Election Reflection I: William F. Vallicella

Now that there has been time for cooler-headed reflection, we reached out to a handful of right-of-center philosophers for comment on the recent election. Today launches a six-part series, each featuring one of these philosophers’ reflections. These philosophers are otherwise not associated with Rightly Considered and should not be assumed to hold views expressed by anyone else on this blog.

Today’s post is by William F. Vallicella (PhD, Boston College). Vallicella has taught philosophy at the University of Dayton and Case Western Reserve University. He blogs at Maverick Philosopher and is the author of A Paradigm Theory of Existence: Onto-Theology Vindicated (Springer, 2002), as well as numerous articles in top philosophy journals. We are grateful for his contribution.


William F. Vallicella

Here are some questions that Trump v. Clinton suggest to me. Most of them will arise with any electoral contest, but the Trump-Clinton contest throws them into particularly sharp relief.

A. May One Remain Neutral?

Given the manifest negatives of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, many voted for neither. My first question is whether abstention can be justified when so much is at stake. One reason to think this is that a non-vote, even on an extremely weighty matter, is politically neutral, and has no effect either way.

James N. Anderson has a post entitled A Non-Vote is not a Vote:

One of the reasons put forward by some conservatives for voting for the controversial Republican nominee is that not voting for him would be “a vote for Hillary”. It’s important to understand why this is a really bad argument.

I agree that it is a bad argument, and for the reason Professor Anderson gives, namely, that if the choice is between A and B, one might vote for neither. Note that Anderson doesn’t name any conservative who gives the really bad argument, but if there is such a conservative, wouldn’t charity require us to construe ‘A non-vote for Trump is a vote for Hillary’ as a loose way of saying that not to vote for Trump is to aid Hillary?

Surely the latter — not to vote for Trump is to aid Hillary — is true. Or if not ‘surely,’ then ‘arguably.’ I will now try to argue it out.

There were of course candidates other than Trump and Hillary, but they had no practical chance of winning. So, practically speaking, it had to be either Trump or Hillary. Not both and not neither. Now suppose you are a conservative who voted for neither: you refused to vote for Hillary because she is a leftist, and you refused to vote for Trump because he is an obnoxious vulgarian and ‘no true conservative’ or for some other reason or reasons. By not voting for Trump you aided Hillary. You did not thereby vote for her, of course, but you aided her because you failed to do something that would harm her in however slight and insignificant a way.

Anderson speaks of the “neutrality of a non-vote.” But are non-votes politically neutral? I deny that they are. The situation is one in which not to choose is to choose. You didn’t choose Trump? Then you chose to support Hillary.

Consider a hiring decision. It is down to a choice between A and B. A receives five votes, B three, with three abstentions. A gets the job. Clearly, the abstentions are not neutral. If the three abstainers had voted for B, then B would have got the job.

My thesis is that IF (i) one is a conservative and wants to see the conservative agenda advanced and/or the leftist agenda impeded, AND (ii) one believes that Trump, as awful as he is, will advance the conservative agenda somewhat and/or impede the infiltration of leftist totalitarianism into every aspect of our lives and institutions, while Hillary will go full-steam ahead in implementation of the leftist agenda, THEN to abstain from the choice between Trump and Hillary is to aid the leftist agenda and to work against one’s interests as a conservative, which implies that one’s non-voting is NOT politically neutral.

Therefore, if you are a conservative, then you ought to have done what you could have to stop Hillary; at a bare minimum you ought to have voted for Trump. If you did not, then you aided Hillary contrary to your interests as a conservative.

What is the force of the ‘ought’ in my conclusion? For present purposes it suffices to take it as a merely prudential ought. It would have been imprudent of you, even if not immoral, to have abstained given your acceptance of (i) and (ii) above.

Am I saying that abstention is never justified? No. Suppose the two candidates are equal in point of policies and in point of character. Then one could justify abstention. And if the choice were between Nero and Caligula, then one ought to abstain.

B. Is a Vote for a Candidate an Endorsement of his Character?

This second question is related to the first. One might resist my first conclusion by urging that the candidates are so morally awful that in good conscience one could not vote for either of them. This seems to presuppose that a vote for a candidate is an endorsement of his character. But is it? This is my second question. The answer seems to me to be obvious. A vote for a political candidate need not be an endorsement of his character as a whole; it can be mainly an endorsement of the ideas and policies he stands for.

