence always has the task of verifying that they apply in a specific situation, for example, in view of other duties which may be more important or urgent.

(Emphasis mine)

No, you cannot invoke Magisterial documents as a way of avoiding the question of whether or not to vote, and whom to vote for.  It is always our task to use right reason to verify that a positive precept – including the positive precept to vote as a derivative throwaway example of a civic act, a commonplace  example of the general precept to act for the common good which is not limited to the three examples that the Catechism places in the same sentence – applies right here and right now.

He also ably takes on the argument that “if enough people did as I do the bad guys would win” — that society would fall into the Kantian chasm:

In the first place, as I’ve argued before, reality is not linear.  The idea that if enough people did as I do, all else equal, things would get worse, contains a bad premise.  That “all else equal” works reasonably well in a very narrow range of engineering problems does not imply that it is a useful model of human society. “All else equal” is one of those assumptions that will turn on you and eat you alive once things start to get even marginally complex.

In the second place, reality is not static.   In case you haven’t noticed, for anyone defending traditional morality things aren’t getting better, they are getting worse.   It makes no sense to defend the hill you are standing on when it is sinking into an ocean of nihilistic hedonism, aided and abetted by the very people whose team you support.  The hill we are standing on is one where our society has committed mass murder of the innocent on a literally unprecedented scale.  The Nazis and the Communists have nothing on us when it comes to raw body count, and we’ve explored areas of depravity that it never occurred to them to explore.   It isn’t the conscientious objector who refuses to endorse the lesser evil and the liberal consensus that forces it upon us who is admitting defeat and surrendering.   That modern conservatives have decided to live under their own Treaty of Versailles is an admission of abject surrender, dhimmitude under the nihilist-hedonist  caliphate.

In the third place, another aspect of the conservative disposition is realism: to face reality as it is actually given to us, and to defend what is good in it without becoming enslaved to some theoretical ideology.  It is this third tendency that makes it worth the bother to even talk to conservatives.  But I think the biggest problem is that, ironically, conservatives have failed to face the full extent of our political reality.   Adopting a semi-Kantian idea that despite our individual lack of influence we should idealistically act as pragmatists is not rational.

Finally, in the comments section of one of his posts, ZC objects to the argument that not voting essentially amounts to opting-out of civic life:

But I don’t think it follows that one should opt out of the political life of the nation notwithstanding its flaws.

I am sure that upon further reflection you will see that I am not opting out of the political life of the nation. If I were, I wouldn’t be writing posts about politics.

But it is interesting that someone like myself, who frequently proselytizes on matters political and moral and their intersection, is seen as opting out of the political life of the nation specifically because of my choice not to make a particular ritual act. I think this tends to reinforce many of my points about the nature of that ritual act.

Go check out his posts; I’m incredibly grateful to him for the immense intellectual legwork he’s put into articulating and defending this position.

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58 thoughts on “Render unto Caesar: On the duty of (not) voting

  1. In the leftist worldview, voting has a kind of sacramental character

    It’s got nothing to do with the “leftist worldview”. Real leftists are pretty much like you, they participate in voting reluctantly or not at all. Voting is indeed a ritual of participation (don’t know about “sacramental”). Like religious ritual, one of its functions is to affirm that the individual is part of a larger body.

    If you feel sufficiently alienated from your society and government to withhold your participation, by all means do so. As you say, voting in itself doesn’t change much, and neither does lack of voting.

    • Like religious ritual, one of its functions is to affirm that the individual is part of a larger body.

      It goes somewhat further than this, though, which is ZC’s point. The concrete act itself dictates the nature of the body and the nature of the individual’s participation in it. The concrete act of voting signifies consent to be governed by the liberal consensus and thus participation in the body of people who regard that consensus as legitimate. For those who don’t regard it as legitimate, voting is in principle irrational and to be avoided.

  2. Here in Brazil we have a popular saying which says: “Those that remain silent, they are in agreement.” in portuguese “quem cala consente”. And not voting is the equivalent of remaining silent in a discussion and therefore silently agreeing.

    That’s why I think that saying conservatives should not vote is a very bad advise. You cannot argue that voting is useless because it does not have any effect except legitimising the proposal. Voting does another real effect which is registering how many people opposed the proposal and potentially stopping it: Your voice is heard and registered. Ok, the effect is extremely small, but people with strong oppinions influence their close friends and family, so you might get at least 10 votes together with you. And compare it with the alternative: if you don’t vote and stay at home, then you are 100% guaranteed that your position will not be heard at all.

