Author Jason Brennan challenged the popular notion that voting is a civic duty during his lecture on May 5 in the Nicholson Library Reading Room.
In his book “The Ethics of Voting,” Brennan asserts that only well-informed citizens should participate in the democratic process, and he discussed this at the lecture.
“You must vote for what you believe will promote the common good, or otherwise must abstain,” Brennan assistant professor of philosophy and research at Brown University, said.
Brennan argued that the same rhetoric that encourages a politically active citizenry should also act as a deterrent for uniformed citizens.
“You must vote well or not vote at all, but most citizens violate these norms,” he said.
Brennan tackled several arguments in favor of voting, including the idea that voting is a learning experience that brings about a more enlightened individual.
“Politics provide opportunities for enlightenment much like fraternity parties provide opportunities for temperance,” he said. “Engaging in politics can enlighten you, but so can joining a street gang, taking heroin and dropping out of high school.”
Brennan also addressed the question of whether voting serves a collective purpose.
“You can ride the democratic wave or stand against it, but it’s going to shore regardless,” he said, asserting that voting only carries significance when it is carried out as a group and not an individual effort.
Brennan’s presentation was followed by commentary from John Holzwarth, a political science professor from Lewis & Clark College, and Tamara Metz, a political science professor from Reed College.
Both Holzwarth and Metz expressed concerns with Brennan’s arguments.
Holzwarth felt that Brennan omitted several key aspects in his discussion of political liberty.
“He dealt with voting rights and the right to run for office … and omitted such rights as the right to due process and the right to petition one’s government,” Holzwarth said.
Assistant Professor of Political Science Nick Buccola planned the commentary with dissenting viewpoints in order to improve the quality of the lecture.
“Having those critics there was to bring in a diversity of perspectives and robust discussion,” Buccola said. “People will have a sense of a lot of different viewpoints and perspectives to enhance their own political perspectives.”
Sophomore Mary Campbell found that the presentation of multiple views enhanced the audience’s ability to understand the voting issue.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to interact with Brennan,” she said. “Between the comments made by the other panelists and the questions posed by the audience, we were able to get to the core of this issue.”
Brittany Baker/Staff writer
Brittany Baker can be reached at email@example.com.