Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Catholic Answers Action Voting Guide: Right Answer, Wrong Reasons

A recent debate on torture (on which I might comment here after the dust settles) oddly intersected with the Catholic Answers Action Voter's Guide for Serious Catholics. Specifically, the suggestion was that the omission of torture as one of the intrinsically evil issues to be considered non-negotiable by Catholic voters indicated some political bias (and this supposedly reinforced the idea that people were trying to avoid labelling torture as an intrinsic evil for political reasons). I believe there is a far less suspect motive for the selection of the five issues; they were picked out of Magisterial documents that singled them out for special consideration without much care as to why they were selected. This led to an inadequate explanation of the reasons for selecting them, which left the selection open to objections that would have otherwise been spurious.

The guide gives the following advice:

This voter’s guide identifies five issues involving "non-negotiable" moral values in current politics and helps you narrow down the list of acceptable candidates, whether they are running for national, state, or local offices.
You should avoid to the greatest extent possible voting for candidates who endorse or promote intrinsically evil policies. As far as possible, you should vote for those who promote policies in line with the moral law.


The guide lists the following non-negotiable issues:

FIVE NON-NEGOTIABLES
These five current issues concern actions that are intrinsically evil and must never be promoted by the law. Intrinsically evil actions are those that fundamentally conflict with the moral law and can never be deliberately performed under any circumstances. It is a serious sin to deliberately endorse or promote any of these actions, and no candidate who really wants to advance the common good will support any action contrary to the non-negotiable principles involved in these issues.


1. Abortion
The Church teaches that, regarding a law permitting abortions, it is "never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or to vote for it" (EV 73). Abortion is the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being, and therefore it is a form of homicide.
The unborn child is always an innocent party, and no law may permit the taking of his life. Even when a child is conceived through rape or incest, the fault is not the child’s, who should not suffer death for others’ sins.


2. Euthanasia
Often disguised by the name "mercy killing," euthanasia is also a form of homicide. No person has a right to take his own life, and no one has the right to take the life of any innocent person.
In euthanasia, the ill or elderly are killed, by action or omission, out of a misplaced sense of compassion, but true compassion cannot include intentionally doing something intrinsically evil to another person (cf. EV 73).

3. Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Human embryos are human beings. "Respect for the dignity of the human being excludes all experimental manipulation or exploitation of the human embryo" (CRF 4b).
Recent scientific advances show that often medical treatments that researchers hope to develop from experimentation on embryonic stem cells can be developed by using adult stem cells instead. Adult stem cells can be obtained without doing harm to the adults from whom they come. Thus there is no valid medical argument in favor of using embryonic stem cells. And even if there were benefits to be had from such experiments, they would not justify destroying innocent embryonic humans.

4. Human Cloning
"Attempts . . . for obtaining a human being without any connection with sexuality through ‘twin fission,’ cloning, or parthenogenesis are to be considered contrary to the moral law, since they are in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union" (RHL I:6).
Human cloning also involves abortion because the "rejected" or "unsuccessful" embryonic clones are destroyed, yet each clone is a human being.

5. Homosexual "Marriage"
True marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Legal recognition of any other union as "marriage" undermines true marriage, and legal recognition of homosexual unions actually does homosexual persons a disfavor by encouraging them to persist in what is an objectively immoral arrangement.
"When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral" (UHP 10).

The guide also provides the following instruction:

Do not vote for candidates who are right on lesser issues but will vote wrongly on key moral issues. One candidate may have a record of voting in line with Catholic values except for, say, euthanasia. Such a voting record is a clear signal that the candidate should not be chosen by a Catholic voter unless the other candidates have voting records even less in accord with these moral norms.

The reasoning presented to justify the selection of these issues is fundamentally flawed. While it is true that just laws can never promote intrinsically evil actions, it does not follow that laws can never permit intrinsically evil actions, and indeed, permission of intrinsically evil actions can be in line with the moral law if the common good and social order is better served on the whole by permitting such actions. This has effectively given dissenters a loophole through which they could drive an 18-wheeler. They protest that it does not matter what means are taken to reduce abortion, so that it is better for the common good to allow abortion to remain legal while attempting to reduce its incidence. They maintain that other candidates also do intrinsically evil things like prosecuting unjust wars or advocating torture, while the pro-choice politician is merely advocating permission of abortion, not actually promoting it. They protest that mere advocacy will not produce any actual change, and where people are powerless to work change, advocacy is pratically irrelevant. And because the characterization of the non-negotiables is made in terms of promoting intrinsic evil, all of these responses are legitimate, and the dissenter has reason to charge that the guide is simply a thinly veiled ad hoc selection of particular issues.

Unfortunately for the dissenter, even though the Catholic Answers Action guide might not have made the reason clear, the conclusion is dead on. There is a two-part justification why these issues have a unique position in the hierarchy of goods:
1. The evil is so grave that the government has a positive obligation to oppose them, an obligation that is fundamental to its existence as a state. Unlike many other intrinsically evil activities, the government may neither promote the activity in question nor even permit it.
2. Because the obligations are so fundamental to the existence of the state, mere advocacy of laws permitting them is itself a grave evil against the common good.