    People will not say: Oh, so many people didn’t go to voting, I guess they all hate liberalism! They will say: Those that didn’t go to vote are lazy. And if 90% of those voting agreed, then the media will claim that 90% of the whole society agrees. And liberalism will simply accelerate into full speed into hell, killing our people in its way.

    I also agree with “onecertain” here. Hardcore leftists also despise democracy and participate reluctantly in it, but most of them do participate, despite the fact that they would much prefer a single-party communist regime. Democracy is our current system and despite having imense issues it at least gives us a chance to say “NO”. Also, nothing, except a revolution, could change the west from democracy. And I we haven’t seen any conservative revolutions in the west in the last 20 years IMO, so I wouldn’t count on that.

    I am also personally fed up with democracy and this endless stupid debates about liberal ideas, but I find this advise here something which can only for sure bring more harm then good.

    If really want to be against democracy and liberalism without being part of the “silently consenting” group and you want to overthrow liberalism, I think it is pretty obvious that only 2 kinds of solutions which fit here make sense. And no, just staying at home in election day and complaining is *not* a valid solution. I propose real, proven solution, that are known to work:

    1> Completely reject our entire current society and start a parallel closed society. Like the Amish do. If you don’t like farming there is a group which wants to make a general secession of Christians in South Carolina: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Exodus

    or

    2> Start an armed revolutionary group. Something like a Christian Taliban. The Taliban is exactly this: anti-democracy, conservative, makes their message heard (through violence) and is actively working to overthrow democracy and liberalism and put their own regime in place.

    Don’t want to do any of the 2 things above? Well, in this case I think that voting is the next best choice. IMO it is much better then being part of the “silently consenting people” which didn’t even cared enough to atend a voting pool to try to stop the liberal elite from destroying us. Remember that the first Christians didn’t simply accept that Roma was evil and killed them. They progressively overthrew the pagan order.

    I personally like proposal 1 very much, and I think that they are on the right track, that we really need to create separate places for liberals and anti-liberals, that it is compatible with Christianism, etc, etc. But being a realist, I seriously doubt about their prospects to get any significant traction. But if they did, I could seriously consider moving to our new independent Christian country, as it would be the only explicitly and permanently conservative Christian country in the entire western world. Maybe when things start getting even worse, which is were liberalism is heading us, this might get more traction.

      • @zippycatholic

        Who are those against your proposal? People who are on your side or your opponents? How do you think that our opponents would react when hearing about your proposal?

        If this was the inverse case: Liberals refusing to vote because the mainstream is too conservative, well, I would never, ever, try to convince them to vote. I would be happy that they refuse to participate in politics.

        Anyway, please give some real world historical case which proves that boycotting an election has brought any benefit to those that boycotted it. As far as I know boycotting has been such an uncommited disaster for almost every that tryed that in the recent history.

        I don’t know if you are familiar with these parts of history, but boycotting elections is nothing new. The anti-Chaves groups in Venezuela boycotted the election there in the beginning of the years 2000. Did Chavez cry and beg them to vote? No, he was delighted that his party could get 90%+ of the parliament without competition =D Real effect of the boycott: Total disaster. If they had fought the election they could have much better chance,

        And also people much, much, much more commited to their ideals then we are also tryed that. In post-war Irak the sunnis tryed to boycott the elections. They even started a civil war to defeat democracy … Real effect of their attempt: Total disaster. They were ignored and people just proceeded without them and created a constitution almost without Sunii input. The Shiites were happy that they refused to participate and just went on to dominate the government. OK, the suniis had no chance anyway because they are a minority, but still, even their radical and violent approach ended in a failure.

        On the other hand, secession is a known success. OK, it is extremely hard to achieve, but for example the muslims in north cyprus and pakistan refused to live in the same county as cristians (in cyprus) and hindus (pakistan case), so they demanded to have their own separate country and they got what they wanted.

        We should follow this success case: Demand a separate county for white christians. Black conservative christians already have at least Uganda, so only white conservatives have no homeland.

      • @josh

        Voting is just a system to choose which political party will govern. A system based on the choice of the majority.