Obviously, if you are voting for a candidate as opposed to a proposition, you are voting for a person. But a wise voter does not vote for a person in abstraction from what he stands for, like the conservative grandmother who voted for Lenny the Leftist because Lenny is her beloved grandson. A wise voter votes for a candidate because of what the candidate stands for. The vote is for the person qua vehicle of the ideas and policies that the candidate can be expected to support.

It is also important to realize that a vote for a candidate is also an indirect ‘vote’ for the people the candidate can be expected to appoint or otherwise bring into the government. You could call this the ‘No Hillary without Huma’ principle. All of you who voted twice for Obama ‘voted’ indirectly for two very bad attorneys general, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, who played a key role in undermining the rule of law in these United States.

Thus when I voted for Trump, I voted for a particular deeply flawed man because of the policies (some of which) he can be expected to promote, policies which are salutary, as opposed to the policies of Hillary which are almost all of them deleterious. I voted for him despite his character flaws just as, if I were a benighted lefty, I would have voted for Hillary despite her even worse character flaws.

But you don’t have to agree with me that Hillary is worse than Trump character-wise. We should be able to agree that both are on a fairly low moral level. The point is that my wise vote for Trump was not an endorsement of his character as a whole. I voted for him as a vehicle for the implementation of policies that will serve the greater good. This is not to say that character does not matter at all. Obviously it matters whether the candidate can be relied upon to make an honest effort to accomplish what he as promised. But other moral defects will have little effect on the candidate’s ‘vehicular’ aptitude, being an adulterer, for example, or having long ago in private engaged in sexual braggadocio.

C. Does the Act of Voting Express a Semantic Content?

I should think it does. When I voted for Trump I expressed the proposition that I deem him, all things considered, and in the concrete situation in which the choice had to be made, to be better than his opponent for the republic. I also expressed the thought that he is minimally qualified for the job. I didn’t just mark a ballot; I made a statement. In addition, I made a sort of tacit recommendation that my fellow citizens should do likewise. This is because my considerations were objective and impersonal as opposed to considerations such as ‘do I like this guy?’

D. The Problem of the Dirty Hands of Citizens

The problem of dirty hands is usually raised in connection with political leaders. But if a citizen votes for a national leader who can be reasonably expected to dirty his hands when the nation is under threat, and the leader does dirty his hands, does the dirt transfer to the citizen’s hands?

A clear example of a dirty hands situation is one in which a political leader authorizes the intentional slaughter of innocent non-combatants to demoralize the enemy and bring about the end of a war which, if it continues, could be reasonably expected to lead to the destruction of the leader’s state. The leader must act, but he cannot authorize the actions necessary for the state’s survival without authorizing immoral actions. He must act, but he cannot act without dirtying his hands with the blood of innocents. In its sharpest form the problem arises if we assume that certain actions are absolutely morally wrong, wrong in and of themselves, always and everywhere and regardless of circumstances or (good) consequences. The problem stands out in sharp relief when cast in the mold of an aporetic triad:

A. Moral reasons for action are dominant: they trump every other reason for action such as ‘reasons of state.’
B. Some actions are absolutely morally wrong, morally impermissible always and everywhere, regardless of situation, context, or circumstances.
C. Among absolutely morally wrong actions, there are some that are (non-morally) permissible, and indeed (non-morally) necessary: they must be done in a situation in which refusing to act would lead to worse consequences such as the destruction of one’s nation or culture.

It is easy to see that this triad is inconsistent. The limbs cannot all be true. (B) and (C) could both be true if one allowed moral reasons to be trumped by non-moral reasons. But that is precisely what (A), quite plausibly, rules out.

The threesome, then, is logically inconsistent. And yet each limb makes a strong claim on our acceptance. To solve the problem one of the limbs must be rejected. Which one?

(A)-Rejection. One might take the line that in some extreme circumstances non-moral considerations take precedence over moral ones. Imagine a ticking-bomb scenario in which the bomb planter must be tortured in order to find the location of the bomb or bombs. (Suppose a number of dirty nukes have been planted in Manhattan, all scheduled to go off at the same time.) Imagine a perfectly gruesome form of torture in which the wife and children of Ali the jihadi have their fingers and limbs sawn off in the presence of the jihadi, and then the same is done to him until he talks. Would the torture not be justified? Not morally justified of course, but justified non-morally to save Manhattan and its millions of residents and to avert the ensuing disaster for the rest of the country? One type of hard liner will say, yes, of course, even while insisting that torture of the sort envisaged is morally wrong, and indeed absolutely morally wrong. I am in some moods such a hard liner.

