Late last year Wylie Huffaker wrote an article for this website entitled “The Philosophy of Voting”. As I made clear in the comments section when I first read the article, I strongly disagree with the author’s arguments, and I write this piece as a response.
I do grant that there is value in Wylie’s contribution and that the aim for brevity on the author’s part potentially led to some misunderstandings, but I nonetheless feel obliged to write this rebuttal against what I am convinced to be a number of erroneous propositions in his piece.
The example he employs of the irrelevance of a house-watcher’s ability to do math as applied to civil office does not logically serve the purpose he intends. Mathematics, as all we anti-Cartesians know, is not, like religion, epistemically and philosophically foundational in terms of shaping one’s worldview. For the purpose of comparison to civil office, a better example would have been simply to argue that the religion of the house-watcher would be irrelevant. I have no doubt that Wylie would argue for this, but I have several reservations regarding this too.
Nonetheless, from this example Wylie goes on to his central argument:
The same idea applies to political office. Such-and-such a candidate has the wrong stance on, say, abortion. Should that eliminate him from consideration? It depends. Will the scope of his responsibilities have anything to do with adjudicating the issue of abortion? Or, alternatively, does he intend to usurp powers while in office to further some pro-abortion agenda? If not, his erroneous stance on that subject is immaterial. . . .
. . . [T]he U.S. Constitution stipulates that no religious test may be made a legal prerequisite to holding federal office. The president’s religion is irrelevant to his function because the Constitution invests him with specific and limited powers, and as a condition for assuming the office, he swears to uphold the Constitution. Or, to put it another way, his oath of office is itself the religious test. . . .
. . . [A]n irreligious ruler is problematic only to the extent that he actually harms the populace.
Conversely, ruling in the fear of God means being faithful to your charge — the covenant you have made with your constituents.
The article was evidently written regarding Donald Trump’s election as a response to some within the Kinist community expressing great concern over Trump’s character and religious and social views. Though I’m not an American, I supported Donald Trump’s campaign as well, though not on the grounds proposed by Wylie. Allow me to point out where his argument fails:
1) Americans have a longstanding tradition of valuing their constitution as a restraint upon potential government tyranny, which is to be commended. However, the constitution of any country can a) be changed or amended and/or b) be reinterpreted to mean even the opposite of the original author’s intention. Both of these have occurred repeatedly throughout America’s history. This in itself should be enough to convince anyone that, even if granted that the U.S. Constitution is very valuable, it has certainly been proven over and over again to be insufficient as a measure against human depravity. As but one example, Roe v. Wade has been deeply implemented under this constitution for nearly half a century, leading to the legal massacre of over fifty million Americans.1
2) Wylie mentions as a criterion that voters should discern whether a candidate intends to usurp his powers when in office. This demands a foreknowledge on the part of the voter that isn’t humanly possible. Though not explicitly stated, he implies that the candidate’s swearing allegiance to the Constitution is the means by which voters are supposed to know this. This is at odds not only with history, but also with God’s Law-Word. Scripture, after all, teaches us that apart from Christ all men are liars (Rom. 3:4). Thus, if we assume that voters would have to know this – which they don’t, since only God knows the hearts of men – then religiously being in Christ would have to be a substantial factor.
3) Wylie highlights the No Religious Test Clause with respect to the presidency, arguing that a candidate’s religious profession should matter for voters only insofar as it concretely affects his official duties downstream, e.g. if a Mormon president favored Utah over other states. The problem is that this particular constitutional requisite arose from a historical context in which it was meant to strike down oaths requiring Anglican church membership – very different from the author’s understanding and application, where it would in principle make a Muslim, Jewish, or pagan religious profession of little consequence for a candidate. Furthermore, even though Wylie holds that the sole religious requirement for a presidential candidate is that he take the oath of office, he believes this still permits atheistic candidates. But since oaths are by definition promises made with an invocation of divine punishment should one break the promise, this (very minimal) religious requirement still makes it impossible for any atheistic candidate to run for federal office.