        So I have some questions to you to expand on this topic:

        1> So do you think that if we had a conservative ditactorial government, but despite that we still had an extremely liberal (let’s say 70%+ liberals) population. Do you think that this would be a good and stable model? I don’t think so … it would likely lead to a revolution IMO

        2> If almost everyone was conservative, let’s say 80%+, then would a democracy be bad?

        I think that the answers to those topics lead to concluding the obvious: The real deep problem is not that the government is liberal. The problem is that a majority in the population is liberal. That’s the real problem. Changing the government to one against the will of the majority is like trying to cover the sun with a colander.

        So my view if we are to stay in our liberal countries we can try to fight against liberalism and changing people’s minds. But this is a tiresome and hopeless task, we compete against the power of the big corporations (Microsoft and Google support the gay moment for example), fight against the big media and fight against nearly all of the mainstream Hollywood, musical celebrities, etc, etc.

        But there is another way to fight against liberalism: Move out of it and refuse to sponsor it’s institutions financially. This is currently impossible, but, if there was a real conservative country in the west then we could simply abandon our countries and move there and support the real conservative society. Unfortunately at the moment we have exactly zero conservative countries in the west =/ And that is the main problem.

        I don’t know how exactly we could obtain a country for ourselves … armed incursion like Fidel Castro? coup d’etat? I don’t know, surely there must be a way…

        And once we had a country we could simply wait for the liberals to kill themselves and their society and after that start a “Reconquista”.

        In my view liberals are just blood suckers. They have a tiny fertility ratio and a high death ratio due to carpe diem lify-style which leads to drug abuse and deseases, so they won’t last the next 80 years. They just avoid their own total destruction because in their societies there are still a lot of conservatives which have lots of children and they go on to try to convert our children with their TV dominance. But without people to suck the blood from, they would quickly die.

      • Voting is just a system to choose which political party will govern. A system based on the choice of the majority.

        You are making the same mistake that modern positivists always make: you have assumed that the procedures you favor are value-neutral. They aren’t.

      • “Voting is just a system to choose which political party will govern. A system based on the choice of the majority.”

        Political parties don’t govern. It’s not 1885.

        “So do you think that if we had a conservative ditactorial government, but despite that we still had an extremely liberal (let’s say 70%+ liberals) population. Do you think that this would be a good and stable model? I don’t think so … it would likely lead to a revolution IMO”

        If we had a non-liberal dictator, there would be very few liberals. Liberalism is dominant in the West because liberalism is the path to power/status. It has no other appeal, because it is plainly false.

        Public opinion does not direct policy. Policy and public opinion are controlled by the same network of people. Public opinion often lags policy, but they are always reconciled in the long run. Such is life in a soft-totalitarian state.

        “2> If almost everyone was conservative, let’s say 80%+, then would a democracy be bad?”

        Yes, because counting of heads is an insane way to make important decisions.

        Further, this is impossible in the long run. Democracy is a system of unstable power relationships. The Democratic regime constantly seeks to expand by reaching into traditional sources of authority. Without their authority, traditional institutions wither away. The people who are robbed of their traditional authority are called conservative. The democratic regime can not but be against these people. They are natural enemies.

        “Changing the government to one against the will of the majority is like trying to cover the sun with a colander.”

        The will of the people has changed over time. Curiously, it has been changing in the same direction since it was determined that vox populi est vox dei. Why?

        “Unfortunately at the moment we have exactly zero conservative countries in the west =/ And that is the main problem.”

        That is curious, isn’t it?

        If I knew how to bring about Christian monarchy, I would tell you. As it is, democracy being a tool of the Devil, the father of all lies, I do believe I at least have a duty to refuse to kneel in its most public ritual.

      • Equating loudly proclaimed conscientious objection and silence is a category mistake. If I were being silent I wouldn’t have so many people telling me to shut up.

        Bingo. Nowhere is the sacramental, ritual nature of voting made more manifest than the notion that not voting constitutes “silence,” i.e., the total disappearance of a person from the social life of the polity.

    • 2> Start an armed revolutionary group. Something like a Christian Taliban.

      It’s interesting that this suggestion is treated as some kind of reductio ad absurdum even on the far right. Yet this suggestion so rarely comes packaged with an actual analysis of which requirements of a just revolution are actually lacking. Is it anything other than a real prospect of success?