This is made clear by the Magisterial teaching on the point. From Evangelium Vitae 72-73:
Now the first and most immediate application of this teaching concerns a human law which disregards the fundamental right and source of all other rights which is the right to life, a right belonging to every individual. Consequently, laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law. ...Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. ...In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it"

Likewise, the CDF says, with same-sex "marriage":
It might be asked how a law can be contrary to the common good if it does not impose any particular kind of behaviour, but simply gives legal recognition to a de facto reality which does not seem to cause injustice to anyone. In this area, one needs first to reflect on the difference between homosexual behaviour as a private phenomenon and the same behaviour as a relationship in society, foreseen and approved by the law, to the point where it becomes one of the institutions in the legal structure. This second phenomenon is not only more serious, but also assumes a more wide-reaching and profound influence, and would result in changes to the entire organization of society, contrary to the common good. Civil laws are structuring principles of man's life in society, for good or for ill. They “play a very important and sometimes decisive role in influencing patterns of thought and behaviour”. Lifestyles and the underlying presuppositions these express not only externally shape the life of society, but also tend to modify the younger generation's perception and evaluation of forms of behaviour. Legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage.

It is true, of course, that voting for a particular candidate is merely remote material cooperation with his actions in office, so that a voter might vote for a particular candidate (and thereby remotely materially cooperate with his evil) for proportionate reasons. This is one of the issues in which the analysis is most confused in the CAA guide. It appears that there was some confusion between the issue of political support for a candidate and the question of whether a politician could licitly receive the Eucharist. In that context, it is also true that error on abortion and euthanasia presents a greater sense of scandal, and that it is more likely to be a manifest grave sin of the sort that can result in denial of the Eucharist. But that doesn't particularly deal with the special obligations of the state to prevent abortion and euthanasia; rather, it deals with the fact that the formal cooperation with evil is obvious in that case. There are numerous other forms of formal cooperation with evil, even acts that are evil by disproportion rather than intrinsically, that might be manifest as well. Ordinarily, this will not be the case, simply because the reasons for voting for a particular law are rarely manifest, and laws themselves are rarely such that they would obviously violate the common good (then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, outlines examples like capital punishment and just war). But the point is to determine whether it is manifest that the politician has formally cooperated with evil so as to commit a mortal sin, NOT the gravity of the sin he has committed.

On the voter's side, however, the pertinent criteria for remote moral cooperation is the proximity of the voter to the sin and the gravity of the sin with which the voter is cooperating to determine whether there are proportionate reasons to do so. It doesn't stop at the bare fact of the commission of a mortal sin, but must examine the gravity of that sin to determine whether the cooperation with that sin is justified by proportionate reasons. In that analysis, the relevance regarding the state's grave obligation to prohibit these activities is considered. So it isn't simply a question of the activity being intrinsically evil or the state (or the candidate) having an obligation not to promote these activities. Rather, it deals with an area in which the state has a positive duty to prevent the activity, a duty that is fundamental to its legitimacy qua state.

That is really what separates the five non-negotiables from other issues. The first four deal with life issues, and the last deals with an issue that was specifically pointed out by the CDF as being in the same class as abortion and euthanasia. What separates these issues is that even advocating laws that give permission for these activities to take place is a grave sin against the common good. They are fundamental to the state's obligation to protect the common good, and as such, they take precedence over other issues in their gravity. Moreover, since the mere advocacy of such laws is gravely sinful, the degree of cooperation is far less remote even than with the laws that the candidate might support. In such cases, there are no proportionate reasons to vote for a candidate who is wrong on any of the five non-negotiables if his opponent is not. So while the CAA guide might not have articulated this justification, it does accurately pick out the issues that are fundamental to the state's obligation to protect the common good. The charges of political bias may be stilled; CAA might not have understood the reasons that the Magisterium picked these issues out, but they correctly discerned that the Magisterium DID pick them out.

25 Comments:

At 7:29 PM, Blogger M.Z. Forrest said...

Thank you for your clarity on the matter. I will have to do more reading. Most of what you write confirms my internal sense of not supporting those obstinate in their support of abortion. Such support indicates at minimum a disordered worldview, which is a disqualifier on my part.

In regards to CAA, I tend to think they are Republican shills. This tends principally to be because of their refusal to openly proclaim the social teachings of the church, particularly in economics. Mr. Akin in particular seems to embrace a libertarian economics view. Mr. Akin's obstinance in opposing the Church's teachings on immigration was another indication of what I perceive to be CA's minimalistic view of the faith. The actual paper on 'non-negotiables' I didn't find offensive until I saw others use it as a club to beat over the heads of people who had grave concerns about candidates who were pro-life.

