A Reply to My Essay on the Immorality of Voting

My friend and colleague Jonathan Blanks has written a response to my essay yesterday on the morally troubling aspects of voting. In the delightfully titled “Pay No Attention to the Man Who Won’t Stand Behind the Voting Curtain,” Blanks takes me to task for putting philosophy before practicality.

Philosophy has its place, as it informs our beliefs and ideals. However, removing yourself — and, more damning, those whom agree with you most — from the election process eliminates the largest incentive for politicians to care what you and those like you believe.

His argument is that even if my vote doesn’t decide the election — and the chance of it doing so is so small as to effectively not exist — government still pays attention to voting collectives.

But in toss-up districts and states, enough people who vote libertarian can, by shifting the margin, change the outcome of an election. A party that is on the losing end of that would be wise to cater to libertarian issues in the future.

Whether he’s right is a political science question, not a philosophy one. And he may be right that there are times practicality trumps moral purity. (Though if and when that’s true is, of course, a philosophical question!) But I think this is a case where we can both be right. As I wrote at the end of my piece,

If you cast a vote today, there’s a pretty high chance that in morally significant ways you’re acting just like those friends mugging the old man. You may think there are good reasons for doing this, that a world where you vote for violations of basic human dignity and autonomy will be more livable — happier, freer, wealthier, more equal — than one where you don’t. But you’re still party to countless immoralities.

Sometimes committing a moral wrong is justified. Sometimes we have very good reasons to do something unethical. (The inability to recognize and shed light on these situations is one of the chief reasons utilitarianism remains an unsatisfactory moral philosophy.) But that doesn’t mean they’re not still, to some extent, immoral.