“Society in every state is a blessing,” wrote Thomas Paine in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, “but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”
In a democracy there are necessarily political parties, whether they are formally established to precede the election with a cohesive stamp of philosophical identity, or informally grouped after the election in order to secure the majority passage of legislation. Either way, the system requires individuals to form fraternal factions in order to work collectively. These ‘parties’ are not of themselves evil, but are made up of people who may choose to speak it or do it. When Christians vote, their duty is to mitigate that evil by supporting the greater good. This may, of course, be a matter of robust debate, and Christians will differ in their apprehensions of necessity and privation, but all will agree in good conscience that their vote is cast for the lesser evil, which must also be the greater good, for to do otherwise would be to sin against the conscience and invite judgment.
There is one choice in this General Election: either Theresa May will be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom on Friday morning, or Jeremy Corbyn will. Theresa May has given no assurances to any of her existing team that they will remain in their jobs, but Jeremy Corbyn has indicated that John McDonnell will be Chancellor, Diane Abbott Home Secretary and Emily Thornberry Foreign Secretary. You can natter on (and on) if you wish about the virtues of the LibDems, Ukip or Greens, but it is evident to most that we have returned to a two-party system, at least for the moment, so Tim Farron, Paul Nuttall, and Jonathan Bartley/Caroline Lucas will not be Prime Minister. Nor are they remotely likely to hold any balance of power.
You may despise Theresa May as a liberal, self-serving, Jew-loving, wealth-worshipping anti-Christian, and you may adore Jeremy Corbyn as a benevolent saviour of the poor, defender of Palestine, protector of the NHS and a moral, decent, principled man of virtue…
And you will cast your votes accordingly for the candidates who are pledged to work with them in government, for that is the duty of a Christian in a liberal democracy. If government is a necessary evil, a Christian armed with a vote must discern the lesser of these evils, or the greater of these goods, and act accordingly. You may, of course, think a plague on all their houses and not vote at all, but why abdicate the opportunity for creative transformation, or miss a chance to shape a greater justice, a better peace, or to enhance dignity and freedom? Might not the secular social contract reflect something of God’s covenant in Jesus Christ and the responsibility we have toward others?
This blog is sometimes criticised for being too Conservative (or blindly conservative), usually by those Christians who are unashamedly socialist or more Ukippy in their outlook. Well, if so, it helps to fill a gap in the Established Church, where to be Conservative (or conservative) these days is to be a lesser Christian. It is also sometimes criticised for being negative or cynical, so we’ll have none of that today. Instead, we will simply let Jeremy Corbyn and his top team speak for themselves:
Maybe they have changed their minds, you might argue. Don’t we all mature, reflect and amend our beliefs as we grow older and wiser? Possible so, except that given the opportunity numerous times during this election campaign to ‘clarify’ (/retract) some of these long-held views, they have preferred instead to deflect and obfuscate. Diane Abbott in particular has not resiled from her 1984 view that “Every defeat for the British state is a victory for all of us”. If she is made Home Secretary on Friday, she becomes responsible for national security. In what sense is an IRA bomb more righteous than an Islamist bomb? Why may the people’s victory be expressed as a British defeat at the hands of Irish Republicans but not Jihadi Muslims?
Are these three not condemned by the words that come out of their mouths? If you surround yourself with Stasi-supporting advisers who express solidarity with Stalin and North Korea; if you salute the IRA, honour Israeli-murdering terrorists; if you proudly boast about opposing all anti-terror legislation for 30 years, might we not reasonably conclude that the country would not be as safe as it could be if it were led by a Corbyn-McDonnell-Abbott triumvirate?
A necessary evil might be considered an oxymoron, for if something is evil it is by no means necessary. Yet in the realm of temporal government and democratic party politics, there is a better outcome and a worse one, and the lesser of two evils is preferred. And by evil here we mean the least virtuous or the more immoral: the relative greater enemy of the common good. It might have the seductive allure of compassion, mercy and monetary abundance, but it is more tainted or corrupted than the alternative.
This was to have been the Brexit election, but it has been hijacked by terrorist atrocities and pressing issues of national security. The two are not, of course, unrelated: Brexit offers a more effective means of border control, but it will do nothing to tackle the home-grown jihadist in our midst. All political options undoubtedly have the stain of sin, and all have the capacity for wickedness and great cruelty. But of the choice the nation faces in this General Election, one has a track record of choosing more evil than good, and we can’t allow them to defile the nation further with their habitual inclination to pious ignominy and contempt.
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Mt 7:17-20).