Posts tagged with: alasdair macintyre

There’s more to voting than tallying up the number of yays and nays. Although you’d never guess it by the numbingly perfunctory attitude taken toward voting by most Americans—especially in this late hour—who see it either as the highest duty of a good citizen, or as an inconvenient inevitability.

What makes voting worth it, anyway? Is it the possibility of shaping our nation’s future? The opportunity to express our deepest-held principles? Or is it worth it precisely because not doing it would be a civic or moral failure that we wish to avoid?

A recent conversation at Ethika Politika draws some of these questions together. Responding broadly to my characterization of Alasdair MacIntyre’s now somewhat popular case for non-voting, Acton’s own Dylan Pahman offers a perspective that emphasizes real-life consequences stemming from our attitude toward civic choices. Pahman takes as a philosophical basis for this approach William James’s idea of genuine options, suggesting that voting meets all the criteria, and that to not vote is, strictly speaking, not a real option.

As the defensor MacIntyri, here—at least for the sake of argument—I submit that Pahman’s analysis, while logically consistent, introduces a false assumption about the nature of morals vis-à-vis public life. In other words, I think that favoring a “duty to consider the consequences” need not take precedence over—and certainly needn’t extinguish—one’s “focus upon the personal, moral value of voting.” What are personal morals, after all, if not deeply connected to reality?


Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Related to John’s post about “natural” capitalism (and as I previously promised in the context of the “new” evangelicalism), I’d like to point to this summary of the contemporary situation from Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, speaking of a left/right political divide:

This bifurcation is itself an important clue to the central characteristics of modern societies and one which may enable us to avoid being deceived by their own internal political debates. Those debates are often staged in terms of a supposed opposition between individualism and collectivism, each appearing in a variety of doctrinal forms. On the one side there appear the self-defined protagonists of individual liberty, on the other the self-defined protagonists of planning and regulation, of the goods which are available through bureaucratic organization. But in fact what is crucial is that on which the contending parties agree, namely that there are only two alternative modes of social life open to us, one in which the free and arbitrary choices of individuals are sovereign and one in which the bureaucracy is sovereign, precisely so that it may limit the free and arbitrary choices of individuals. Given this deep cultural agreement, it is unsurprising that the politics of modern societies oscillate between a freedom which is nothing but a lack of regulation of individual behavior and forms of collectivist control designed only to limit the anarchy of self-interest. The consequences of a victory by one side or the other are often of the highest immediate importance; but, as Solzhenitzyn has understood so well, both ways of life are in the long run intolerable. Thus the society in which we live is one in which bureaucracy and individualism are partners as well as antagonists. And it is the cultural climate of this bureaucratic individualism that the emotivist self is naturally at home.

There has been a lot of confusion over Mike Huckabee’s invocation of the term “vertical politics,” but I think it is one attempt (perhaps futile) to come to terms with this feature of modern political life. The fact that the chattering classes exist in a two-dimensional realm explains why they have trouble understanding such attempts at transcending a binary political continuum. Such attempts at transcendence seem to me to be necessary given a view that holds to a hierarchy of moral goods (perhaps a minority view, nowadays).