“If Hitler were to invade Hell, I would at least make a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” — Winston Churchill.
By: Robert Coleman
This article first appeared at FEE.org
In Churchill’s estimation, Stalin was less evil than Hitler. Hence, the Allied Forces’ brief friendship with the Soviets: a marriage of convenience formed in Hell.
The Right to Complain.
Every four years, Americans face the so-called lesser-of-two-evils (LOTE) dilemma: “Both major-party presidential candidates are lousy, but I’m duty-bound to vote. Free people get to complain.Plus, those who don’t vote can’t complain!”
First, why can’t I not vote and complain, all at the same time? I rather enjoy complaining, and complaining about politics can be quite fun. Cathartic, even.
The way I see it, my right to complain about the government that taxes me by coercion, and threatens to jail me when I reach the age of majority should I fail to complete a draft card, is not purchased by my quadrennial vote for one authoritarian statist, or the other.
I am already a free person, regardless of whether I cast a vote. And free people get to complain.
In fact, maybe I’ll vote for a candidate and still complain about them once they are in office. I am just that wild and crazy!
Is LOTE Your Only Argument?
“Okay, complain. But we should still vote for the LOTE because the country hangs in the balance! Plus, like the ancient Chinese proverb says: If we keep picking the lesser of two evils, things will probably stop being evil, eventually.
That’s probably not an ancient Chinese proverb. But I think it speaks volumes about the presidency that LOTE is the default position for most of the 50% of eligible voters who actually vote.
Maybe this is because most people are instinctively uneasy about picking a national leader.
Of course, the original job description called for a citizen-executive-officer of one branch, of a limited, constitutional republic. This certainly carries a lower expectation than the current job description, which is on the order of Pontifex Maximus.
Moreover, our expectations about who should fill this awesome role is matched only by our emotional intensity over the decision.
Most of us don’t get emotionally invested when voting for County Recorder, or Grand Marshal of the local parade.
But the presidency is deeply personal, because the role is ubiquitous. Why, the president is our great national father, mother and spiritual leader! Also, voting the “wrong” way can draw the censure of friends and family, and destroy relationships. (So, holding presidential elections right before Thanksgiving is a super idea.)
Is it any mystery why half of the eligible voters are driven toward apathy?
The presidency has become a title no human deserves to fill, and few voters are fully comfortable bestowing.
I predict voter turnout would return to 19th century highs if the presidency (and the federal government) returned to its 19th century (constitutional) scope.
Until then, every ballot should include a “None of the Above” option. Because truthfully, this is how the majority of eligible voters feel on election day.
Besides, when President X starts pounding the “bully pulpit” on behalf of “the American people” to sell some war, or some new domestic agenda, it would be fitting to remind the president of how a majority of “the American people” actually felt in the prior election.
A Moral Duty to Vote?
It should go without saying that there is no legal duty to vote.
Yet, how often are we hectored for not voting (or voting third party)? Indeed, what kind of misanthrope sits idly by while thecountry hangs in the balance!? And don’t you know that Literally Hitler is running this year?
Not to dismiss the harm that can be – nay, will be done by any incoming president. And I actually agree that some candidates arerelatively worse than others.
I am also no sanguine optimist about the triumph of third-parties. Let’s be honest, there are two major parties and one will win the presidency. Yes, voting third-party has purposes. It’s just that none of those purposes includes actually winning the presidency.
But whether one is reasonable in choosing to vote for the LOTE, is not the same as being duty-bound.
And while I can’t speak for everyone, I know Christians are not exactly permitted to “choose” any kind of evil.
LOTE – whatever else it may be – is not really a moral doctrine. At least, not in the Western or Christian tradition.
Although, it does sound like the Principle of Double Effect (PODE).
Saint Thomas Aquinas set forth PODE, thusly: An act or omission having a foreseen harmful effect, that is inseparable from its good effect, is morally justified if: (a) The nature of the act or omission is good or morally neutral; (b) the agent intends the good effect, and not the bad effect (either as a means to the good, or an end in itself); and (c) the good effect outweighs the bad effect, and the agent takes all steps to minimize the bad effects.
Thus, again, one may be permitted to make choices having double-effects, while not being duty-bound to make such choices.
Civic Duty and the Common Good.
One could say abstaining (or voting third-party) constitutes a dereliction of one’s duty toward the “Common Good.”
Many Christian and secular philosophers have articulated a duty to advance the so-called Common Good through civic engagement – thus, one is said to be duty-bound to vote, pay taxes, and serve in juries.
Even accepting this premise, it is not clear that the Common Good (however defined) is always, and in every case, advanced by voting.
For instance, many would agree that one’s cooperation with a civic institution is conditioned on the institution’s deference to a higher, Natural Law. Even Romans 13 – the Biblical passage oft cited as the basis Christian civic duty – implicitly conditions these duties on the authority’s service to God.
In other words, the authority, and the law, must be legitimate.
At what point is one’s duty to advance the Common Good through voting, rendered untenable as a result of unjust laws, or authorities acting ultra vires?
Notice, this is precisely the moral justification behind the Civil Rights movement – people of moral conscience abstained from obeying authorities inasmuch as the authorities, and the laws, contradicted a higher, Natural Law.
Civil Rights Activists were not callously disregarding all law and authority out of convenience. They were very much cooperating with the Common Good, by rejecting oppressive civic institutions.
So, if the system produces two monsters to serve as president, either of who will advance an ultra vires agenda in office, can it truly be said that I have a moral duty to pick one?
Arguably, might my abstention, or third-party vote, be in furtherance of the Common Good?
To Vote, or Not Vote.
Every eligible voter will have to decide, based on his or her own conscience, whether the Common Good compels voting for the LOTE. Each will have to assess the relative moral harm of the candidates, based on their own values.
At the very least, there are sound moral arguments for a third-party vote. And abstention means “None of the Above.”