 
At 4:50 AM, Blogger zippy said...

It seems to me that the government has a (constitutive) responsibility to prevent unborn children under its protection or in its custody from being killed. It seems to me that the government has a constitutive responsibility to prevent people under its protection or in its custody from being tortured too. And it seems to me that if there is a reason why the government's material cooperation in the former is inherently worse than the government's formal cooperation in the latter, that reason has yet to be articulated in a way that I can understand it.

 
At 7:22 AM, Blogger zippy said...

I posted on the implication's for modern demoncracy of there being such a thing as a "non-negotiable".

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Zippy:
It seems to me that the government has a (constitutive) responsibility to prevent unborn children under its protection or in its custody from being killed. It seems to me that the government has a constitutive responsibility to prevent people under its protection or in its custody from being tortured too.

It is simply a question of the relative moral weight of the duty at stake. One's positive moral duty to feed one's children has greater weight than one's negative moral duty not to fornicate, for example. Abortion and euthanasia are of "particular moral weight" because they are directly pertinent to the most serious and most fundamental obligations of the state.

And it seems to me that if there is a reason why the government's material cooperation in the former is inherently worse than the government's formal cooperation in the latter, that reason has yet to be articulated in a way that I can understand it.

First, the public repudiation of the duty is formal cooperation with the evil of abortion, not merely material. Second, the question for purposes of remote material cooperation by the voter is proximity and gravity. The gravity is enormous, and the proximity to the act itself (public repudiation of the duty) is also quite high.

There has been some suggestion (not by you) that I am attempting to construct a "hierarchy of evils," as if one could support a lesser evil to prevent a greater. That is not what I mean. The hierarchy is the moral weight of the duty in question when rightly asking a question regarding unintended consequences. I consider this entirely consistent with Evangelium Vitae, which notes:
"The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: "Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator."

I certainly do not wish to deal lightly with any "supreme dishonour to the Creator." However, even making this observation, EV still draws distinctions regarding abortion and euthanasia, pointing out (in Cardinal Ratzinger's characterization) that not all moral issues have the same "moral weight" as abortion and euthanasia in terms of the state's responsibility. Indeed, Ratzinger himself pointed out in the CDF missive on worthiness to receive holy communion that even unjust war and capital punishment did not rise to this level.

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

M.Z.:
Glad to be of assistance. Regarding the notion of CAA as "Republican shills," I can only say that it has not been my experience. Of course, I tend to be "minimalist" with respect to the dogmatic content of all sorts of papal teachings, so I may simply be biased in favor of minimalist interpretations generally, the social teachings being no exception.

Also, being a Californian, it seems to me that the poor are by far bearing the worst burden of illegal immigration, that there is a hugely disproportionate influx of criminals, and that the Archdiocese of L.A. has used it as an excuse to renege on its commitments to protecting the safety of children (illegals are not subject to fingerprinting or background checks, even when working with children). I expect that Jimmy is looking around and seeing much the same thing. When you see the people hurt by immigrations, particularly with schools and hospitals being shut down and social resources for the poor stretched to breaking, I can see where you can look around and say that the society just can't handle more immigrants. And incidentally, no one who is strongly against illegal immigration would be a "Republican shill," much less a Bush hack. Bush's policy is considered abominable by the people most focused on the issue, as is practically every prominent Republican politician (Schwarzenegger, McCain). If anything, it would tend to support for independents, like the Minutemen founder, or conservatives with particularly strong commitments, like Tom McClintock. Sorry for ranting (although if you can't get on a soapbox on your own blog, where can you?), but I think you might be misjudging him.

Back to the point, I think that error on the non-negotiables ought to entitle you to abstain from voting simply as a statement for the benefit of the common good. It conveys to candidates that "good enough" won't be enough to get your support, which encourages people after your vote to improve, thus serving the common good.

 
At 2:37 PM, Anonymous M.Z. Forrest said...

I wouldn't write anyone off over the immigration debate. There are very few issues I would do so.

As for being hard on Mr. Akin, I suppose the possibility always exists. Mr. Akin and I have disagreed in the past. Probably owing to my writing style, Mr. Akin has taken some criticisms personally, some not intended for him, and the relationship has proceeded from there. I enjoy abstract discussion, but I have found difficulty engaging in such with Mr. Akin. I hope I don't portray a personal animus, because I don't have one. I don't take life online personally.

When speaking of minimalism, it is going into a longer argument about discipleship. A minimalist in my estimation sees the Catholic faith as subscribing to a series of propositions. A fully Catholic faith IMO involves trying to faithfully follow one's bishop and hence Christ. I'm confident in my own fallibility in that area. I attempt to witness what the bishop's teach, but I certainly fall short. CA's minimalism most certainly relates to its mission, and I don't fault them for that.

 
At 5:53 PM, Blogger zippy said...