But am I not then falling into contradiction? No. I am not maintaining that in every case it is morally wrong to torture, but in this case it is not. That would be a contradiction. I am maintaining that it is always morally impermissible to torture but that in some circumstances moral considerations are trumped by — what shall I call them? — survival considerations. These are external to the moral point of view. So while morality is absolute in its own domain, its domain does not coincide with the domain of human action in general. The torture of the jihadi and his wife and children are justified, not morally, but by non-moral reasons.

(B)-Rejection. A second solution to the triad involves rejecting deontology and embracing consequentialism. Consider the following act-type: torturing a person to extract information from him. A deontologist such as Kant would maintain that the tokening of such an act-type is morally wrong just in virtue of the act-type’s being the act-type it is. It would then follow for Kant that every such tokening is morally wrong. A consequentialist would say that it all depends on the outcome. Torturing our jihadi above leads or can be reasonably expected to lead to the greatest good of the greatest number in the specific circumstances in question, and those on-balance good consequences morally justify the act of torture. So, contra Kant, one and the same act-type can be morally acceptable/unacceptable depending on circumstances and consequences. Torturing Ali the jihadi is morally justified, but torturing Sammy the jeweler to get him to open his safe is not.

On this second solution to the triad, we accept (A), we accept that moral considerations reign supreme over the entire sphere of human action and cannot be trumped by any non-moral considerations. But we adopt a consequentialist moral doctrine that allows the moral justification of torture and the targeting of non-combatants in certain circumstances.

(C)-Rejection. A third solution to the problem involves holding that there is no necessity to act: one can abstain from acting. A political leader faced with a terrible choice can simply abdicate, or simply refuse to choose. He does not order the torture of the jihadi and and hence does not act to save Manhattan; but by not acting he willy-nilly aids and abets the terrorist.

So much for a quick and ‘dirty’ sketch of the problem of dirty hands as it pertains to the leader.

But I voted for Trump, and as we know he said some disturbing things about torture. If he ends up ordering torture for reasons of state, do my citizen’s hands get dirty? I have no answer to this; I merely raise it as a question. For more on the topic, see C. A. J. Coady, The Dirty Hands of Citizens.

E. The Problem of Irreconcilable Conflict: Can Tribalism be Transcended?

Jonathan Haidt:

Humans are tribal, but tribalism can be transcended. It exists in tension with our extraordinary ability to develop bonds with other human beings. Romeo and Juliet fell in love. French, British and German soldiers came out of their trenches in World War I to exchange food, cigarettes and Christmas greetings.

The key, as Cicero observed, is proximity, and a great deal of modern research backs him up. Students are more likely to become friends with the student whose dorm room is one door away than with the student whose room is four doors away. People who have at least one friend from the other political party are less likely to hate the supporters of that party.

But tragically, Americans are losing their proximity to those on the other side and are spending more time in politically purified settings. [. . .]

Haidt is right that tribalism can be transcended, at least to some extent, and that proximity and interaction can facilitate the transcending. But he is far more optimistic that I am.

What Haidt ignores is that there is no comity without commonality, as I like to put it. You and I can live and work together in harmony only within a common space of shared values and assumptions and recognized facts. But that common space is shrinking, and in some subspaces nonexistent. Take any ‘hot button’ issue, Second Amendment rights, for example. What do I have in common with the anti-gunner who favors confiscation of all civilian firearms, or only slightly less radically, wants to ban all handguns? To me it is evident that my right to life grounds a right to self-defense, and with it a right to acquire the appropriate means of self-defense. This right is protected, not conferred, by the Second Amendment. If you deny any of this, then we have no common ground, at least not on this topic. On this topic, we would then be at loggerheads. If you then work politically or extra-politically to violate what here in the States are called Second Amendment rights, then you become my enemy. And the consequences of enmity can become unpleasant in the extreme.

In a situation like this, proximity and interaction only exacerbate the problem. Even the calm interaction of scholarly argument and counter-argument does no good. No matter how carefully and rigorously I argue my position, I will not succeed in convincing the opponent. Nor will he succeed in convincing me. This is a fact of experience over a wide range of controversial topics, and not just in politics. The only good that comes of the dialectical interaction is a clarification and deeper understanding of one’s position and what it entails. If you think, say, that semi-automatic weapons ought to be banned for civilian use, then you and I will never find common ground. But I will perfect my understanding of my position and its presuppositions and better understand what I reject in yours.

After we have clarified, but not resolved, our differences, anger at the intransigence of the other is the likely upshot if we continue to interact in close proximity whether in the same academic department, the same church, the same club, the same neighborhood, the same family . . . . This is why there are schisms and splits and factions and wars and all manner of contention.