      • That is interesting, and probably worth exploring in more depth at some point. As a quick gloss, my guess is that mainstream American conservatism is heavily conditioned by the Revolutionary War and a kind of cult of the founders/Constitution. (I don’t mean the characterization to be entirely negative: every society has its origin stories, civic pieties, etc).

        But a problem immediately arises. If the Revolutionary War was a just war, conditions now are clearly far more unjust: a 2% tax on tea, and the rest of the Colonists complaints, whatever their merits, hardly compare to 50 million unborn infants murdered in the womb. A true patriot (following this line) should be engaged in armed rebellion right now. This creates a kind of cognitive dissonance for the typical American patriot before we have even gotten to discussion of civic ritual: once we concede the gravity of the situation to the point where we can say that conscientious objection to voting is strongly indicated or even obligatory, we have no more excuse – other than selfish cowardice – not to take up arms.

        In short, for the American conservative mind there is no ‘space’ to allow for things to be bad enough to warrant conscientious objection to voting, which does not also warrant armed rebellion against a completely illegitimate government.

        This isn’t a problem for me (indeed I think it is ridiculous on its face) because I am a strong just war doctrine advocate and in any case I wouldn’t stake my soul on the notion that the American Revolution was necessarily a just war. The Revolutionary War does not stand in as a kind of reductio, a door stop against which legitimacy of authority must be measured. But according to American conservative mythology things cannot be as bad now as they were under George III; else the Bluecoats ought to be engaged in a guerilla war right now.

        And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure. – Thomas Jefferson

      • Yeah, the cognitive dissonance involved in believing that the American Revolution was just but that rebellion now would not be is . . . loud.

      • Zippy: “A true patriot (following this line) should be engaged in armed rebellion right now. ”

        They tried in 1861, to much ruin. Now what?

  3. From that post:

    “No political contest in my lifetime, no election since before the Civil War, has been fraught with such grave and lasting likely consequences.”

    No, no, no. If Mitt Romney wins, the same people will control the long term fate of the country as before, the MSM, the Universities, the Federal Bureaucracy, the NGOs and the Tax Exempt Foundations, the Banks, the interlocked corporations, etc. The people control the narrative, the will “educate” your children about your ignorance in resisting the Zeitgeist that they themselves control.

    The pragmatic, moderate-leftist, status conscious Romney will become the face of extreme conservatism in the same way the GWB is said to have “let the economy run amok” with his supposed laissez-faire policies. Romney will kow-tow to the MSM. Actual conservative philosophy will become even more marginalized. And this is despite the fact that Romney will not actually be able to accomplish anything substantial. Will he allow communities to discriminate on membership. Will he restore the authority of natural institutions which is necessary for their survival? No. People will continue to live in isolated suburban houses ingesting hours of poisonous pop culture liberalism.

    Haven’t you seen this movie before? Why is this time always different? You can’t vote out the American power structure.

    • Haven’t you seen this movie before? Why is this time always different? You can’t vote out the American power structure.

      Amen. Every election is the mostest importantest election EVAH. So stupid. So eye-bleedingly boring.

  4. But there is good reason, Zippy notes, not to vote even for a sound third-party candidate, which is that elections function primarily to legitimate the leftist consensus by which we are ruled:

    The post linked does not seem to be making this argument. It is arguing against the “viable candidate” argument. So this argument would cut in favor of voting third party, not against it. This argument:

    Even if we vote for traditionalists across the board and vote “No” on every attempt to legitimate abortion, gay “marriage,” and other perversions, we are still implicitly voting “Yes” on the question of whether or not these things are up for discussion.

    is strange. In our fallen world, whether or not to sin is always up for discussion. We ought to contribute to that discussion by voting for non-monsters, if we can find them. If possible, we should vote for Catholic Monarchists. If not, we could at least vote for someone actually opposed to Moloch.

    Voting for a non-monster is not intrinsically evil and it may have a good effect. If Mittens loses by a margin smaller than the vote for a principled alternative, the Rs will have gotten a message which has some chance of changing their behavior. Staying home is a less good way of sending this message because you are harder to count. How many people stayed home out of principle? Doing a non-evil act so that good may come of it is moral. It’s conceivable that staying home is also a non-evil act done so that good may come of it, but the good consequences are tied to the act in a tenuous and implausible way.

