Monday, November 3, 2008

A Choice I Cannot Make

Tomorrow Americans will go to the polls to decide whether the next President of the United States should be an unstable crazed warmonger who jokes about bombing Iran or a quasi-socialist "messiah" who would be more firmly committed to legalized abortion than any president ever elected. Many people I like and respect, most of them Roman Catholics, believe that the former, John McCain, must be preferred as the "lesser evil." Many other friends and relatives of mine are enthusiastic supporters of the latter, Barack Obama. (It is interesting that I do not know anyone who is actually enthusiastic about McCain.) I do not agree with either point of view and will not be voting tomorrow, for two different sets of reasons, only one of which depends on being a monarchist.

Some Americans who share my distaste for the nominees of the two major parties will be voting for alternative candidates like Bob Barr or Chuck Baldwin. I cannot see the point of this. Neither of them has achieved even as much momentum as Ralph Nader did in 2000, and not only because the system is stacked against them; they're just not very appealing candidates except to tiny niches of voters. In this spring's Republican primaries, there was an alternative candidate who, while far from perfect, I thought worthy of support: Rep. Ron Paul. But Dr. Paul managed to gather a diverse coalition that, while ultimately unsuccessful, was commendable in galvanizing and uniting anti-war radicals, conservative Christians, secular libertarians, and other assorted dissidents whose one common denominator was dissatisfaction with the choices usually offered by American politics. Neither Barr nor Baldwin can do that. And neither of their ideologies are much closer to mine than those of McCain and Obama.

To the extent that I have a preferred outcome at all, if someone held a gun to my head and said that I had to choose between a McCain victory and an Obama victory, I would opt for the latter. There are several reasons for this. The pragmatic one, from a right-wing American point of view, is that an open enemy is not as dangerous as a false friend. If Obama is elected, as now seems likely, conservatives will fight him every step of the way. But if McCain is elected, they will let him get away with actions they would oppose in a Democrat. A McCain victory would confirm the triumph of neoconservatism, move the Republican establishment further to the Left, and extinguish hopes that traditional conservatives will ever regain any kind of influence in Washington. An alternative pragmatic, perhaps even selfish, reason for me to prefer an Obama victory is that as much as I disagree with most of the Democratic agenda, there's no getting around the fact that Democratic administrations are generally more favorable to the interests of both the arts and labor unions than Republican ones, and I'm a unionized classical musician. However, I won't claim that my weak desire for an Obama victory is purely pragmatic. I have serious disagreements with the American Left; but I despise and detest the American neocon "Right." I believe George W. Bush to have been one of the worst presidents in history, certainly much worse than Democrat Bill Clinton; in my view, justice demands that Republicans be punished for inflicting the abomination of Bush upon the world. And in our system the only way for Republicans to be punished is for Democrats to win.

Yet for all that, I cannot vote for Obama. For all his talk of unity and transcending ideology, he is clearly of the Left, and to the extent that its original meaning still survives at all, I am essentially of the Right, even if I can hardly recognize any of my values in the contemporary "Right." Barack Obama believes in Progress and Equality; I believe in Tradition and Hierarchy. I may be currently estranged from the ultra-traditionalist Roman Catholicism I once thought I might one day espouse, but I still retain enough Catholic influence in my thinking to be uncomfortable with the consequences of Roe vs. Wade and Obama's unflinching support for it. It is simply not possible to hang out with traditional Catholics for two years and remain totally indifferent to abortion, as much as I resent the way the issue repeatedly has been used to rope pro-lifers into the GOP column without delivering any substantial change in return. In fact, it is not necessary to favor a blanket nationwide ban on abortion in all circumstances (as Catholics must) to see that Roe vs. Wade was a terrible decision that has poisoned our national politics and ought to be overturned. Unlike hardcore pro-lifers, I would be content to see the matter returned to each of the 50 individual states, with abortion remaining legal in the more liberal states and becoming illegal in the more conservative ones. But President Obama and the sort of justices he would appoint to the Supreme Court would not permit even that compromise.

