Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils

          I often hear Christians ask why they should vote for the lesser of two evils.  Here’s why:
         “The lesser of two evils” is another way of saying “the better of two alternatives.”  The Bible is not opposed to you making the best choice available between imperfect alternatives.  In an imperfect world, when you choose between persons, your choices are always imperfect.  They always entail the lesser or the least of evils, whether two or more.  Given the depth and extent of human depravity and delusion, it can be no other way.  It never has been and it never will be otherwise.  No king, queen, prince, princess, premier, president, prime minister, senator, representative, governor, mayor, or school board member can possibly be an exception, whether they were born to the job or were elected to it.  Some choices might be better than others, but they always will be imperfect.  You always will be voting for the lesser or the least of two (or more) evils.  No other choice can ever present itself.
         Not only are the choices imperfect, but so also is the chooser.  No voter escapes imperfection.  No voter escapes personal or intellectual evil.  But one never hears -- or at least I never hear -- those who complain about “the lesser of two evils” apply that complaint to themselves and to other voters, only to candidates.  They complain about voting for the lesser of two evils, but not about letting “the lesser of two evils” vote.  If one is a purist and says we ought to vote only for someone who is better than the lesser of two evils then, by their principles, only those who are better than the lesser of two evils should vote.  The purists apply higher standards to candidates than they do to themselves and to other voters.
         An aside:  If you decline to vote for the lesser of two evils and vote instead for someone who has no reasonable chance of victory, or if you exclude yourself from voting altogether, you make at least two errors.
         (1) You prevent yourself from voting for one of the only two candidates who can win, leaving the choice of winner entirely to others, thus robbing yourself of any meaningful exercise of your franchise in this regard.  If the government prevented you from voting for the winner, you would call it tyranny.  But if you prevent yourself from voting, you call it principle.  You are wrong.  Of the two choices available to you -- voting for an imperfect winner or not -- you have chosen the worst of two evils, namely self-imposed disenfranchisement.
         (2) You have clearly misidentified who is and who is not the best available candidate.  If candidate X is doomed to failure, while candidates A and B are not, and you vote for X anyway, then you do not know either the better or the best.  “Doomed to failure” means that your candidate is not even the lesser of two evils, but is actually politically worse than the greater of two evils. 


W.LindsayWheeler said...

With a Monarchy, you don't have to. I thought this new type of modern republicanism, to wit, "any government without a king" was to solve the failings of monarchy.

Here it seems that modern psuedo-republicanism is not any better than the government that it replaced. Under Christendom, the Church handled morality and moral teaching, here under modern psuedo-republicanism, it is much worse.

As this current election proves, we had it better under the Catholic Monarchies of Christendom.

Dr. Michael Bauman said...


Thanks for your comment.

But I disagree. (1) Even monarchies exist by the consent of the governed. You don't have to have elections for kings to be subject to their people, as Charles 1 learned the hard way. (2) Catholic monarchies have been among the most despotic in western history. I am far less amenable to their failings than perhaps you are. Generally speaking, I am not impressed by their cumulative historical record regarding freedom, property rights, justice, and prosperity.

Nate Coddington said...

I also wonder sometimes, if people are so interested in voting for someone they agree with, and are willing to vote for someone who doesn't even have a chance of winning, why not write your own name in? Why limit your quiver of candidates at all?

Jonathan Bennett said...

It's quite a stretch to say we had it better under Catholic Monarchies in any sense. Catholic monarchs were far from paragons of virtue, and if you got one who was not the idealized, virtuous type you seem to assume that they were, you were in for life, either his or yours.

Economically, there was minimal to no economy. Fiscally, monarchs frequently debased their own currency to a degree that would make all but the fiscally worst of modern governments cringe in terror. Militarily/Government service wise, corvee labor and levies ate up your summers with either war or massive building projects that rarely directly benefited you. Technology-wise, well I think that's fairly obvious.

As far as rights go, you had whatever rights your monarch decided you had, when he decided you had them. In theory, he tended to follow the guidance of the church, but practice was vastly different from theory. There was certainly no recourse if you felt yourself wrongly imprisoned or punished, unless you consider abandoning your family and everything you've ever known and fleeing to a neighboring monarch to eke out a living with no land, family, friends, or money and functionally no legal standing a recourse.

As for the church handling morality, many people tend to forget just how many children the Popes had during the Middle Ages.

You seem to be blending the public political and public political features of modern society in a way they're not meant to be blended and then comparing them to an idealized past. Modern morality could not be dictated in America like it was in the monarchies (even if church-state separation weren't an issue) because America is not monolithic like a monarchy. Only 1 "monarchy" encompassed anything like an area as large and diverse as the US, and Imperial England was 1) not at all like Catholic monarchies, 2) not very moral, and 3) didn't enforce what morality they wanted to except in their tiny core, which was fairly homogeneous.

We no longer live in an era when the church can dictate morality through the state, and given the fallen nature of states (and churches) and the people that make them up, I'm not sure that's such a bad idea. Large swathes of the world still bear the scars of "Christian" nations prostituting the enternal Bride of Christ to temporal political goals and means (the reconquista, the Crusades, the colonization of the Americas, the exploitation of China in the 19th century, apartheid, and I could go on). I think it is valuable for the church to be detached from government and able to stand as an independent entity calling that which is good, good and that which is bad, bad without regard to political expediency or temporal consequences. That said, it seems that prostituting the church for political gains is a perennial problem for us...

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

Nate, Indeed. Why not? No one agrees with them more than do they themselves. they are their own perfect candidate. And if they say that they have no chance of winning and will therefore vote for someone else, then they make my point.

Well said, my friend.

Bryan said...

This is a great article... thanks Dr. B.

Ryan Czerwinski said...

I think only someone very self-UNaware would consider themselves a better political candidate than their chosen candidate. I am certain that I would do HORRIBLY in office, not knowing the intricacies of holding public office. However I do trust myself enough to discern what political ideologies are most beneficial for our country. (to a certain extent at least--I know that I may be proven wrong at any time)

Mary-Kate Metzger said...

However, when they vote for a different candidate, the difference between voting for that candidate and themselves is that the candidate has at least a meager chance of winning, because (hopefully) they are voting for someone decently-known to the American audience. If you vote for yourself and you are not well-known in the political world, well, then, I agree that's just plain silly. But if you vote for somebody better-known, then he does have a chance of winning, even if it may be small. And if enough people vote for that candidate, perhaps there is a chance that that will play into the next election.