    • I do address the potentially problematic nature of voting at all in (for example)this post. The quick gloss is that voting at all is – no matter who wins – a personal endorsement of the process, the ballot contents, and the legitimacy of the outcome. I am not pretending to give advice on what to do about that; but I don’t think it is the ‘neutral’ act that many seem to have assumed it to be.

    • The post linked does not seem to be making this argument. It is arguing against the “viable candidate” argument. So this argument would cut in favor of voting third party, not against it.

      You’re right, Bill. Chalk it up to drafting a post early in the morning, and also trying to organize a summary with a large number of both links and quotes. In this case it looks like I appended the wrong quote to the wrong bit of summary, resulting in the dissonance you describe.

      I really need to get better at sitting on my posts for a while rather than half-assing them in order to publish them quickly.

  5. I’d be curious to hear Zippy’s (and Proph’s) thoughts on voting for the Board of Directors for a corporation in which the faithful, and suitably Thomist, Catholic owns stock.

    That is (approximately it seems to me) what is at stake. When Americans vote, they are selecting the governing body of a large corporation. It just so happens that this particular corporation is sovereign (and has undertaken a vast raft of obligations that you would never expect a sovereign corporation to undertake).

    The Americans in question are not (directly) responsible for the idiotic way that the corporation’s directors are selected, nor are they (directly) responsible for the idiotic things that the corporation wastes money on (more votes, mostly). But in facing the question, it seems perfectly legitimate to vote for the less stupid and wasteful (and therefore less evil) director. If some day it comes down for him to vote for the abolition of the office of director or even that of his own (and everyone else’s) enfranchisement, then he can do that, too… But in the mean time, why can he not just vote for the less evil director… with a clear conscience?

    • I addressed corporate boards more or less (and specifically their disanalogy to mass market universal suffrage democracy) here.

      That doesn’t quite answer your specific question though.

      FWIW, I never bother to turn in proxy votes if I am a tiny-stake shareholder. I “vote” in a sense by buying and selling shares, but I’ve never seen the point in voting as a .00002% shareholder. It is quite literally a waste of time: the opportunity cost of the time spent is not worth the nonexistent payoff.

      If you have a material stake, well, see the discussion of corporate boards.

    • Show me the corporation that gives an equal voting share to any customer who can be enticed to enter the store and that pays no dividend to shareholders *ever*, I’ll show you a company run by its employees for its employees. Can you say conflict of interest? Actually, can you say communism?

      • Just because a corporation provides poor value to its customers and poor return on investment for its shareholders does not mean it’s not a corporation… only a badly managed one… badly managed largely because of the way it elects its board (the worst possible way). Just because that corporation is sovereign and can issue debt denominated in its own equity does, again, mean it is not a corporation.

  6. The whole idea that *voting* could be a valid method of making any kind of decision at any level of analysis is so bizarre, so stupid, so lacking in rationale, so frequently refuted by personal and public experience that I find it hard even to begin discussing the matter.

    Voting is an instrument of the devil – perhaps quite literally, and if so one of his most lethal inventions.

    Once people have become used to relying on a procedure as utterly indefensible as voting to make their most important decisions, once they have been induced to regard voting as if it was not just morally acceptable (it is not) but in fact the pinnacle of morality; then these people have been manipulated into a self-reinforcing psychosis which cannot be disentangled one strand at a time but only cast aside in its totality.

    • Voting works reasonably well in a small group of relative equals… a Baptist congregation or a fraternal club perhaps. It breaks down when there are identifiable factions, castes, or cultural groups. This is why the framers of the US Constitution were so opposed to factions. They may just as effectively have railed against earthquakes.

      • I think the voting ritual is also supposed to reinforce the presumption of political equality. In its modern form (Reynolds vs Sims makes a good cultural marker) its purpose is to make concrete the (self contradictory) liberal principle of equal rights, by granting each person a (putative) precisely equal share of political power.

        As praxis, of course, what it actually accomplishes is to cement the voter’s commitment to liberal principles in a concrete act.

      • Voting works reasonably well in a small group of relative equals… a Baptist congregation or a fraternal club perhaps.

