Acton Institute Powerblog

Is There a Moral Duty to Not Vote?

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During the electoral season of 2004, philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote a provocative essay titled, “The Only Vote Worth Casting in November.” In the essay he writes,

[T]he only vote worth casting in November is a vote that no one will be able to cast, a vote against a system that presents one with a choice between [X’s] conservatism and [Y’s] liberalism, those two partners in ideological debate, both of whom need the other as a target.

Andrew Haines, founder of the Center for Morality in Public Life, helpfully distills the essence of MacIntyre’s argument:

In a nutshell—if I can be free to ‘summarize’ MacIntyre’s (or perhaps better, what I take to be a “purist” Aristotelian) position on the matter—refusal to vote coincides with our basic human responsibility toward fostering virtue. Voting, or any political or moral action for that matter, isn’t primarily about fulfilling codified duties, but rather about freely seeking out what is highest and most perfect. The act of voting, in this case, isn’t something we can assess under a utility-driven approach to social welfare (e.g., sorting out the lesser of two political evils). Instead, voting is a reflection of right reason in action—and because of this, it can only engage positively (i.e., we can only cast an unspoiled ballot) when the intellect is given enough fodder to make an informed judgment.

I despise “utility-driven approaches” to moral issues so I’m sympathetic to the argument. But my moral intuitions also tell me that voting is a duty for Christians in a democratic republic. Am I wrong? How should we respond to MacIntyre’s case for not voting?

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).