Anger at intransigence can then lead on to the thought that there must be something morally defective, and perhaps also intellectually defective, about the opponent if he holds, say, that a pre-natal human is just a clump of cells with no claim on our moral consideration. One advances — if that is the word — to the view that the opponent is morally censurable for holding the position he holds, that he is being willfully morally obtuse and deserves moral condemnation. And then the word ‘evil may slip in: “The bastard is not just wrong; he is an evil son-of-a-bitch for promoting the lie that an unborn child is just a clump of cells, or a disposable part of woman’s body like a wart.” The arguably false statements of the other get treated as lies and therefore as statements at the back of which in an intent to deceive. And from there it ramps up to ‘Hillary is Satan’ and ‘Trump is Hitler.’

The cure for this unproductive warfare is mutual, voluntary, segregation via a return to federalism. I develop the thought in A Case for Voluntary Segregation.

So while Haidt is right that proximity and interaction can promote mutual understanding and mitigate hostility, that is true only up to a point and works only within a common space of shared assumptions, values, and recognized facts. Absent the common space, the opposite is true: proximity and interaction are precisely what must be avoided to preserve peace. Peace through avoidance and disengagement and withdrawal.

Another notable contemporary who holds entirely too sanguine a view is Sam Harris. See Sam Harris and the Problem of Disagreement: Is Conversation Our Only Hope?

The Problem and Some Possible Solutions

The problem is what to do in the face of the many seemingly irreconcilable conflicts within the body politic.

a. There is what I take to be Haidt’s rather silly liberal solution, namely, that what will bring us together is proximity and interaction. He assumes that if we all come together and get to know each other we will overcome tribalism. This strikes me as utopian nonsense. It is precisely because of proximity and interaction that many decide to self-segregate. The more I know about certain individuals and groups the less I want to have to do with them. The thugs of Black Lives Matter, are just one example among many. Political opponents of this ilk need to be defeated and marginalized. Clearly, there can be no peace with those who work to undermine the rule of law and demonize police officers. (It goes without saying that bad cops must be dealt with severely, e.g., the death penalty for any cop who murders under the cover of law.)

b. At the other extreme we find the ‘alties’ and neo-reactionaries with what could be called a white-tribal solution. Those on the Alternative Right have a sound insight, namely, that there are unassimilable elements and that they must be kept out of any polity with prospects for survival. For example, Sharia-supporting Muslim are unassimilable into the U. S. because their values are antithetical to ours, perhaps not all of their values, but enough to make for huge problems. Islam is as much a political ideology as a religion, and its political ideas and values are antithetical to ours.
The success of e pluribus unum depends on the nature of the pluribus. A One cannot be made out of just any Many. The members of the manifold must be unifiable under some umbrella of common values, assumptions, and recognized facts. One nation cannot be made out of many tribes of immigrants unless the many tribes of immigrants accept OUR values, American values. The tribalism is overcome or at least mitigated by acceptance of a unifying set of American values and ideas to be enforced in the public sphere.

The alt-rightists, however, do not really offer a solution to the problem of transcending tribalism since their ‘solution’ is to embrace an opposing tribalism, and a race-based one at that. They are right about the reality of race, as against the foolish notion that race is a social construct, but they push this realism in an ugly and extreme direction when they construe American identity as white identity, where this excludes Jews. American identity is rooted in a set of ideas and values. Perhaps we could characterize these ideas and values as Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman with certain Enlightenment corrections and adjustments. It must be granted, however, that not all racial and ethnic groups are equally willing and able to assimilate and implement these ideas and values. Immigration policy must favor those that are.

c. Another extreme view is secessionism which may or may not take an alt-right form. The topic is large and above my current pay grade. So I won’t say anything more about it except to note that it strikes me as thoroughly impractical, a fit topic for debating societies, but nothing more. It’s like monarchism or anarchism. Anarchism is to political philosophy as eliminative materialism is to the philosophy of mind. That is to say, it is an untenable stance, teetering on the brink of absurdity, but worth studying as a foil against which to develop something saner. To understand in depth any position on a spectrum of positions you must study the whole spectrum. So by all means develop secessionist theories! Just don’t pin your hopes on implementation. Political theory ought to examine every option; but political practice has to focus on what is concretely possible in the present circumstances.

d. A middle path suggests itself. To liberals we ought to concede that diversity is a value, but at the same time insist that it is a value that has to be kept in check by the opposing value of unity. For example, Muslims who refuse to accept our values must not be allowed to immigrate. They have no right to immigrate, but we have every right to select those who will benefit us. That is just common sense. The good sort of diversity is not enhanced by the presence of those who breed terror-prone fanatics. Muslims ought to stay in their own lands and work to make them livable places.