There has been some suggestion (not by you) that I am attempting to construct a "hierarchy of evils," as if one could support a lesser evil to prevent a greater. That is not what I mean. The hierarchy is the moral weight of the duty in question when rightly asking a question regarding unintended consequences.

I don't think your argument necessarily constructs a heirarchy of evils. I think it probably constructs a heirarchy of prudential judgements, which is perfectly legitimate. But I am unable at this point to reconcile the "non-negotiable" claim against the "remote material cooperation" claim. If it is remote material cooperation then each and every choice is a prudential judgement made against the particular facts of the matter: that is, it is negotiable. Heaven knows that each of those does have right and wrong answers - "prudential judgement" isn't code for "there is no morally wrong answer" - but that does limit your casuistry to particular cases.

You can't make the categorical claim that voting for candidates who support certain non-negotiable issues is wrong without claiming that it is evil. "Morally wrong but not evil" is self-contradictory.

 
At 6:08 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

If it is remote material cooperation then each and every choice is a prudential judgement made against the particular facts of the matter: that is, it is negotiable. Heaven knows that each of those does have right and wrong answers - "prudential judgement" isn't code for "there is no morally wrong answer" - but that does limit your casuistry to particular cases.

Certainly, but there are no-brainer cases even of prudential judgment. It is obviously disproportionate to carpet-bomb a city to target two soldiers; you can take any real city and any two soldiers, and the answer will always be the same. It is obviously disproportionate to defend yourself against a knife-wielder with a grenade in a crowded mall; you can take any real mall, any brand of knife, and anything that is going to explode with deadly force, and the answer is the same. If the other guy has a bomb that will blow up the whole mall and all you have is a grenade? Maybe that's a different case. That's what I'm saying.

 
At 6:17 PM, Anonymous decker2003 said...

Crimson Catholic,

Over at Mark Shea's blog, Morning's Minion asked you how you would analyze the case of a pro-abortion dog catcher or mayor who supports legal abortion, but has no power to advance his/her views. Your response was:

"If a dog catcher is going to go out of his way to voice a monstrous view on abortion, why should he be trusted in office? Also, mayors can later be elected to higher office, so why would you help such a person along in his political career? But in any event, the local case is different because the immediate harm is less on account of the issue of abortion being less relevant to the job, and it harms a lesser number of people (although a large city could still include millions), so the balance of proportionate reasons might be different. Hence, your slippery slope argument from national elections is unsound. However, my analysis clearly holds for a national election."

So, is your position that there is no proportionate reason that could justify cooperating in the sin of advocating for legal abortion, or are you saying that where the impact of such advocacy is negligible (as in the cases mentioned above), then it is possible that such proportionate reasons might be found?

I find your analytical approach intriguing and am genuinely interested in understanding it. Yours is the best attempt I have seen thus far to defend the CA voter's guide against the criticism that it conflates voting for pro-abortion candidates with voting for abortion, thus overlooking the principle of double effect.

 
At 6:25 PM, Anonymous decker2003 said...

And with regard to your last post in response to Zippy, do I understand you correctly that (1)voting for a candidate who takes the wrong stance on a "non-negotiable" is not intrinsically evil, (2) it is a matter of prudential judgment whether such a vote is licit in any particular case, (3) no reasonable person with a proper understanding of the relevant moral teachings could conclude that such a vote is licit under presently existing circumstances, at least with respect to elections for national office?

Finally, one more question. Do you agree with the "lesser evil" justification for voting for pro-abortion candidates? In other words, is it licit to vote for a candidate who favor legal abortion with some restrictions in order to prevent the election of a candidate who favors legal abortion with fewer restrictions? Please explain how you would analyze that moral choice.

 
At 9:40 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

So, is your position that there is no proportionate reason that could justify cooperating in the sin of advocating for legal abortion, or are you saying that where the impact of such advocacy is negligible (as in the cases mentioned above), then it is possible that such proportionate reasons might be found?

The latter. The harm to the common good in such a case might be so trivial that the benefit from public health by having an excellent dog-catcher might justify it.

I find your analytical approach intriguing and am genuinely interested in understanding it. Yours is the best attempt I have seen thus far to defend the CA voter's guide against the criticism that it conflates voting for pro-abortion candidates with voting for abortion, thus overlooking the principle of double effect.

Thanks. This is my first effort at articulating the problem, which has nagged me ever since I first started following the Catholic blogging on the 2004 election.

do I understand you correctly that (1)voting for a candidate who takes the wrong stance on a "non-negotiable" is not intrinsically evil, (2) it is a matter of prudential judgment whether such a vote is licit in any particular case, (3) no reasonable person with a proper understanding of the relevant moral teachings could conclude that such a vote is licit under presently existing circumstances, at least with respect to elections for national office?

Yes to (1) and (2). For (3), I'll answer your next question.

Do you agree with the "lesser evil" justification for voting for pro-abortion candidates? In other words, is it licit to vote for a candidate who favor legal abortion with some restrictions in order to prevent the election of a candidate who favors legal abortion with fewer restrictions? Please explain how you would analyze that moral choice.

