instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, November 05, 2012


For eight years, I've thought "non-negotiable issues" was a bad term in the context of voting because they are, in practice, negotiable. (Not to mention the question begging involved in enumerating the issues; just last week I saw someone treating the list developed by Catholic Answers in 2004 as though it were somehow authoritative and canonical.)

John McGuinness's comment on a post below --
 It becomes increasingly clear [that] the "non-negotiable issues" theme was misguided, if understandable under the circumstances.
-- now prompts the thought that the whole concept of "negotiation" is ill-applied to voting.

What, exactly, is being negotiated? How I cast my vote, and nothing more. No candidate is offering to change his position in order to get my vote -- and if he did, I'd have little reason to trust him to change if he were elected.

And who, exactly, is the other party involved in negotiating for my vote? Well, the candidates themselves aren't negotiating; their stated opinions are taken as read in these negotiations. For a similar reason, I can't be negotiating with advocates for the candidates, who are even less capable of changing their candidates' positions.

I might say I'm negotiating with myself, except that "negotiating with myself" isn't a very Catholic way of describing the act of prudential reasoning (including listening to one's conscience).

Or I might say I'm negotiating with the electoral process by which the ballot I take into the voting booth is constructed. Zippy would probably not object to my saying that, since on reflection it's an appalling thought irreconcilable with the 4th Grade Civics take on voting that many or most Americans seem to accept.

Who, other than myself or the electoral process, might I be negotiating with?

Now, it is true that Pope Benedict XVI often refers to "non-negotiable" principles, but as far as I can tell he does so in contexts that do, in fact, involve negotiations in which both parties are in principle able to change their positions. E.g.:
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable.
Thinking back to Bl. John Paul II's famous teaching that "an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by" "a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on" [Evangelium Vitae 73], I note that the official's absolute personal opposition to procured abortion being well known functions as an indication that the principle of protecting life in all its stages is being affirmed and asserted, not negotiated. What is being negotiated is the degree to which the society is willing to live up to that principle.

The same idea can be applied to secret balloting in general elections, but I find more often it's mis-applied along the lines of, "First, cross off all candidates who are wrong about the issues I've told you on my own authority are relevant in this election. Next, erase the strike-through on the candidate who is least wrong." Such a process can be described in many ways, but it can't be properly described as a negotiation.

That negotiation as such is not happening with respect to the act of voting reinforces my point that the act of voting is not in itself an important part of the exercise of the virtue of faithful citizenship.