What we need, then, to mitigate tribal hostility is not more proximity and interaction, but less, fewer ‘conversations’ not more, less government interference in the lives of citizens, a more robust civil-society buffer zone between individual and Leviathan, more toleration, voluntary segregation, a return to federalism, greater respect for the constitution, a total stoppage of illegal immigration, and a reform of current immigration law.

Will this happen? It could happen especially now that Hillary the leftist has been sent packing, but don’t bet on it. The totalitarian, race-baiting, liberty-destroying, religion-bashing Left never gives up. They will resist any return to federalism. They will continue to use the power of the state to attack the institutions of civil society, as witness their use of state power to violate the consciences of caterers and florists, the Little Sisters of the Poor, et al.

So perhaps in the end federalism, like secessionism, is just another topic to talk and write about. But at least federalism has some chance.

e. Finally, there is that extreme form of withdrawal that could be called world-flight, or renunciation of the world.

In the wake of recent events, Rod Dreher renews his call for the Benedict Option:

It is now clear that for this Court, extremism in the pursuit of the Sexual Revolution’s goals is no vice. True, the majority opinion nodded and smiled in the direction of the First Amendment, in an attempt to calm the fears of those worried about religious liberty. But when a Supreme Court majority is willing to invent rights out of nothing, it is impossible to have faith that the First Amendment will offer any but the barest protection to religious dissenters from gay rights orthodoxy.

This is especially the case, as it seems to me, given the Left’s relentless and characteristically dishonest assault on Second Amendment rights. The only real back up to the First Amendment is the exercise of the rights guaranteed by the Second. You will have noticed that the Left never misses an opportunity to limit law-abiding citizens’ access to guns and ammunition. What motivates leftists is the drive to curtail and ultimately eliminate what could be called ‘real’ liberties such as the liberty to own property, to make money and keep it, to defend one’s life, liberty and property, together with the liberty to acquire the means to the defense of life, liberty and property.

Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito explicitly warned religious traditionalists that this decision leaves them vulnerable. Alito warns that Obergefell “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will be used to oppress the faithful “by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

[. . .]

It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”

Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization.

I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.

Last fall, I spoke with the prior of the Benedictine monastery in Nursia, and told him about the Benedict Option. So many Christians, he told me, have no clue how far things have decayed in our aggressively secularizing world. The future for Christians will be within the Benedict Option, the monk said, or it won’t be at all.

Obergefell is a sign of the times, for those with eyes to see. This isn’t the view of wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert. It is the view of four Supreme Court justices, in effect declaring from the bench the decline and fall of the traditional American social, political, and legal order.

There is a potential problem with the Benedict Option, however. Suppose you and yours join a quasi-monastic community out in the middle of nowhere where you live more or less ‘off the grid,’ home-school your kids, try to keep alive and transmit our Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman traditions, all in keeping with that marvellous admonition of Goethe:

Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast,
erwirb es, um es zu besitzen!What from your fathers you received as heir,
Acquire if you would possess it. (tr. W. Kaufmann)

The idea is that what one has been lucky enough to inherit, one must actively appropriate, i.e., make one’s own by hard work, if one is really to possess it. The German infinitive erwerben has not merely the meaning of ‘earn’ or ‘acquire’ but also the meaning of aneignen, appropriate, make one’s own.
So now you are out in the desert or the forest or in some isolated place free of the toxic influences of a society in collapse. The problem is that you are now a very easy target for the fascists. You and yours are all in one place, far away from the rest of society and its infrastructure. All the fascists have to do is trump up some charges, of child-abuse, of gun violations, whatever. The rest of society considers you kooks and benighted bigots and won’t be bothered if you are wiped off the face of the earth. You might go the way of the Branch Davidians.

Is this an alarmist scenario? I hope it is. But the way things are going, one ought to give careful thought to one’s various withdrawal options.

It might be better to remain in diaspora in the cities and towns, spread out, in the midst of people and infrastructure the fascists of the Left will not target. A sort of subversive engagement from within may in the long run be better than spatial withdrawal. One can withdraw spiritually without withdrawing spatially. One the other hand, we are spatial beings, and perhaps not merely accidentally, so the question is a serious one: how well can one withdraw spiritually while in the midst of towns and cities and morally corrupt and spiritually dead people?

We are indeed living in very interesting times. How can one be bored?

Natural Lawyer

Natural Lawyer is the lead editor of Rightly Considered. He teaches philosophy somewhere in the southwestern United States.

