Over at Easy Yolk, Autopilot discusses a couple different views regarding voting in the political arena. After highlighting a couple various viewpoints from scholars regarding reasons not to vote, Autopilot himself opts for what he calls a Third Way approach:
[A] Third Way, comes from the late Mennonite Professor of Ethics at Notre Dame John Howard Yoder. Back in 1976, he suggested that Christians use our vote consistently and more creatively, yet less seriously, as we understand more and more how little power “we the people” actually have in a democratic-oligarchy like the United States. Since the 4th century, Christians have turned to “Constantinian” methods of managing the world for God. These methods have led, over and over as history attests, to unfaithfulness to the way of Jesus and limited the influence of the church. How did Christian recover control of the Holy Land? Kill the Muslims! How did Christians end World War II quicker? Bomb the Japs! How did Christians save the sanctity of marriage and unborn babies? Vote for Bush! We need to learn from these outcomes by thinking more holistically and humbly about what it means to be politically Christian. Yoder calls his alternative proposal “chastened relativism.”
Basically this “chastened relativism” is a limited engagement with the political system that remains faithful to the “civil duty” of voting, while nevertheless allowing the focus of social and human progress to be localized in the “faith communities that are dedicated to the politics of Jesus.” By doing this, Autopilot notes that the desired effect is a “ripple effect” of God’s reign going forth from the community to the world abroad.
Thus, the conclusions are that while voting is not the primary political, social, or cultural activism that people (christians specifically in this instance) should engage in it is nevertheless one small part of the process that can (should?) be utilized.
While I have much respect for Autopilot (I’ve known him for many years – he was a mentor of mine when I was in High School) and even for the Yoderian position, I am not convinced that this type of engagement is beneficial at all. In fact, recently, I have begun to think that voting is nothing other than a vehicle for the State, regardless of what vote is cast in the ballot box. This is so for the simple reason that although our democratic label would like us to think that we can post measures that would actually bring about radical change, the truth is that most (if not all) of the measures that make it on ballots are peppered with language and intentions that are supportive of the system-as-is. Such is to be expected, for the very system itself is designed to support its own well-being and longevity. It has just enough flexibility to adjust itself when necessary so that it can still remain a self-contained, closed system. Therefore, any favorable position toward voting is destined to help the strength of the State system itself. This is why we need to think along with Bergson who claimed that the difference between a closed morality and an open morality is not simply one of degree but one of kind. Although Yoder would likely make a similar claim (and Autopilot as well) regarding the radical nature of Jesus’ politics, I don’t think that any allegiance or obedience to civil duty will allow for a clean break with the closed system to occur. After all, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
Thus stated, the option that I would suggest is a radical opposition to the State – in toto – while remaining ever present in the political and social sphere. Autopilot did note that some (Alasdair MacIntyre in particular) have suggested such options in the past. True. However, MacIntyre’s soft “communitarian” view is hardly the radical politics that I’m speaking of here. There is a scent of apathy that wafts when MacIntyre suggests that neither Republicans nor Democrats provide the proper paradigm for Christian political activity. Rather, what needs to happen is that a group of politically active and socially engaged persons (note persons and not people), who may have different views regarding content of morality and politics, need to come together – concerned much more with the form of politics and society – and cause a constant disruption in the State so that no ossification will occur. This group-in-fused (as Sartre would call them) would thus be constantly involved in the future of the local society, but also drastically concerned with humanity as a whole, while refusing to succumb to the ossified system that presents only limited, closed options for societal and global progress. This multitude would thus not fall into that state of apathy that worries so many who think that those against voting will fall into. Rather, following Badiou, the opposite is in fact the case: only in this mode of thought is true, active “politics” manifest.
* A point of clarification: I am in not saying that Autopilot or Yoder would not in many ways agree with what I’ve stated. I’m simply trying to point out that this “Third Way”, while laudable in many ways, is not radical enough. The focus on community in Autopilot’s post is actually quite similar to the “group-in-fused” view that I’m espousing here. Let’s just cut out the “voting” part ;)