lebensunwertes leben

People waiting in line to vote

BREXIT has elicited expressions of wounded outrage from European intellectuals emotionally invested in the current European Project. Some have contented themselves with name-calling by denouncing British voters as shortsighted bigots manipulated by conservative populists. Disappointment in the outcome of the referendum was so great for others that they have begun asking whether democracy itself might be the problem. If people, the British to be precise, are unable to see what is in their own best interests then perhaps important decisions should be taken out of their hands and given to responsible elites. A more abject ideological surrender to the neoliberal project is difficult to imagine.

Intellectuals are capable of publically fantasizing about subtle punishments of those who dare to frustrate the dream of a unified Europe. Consider for example the July 6th editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald of Dr. Piero Moraro, Lecturer in the Department of Justice Studies at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, Australia. Rather than give up on democracy entirely, Moraro suggests departing from the one-person, one-vote norm and instead that giving young people “(say under 60)” more votes than old people. He reasons that the young should have more voting power than that the old because they will have to live with decisions like BREXIT for a longer time period. Older Britons were more likely than younger Britons to vote for BREXIT, yet they are likely to die before all of the predicted dire effects are felt.

Whether Moraro is serious about his proposal is unclear. His column doesn’t read like Switftian satire. As a moral philosopher he is of course in the business of justifying either expanding or shrinking the universe of moral regard. Shrinking in this case. Someone must be punished for BREXIT and Moraro thinks it should be the old.

The immorality of abandoning one-person, one-vote might have been more apparent if Moraro had considered what more could be done with the idea of weighted voting. Readily available demographic data permit much more precise estimates of an individual’s life spans than the crude under 60, over 60 cutoff that he suggests. For example, non-indigenous Australians and immigrants to Australia live approximately ten years longer than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. So fewer votes for the indigenes. After all, more of the future belongs to settlers like the Italian born Moraro. Inherited disease, lifestyle and education could also be factored in the equation for a precise assessments of voting rights. So fewer votes for people with sickle cell disease, the unmarried, and the less educated. The dystopian nightmare of Logan’s Run could be combined with that of Gattaca. So not only could we fault Moraro for ageism but a lack of imagination. Which is a terrible failing for any sort of intellectual.

If Moraro knew more of European history he might have hesitated to suggest any reduction in a fundamental right associated with citizenship or with assessments of individual human worth based on something as arbitrary as age. Depriving people of citizenship or grading them according to the capacity to contribute to society is associated with the greatest horrors of the last century. One cannot help but suspect that this moral philosopher considers all those old British pensioners who voted for BREXIT to be something akin to lebensunwertes Leben.

Image: People waiting in line to vote courtesy of GalleryHip.com, but don't go there as they will attempt to get you to download a virus.
John Hickman

John Hickman

John Hickman is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where he teaches courses on war crimes, comparative politics, and research methods. He holds both a PH.D. in political science from the University of Iowa and a J.D. from Washington University, St. Louis. Hickman is the author of the 2013 Florida University Press book Selling Guantanamo.