Zippy forced me to be more precise about that, and I would say the answer is yes if you vote for the "less evil" candidate for the exact reason of preventing the worse candidate from taking office. In a very real sense, you are not voting FOR the "less evil" candidate at all; you are voting against his opponent. Of course, if the "less evil" candidate was also correct on another NN, you could vote for him for precisely that reason as well, which would simply be an additional good as intended consequence.

This seems consistent with the EV analysis that one can vote for a more restrictive abortion law, even an intrinsically unjust one, if it represents an improvement over the current regime. That means effectively that you are voting for the present law for the precise reason of voting against the existing law. The double effect rationale in that case is mroe obvious, because the good obtained by the repeal of the old law is obviously greater than the evil resulting from the new law.

 
At 6:14 AM, Blogger zippy said...

As I pointed out at my place, though, given that there is such a thing as a non-negotiable and that there are more than one or two of them, a "less evil" candidate does not exist in most (combinatorially most) of the permutations of possible candidate platforms.

In simplified form, take candidates A, B, and C, and proposed three non-negotiables 1,2, and 3. Whether or not voting in that race at all, for any candidate is licit depends on the combinatorics of the non-negotiables. Specifically, your candidate has to be right on all of the non-negotiables that any other candidate is right on in order to conclude that he is the "less evil" candidate. If that isn't the case, and you vote in the race anyway, you have necessarily made the condemned sort of proportionalist judgement.

 
At 8:52 AM, Anonymous decker2003 said...

CrimsonCatholic,

OK. Let's make sure I understand. Imagine an election for county property assessor in a county that has a long history of government corruption and is in financial crisis. There are two candidates who have a viable chance of winning the election. Candidate A is a member of the established political machine, and has previously been convicted of taking bribes in office. Candidate B is from outside of the "machine" but has a long history of serving in municipal government and is widely recognized by both his supporters and detractors as being an honest and law-abiding. Both candidates answered questionnaires distributed by a pro-life lobbying group prior to the election. Candidate A took the correct position on all the "non-negotiables" and Candidate B took the wrong position on abortion and stem-cell research but not the others. Neither has been active outside of municipal politics or engaged in advocacy regarding the non-negotiables.

Now, please accept the hypothetical for the sake of analysis. It may seem far-fetched, though I would point out that public officials who were convicted of felonies have been re-elected to public office afterwards (e.g. Marion Barry in DC).

Is your position that: (1) a vote for candidate B could be licit in this situation on the basis that the harm resulting of B's advocacy of legal abortion and stem-cell research is so small that it is outweighed by the good of eliminating corruption and averting a financial crisis for the local government? (2) there is no similar set of plausible circumstances that could justify voting for A if the election were for a national office rather than the office of county property assessor?

 
At 10:06 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

I think I covered Zippy's position regarding the possible combinations in my "Digital Voting" post, so I'll move on the Decker's comment.

Is your position that: (1) a vote for candidate B could be licit in this situation on the basis that the harm resulting of B's advocacy of legal abortion and stem-cell research is so small that it is outweighed by the good of eliminating corruption and averting a financial crisis for the local government? (2) there is no similar set of plausible circumstances that could justify voting for A if the election were for a national office rather than the office of county property assessor?

Yes. In most statewide or national elected offices, you are undertaking representation of the entire people in a far more general way, where responsibilities of the job even directly intersect those issues. If you lack responsibility in an area, then you can't inflict significant harm by repudiating your duties in that area (assuming that it isn't a stepping stone to higher office). It's not clear to be that even county property assessors would be off the hook, if they influence things like tax-exemptions, zoning, and the like in favor of Planned Parenthood, but it seems to me that it is primarily the intersection of population scale and job responsibilities that is going to determine the harm of public advocacy, with relatively less consideration to how zealously the person advocates. It is more THAT the person is publicly pro-choice than HOW MUCH the person is pro-choice, because the real harm to the public good comes simply from public knowledge that a public official repudiates his most solemn duties of office, thereby formally cooperating with monstrous evil.

 
At 2:28 PM, Anonymous decker2003 said...

Please explain your basis for concluding that the harm to the common good resulting from public knowledge that an official elected to national office repudiates one of his most solemn duties is so grave that it always outweighs any benefit to the common good that might result from electing that candidate (at least under conditions reasonably likely to exist in the foreseeable future).

Speficially, does the ultimate conclusion depend on: (a) the extent to which the duty applies to the particular office in question; (b) the degree to which the official repudiates the duty: (c) the candidate's openness re repudiating the duty; (d) the candidate's reasons for repudiating the duty (i.e "abortion is a human right" vs. "we need to change hearts and minds first, then change the laws"); (e) the extent to which the official attempts to promote/advance these views; (f) the official's ability to implement these views in concrete government actions; (g) the number of people who are aware of the candidate's view on these matters; (h) the degree to which people are influenced by the candidate's views; (i) the actions that people take as result of their knowledge of the official's views?