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  1. Brilliant reflections. I became familiar with “The Maverick Philosopher” through links from blogs I frequent, and I really enjoy his lucid and insightful deliberations. Thanks for posting him here.

    A couple of things, I deeply appreciate James Anderson. I’ve read a lot of his work, and I think his developments in the area of worldview are foumdational for Christian apologetics. He’s very good in my estimation as both a popularizer, as well as a scholarly thinker. However, I think there’s a nexus of “Never-Trumpers” in and around RTS, and I’ve seen several from that nexus “virtue-signaling” their “Never-Trump” status. They’ve written both pre and post-election and rarely miss an opportunity to point out that they’ve been “Never-Trumpers” from beginning to end. It’s a badge of sorts, apparently.

    And many of the arguments they’ve given (at least on my reading), we’re summarily dismantled by Vallicella herein. Kudos, sir!

    The other thing, the Benedict option, I’m thinking the American church needs to be taking lessons from the persecuted church in other parts of the world, and developing and deploying prayerful strategies for continuing to propagate the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints under harsh sociopolitical conditions.

    It’s a little like developing a theodicy, don’t wait until tragedy strikes to start working one out.

    Thanks again to this blog for the work being done here, you’re reaching and impacting more people than you know.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

    • Thanks for the kind words, CRD. I wouldn’t put myself in the “Never Trump” category for the simple reason that, not being a US citizen, I didn’t have a vote to cast (or to withhold)!

      I’m not sure what to make of your comments about RTS folk. I suspect we’re all prone to virtue-signaling, whatever our convictions. In any case, I can say this at least: among my colleagues there were various views expressed on whether one should vote for “the lesser of two evils”.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and respond Prof. Anderson. I recognized your citizenship status, and I had in mind other folks with respect to withholding one’s vote, and encouraging others with reasoned arguments to do the same. I wasn’t disparaging RTS, it’s a fine institution. I could have just as easily substituted Southern in my example.

      I think you’re probably correct on our general tendency to signal to our preferred “in-group”.

      May you and your tribe increase!

  2. I didn’t read the whole thing yet. In fact, I’m just at the beginning, but Dr. V writes:

    “Anderson speaks of the “neutrality of a non-vote.” But are non-votes politically neutral? I deny that they are. The situation is one in which not to choose is to choose. You didn’t choose Trump? Then you chose to support Hillary.

    Consider a hiring decision. It is down to a choice between A and B. A receives five votes, B three, with three abstentions. A gets the job. Clearly, the abstentions are not neutral. If the three abstainers had voted for B, then B would have got the job.”

    Those abstaining votes are not neutral, true, but only in the sense that they had an impact and could have led things differently. That’s not to say that they’re not neutral in the sense that they are directed in support of a particular candidate, whether A or B. Thus, I don’t think that this is a good example to ground the idea that if you didn’t choose Trump, then you chose Hillary. That’s particularly true if the hiring decision was performed while not knowing how the other voters will vote, which is what happens in elections.

    For example, suppose another job was up for grabs. It’s down to persons C and D . As it turns out, the same voters 3 abstained and the other 9 chose D. Person D gets it. In this case, each abstaining voter offered no more support to D as they did C, A or B. For all each abstaining voter knew, everyone else was going to pick C, or maybe D , or abstain. Hence, there is no one candidate that the abstaining voters chose to support.

    • “For example, suppose another job was up for grabs. It’s down to persons C and D . As it turns out, the same voters 3 abstained and the other 9 chose D. Person D gets it. In this case, each abstaining voter offered no more support to D as they did C, A or B. For all each abstaining voter knew, everyone else was going to pick C, or maybe D , or abstain. Hence, there is no one candidate that the abstaining voters chose to support.”

      This was not the case with the election though. As Bill pointed out, it was either going to be Trump or Clinton. Every other candidate from any other party had no chance, and your C here relates to one of those candidates. The example Bill gave assumes that Trump could plausibly beat Clinton. It was not an election where 9/12 voters were guaranteed to vote for Clinton. Many abstainers knew that Trump had a chance of winning, but chose not to vote for him anyway.

    • The case of C and D are about another job to be filled–they are not competitors with A and B.

      I really don’t know what this guarantee has to do with anything–it’s irrelevant to my point. I never mentioned a guarantee.

    • CH,

      You said that “the hiring decision was performed while not knowing how the other voters will vote, which is what happens in elections.”