So far almost everything I have written could have been written by an American paleoconservative or libertarian who believed in republican government and admired the American Revolution. And I would indeed concede a certain respect to anyone who refuses to choose between Obama and McCain, even if his fundamental beliefs do not match my own. But this is after all a monarchist blog, and it would not be honest or logical to restrict myself to the above arguments, especially since I am aware that there are other races being decided tomorrow besides the presidential one.

When confronting the decision of whether to bother going to the polls, one must ask oneself as an individual what the purpose of voting is. A single vote is not going to decide the election. This is particularly true if one lives in a state that is solidly Republican (like mine, Texas) or solidly Democrat. Therefore, the only real reason to vote is to symbolically affirm one's faith in Democracy in general and in the American system of government in particular. And that is what I refuse to do, quite apart from my objections to this year's presidential candidates. (I now consider even my primary vote for Ron Paul to have been a futile mistake.) For all American politics, "liberal" and "conservative," Democratic and Republican, ultimately proceeds from the Revolution, from that unjustified and hypocritical rebellion against King George III that I believe was wrong, even though it did not approach the horror of the rebellion against another King it helped to inspire a few years later. Unlike the world's other leading ideological republic, France, the United States has never had a viable or even visible faction opposed to the legacy of the Revolution itself. There is no political party advocating a return to royal sovereignty, no political party that does not at least pay lip service to the Constitution (whose explicit prohibitions of titles of nobility and religious establishment are deeply offensive to anyone who idealizes the kind of society that I do) and the Founding Fathers (who I consider to have been Traitors to their King). And so I cannot in conscience participate in this system, for the system is the problem, and there is no way to vote against the system.

I freely admit that I have no principled argument to refute anyone who says that if I really believe as I say I do, I should move to another country, perhaps the United Kingdom or Canada, where I would undoubtedly be willing to participate in electoral politics, albeit with only slightly more enthusiasm for today's Tories than I have for America's Republicans. Yes, in principle I should. But there are other things in life that matter besides political philosophy. My theoretical temporal allegiance may lie with the Crown--but my family, friends, and job are all here in the United States, and it is not so simple to uproot one's entire life, especially for purely ideological reasons. And there is no legal or moral requirement that Americans who are eligible to vote do so; I am hardly the only non-participant, though few non-voters are likely to share all of my particular reasons. Ironically, the very Constitution that Americanists revere requires them to respect my "right" to denounce the American system of government, and my "freedom" not to participate in elections. So I will stay here for the forseeable future, knowing that whatever happens tomorrow or on subsequent Election Days, I will remain profoundly alienated from the politics of the country where I happen to live, but determined to find as much meaning and enjoyment as possible in the non-political aspects of life.


Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. said...

Excellent, Mr Harvey!

JDB said...

You make some excellent points.

My only disagreement is that instead of grudgingly prefering an Obama victory, I would probably grudgingly prefer a McCain victory. There is just something about Obama I just do not like (and before anyone says it, no it is NOT because he is black- of course that is irrelevant as he is actually Arab...), and then there is the entire abortion issue which I simply cannot compromise with.

MandysRoyalty said...

They talk and talk, and it is never truly about us, the people, and how to make the country better. It is all about rich politicians getting richer and if they grind the rest of us into the ground to do it, so be it. They don't care. I will never vote for a Dem or Repub again until I see someone stand up for common sense and making mankind something to be proud of again.

J.K. Baltzersen said...

Excellent post, sir!

I would like to add something about the ban against Congress passing laws respecting religious establishments.

It may be true that this was to keep government out of the religion business, but note that it is about Congress' authority, not as it so often is interpreted today, as a provision for all government staying out of religion -- at all levels.

America, at the time of the "founding," had religious communities, and there could be conflict between them. At the time, there were different denominations in different colonies/states. Letting Congress "respect" an establishment, cold have given priviliges to one over another.

I am not necessarily completely supporting the provision. I am just saying that the picture generally given of the establishment of it may not be complete.

For reference, please see, e.g., the works of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.