SINCE 2008 I’ve been making arguments in favor of supporting third-party presidential candidates even if they seem unlikely to win. What, for example, can you tell an associate who says, “If you vote for Jill Stein, then you’re only helping Trump get elected, just as Ralph Nader’s candidacy helped George W. Bush to win in 2000.” Here are some of the arguments. Do they make sense? Are they persuasive? Can they be stated more succinctly?
1. The lesser evil is still evil.
Today the world is in a descending spiral of violence and hatred. We need a president who will oppose US wars and military imperialism. Neither Trump nor Hillary fit the bill. Yet of the two, Hillary is more hawkish. She took a lead in the destruction of Libya by the US and NATO — a ruthless war for profit disguised by flimsy pretexts and false rumors. She also tried to pull the same stunt on a larger scale in Syria, and if elected might still get her way there.
Hillary evidently sees no problem with starting wars, imposing child-killing sanctions, supporting coup attempts, training rebels, funding insurgencies, and sponsoring false-flag operations for the sake of Wall Street and other special interests. This is documentable. We have her emails (well, at least the ones she didn’t destroy).
We are responsible for the actions of officials we vote for. If people vote for Hillary, either not knowing what she’s done in Libya and Syria or because they haven’t bothered to find out, then they are morally responsible for any unjust wars she starts. The responsibility would be even greater than that of Bush supporters in 2000; at least people didn’t know Bush was a warmonger. They do in Hillary’s case.
2. It’s a racket.
The Wall Street system is setting you up. It’s giving you a forced choice between Trump and Clinton precisely to scare you into maintaining the Wall Street hegemony by voting against the more feared candidate. If you fall for it (as voters have consistently since 2000), then Wall Street will continue to work the same scam election after election. Nothing will ever change (except that candidates will get even scarier and the polarization and mistrust among citizens more extreme).
You should be angry about this and stop playing along! It’s like negotiating with terrorists.
3. It’s about more than the next four years.
In making an important choice, long-term outcomes matter more than immediate results. So, okay, suppose that many Democrats vote for Jill Stein, and Trump wins the general election. The world will not end (at least not because of that). We managed to survive eight years of George W. Bush, for example. And after that Obama became president. For all we know this all produced better results (from a Democrat perspective) than if Al Gore had been president from 2001 to 2008 followed by a George W. Bush presidency from 2009 to 2016!
The White House regularly passes between the two parties. If the Democrats lose it in 2016, they may win it back in 2020 or 2024. And in the long run, that might be better for Democrats.
We simply don’t know — and that’s the point. In a case like this it’s better to make a choice based on rock-solid principles — like the fact that US militarism is wrong and it is our absolute duty as citizens to oppose it — than based on vague speculations about what could or might happen if, say, Trump wins.
If Clinton loses because of Jill Stein in 2016, it would give the DNC a well-deserved spanking; they might just come back in 2020 with a real presidential candidate and an anti-war platform!
And what about, say, 50 years ahead? If Wall Street continues to run the world we are in danger of descending into a dystopian nightmare. Now on way or the other we’re stuck with a Wall Street president in 2016 (assuming Bernie isn’t nominated). But the sooner we start voting for third-party candidates, the sooner the journey to a better future begins. When precisely do we intend to get off the merry-go-round if not now? What’s gained by waiting? The same system clever enough to cajole us with saying, “no, just one more time” is clever enough to come up with equally and more nefarious tactics in future elections.
Whatever else is true about it, the Wall Street system is smart. And maybe smarter than us, too — but in any case in complete control of the agenda, which is the next best thing. We cannot out-strategize the Wall Street system, so we must rise above it. Our only sure defense against being deceived and manipulated election after election is to follow the certain prompting of our deepest Conscience. And that tells us these wars are wrong.
4. It’s about more than elections.
Voting is sacred. We have a responsibility to other citizens to vote in an intelligent and moral way. If you vote ‘tactically’ (e.g., voting for Clinton merely to prevent Trump from winning) then, in a sense, you’ve lied to your fellow citizens.
Suppose each ballot contained the instructions “please vote for the person you think is *most qualified*, even if that person is unlikely to win.” Then voting your true preference would be a gesture of honesty and good faith. It would say to others, “Even though I will not win, I will inform you, with my vote, what I think *should* be.”
When you vote your ideals, others see that your and their ideals are the same. It gives ideals more power to change society.
It also increases love in society as others see fellow citizens who are morally courageous. It creates a new consensus of honesty and integrity.
But if we’re a society of compromisers, that has the opposite effect. It causes fellow citizens to become cynical and mercenary.