Basically, I'm asking whether your conclusion would change if any of (a) through (i) were reduced to zero. Would the conclusion still hold if the office in question did not involve responsibility to protect human life? (question(a)). If the official repudiated the duty but never talked about it so that one could uncover the repudiation by checking his voting record? (question (c)) And so on.

 
At 4:42 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

In reply to:
Basically, I'm asking whether your conclusion would change if any of (a) through (i) were reduced to zero.

I'll go through the zero-cases in order.

(a) the extent to which the duty applies to the particular office in question;

Yes. I will say that any public office in and of itself involves some commitment to the common good, so it's impossible to reduce this to literal zero, but there are offices with sufficient narrow focus that the harm might be de minimis.

(b) the degree to which the official repudiates the duty:

If this literally goes to zero, then the candidate's position is correct. Short of that, I think not. It might be a relevant to the degree of harm that the person causes, but I can think of no practical case in which the repudiation would not involve grave evil. The most obvious would be banning all abortions with a "rape/incest" and/or "health of the mother" exception.

(c) the candidate's openness re repudiating the duty;

To some extent, you either know, or you don't. But I would find it difficult to believe that someone who refused to even talk about his view could be trusted to fulfill his grave moral obligation to oppose abortion.

(d) the candidate's reasons for repudiating the duty (i.e "abortion is a human right" vs. "we need to change hearts and minds first, then change the laws");

Irrelevant. If anything, such obscurantist excuses are simply an additional harm inflicted by his public advocacy in the form of sowing moral confusion. The candidate's sincerity doesn't the least bit reduce the objective harm, and that's what's being judged.

(e) the extent to which the official attempts to promote/advance these views;

I consider this irrelevant as well. If one's office includes the sort of power in which one's obligation to the common good is manifest, one's zeal is beside the point.

(f) the official's ability to implement these views in concrete government actions;

Irrelevant, if the office is of the sort that deals with these sorts of issues. It's understandable that one only does what one can. It's not understandable for one to declare that one wouldn't do what one could.

(g) the number of people who are aware of the candidate's view on these matters;

Once you cross a certain threshold, the information is either known to the public or not. Really, same situation as (c).

(h) the degree to which people are influenced by the candidate's views;

This may be counter-intuitive, but I would say this is irrelevant. The harm to the common good is malfeasance in office, having a government official formally cooperating with evil. As in the case of obscurantist reasons, his influence might be an additional harm, but lack of influence doesn't negate the gravity of his harm.

(i) the actions that people take as result of their knowledge of the official's views?

Again, I think this is an additional harm, but lack of such action does not mitigate the harm.

 
At 6:42 PM, Anonymous decker2003 said...

I readily accept that it is gravely evil for an person elected to national official to repudiate a solemn duty that attaches to his office. But I am having trouble understanding why this evil is always so overwhelming that it outweighs any possible good that the candidate could do in office. Candidate A repudiates the duty, but once in office is actually very effective in implementing other legislation that contributes to the common good in other respects. In fact, while repudiating the duty to secure LEGAL protection for unborn life, he is effective in bringing about other policies that encourage birth over abortion, greatly reducing the abortion rate. Candidate B accepts the duty but is totally ineffective in translating it into practical results and blocks legislation proposed by others that would reduce the abortion rate without imposing legal restrictions. As a result, the abortion rate actually increases. He also blocks other legislation that would contribute to the common good in other ways. In addition, he takes bribes in office and is ultimately convicted and sent to jail for corruption, disgracing the pro-life cause that he used in order to get into office and providing a propaganda club for its political enemies. Are you saying that no reasonable person could conclude that electing A would do more for the common good than electing B? If so, what is the harm that A does to the common good that so clearly outweighs the damage done by B that it is a "no-brainer" that the proportionate reasons favors B over A?

Since we are testing an analytical construct, please accept the hypothetical as it is. If you want to object that the hypothetical is unrealistic, that would be a separate discussion. Right now, I am trying to figure out your basis for saying that the harm of electing a public official to national office who repudiates the duty to protect unborn life always outweighs any reason that could exist for electing that candidate.

 
At 10:42 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Since we are testing an analytical construct, please accept the hypothetical as it is. If you want to object that the hypothetical is unrealistic, that would be a separate discussion.

Harvard Law grads always know better than to fight the hypothetical! (or at least to be sneaky when we do it)

Are you saying that no reasonable person could conclude that electing A would do more for the common good than electing B? If so, what is the harm that A does to the common good that so clearly outweighs the damage done by B that it is a "no-brainer" that the proportionate reasons favors B over A?