      But this is not what happens in elections, as I said. Bill’s situation relates to the election, yours does not. Bill was setting up a situation in which the abstainers knew they had an impact. You set up a situation in which the abstainers, and the other voters, really hadn’t a single clue what-so-ever how the others would vote (or not vote). Trump could plausibly beat Clinton, and the abstainers knew this.

      If you are working from the assumption that no one knows how most votes will go, then I think you and Bill are working from different assumptions. The ‘no vote for Trump is a vote for Clinton’ case is built on the assumption that you know that abstaining is less likely to be inconsequential.

  3. Hello, Professor Vallicella. Thanks for this contribution. You say:

    “To liberals we ought to concede that diversity is a value”

    I’m curious as to why we should think diversity is a value. I don’t see any significant value in diversity within nations but rather think that the idea that that is good is one of the most pernicious myths of the contemporary western world.

    • Diversity is a value in the same way that doubt is a value.

      If you knew everything, there would be no reason to value doubt. But you don’t know everything, so to just continue without ever questioning yourself is foolish, which is why doubt is of value. This is even if you may stray in the wrong direction due to doubt, which is why doubt shouldn’t be taken to an extreme. Don’t think that I am saying that you should treat doubting as an end in itself.

      Similarly, if a society was perfect, it would have no reason to value any other ways of thinking or doing things. But society is not perfect, so to just continue without ever considering anything new or different is foolish, which is why diversity is of value. This is even if the society may stray in the wrong direction due to diversity, which is why diverty shouldn’t be taken to an extreme. Don’t think that I am saying that you should treat diversity as an end in itself (like many contemporary Leftists seem to).

      Whether this reasoning is the same as Bill’s, I am not sure.

    • Yes, Billy, I realize that diversity has _some_ value for the reason you state. My remark that diversity has no _significant_ value was meant to indicate that the its value is such that we gain almost nothing important from it in comparison to what we lose. When a white American town is flooded with Somali immigrants or Mexicans, what correcting force does the “diversity” have? Basically none. In contrast, the costs are significant. Crime, social withdrawal, alienation, lack of trust, etc. Let’s stop pretending that diversity is a good just because there is some in principle benefit that one could receive in certain situations. Cultural and racial diversity in the US is clearly an overall disaster.

    • CF,

      I believe your example of Somalis and Mexicans being flooded in is not a very fair example of the outcome of valuing diversity. That would be like if I gave the example that valuing doubt means doubting, say, that you are thinking, or doubting that you can step in to the same river twice, or once even. To take this example and then decide that therefore doubt has “no significant value” would simply not be a fair conclusion to make. Similarly, it wouldn’t show that doubt is not a value.

      Another example would be if you used the example of giving all your money to a drug addict, then saying therefore we shouldn’t value charity. Just like doubt and charity, diversity must be controlled to be healthy.

      I share your concerns about diversity gone wild, but you seem to think there is no negatives to a lack of diversity, which history has quite evidently shown is quite the opposite.

    • The context of this discussion is that Vallicella said that, to the left, we should “concede that diversity is a value”. If we were just conceding that, in principle, in some circumstances that aren’t really applicable to current western civilization, diversity is a value, this would be strange advice and pragmatically foolish. Suppose that you lived in an area where you and other law-abiding citizens kept getting mugged and beaten by a gang of criminals. You wouldn’t call a meeting with them and say “we concede that theft and violence are valuable” because in certain circumstance that have nothing to do with the situation that you are in those things are morally justifiable and even beneficial. It would be pragmatically stupid to do that. If you’d like, I’ll gladly substitute ‘irrelevant’ for ‘insignificant’. Perhaps diversity has significant , even tremendous value in some circumstances, but we aren’t in them. So, this value is irrelevant and nothing should be “conceded” to the left about the value of diversity. In our circumstances diversity only has tremendous disvalue.

    • It’s trivially easy to cite examples of the value of diversity. Just to name two:

      i.) the availability of authentic, quality ethnic foods (c’mon people, just try to get some good Mexican, Thai, or Indian in Pyongyang!)

      ii.) Christian evangelism; arguably since the fall of Rome there’s never been a better opportunity to proclaim to Gospel to every kingdom, tribe, tongue, and nation as a local missionary than exists today in the U.S. of A.

      Many more could be added. And white on white crime exists in spades, just sayin’.

    • Yes! The cuisine! Totally worthy destroying the ethnic integrity of the nation. And, yes, turning American into a dysfunction cultural zoo affords great opportunities for white American Christians to ignore their dispossession and focus on evangelizing the invaders. Once again, with Christian warriors like this on the right, it’s hard to understand why we’re losing so badly to the left.

