"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Pacifism Against A Sinful Peace

We may have a horrific choice ahead, a choice between Hillary Clinton and her alter-ego, Donald Trump. I have already publicly indicated that I have no intention of voting for either one. I am not a politician. I am not required to sell out my principles in order to support the most popular of two equally evil candidates.

There are those who agree with this analysis, and hold up the Amish as an example to follow. The argument goes that we should at least participate in the local process, even if we cannot find a way to stomach the national candidates. And there is wisdom in that. But can we go even further?

Many consider it some kind of civic sin to not participate in the political process, but consider:
If war is just the continuation of politics by other means and
It is not a sin to refuse to participate in a sinful war (war-time pacifism) then
It is not a sin to refuse to participate in a sinful peace (political pacifism).
Now, it is possible for war to be just, or moral. If a war is just, then, clearly, we can sin by refusing to participate in that just war. Yet, by the same token, everyone also recognizes that we can justifiably refuse to participate in a war that we consider sinful. If that is so, then the corollary must also be true. As CS Lewis pointed out, "If war is ever moral, then sometimes peace can be sinful."  The thought is initially startling, but clearly accurate. This is, after all, the reason a just war is waged - the peace is sinful, and can no longer justly be borne..If we can refuse to participate in a sinful war, then we must also be able to refuse to participate in a sinful peace.

To put it another way, consider the four criteria of the just war, namely.
  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
In a sinful peace, we may have no "serious prospect of success(fully)" removing the sin while retaining the peace. What can we do in that case? That is, what can be done, short of war, when the political process itself has been so corrupted that we end with a choice like Hillary vs. Bernie vs. Donald? The first two are clearly fungible. If you have reason to doubt Trump's recent conversion to a "conservative" outlook, then all three individuals are entirely fungible. Voting for any particular one has essentially the same consequence as voting for either of the others. If this country actually reaches that point, then voting, participation in the process, is merely validation of the process. My vote merely rubber-stamps horror.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, you can't vote with a question mark or an asterisk. A begrudged vote for Hillary/Bernie/Donald is identical to an enthusiastic vote for the hydra-headed beast. Both the enthusiastic vote and the clothes-pin-on-the-nose vote  count the same, a vote for any one of them has the horrific effect of contributing to that one actually getting the office. Even if the one I vote for does not gain office, even if one of the others gets the office instead, s/he can still point to my vote against them as at least a blessing of the process. No matter what happens, my vote validates their occupancy of the office.

But I am not required to validate a politician's office. In a democracy, I validate the office holder by voting. In a monarchy, I would validate the office by granting public assent to the actions of the king. Thomas More became a political pacifist, he dropped out of the political process, he refused to give his "vote" of assent to the actions of the king. Instead, he "voted" by resigning the royal office that had been given to him and retiring to private life. His refusal to "vote", his refusal to give assent to the political process, led to his death as the king's good subject, but God's first. The king recognized More's refusal to participate in the monarchy's political processes, his political pacifism, as an act of war against the government. When we consciously refuse to vote, we imitate More's action.

Many feel the process can be saved, so they will write in a candidate. That is a valid opinion to hold, and a valid course to follow. We could tear off the offensive part of the ballot. We could leave parts blank. Or we can refuse to vote at all, we could retire from the irredeemably corrupt political process, as Thomas More did. We are allowed to repudiate the entire process. We can refuse to participate in both a sinful war and a sinful peace.

And, if our political pacifism fails, then we have a final option.
Remember the Battle of Athens.

5 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Not Athens, Stalingrad.

Given that both presidential candidates are evil, I am not required to sell out my principles in order to support the most popular of the two.

Then you use Stalin to stop Hitler. It's not a perfect solution, but neither is doing nothing.

"The death of Churchill is a healthy reminder to academic students of political science of their limitations, the limitations of their craft.

The tyrant stood at the pinnacle of his power. The contrast between the indomitable and magnanimous statesman and the insane tyrant—this spectacle in its clear simplicity was one of the greatest lessons which men can learn, at any time.

No less enlightening is the lesson conveyed by Churchill’s failure which is too great to be called tragedy. I mean the fact that Churchill’s heroic action on behalf of human freedom against Hitler only contributed, through no fault of Churchill’s, to increase the threat to freedom which is posed by Stalin or his successors. Churchill did the utmost that a man could do to counter that threat—publicly and most visibly in Greece and in Fulton, Missouri. Not a whit less important than his deeds and speeches are his writings, above all his Marlborough—the greatest historical work written in our century, an inexhaustible mine of political wisdom and understanding, which should be required reading for every student of political science.

The death of Churchill reminds us of the limitations of our craft, and therewith of our duty. We have no higher duty, and no more pressing duty, than to remind ourselves and our students, of political greatness, human greatness, of the peaks of human excellence. For we are supposed to train ourselves and others in seeing things as they are, and this means above all in seeing their greatness and their misery, their excellence and their vileness, their nobility and their triumphs, and therefore never to mistake mediocrity, however brilliant, for true greatness."


http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2015/01/leo-strauss-on-the-death-of-churchill.php

And then, some 25 years after Churchill's death, the Soviet Union fell as well. Hey, you muddle through.

Tim Kowal said...

Contesting the validity of the process needs more than disliking the nominees. For that matter, protesting the validity extends further than merely refraining from voting, but withdrawing from or standing against the entire government.

Refraining from voting, or better, voting a third party, can be a meaningful signal. But it is inadequate, by itself, as a means of protesting the process.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

The process produced the candidates, so disliking the nominees is also an expression of dislike for a process that can produce such candidates. If the candidates are invalid (and who really wants to argue that either of the Democrat candidates or Trump, the current front-runner, are actually valid candidates) then the process that produced them is, at least in some aspect, invalid.

Non-participation in war as a conscientious objector has, to my knowledge, never stopped a war or shortened its duration. But it may have saved the soul of the one who objected. When it comes to objecting on the basis of conscious, the details can, and do, matter.

Tim Kowal said...

I am not aware of any formal objections to Trump's candidacy, or Clinton's -- unless, that is, she is convicted for her wrongdoing as secretary of state. Their repugnancy is not equivalent to invalidity. The threat is not that they would hold office merely, but that they propose to use it for evil ends.

That said, I am genuinely at a loss over which is worse. In absolute terms, Trump might be less bad on the two issues that matter most to me -- abortion and judges. But the signaling effect cannot be ignored: four or eight years of a "Republican" president talking about the "great work" done by baby-part suppliers risks permanently losing the cause of life as any credible part of the party's platform. Likewise, adding hundreds of pro-eminent-domain, pro-libel-plaintiff, pro-government Trump judges will derail the conservative legal movement's effort to restore the rule of law and originalism to the bench.

In both instances, stipulate Hillary's actual policies and appointments would be worse -- but they'd be perfectly predictable. Trump, however, would ruin the GOP brand on two issues where it's made the most headway in the past quarter century.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The process produced the candidates, so disliking the nominees is also an expression of dislike for a process that can produce such candidates.

That invalidates the process by definition since the process will invariably produce someone you don't like.