The harm that A does to his office corrupts his every exercise of the power. Even what good he accomplishes, it is as a public servant who has taken his power wrongly. That's the trouble with these laws that go to the fundamental obligations of the common good; they attack the legitimacy of government authority in itself. A benevolent tyrant is still, in the end, a tyrant. It's a betrayal to all citizens to give power to an unjust ruler, and that is effectively what someone who repudiates fundamental obligations is. I can't see how that proximate result can be justified; you're entrusting the keys of power to someone who effective says he is bound to no responsibility in holding them.

That's really what I find non-negotiable about the whole thing. You might suffer under one tyrant that was better than another, but if there is a legitimate ruler, even one of poor character, then that choice is preferable. At least he has SOME respect for the responsibility he is accepting.

 
At 8:56 AM, Anonymous decker2003 said...

Your contrast between the tyrant and the legitimate ruler would appear to lead to the following reductio ad absurdum:

Government A is composed entirely of people who acknowledge that they have a reponsibility to protect human life from conception to natural death and to uphold traditional marriage. Yet, they are all completely corrupt, incompetent, ineffective and misguided on every other matter of public policy. They lead their country into chaos and civil war. Although they consistenty vote for legal protection of human life, they are so ineffective in running the country and maintaining the rule of law that the legal protections are routintely ignored. Indeed, due to the violence and chaos in the country, the rate of homicide (including all deliberate taking of human life) is the highest of any nation on earth. (Think of Somalia, which has restrictive abortion laws and is in utter chaos.)

Government B is composed entirely of people who accept legal abortion, euthanasia and homosexual "marriage." Yet, they are otherwise competent, honest, benevolent and wise governors. Although there is no law preventing abortion or euthansia, the actual abortion rate is among the lowest in the world, and the life expectancy among the highest. The residents enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. The rate of violent crime is extremely low. All civil freedoms are well protected. There is an effective judicial system and police force that maintains the rule of law. (Think of the Netherlands or Belgium.)

But, you are saying that Government B is tryannical and Government A legitimate, so it is non-negotiable that all reasonable peole who form their consciences properly must choose Government A over Government B? Do you really think that Government A has done more to promote the common good than Government B?

I agree with you that Government B's promotion of the common good is gravely deficient because they do not protect human life from conception to natural death. But that doesn't mean that they haven't done anything at all to promote the common good or that the residents of that nation don't enjoy any goods in common.

Tyrants can promote some aspects of the common good and rulers who respect human rights can undermine it in other ways. "Corrupting every exercise of power", "attacking the legitimacy of government" and "betraying all citizens" are amorphous concepts until you identify the practical consequences and explain how they are necessarily so severe that it is a "no-brainer" that these consequences will always outweigh any good that this person might do in office.

Basically, I think you need to present some evidence of damages, not just establish liability.

 
At 1:32 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

This time, I will fight the hypothetical, because I think your reductio has taken the principle qualitatively beyond its sphere of application. In a situation such as the one you described in Somalia, what is really being decided is whether having a tyrant is better than anarchy. By your definition of Government A (considering particularly "they are all completely corrupt, incompetent, ineffective and misguided on every other matter of public policy" and "they are so ineffective in running the country and maintaining the rule of law that the legal protections are routintely ignored"), Government A isn't even a government. If presented with a choice between tyranny and anarchy, then it may be proprortionately better to have a tyrant than no government at all. But that obvious is not the case in the United States, to which the voter guide is particularly directed, nor any other first-world democracy. If it helps the analysis, I will specifically carve out the case where one is dealing with corruption or ineffectiveness to the degree that there might as well be no laws at all, so that the laws are "routinely ignored." In that instance, the "public official" might as well not be one.

Turning to the quantum of of damages, I think damages are shown by M.Z. Forrest's comment over at Zippy's:
I think Crimson Catholic is correct in stating that advocacy of abortion is not evil in the sense that it allows a given abortion to occur so much as it is evil by the harm it causes the public good. The former sense is certainly objectively true, but the latter sense is intrinsic. It seems to follow the moral logic of detraction more closely, that being the problem with detraction is not the veracity of the underlying claim so much as the common good is corrupted by scurrilous allegations.

So the damage is there. Regarding the relative proportion, I would again appeal to the concept of the "benevolent tyrant." At what point does it become OK to fundamentally compromise the legitimacy of the government for the sake of good effects? Given that I view the government as a God-ordained institution, not merely some arbitrary social construction to obtain certain social goods, I have the intuition that it cannot be. It would be choosing illicit means (a tyrannical government) to produce licit ends. I think in that case you can vote to reduce the degree of tyranny, but not vote to increase the degree of tyranny simply to make the tyrannical government function better.

 
At 6:27 PM, Anonymous decker2003 said...

"At what point does it become OK to fundamentally compromise the legitimacy of the government for the sake of good effects?"

If that legitimacy has already been compromised, and it is not reasonably likely to be restored in the foreseeable future, then can I vote the person who will at least make it more benevolent?

