« On How to Write about Democracy | Main | On The Road to Serfdom, Revisited »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Samuel Rickless

I'm a little baffled by your claim that voting is not a moral act. Voting for someone who has revealed himself of herself to be hostile to republican values is immoral, assuming that the right thing to do is preserve the republic. That means no Le Pen, no Farage, no Hofer, no Jobbik, and, also, no Trump. It doesn't matter whether your own vote is not a difference maker. If you participate in a collective scheme to elect someone who is hostile to liberal values, you are complicit in evil. It's really not complicated. Now it might be counterproductive to accuse Trump voters of immorality. But that doesn't make the accusation false.

Eric Schliesser

Sam, you are not alone in your response (I received a lot of similar comments on Facebook). Yet, I reiterate that on my view, which I take to be the liberal/republican view, you engage in a category error when you assume that voting for somebody who is hostile to republican values is immoral as such. We wouldn't have the institution of representative democracy in the way we do if we thought voters were moral or that we wished to facilitate their morality.(I allow that if somebody explains his/her vote in immoral ways then, sure, you can say something about the morality of the vote.) Moreover, in practice, it is inevitable that even if we want to be moral, we vote for immoral/illiberal/un-republican folk not infrequently (in the post I used an example that truly shocked me at the time). Finally, like you, I take complicity with evil seriously, but I think the locus of responsibility is elsewhere (also for prudential reasons you hint at).

John Quiggin

I also can't follow this. It seems to have the following elements.

1. Voters may vote on the basis of incorrect beliefs about their candidate. I can't see how this applies to Trump voters, unless they have avoided news media for the past 25 years.

2. We can't be sure of the motivation of any individual Trump voter. Sure, but this a matter of evidence, not judgement. It's true of any wrong act done by a large group of people

2. Individual responsibility for the outcome is thin. The rational voting calculation on which this claim is based is false (I can give links). Roughly speaking, every Trump voter is responsible for their share (1 in 60 million) of the damage caused by Trump. (7 billion * harm done by Trump to the average person in the world). That's a big number just from climate denialism, before you get on to the risk of nuclear war etc

3. Risk that it will lead to collective punishment. Here I think you have something, but not enough. In a democratic system, it's necessary that we shouldn't legally punish people for voting, even if they vote for a racist. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't judge them, any more than we shouldn't judge members of the KKK for exercising their legal right to racist sppech.

Eric Schliesser

John, I think I may have mislead you about my argument. The core argument relies on the thought that rather than requiring moral voters, liberal democracy is an institutional response to human imperfection (including immorality). We vote because we are immoral. So, to point at some (or very many) immoral voters qua voters misses the point of liberal democracy. (The other arguments were designed to show that this insight is, in fact, part of the structure of voting which is designed to obscure the moral intentions of voters.)

On your 3. I think the more likely effect of taking ethics of voting serious is (as I said in my follow up post) a push toward disenfranchisement of immoral voters.

David Hilbert

I share the idea that something has gone wrong with your argument. I think I can grant your assumptions and still morally evaluate voters for their voting behavior. Democracy is an institutional response to human imperfection. So we don't want to require that only the perfect participate in democracy. In that sense, you may be right that we vote because we are immoral (or perhaps better, because many of us are immoral and we don't have perfect tests morality or perfect institutions to administer those tests). But that feature of voting doesn't preclude us from criticizing (including on moral grounds) people for voting the way that they do. The criminal justice system is another institutional response to human imperfection. That fact about it does not preclude us from pointing out the imperfections of those who are subject to it. What I can't do, on your account, is criticize the electoral system for allowing the imperfect to vote but I really don't understand why I can't criticize voters for their behavior (including how they vote).

Eric Schliesser

Thank you for your thoughtful response, David.
I find the analogy with the criminal justice system useful here. For, (i) it's purpose is aimed at discovery of truth and to establish/judge guilt/innocence (etc.). It has procedures to do so. A byproduct of these procedures is that we became aware of all kinds of morally relevant details. Yet, absent those details -- and the sense that the procedures and fine-grained verdicts are functioning properly (which they don't always do) -- we would be very cautious about inferring moral claims about even convicted criminals (or conversely, we would never infer from 'he is innocent to he is moral').
By contrast (ii) voting does not aim at truth (with Madison and others I affirm that political life is the realm of opinion); the choice may easily combine different aims, including political, economic, power, culture, loyalty, and moral aims (or not). So, our ends are potentially diffuse when we vote, but the mechanism a vote on a candidate (relative to other candidates) or a list, etc. is extremely coarse-grained.
So, for these reasons I think the analogy is very very strained (unless a voter communicates (directly or indirectly) her reasons for voting and these turn out to be immoral).
In addition, I think I have failed to make clear one of the things that follows from the assumption that representative democracy is an institutional response to human (moral) imperfection; one reason why it is so is that if we turn the question of who gets to get political rule on questions of morality we are likely to generate worse mutual conflicts. (Moral conflict can generate extremely bitter factions.)
I agree with you that I prefer to insulate the electoral system from criticism against allowing the imperfect to vote, but that's not what I am defending. (So, I think in the seminar room we should be debating the merits of different kinds of electoral systems.)

John Quiggin

The crucial point here is that criticising a choice (including a vote) does not imply opposition to freedom of choice (in this case, democracy). If you think one leads to the other, you should supply empirical evidence.

Otherwise you are simply arguing that morally correct beliefs (namely, that voting for a racist is wrong) should be repressed (or maybe suppressed) because their expression might be politically harmful, by generating conflict.

Eric Schliesser

First, I am not suggesting you should repress morally correct beliefs.
Second, you can criticize a choice in lots of ways without moral criticism.
Third, the entailment from 'X is immoral [and ignorant]' to 'X should not be allowed to vote' need not be empirical.
Fourth, in America's history there have been instances in which voting for a racist was the best choice available, and such a vote not obviously immoral.
Finally, plenty of Trump voters voted for what they can see is an immoral Trump in order to promote what they take to be manifestly moral ends (e.g., to secure Conservative judges that protect abortion or at least block an assured Liberal court). It's a bit quick to claim that such a vote is immoral in virtue of the fact that Trump is a racist. The institutional design of Liberal democracy suggests that other people's voting is not the right place for moral evaluation.

John Quiggin

Thinking about it, I suspect I'm responding not so much to your point as to suggestions that we need to legitimate the (presumed) concerns of Trump voters, for example by playing down "political correctness". That's really a different issue, but the two are easily conflated.

Eric Schliesser

Yes, and I am certainly not suggesting that all the concerns of Trump voters should be legitimated. In fact, I think part of politics and moral responsibility is the articulation and evaluation of these concerns.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


Blog powered by Typepad