        I think you are seizing on inessential features, equality and smallness. I think a better explanation is that those examples don’t feature much disagreement on anything the members think is important—important disagreements in those examples often get solved by the groups splitting into smaller groups or by members leaving for competing groups.

        On smallness and equality, factions have been known to develop on faculty committees of size 5. The faculty in most departments at most universities in most disciplines (as far as I know) have factions, and departments are usually under 25 members.

        What zippy and Dr Charlton are saying is very true of faculty governance. The outcome of a committee’s work is usually wired in advance (at least when that work is not entirely meaningless). The guy appointing the members appoints a majority which already wants to do what he wants done. The whole exercise exists to create the illusion of government by consent and to diffuse responsibility from the actual decision-maker (the guy doing the appointing) to “the committee,” i.e. nobody. Doing things like writing a “minority report” when you are on a committee is considered anti-social because it screws up these purposes. And if you do it habitually, you get to be a crank and go live in the basement.

      • I think you are seizing on inessential features, equality and smallness. I think a better explanation is that those examples don’t feature much disagreement on anything the members think is important

        Perhaps. There are situations where diversity is a strength. In signal processing, diversity works tremendously well when combining signals of nearly average, but time-varying, strength. It doesn’t improve anything, and might very well hurt you, when one signal is dominant and the other is “10 dB down”. There are narrow situations where “taking a vote” or relying upon the “wisdom of the crowd” actually helps. It would not be at all surprising if one of those situations is a small Puritan settlement on the edge of an unexplored continent.

        But, alas, it doesn’t scale well.

  7. For those who decry the very notions of voting and democracy, I would note that Aquinas teaches clearly that “all should take some share in the government”, and envisages that the people should both have the power to elect the head of state and other state officials and be eligible for office themselves (Summa, I-II.105.1). Absolute monarchy on the French model was a much later historical development.

    Plus, as any reactionary should know, voting is not a democratic mechanism. The Greeks, who invented the idea, were clear about this. The democratic method of selection officials is by lot. What voting gets you is an elected oligarchy (good or bad).

    • My own criticisms are carefully directed at mass market universal suffrage. Voting -qua- voting is just a procedure. Even as a procedure it is not value-neutral when it is designed to implement equality of material influence though. If liberal equality is a problem, then rituals which express and reinforce it are problems.

      One could make the same kind of observation about lighting incense, by the way: it isn’t the concrete act itself (if we take a truncated enough view of it), but its cultural and theological significance, that is at issue. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

      • I’d agree that that’s an arguable position. What I am committed to is constitutional governance before anything else, and in Thomistic terms universal suffrage is accidental rather than essential component of that.

        My criticism was aimed more at the more robust proposition that voting per se is “bizarre” and “stupid”. I imagine that the members of the Papal Conclave would be particularly interested to find out that they are using an “instrument of the devil”.

      • I imagine that the members of the Papal Conclave would be particularly interested to find out that they are using an “instrument of the devil”.

        Perhaps. But selling traditionalists on the notion that Conclaves have not been working out too well recently would not exactly be hard. And, of course, the manner in which the Church elects Her Popes is a matter of prudential judgement. It has not always been done the way it is done now, and we need not believe that the way it is done now is a good way.

      • As Proph surmises, I’d say Benedict XVI was a good choice given what was feasible. Siri was dead at that point. John XXIII, Paul VI, and JP II, not so much. A novel in which Siri won in 1958 and then reigned until his death in 1989 would be a fun bit of alternate history.

      • There have been rumours that recent popes wanted to appoint specific individuals as their successors (e.g. Pius X with Merry del Val, Pius XII with Siri). However, the pre-Vatican II theology textbooks that I have seen regard this with disapproval: the view was that a Pope could appoint his own successor, but he would be sinning by doing so.

  8. Plus, in my country, the House of Commons has been elected since well before the Reformation (not on the basis of universal suffrage, obviously, but then it’s apparently voting itself, not the suffrage, which is a satanic psychosis). It was an organic part of the English, and now the British, constitution. Not all of us have had revolutions which got constitutional liberalism a bad name.

    • I don’t have a problem with voting in principle for the reasons you mention. The peculiar historical situation in which we find ourselves, on the other hand, I think merits nonparticipation.