OK, maybe he reinforces the illegitimacy to some extent, but if a government that fails to protect life in the womb is a given, then why is that additional quantum of illegitimacy so overwhelmingly bad that it outweighs say, preventing an unjust war of aggression that will kill well over a hundred thousand innocent people? Why can't a reasonable person say: "I despise this illegitimate government and I wish I could restore its legitimacy, but I have no practical means of doing so at this time, so at least I'm going to do what I can to mitigate those bad effects I can control?" Isn't that the same rationale that underlies your argument for voting for the least pro-choice of two pro-choice candidates?

I'm just not understanding why every little increment of additional illegitimacy is always and everywhere so overwhelmingly bad that it outweighs any conceivable good that might be obtained by tolerating that additional increment. Remember, I am not choosing the additional illegitimacy, I am only accepting it in order to achieve some other good. Why is every little bit of additional illegitimacy (or reinforcement of illegitimacy or cooperation with illegitimacy) so grave that I couldn't possibly think of anything worse?

Aren't you making some assumptions that the election of certain candidates will cause the laws of the country to change?
If we elect a government of people who publicly acknowledge their duty to protect unborn life, and yet fail to act on that duty, isn't our goverment just as illegitimate as ever? In other words, it does matter what actions they take in office and whether the laws you are seeking get passed, no?

 
At 12:30 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

If that legitimacy has already been compromised, and it is not reasonably likely to be restored in the foreseeable future, then can I vote the person who will at least make it more benevolent?

I wouldn't think so, because you aren't voting on the legitimacy of the government at large; you are voting for this particular candidate's contribution to the lgeitimacy/illegitimacy. That would be taking into account external circumstances unrelated to the act, which is to tend to place this or that candidate in office. With respect to the individual candidate, you are trading off on a less legitimate government with better results.

OK, maybe he reinforces the illegitimacy to some extent, but if a government that fails to protect life in the womb is a given, then why is that additional quantum of illegitimacy so overwhelmingly bad that it outweighs say, preventing an unjust war of aggression that will kill well over a hundred thousand innocent people?

Because you're voting on the candidate's contribution, not the society at large. What that particular candidate is proposing is the illegitimate acquisition of power to accomplish some good effect from this acquisition of power. One can think of the illegtimate acquisition of power as a massive harm that is more proximate to the act of voting. Or one could think of it as an illicit means (taking illegitimate power) to a licit end. In either case, the proximity of giving power to someone illegitimately takes priority.

Why can't a reasonable person say: "I despise this illegitimate government and I wish I could restore its legitimacy, but I have no practical means of doing so at this time, so at least I'm going to do what I can to mitigate those bad effects I can control?"

The reasoning is based on a false premise. With respect to the particular candidate, there is something that one can do to restore the government's legitimacy: one can vote for the more legitimate candidate! If anything, the voter has MORE power to assist the legitimacy than to mitigate the bad effects.

Isn't that the same rationale that underlies your argument for voting for the least pro-choice of two pro-choice candidates?

No, it isn't, because that reasoning compares apples to apples. Abortion is of the same social significance as abortion. Legitimacy and bad effects are not of like kind, and I am arguing that legitimacy takes logical priority.

I'm just not understanding why every little increment of additional illegitimacy is always and everywhere so overwhelmingly bad that it outweighs any conceivable good that might be obtained by tolerating that additional increment. Remember, I am not choosing the additional illegitimacy, I am only accepting it in order to achieve some other good. Why is every little bit of additional illegitimacy (or reinforcement of illegitimacy or cooperation with illegitimacy) so grave that I couldn't possibly think of anything worse?

At the level of the candidate, it isn't a "little bit of illegitimacy." It is a severe compromise of that candidate's legitimacy in exercising power. You aren't voting for the state of the society; indeed, you can't possibly. You're voting for a particular candidate for a particular office.

 
At 12:35 AM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Aren't you making some assumptions that the election of certain candidates will cause the laws of the country to change?

No. If anything, I am saying that the effect is remote and circumstantial.

If we elect a government of people who publicly acknowledge their duty to protect unborn life, and yet fail to act on that duty, isn't our goverment just as illegitimate as ever?

Failure to act can be a public statement as well. Saying that one will do something yet not doing what one can publicly demonstrates something about the candidate's beliefs.

In other words, it does matter what actions they take in office and whether the laws you are seeking get passed, no?

The former, yes. I think there is a strong case for the latter being, if not entirely irrelevant, then minimally so, at least when pertaining to matters of fundamental legitimacy.

 
At 10:29 AM, Anonymous decker2003 said...

Zippy and CrimsonCatholic,

This has all been very interesting and stimulating, but I'm going to have to turn to other things now. I think we have moved the conversation regarding the moral theology of voting forward and while there is plenty left to discuss, I'm not able to do so right now. I imagine there will be other opportunities in the future. Thank you for your civil and spirited exchange of ideas in our common search for moral truth.

 
At 4:01 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Thanks for your comments. Since this was my first effort at articulating what I understood as the real rationale behind the CAA voting guide, your feedback was particularly helpful.

 

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