You are on page 1of 2

Alasdair MacIntyre, "The Only Vote Worth Casting in November"

5/4/16, 8:20 AM

The Only Vote Worth Casting in November


Alasdair MacIntyre
University of Notre Dame
When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose
neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public
consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and
debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves
the power of framing the alternatives. These are propositions which in the abstract may seem to
invite easy agreement. But, when they find application to the coming presidential election, they are
likely to be rejected out of hand. For it has become an ingrained piece of received wisdom that voting
is one mark of a good citizen, not voting a sign of irresponsibility. But the only vote worth casting in
November is a vote that no one will be able to cast, a vote against a system that presents one with a
choice between Bush's conservatism and Kerry's liberalism, those two partners in ideological debate,
both of whom need the other as a target.
Why should we reject both? Not primarily because they give us wrong answers, but because they
answer the wrong questions. What then are the right political questions? One of them is: What do we
owe our children? And the answer is that we owe them the best chance that we can give them of
protection and fostering from the moment of conception onwards. And we can only achieve that if
we give them the best chance that we can both of a flourishing family life, in which the work of their
parents is fairly and adequately rewarded, and of an education which will enable them to flourish.
These two sentences, if fully spelled out, amount to a politics. It is a politics that requires us to be
pro-life, not only in doing whatever is most effective in reducing the number of abortions, but also in
providing healthcare for expectant mothers, in facilitating adoptions, in providing aid for singleparent families and for grandparents who have taken parental responsibility for their grandchildren.
And it is a politics that requires us to make as a minimal economic demand the provision of
meaningful work that provides a fair and adequate wage for every working parent, a wage sufficient
to keep a family well above the poverty line.
The basic economic injustice of our society is that the costs of economic growth are generally borne
by those least able to afford them and that the majority of the benefits of economic growth go to
those who need them least. Compare the rise in wages of ordinary working people over the last thirty
years to the rise in the incomes and wealth of the top twenty percent. Compare the value of
minimum wage now to its value then and next compare the value of the remuneration of CEOs to its
value then. What is needed to secure family life is a sufficient minimum income for every family and
that can perhaps best be secured by some version of the negative income tax, proposed long ago by
Milton Friedman, a tax that could be used to secure a large and just redistribution of income and so
of property.
We note at this point that we have already broken with both parties and both candidates. Try to
promote the pro-life case that we have described within the Democratic Party and you will at best go
unheard and at worst be shouted down. Try to advance the case for economic justice as we have
https://web.archive.org/web/20140802011938/http://brandon.multics.org/library/Alasdair%20MacIntyre/macintyre2004vote.html

Page 1 of 2

Alasdair MacIntyre, "The Only Vote Worth Casting in November"

5/4/16, 8:20 AM

described it within the Republican Party and you will be laughed out of court. Above all, insist, as we
are doing, that these two cases are inseparable, that each requires the other as its complement, and
you will be met with blank incomprehension. For the recognition of this is precluded by the
ideological assumptions in terms of which the political alternatives are framed. Yet at the same time
neither party is wholeheartedly committed to the cause of which it is the ostensible defender.
Republicans happily endorse pro-choice candidates, when it is to their advantage to do so.
Democrats draw back from the demands of economic justice with alacrity, when it is to their
advantage to do so. And in both cases rhetorical exaggeration disguises what is lacking in political
commitment.
In this situation a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote cast for a
system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives. The way to vote against the system is
not to vote.

https://web.archive.org/web/20140802011938/http://brandon.multics.org/library/Alasdair%20MacIntyre/macintyre2004vote.html

Page 2 of 2