Saturday, April 10, 2004


Here is a new column by Burgess Laughlin:

Voter's dilemma?

Michael Hurd has written a very brief, but thought-provoking article, Meaningful Blows From the 9/11 Commission, on the site for Capitalism Magazine.

The title of the article does not accurately name the theme. The following paragraph [Editor's note: I excerpted the whole paragraph according to Capitalism Magazine's policy of maximum 250 words.] of the article summarizes his main point:

"George W. Bush is a seriously flawed President, so flawed that I am seriously considering abstaining from voting in November. However, his willingness to use force against our obvious and known enemies is one of the few reasons for praising him, not criticizing him. If I do end up voting for him, this will be the sole reason why." (Capitalism Magazine, 04/09/04.)

Hurd's possible decision to not vote (at least not for president) raises a question that applies to everyone living in a free or even merely semi-free republic: Why vote at all?

The only justification that I can see is the belief that voting (and the advocacy that goes with it) might improve political conditions for me and for all peaceful and honest individuals with whom I trade.

In the U. S., the justification for voting is easier to see on local ballot measures -- e.g., whether a local government should raise a certain tax. Sometimes, out of thousands of votes cast, a few votes may decide the fate of an electoral issue. My vote might help reject a tax increase. (Of course, in a wholly free republic, such issues would never appear on a ballot.)

Voting for particular politicians is harder to justify. The main reason is that the institutionalized nominating process almost always proposes compromisers who stand halfway between the competing statist factions. The left-wing statists offer us such programs as freedom to choose an abortion (a great benefit to some rational individuals); and the right-wing statists offer us a cut in the capital-gains tax (a great benefit to some rational individuals). On the other hand, leftists favor more restrictions on earning wealth, while rightists support limiting our spending to religiously correct items.

Amidst this dilemma, rational voters must try to pick the least destructive candidates for the long-term. In that case, what criterion or criteria should the rational voter use to select one candidate over another?

I can suggest one approach. It is standard objective procedure: essentialize. The rational voter must identify which political issues are more fundamental (causing more effects) than the others. For example, defense of the republic -- from terrorists, invaders, seditionists, and common criminals -- must come first. If aggressive Islamofascists intimidate the republic, then no rights will exist, and worrying about anti-trust laws or restrictions on medicine will be pointless.

More fundamental than a candidate's particular political views are his ethical principles. What does a candidate see as vices and virtues? The answer, in part, will determine his politics.

Still more fundamental is his epistemology. Is he objective -- always, usually, or only in some areas of his life? Or is he a pragmatist? Or, worse, is he a fideist or other type of emotionalist? Or is he an eclectic mixture of all of these, as President George W. Bush is?

In summary, choosing one candidate over another -- if any -- should begin with considering their philosophical principles.

In the U. S., we are witnessing the spectacle of an egalitarian candidate -- made in the mold of the neo-Kantian philosopher John Rawls -- competing with an incumbent president who said, four years ago, that his favorite philosopher is Jesus Christ.

That is a depressing thought.

I too will probably not vote for the presidency of the United States.

Burgess Laughlin
The Aristotle Adventure -- a work of history for general readers and students.

[Editor: As a foreigner (but American in spirit), living outside the United States of America for the time being, I can't vote in the upcoming election. I must declare that I am happy that Al Gore didn't win in 2000. I saw him in action at a show coordinated by MTV's campaign "Choose or Lose," and I wasn't impressed at all. He visited our school (Southern New Hampshire University) in 2000, and spewed his environmentalist propaganda. I would argue in a similar way when it comes to the choice between John F. Kerry and George W. Bush. I hate to see JFK win the election. America will not be a safer place with a guy who wants to appease every terrorist leader in the world. That's my take on the issue. What is your opinion? For more on the election and the different candidates, check out and Jim Woods' "US Election 2004" journal.]