    • It’s a great example. By some strange magic, Cromwell’s (or, for that matter Hitler’s) evil is made not to stick to Parliament or to Constutional Democracy. They weren’t examples of democracy! They destroyed democracy!

  9. I understand the position of non-participation. It is the long-standing position not of the Catholics I know, but of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are discouraged both from voting and from serving in the military for reasons similar to those outlined in the post, though stated in a less sophisticated way. (Note that a single individual serving or refusing to serve in the military, like an individual voting or not voting, usually has a tiny impact, and hence supposedly an “outcome independent harm.”) I am wondering exactly when in your view the American republic became so defective that it merited your non-participation, or did it always?

  10. Leo:
    You didn’t ask me this, but I’ll answer it:
    I am wondering exactly when in your view the American republic became so defective that it merited your non-participation, or did it always?

    Somewhere around the cold blooded murder of the ten millionth infant was when I personally came to the realization. A fairly conventional libertarian-leaning conservative at the time, I also over time came to realize that the seeds for the liberal massacres were sown long before; and I came to see that the big transcendent enemies of modern liberalism, communism and naziism, were really liberalism’s close cousins:

    “The National Socialist State recognizes no ‘classes’. But, under the political aspect, it recognizes only citizens with absolutely equal rights and equal obligations corresponding thereto. And, side by side with these, it recognizes subjects of the State who have no political rights whatsoever.” – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

  11. Pingback: Why I’ll be Holding My Nose and Voting for Romney « The Orthosphere

  12. So if China, which forces abortions on its citizens, or a new Nazi Germany attacked the U.S., you would not now resist on the grounds that America as a whole is too evil to defend? I must disagree with that position.

    The President is doing his best to make this election a referendum on preserving Roe v. Wade and believes (or at least says) Roe is hanging in the balance with this election.

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/obama-roe-v.-wade-is-probably-hanging-in-the-balance-in-this-election

    If Obama wins, the press will interpret this as the validation of the Roe decision. The party that holds your values in contempt (as in the Lena Dunham ad) and sees no grounds for any restrictions on abortion will declare a victory on “abortion rights,” continue its push to redefine marriage, and increasingly circumscribe conscience rights.

    I have already voted and already made contributions to candidates and causes that I sympathize with. There are countries where I can’t do that. Those are the countries where I would not choose to live.

  13. So if China, which forces abortions on its citizens, or a new Nazi Germany attacked the U.S., you would not now resist on the grounds that America as a whole is too evil to defend?

    Did I say that somewhere? There is an awful lot of space between declining to vote for the liberal consensus and refusing to defend against a bona fide invader.

  14. Zippy,
    “the big transcendent enemies of modern liberalism, communism and naziism, were really liberalism’s close cousins”

    I disagree. Communism is joined at hip with liberalism, along with libertarianism but nazism is sui generis.

    “The National Socialist State recognizes no ‘classes’. But, under the political aspect, it recognizes only citizens with absolutely equal rights and equal obligations corresponding thereto. And, side by side with these, it recognizes subjects of the State who have no political rights whatsoever.

    The second condition (” it recognizes subjects of the State who have no political rights whatsoever” .) is true for British Empire, the Russian Empire, the Roman empire, the Hindu caste system, the Muslim dhimmi system. In fact, true for any non-liberal polity. It is the Liberals of 1789 that made (political) Equality their idol.
    It was the liberals of 1776 that rejected non-equality inherent in a monarchy.

    By denying the proposition that there could be subjects of the State that have no political rights, you are actually adopting the essential position of the Liberal and not of a non-liberal reactionary.

    The Non-equality in the political sense is the Core belief of Reaction.

  15. Since it is most important not to be misunderstood here-let me clarify and repeat that the Evil of Nazism did not lie in disenfranchising certain segments of population. In 1930, all 300 millions of Hindus were disenfranchised in British Empire, along with many millions of Africans.

  16. By denying the proposition that there could be subjects of the State that have no political rights, you are actually adopting the essential position of the Liberal and not of a non-liberal reactionary.

    I’m not denying that proposition, I’m just showing the close kinship of Nazism and modernity’s other two big political ideologies.

    As for the untermensch/ubermensch distinction and liberalism, it is something I’ve discussed before.

  17. Pingback: The Bus Stops Here « Zippy Catholic

  18. Pingback: Pre-Election Day Linkage « Breathing Grace

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