During the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Notre Dame philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote an op-ed piece titled “The Only Vote Worth Casting in November.” It began: “When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither.” MacIntyre was of course referring to the choice between Bush and Kerry, and his recommendation was simply not to vote, “so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives.” He saw abstention as a sort of “vote against the system,” even though he acknowledged that the system would not in fact register it as such.
MacIntyre’s recommendation was certainly controversial, though in the context of the 2016 U.S. presidential election it is likely to find a more sympathetic response, especially among those who affirm something like the full spectrum of Catholic social teaching (namely, the teachings regarding the sanctity of human life, the common good, subsidiarity, religious freedom, solidarity, etc.), and who thus regard the offerings of our two major political parties as historically bad. But should those who fall into this camp heed MacIntyre’s advice to abstain from voting? I suggest a different option: a write-in vote for presidential nominee Mike Maturen and vice-presidential nominee Juan Muñoz of the American Solidarity Party. (The party is currently working on ballot access in many states.)
Founded in 2011, the American Solidarity Party (ASP) is the “only active Christian Democratic party in the United States,” though there are other such parties of long standing in Europe and Latin America. (Note: “Democratic” here does not mean “on the Left”; rather, these parties typically are seen as “Center-Right.”) The ASP’s basic aim is as follows:
We seek to promote the common good and the material and spiritual welfare of all people, thereby raising consciousness of the Christian worldview. We don’t seek to be a proselytizing party but, in a broken and increasingly callous, secularized world, we offer a positive vision bringing communities together.
The party platform, which can be found on the ASP website, is essentially a “Catholic Social Teaching” platform, though the party is Christian rather than specifically Catholic. It upholds the equal dignity and sanctity of all human life through a “consistent ethic of life” that opposes and seeks to reduce as far as possible abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, capital punishment, and unjust warfare, and it seeks to support, socially and economically, vulnerable members of society, such as the poor, single mothers, children, the disabled, the ill, and the elderly. The platform also expresses concern for the common good, the environment, family life, education in virtue, civil society, racial and gender justice, national and international peace, religious freedom, subsidiarity, distributist-style economic policy, and of course solidarity.
This is a platform that answers MacIntyre’s criticism of our two major political parties as being unable to provide the kind of politics we need. It also answers the call that First Things editor Rusty Reno has made recently, for a genuine “politics of solidarity.” We live in an increasingly fragmented society, “and our public life lacks the reparative rhetoric of solidarity.” Reno notes that the Democratic Party, although increasingly the party of globalized elites, prides itself on being the party of solidarity, especially of “solidarity-in-marginality.” However, this solidarity often depends upon the demonization of one’s political opponents, where they are not just wrong but evil bigots, and so it is not the sort of politics of solidarity that we need. It also fails to extend to those most vulnerable members of the human community, namely the unborn.
The success of Trump, as Reno points out, seems to arise from a politics of solidarity, as seen in the populist promises to “Make America great again” and put “America first.” However, Trump has neither the character nor the vision—the two are connected—to bring about the kind of politics of solidarity that we need. We need a politics that can speak authentically in the language of love, keep all human beings from conception to natural death “fully amongst us” (as Raimond Gaita puts it in A Common Humanity), enliven our sense of a shared past and a shared future rooted in a common good, build bridges and not just walls, and properly recognize the significance of our particular identity-defining attachments and integrate them with the demands of universal human concern. This is what the ASP seeks to do.
Certain questions must be addressed. First: Why should someone support a Christian Democratic party in a secular society? Wouldn’t such a party exclude non-Christians? And shouldn’t we frame our political arguments in terms that appeal to all of our fellow citizens, without reference to creed?
While the ASP is shaped by a Christian worldview, it welcomes all people who find its vision for society compelling, even if they do not share in the same faith. And despite what John Rawls and other liberal political philosophers say, there is in fact no worldview-neutral standpoint; we cannot and should not leave our comprehensive religious, philosophical, and moral understandings at the door when we engage in political argument.
In Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah and his co-authors have shown the importance of the biblical tradition as a “second language” in American public life. It is hard to imagine how barren our public life would be without this tradition. (Think of what the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been like without his use of biblical language.) In the West, as Gaita notes, our languages of love and solidarity have been especially shaped by the biblical tradition and by certain saintly exemplars. Rather than ignore this cultural inheritance, we should gratefully acknowledge it, embrace it, and seek to strengthen it.
Another question for the ASP is this: Why should someone vote for a party that won’t win, especially in this election, when so much is at stake in terms of foreign relations, the economy, Supreme Court appointments, democratic rule of law, and so on? Isn’t it better to vote for the major-party candidate who seems the least bad?
Many people of goodwill are going to make this decision. But for those who cannot in good conscience vote for either Clinton or Trump—say, because of the candidates’ stances against the sanctity of human life—voting for the ASP may be seen as a protest vote against a system that presents us with such poor choices. But it is not merely a protest vote, because if we are to work fully toward the kind of politics we need, we must first break from the political status quo. The ASP should thus be understood as seeking primarily to build up a cultural movement, which ideally will come to have political influence.
So what are the long-term prospects for this politics of solidarity? In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Father Zosima, as a young man, asked a very similar question, to which his friend responded:
[W]e must keep the banner flying. Sometimes even if he has to do it alone, and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an example, and so draw men’s souls out of their solitude, and spur them to some act of brotherly love even if he seems crazy, so that the great idea may not die.
The American Solidarity Party, as I see it, is an attempt to “keep the banner flying.” By supporting it, “a man [sets] an example,” so that the idea of human solidarity, based on the equal dignity of all human beings, may not die away.
David McPherson is assistant professor of philosophy at Creighton University.