Remember what we tell children: “Just do the right thing, and let the chips fall where they may. *Trust* that doing the right thing is always the right thing to do. Believe that the universe takes care of people who do the right thing.”
5. What if everybody did that? (WIEDT)
Game theorists recognize tactical voting as an example of a social dilemma. A social dilemma occurs when, if every individual seeks to maximize personal gain, the outcome is worse for everyone. Nuclear weapons proliferation is a classic example. At one level it’s entirely rational for a country to build up a nuclear arsenal for self-defense. But because all countries think like this, the end result is a world where everyone has nuclear weapons. Then nobody is safe. Yet despite this, each country feels compelled to acquire the most sophisticated and destructive weapons it can. Acting ‘rationally’ (in this limited sense) leads inexorably to outcomes that no rational agent would want.
Some moral theorists suggest we are at a crossroads in human evolution. Unless we soon find a generic solution to modern social dilemmas, then, between the effects of global warming, pollution, competition for food and resources, and advancements in weaponry, we might not survive much longer. What’s needed, these theorists say, is the emergence of a new ethos in which people habitually ‘think globally’ in all their moral choices. In short, we must become a species where we routinely ask before acting, “what if everybody did that?” (WIEDT), and let the answer guide our action.
How would the WIEDT principle apply here? Well if everyone voted for Trump or Hillary, we’d be endorsing with massive popular support the evil Wall Street war machine.
And what if everybody voted for Jill Stein? Then we’d end US wars and militarism. Therefore this is the moral choice.
There are plenty of more arguments, but this is enough to get started.
THE OTHER day I visited with interest (and some dismay) the website for the United States foreign assistance programs.
It claims that our country is planning to devote $33.9 billion in fiscal year 2017 to help foreign countries.
Ignoring the $8.3 billion in military assistance, this still leaves a respectable $25.6 billion dedicated to economic and humanitarian assistance.
Or is it respectable? Who today is so innocent as not to suspect that much of our so-called economic assistance is really a way of steering the economy, infrastructure and values of a foreign country to render it more exploitable?
It need not be so. I propose to my fellow Americans an alternative.
The current US population is something over 300 million. Were each person to contribute a mere 33 cents annually (parents paying the amount for infants and young children), we would easily raise $100 million.
Each year we could single out one amongst the family of nations, and bestow on this nation, as a gesture of pure friendship, some great gift purchased with it.
The first stipulation would be that there are no strings attached. We seek nothing in return for the gift, except the benefit of the recipient and the honor of making it.
The second is that the gift must have nothing to do with economics or materialist values. We would wish, rather, to give in the name of eternal friendship between the people of that country and our own.
The most suitable gifts, I suggest, would be libraries, museums, parks, gardens and monuments. Perhaps there are others, but I personally would not like to see the list extended too far beyond these definite examples of non-material goods.
The figure of $100 million, or perhaps as much as twice that, would suffice for a truly magnificent gift, yet at the same time is sufficiently restrained as to not seem crass. By comparison, the new Library of Alexandria, Egypt cost $200 million, the Sifang Art Museum in Nanji, China, $279 million, and the MuCEM of Marseille, $260 million.
I have in mind one historical precedent for this, namely a library for the University of Leuven which the American people (independently of their government) donated to the people of Belgium following World War I.
To consider the premise from the reverse perspective, consider the affection which Americans retain to this day to their French cousins in gratitude for the gift of the Statue of Liberty.
An examination of current foreign aid recipients shows we now favor poor nations and generally ignore more prosperous countries like Japan and Canada. But in friendship we should not make such distinctions. If I may, I would like to nominate Japan, a great friend whom we take for granted, as the first recipient.
To merely begin this program would, besides the immediate result of honoring our old friends and making new ones, have the effect of changing history. It would become immediately apparent to all how easy and, relatively speaking, inexpensive this is, and how much vastly superior it is as a foreign policy than war, competition and exploitation. It would signal nothing less than a turning point in human evolution. Henceforth the advanced level of our technology and the vast power of collective capital would be matched by our wisdom and charity.
To speed the progress of so worthy an endeavor let some wealthy American — for example,Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg — take the first step by supplying, for one year only, some substantial fraction (but not to exceed 50%) of the total. In return they would go down in history as one of the great benefactors of humanity.
Or let those whose reputations suffer from past errors or partisan connections demonstrate their patriotism and good will to all — a George Soros or the Koch Brothers — by taking the first step. They will then be applauded by all for their magnanimity.
A neighboring tribe became jealous of their success, and began to raid them, stealing their cattle and corn. The chief then raised an army of strong men. The next time the enemy tribe raided them, the chief and his men delivered a sound defeat, and they never attacked again. Nevertheless to discourage further mischief the tribe decided to keep a some men permanently armed and ready to defend them.
