As both a political scientist and a citizen, this election cycle has been the most depressing one I have ever witnessed. For the first time, I cannot vote for either of the mainstream candidates.
Many individuals I have encountered over the past year have expressed the same sentiment. But on both sides, one often hears the argument, “Not voting for candidate A is a vote for candidate B,” and vice-versa. Party ideologues insist that their candidate is not as bad as the other; thus, citizens should cast votes for the lesser of two evils or risk throwing one’s vote away.
I OBJECT TO THIS argument, and I object to the point that one must vote for the lesser of two evils. As usual, my arguments are based upon my interpretation of the Founding Fathers’ thoughts and what they expected for this republic.
George Washington, perhaps the closest leader to a philosopher-king the United States has produced, believed party politics would destroy our constitutional framework. Parties are divisive, and they encourage people to vote for ideologies rather than sound principles. Ideologies are our confined world-view that, once believed, individuals think are “the right” or “the good.”
Anytime folks believe they have found “the good” in politics and regime theory in general, they adopt tyrannical, close-minded arguments and refuse to engage in discourse for the sake of understanding truth. Ideologues don’t need to engage in discourse for the sake of truth because they have already found “the truth.”
OBVIOUSLY, THIS IS dangerous thinking. As most political philosophers, especially the ancients, taught: Living a good life consists in always searching for the truth, and always being open to the possibility that one often is wrong in one’s opinions. In fact, democratic Athens killed Socrates for his attempt to replace the opinion of truth with truth itself, which is nothing more than the search for truth. His death is, more than anything else, a warning of party politics in democratic regimes.
Ideologies constrain options and force us into restrictive boxes that limit rational choices. These are self-imposed restraints, however, and we should not believe that if our conscience points us elsewhere that we are throwing our votes away. If one wishes to approach politics as citizen-philosophers, one must return always to republican (that is, representative) theory in contemplating the best choice.
IN A REPUBLIC, juxtaposed to a democracy, voters are encouraged to vote for the candidate who best understands what is in the general interest of society. What is actually best, as opposed to what the population thinks is best, is the dichotomy put forth by Socrates in the political realm – the truth vs. the opinion of truth.
This means that citizens don’t vote for politicians who pander to their wants or desires, because citizens are educated enough to know that their wants and desires probably are not best for society at large.
Of course determining what is best vs. what people think is best is no easy task. This is why the republic is structured to weed out demagogic individuals who would take advantage of society’s base impulses. It was originally constructed, in theory, in such a way that voters would vote for those individuals of high moral and virtuous standards. One would vote for an individual who was philosophically-minded, courageous in personal morality and civically oriented toward the public good. The idea is that one who is intelligent, moral and virtuous (meaning putting society above the self) would be better suited to understand what is right, vs. what is an opinion of right.
THE FOUNDERS even put safeguards in place to guarantee that these individuals would be in the highest positions of the regime (think: indirect election of U.S. senators – now debunked); the Electoral College; and executive appointment for life of federal judges and justices. These institutional forms exist to protect us from ourselves. The problem is that we quickly gave into party politics, something James Madison famously warned us about in No. 10 of The Federalist Papers.
And the consequence of not heeding his words is the dilemma we face today: Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump.
But one need not vote for either of these two candidates. Obeying one’s conscience and voting for one’s principles upon the precepts outlined herein is not throwing one’s vote away. It is doing exactly what the Founders envisioned.
SO INVESTIGATE potential write-in candidates – those who act on principles rather than the desire for political office. Be courageous and understand that this political system is in the midst of institutional restructuring, a spectacle that will reveal its full magnitude slowly and methodically.
Be encouraged that by not voting for the mainstream parties, one is returning to America’s philosophical roots, and preparing for an inevitable, long-overdue political realignment.
(The writer is an assistant political science professor at Augusta University. Follow him on Twitter: @polscountrydoc.)