    • Your winsome approach and lack of a sense of humor notwithstanding, can you cite some real world examples here at home of the race apocalypse scenario you’ve sketched?

      Maybe the white town overrun with Mexicans? Any will do.

    • Sure. Minneapolis. This town: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/for-the-first-majority-muslim-us-city-residents-tense-about-its-future/2015/11/21/45d0ea96-8a24-11e5-be39-0034bb576eee_story.html

      The towns all over on the border with Mexico. The entire state of California.

      But why are we even doing this? Are you one of these people who thinks that this talk of racial dispossession of American whites is just crazy talk? If yes, I really have nothing to say to you. I certainly won’t convince you of anything if you can’t already see these things for yourself.

    • It’s trivially easy to cite examples of the value of stomach cancer. Just to name two:

      (i) When people suffer from stomach cancer, doctors and other health care professionals have the chance to gain valuable work experience and sometimes researchers may learn important things about the human body.

      (ii) Some people who die of stomach cancer would have died in an even worse way if they hadn’t had stomach cancer.

      There’s really almost nothing in the universe that doesn’t have _some_ kind of value in some respects, in some circumstances. The fact that you would offer these two examples–restaurants and spreading the Word–suggests that you have no idea what we’re really dealing with in this situation. Your later request for “real world” evidence confirms this impression.

      Do you really not notice that the entire western world is rotting and dying before our eyes, and that this has a lot to do with the sudden replacement of its original native inhabitants by other people from totally different cultures that are often badly incompatible and badly inferior? When you look at the city of Detroit, and notice its demographics, you don’t have any intuitions about what it may mean to replace whites with blacks? When you see pictures of modern England that might as well be pictures of Bangladesh, you don’t get the sense that some kind of massive catastrophic change is happening? When you see millions of ‘migrants’ flooding into Europe, molesting European girls and children, while white Germans are legally persecuted for expressing their concerns, this doesn’t mean anything to you? Or you notice all of this but you really think it matters that we get to have Thai restaurants? You are not living in the real world.

    • Yes, I’ve read enough from you two on this site to have long ago concluded that we do in fact live in different worlds, or to be more precise we live in the same world, but don’t share worldviews.

  4. Many thanks to Bill for a characteristically lucid and incisive analysis. I’m flattered that he thought my little blog post a worthy foil! If I might be permitted a few points in response:

    1. Bill rightly notes that I didn’t name any conservative who gave the argument I criticized. I didn’t feel the need to, since I encountered the argument so often in discussions among conservatives (esp. evangelicals) leading up to the election. (Just Google the phrase “is a vote for Hillary”!)

    2. I actually gave *two* reasons why it’s a bad argument. First, it fails to distinguish between [voting for B rather than A] and [voting for neither B nor A]. Secondly, the argument leads to absurd conclusions (e.g., that voting for neither candidate is equivalent to voting for both candidates).

    3. Bill suggests that the locution in question can be more charitably construed as “a loose way of saying that not to vote for Trump is to aid Hillary.” Fair enough — but that still seems to lead to an absurd conclusion. For if not voting for Trump is aiding Hillary, then by parity of reasoning not voting for Hillary is aiding Trump, in which case voting for *neither* would be aiding *both*.

    4. However, it’s clear that Bill is restricting himself to the category of conservative voters, particular those for whom a vote for Hillary would have been off the table. Again, fair enough. But see my interaction with Brian Bosse under my blog post for some discussion of that line of argument (or a close relative of it).

    5. I didn’t claim that a non-vote was altogether politically neutral, only that it was neutral in the sense that a non-vote *as such* doesn’t favor any particular candidate. Once you add assumptions about the political convictions of the voter in question, the political agendas of the candidates, and other relevant factors, of course that tips the table. In any event, my post wasn’t designed to make the case for voting a certain way (or not voting at all). It had a far more modest goal. 🙂

  5. I am skeptical of the claim that by not voting for Trump I helped Clinton. It’s true that I perhaps didn’t harm Clinton’s chances as much as I might have, but I don’t think that’s the same as helping her. Did I help Clinton by not dropping out of school to campaign for Trump full time? It’s true that by doing so, I could have further depressed Clinton’s chances of winning. It doesn’t follow that by failing to do so, I was helping her. It’s not obvious to me why the same reasoning shouldn’t apply to the voting case.

  6. Thanks to everyone who commented. Busy with other projects, I didn’t want to get drawn into combox debates, but I have read all the comments and will think about them. Congratulations to the RC admins and the contributors and commenters. Keep calm and carry on.

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