The chief grew old and his son then became leader. Unlike the father, the son was selfish and greedy. No matter how much he had, he always wanted more. He depleted the public treasury until he had amassed a great fortune. Then he began to eye the wealth of neighboring tribes, and sent raiders to steal from them. When the neighboring tribes protested and tried to defend themselves, he sent soldiers to intimidate them and demand tribute. The other tribes, weaker, began to submit.
But the people did not like this. They decided to hold an election to select a new chief.
Yet the son was crafty, and he conceived a scheme to retain his position. He went to the women of the tribe and spoke as follows: “I see how the men of the tribe oppress you women. They make you grind corn, cook, and wash clothes all day, while they enjoy hunting and sitting around the fire smoking their pipes. But if you vote for me in the election, I promise to fix things. I will improve your status relative to the men, and redress this great injustice.” This met with much approval with the women, and they agreed to vote for him.
Then the son went to the farmers and similarly spoke: “I know how much difficulty you have with the cattlemen. They steal your water, and let their cows eat and trample your crops. They grow rich while you grow poor. But if you vote for me, I will fix things. I will see to it that the cattlemen are put in their place. I will take some of their land and money for you to distribute amongst yourself.” This too met with much approval with the farmers.
And so it happened that when the election occurred, all the women and all the farmers voted for the chief; and although nobody else voted for him, he received enough votes to achieve victory. Once secure in his position, he resumed his previous behavior, only more boldly and on a larger scale. He now openly raided neighboring tribes, stealing their things. He hired mercenaries to form a large and invincible army, and taxed his people to pay for it. As the son ruthlessly plundered all the neighbors, the tribe became hated and held in contempt by all.
In time, even the weather changed. The earth would not yield her crops, and the cattle grew thin. The tribe became poor, suffered, and demanded a new leader. Yet every time an election was held, the crafty chief applied his scheme. No matter how poor the tribe became, there were always groups who believed they had less than others, and by exaggerating these disparities and promising to fix them he continued to win. And here is the paradox: that while each group acted rationally — for indeed inevitable differences in the distribution of things among the tribe occurred — when each group only sought greater justice for itself, all suffered greatly.
Thus it was that the people, by continually fighting amongst themselves about how to distribute what little resources remained, collectively had less and less, until they ceased to be a tribe at all, so that now even their name is forgotten.
From George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796)
A solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion….
I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another….
The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed,
it is of infinite moment
that you should properly estimate
the immense value of your national union
to your collective and individual happiness;
that you should cherish a cordial, habitual,
and immovable attachment to it;
accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it
as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity;
watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety;
discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion
that it can in any event be abandoned;
and indignantly frowning upon
the first dawning of every attempt
to alienate any portion of our country from the rest,
or to enfeeble the sacred ties
which now link together the various parts.
~ * ~
IN HIS Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius cites Thrasylus (d. 36 CE) to the effect that the work of Plato we call The Republic had two Greek titles, Politeia (Πολιτεία) and peri dikaiou (περὶ δικαίου; DL 3.60). From the better-known former one, we get (somewhat indirectly) our title The Republic. We will return to that, but first let’s consider the second title. This is usually translated as On Justice, but that is incorrect. The Greek word for justice is dikaiosune. While derived from the same root (dike), the word dikaiou, a pronoun, means a just man or person. Further, the word ‘just’ here is somewhat misleading. In modern English we tend to equate justice with social justice. In that sense a just man would be one who deals fairly with others. But the Greek concept of dike is broader — more like what we call ‘in right measure’ (the goddess Dike is sometimes pictured holding a balance scale). A more accurate translation of dikaiou therefore is a rightly ordered or righteous person.
The word politeia means a system of government, a form of political regime, or, by extension, a constitution. We get the word Republic not from the Greek word, but from the title of Cicero’s dialogue, Res publica (the public thing), which he styled in imitation of Plato’s work. However, as noted by Tarrant (2012) and others, some manuscripts give this title as politeiai, a plural form. This would be translated as systems of government, constitutions, or regimes.
We end up with the possibility that (although Plato, as far as we know, himself named none of his dialogues) the title of the work we call The Republic would, by ancient readers, have been understood as something like Regimes: On the Righteous Person. This would have made it clear that the dialogue is a work on ethics and psychology, with discussion of city governments supplying an allegorical framework for investigating the good and bad government of ones soul or psyche.
Diogenes Laertius. Lives of Eminent Philosophers. R.D. Hicks (tr.). Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA. 1925 (repr. 1972).
Tarrant, Harold. Plato’s Republics. Journal of the International Plato Society, 12, 2012. Online version: mar 2013.