4) The claim that an irreligious ruler is harmful only when disadvantaging the populace amounts to a misunderstanding of the God-given covenantal-creational structure of reality. Because God is the sovereign Creator of the universe, He is also its sovereign Ruler. Accordingly He sovereignly ordained the laws and structures by which all of reality functions. His Law was therefore given to mankind for both purposes of glorifying Him and benefiting His people. In other words, because God sovereignly rules reality, obedience to His Law, within the context of this inescapable created reality, is fundamentally good for all nations. Conversely, neglecting His Law is fundamentally harmful to any populace. But it then follows that whether a ruler fears God – i.e. honors His Law – is crucial to his competence as a ruler. We cannot, as Wylie attempts to do, reduce a ruler’s obligation to fear God (Ex. 18:21) to his fulfillment of whatever political obligations his oath happens to stipulate.
5) It is misleading to say that “ruling in the fear of God” amounts merely to fidelity to the covenant a ruler has made with his constituents. Here the author falls into the erroneous and anti-Christian social contract theory. This Enlightenment error disregards the creational-covenantal structure of society, in which subjects and rulers aren’t bound only by the terms to which they have explicitly assented. Divine Providence has placed every newborn child in a certain family, clan, and nation – “born under authority,” to quote Dabney – on a fundamentally non-contractual basis. Any covenant between rulers and constituents is therefore inescapably based in the creational laws and structures divinely built into the world, independent of any additional duties to which men may assent. Duties toward God and the people are to be fulfilled if a ruler were to rule in the fear of God – duties that can only be derived from God’s Law, which the non-regenerate man hates. This covenantal-national understanding of human society, as advocated by Samuel Rutherford in Lex Rex, has been shown to be very much at odds with the Lockean (or Rousseauist) individualist-rationalist social contract errors.
When considering the philosophy of voting, we should remember that the practice, as we know it today, is an extremely recent historical phenomenon. For most of our history and during the time the Bible was written, the practice simply didn’t exist – and rightfully so. This is quite relevant to the philosophy governing voting in our age, for we must distinguish the question of good governance, which is much broader – what a ruler morally must be and do – from the philosophy and ethics of voting. By reducing the philosophy of voting to the Constitution’s stipulated terms, Wylie reduces the moral ideal of rulers – simplistically conflating two distinct issues – whereas the truth is that we ought to retain a high standard of God-fearing for rulers, but also grant the permissibility of voting for non-ideal candidates in our degenerate era. When one casts a vote in the contemporary American democracy, it would make perfect sense to do so as part of a tribal power struggle for the good of one’s nation – as contrasted, e.g., with the choices one would make as a singular founding father of a theonomic ethnostate. We can utilize our votes strategically to elect imperfect men like Donald Trump, but this doesn’t mean we should dilute the obligation to fear God which any civil ruler must bear.
While Wylie’s theory has its own roots in social contract theory, an alternative philosophy of voting often proposed in Kinist circles can, rather ironically, be charged with the same. This is the philosophy that voting is “yoking” (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14), and this philosophy has been employed to argue that any vote for Trump is sin. On this view, a vote for a candidate yokes the voter to that candidate, making the voter responsible for the candidate’s official actions, imputing the actions of the candidate to the voter much as imputation functions in Reformed federal theology with Adam and Christ.
There is a significant problem with this view. Suppose it is true: there is some federal representation by political rulers of their subjects – akin to Adam’s and Christ’s federal representations, through which sin or righteousness can be imputed. If so, then this representation exists whether or not the subjects voted for their ruler, and regardless of the motives for which some or all subjects may have voted for him. (Again, Adam and Christ are a case in point, as on Reformed federal theology neither was elected.) But then it’s terribly unclear how voting causes a voter to enter into this representational, imputational relationship by which Trump’s errors or sins as president would result in the voter’s personal sin and guilt. In fact, the best Bible passages one might offer for this voting -> imputation argument would be from Old Testament Israel, where the king would represent the people as a whole – but this representation did not occur by voting! So then, only a view which strongly connects this imputation to the act of voting would give this argument hope; but that bears strong resemblances to social contract theory.
We can then see the golden mean here. As opposed to Wylie’s view, we ought to retain a high moral ideal for biblical rulers, but as opposed to this yoking view, we ought to understand the permissibility of voting in our circumstances to aid our people. A vote for Trump, in our age, is a permissible means unto a great end, as nations that cease to exist cannot repent.
- This should not be taken as an argument against the Protestant position on Scripture’s sufficiency and clarity. While Scripture can certainly also be falsely interpreted, it cannot be changed or amended, and – just as with political documents – the possibility of misinterpretation emphasizes the need for godly and honest interpretive authorities, not an infallible teaching and interpreting office. ↩