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Octave M I R B E A U

Voters strike

One thing astonishes me, I almost said stupefies me, namely, that in this
scientific hour at which I write, after so many daily scandals and revelations,
there can still exist in our dear France one voter, one single voter that irrational
animal, inorganic, hallucinatory who allows his life to deranged, all his dreams
and pleasures interrupted, merely to vote for someone or something.
When one reflects for a moment on the surprising phenomenon, does it
not topple the sublest philosophies, and even confound Reason itself ? Where is
there a Balzac or Schopenhauer to give us the physiology of the modern voter ?
Where a neurologist to explain for us the anatomy and mentality of this
incurable lunatic ? We await them. Oh, I understand how a salesman always
finds suckers ; I understand that censorship finds it’s defenders, that musicals
always find fans, the daily papers their subscribers, I understand all. But that a
councilman, senator, or president or whatever strange joker claiming whatever
elective function, should be able to dig up one voter, that undreamed-of being,
that improbable martyr who will nourish you with his bread, dress you in his
coat fatten you on his flesh, enrich you with his purse, all this, only in the hope
of receiving in return for such prodigious generosity a smack on the head, a kick
in the ass, or maybe a bullet in the belly ; verily, this surpasses even the most
pessimistic opinion I’ve held till now of human beastliness in general and
French stupidity in particular, our own “dear” and immortal silliness !
I speak of course of the believing voter, the convinced voter, the
philosophical voter who imagines that his is the act of a free citizen
demonstrating his sovereignty, expressing his opinions, imposing political
programs and righting social wrongs. I’m not talking about the voter who
“knows the tune,” who mocks, who sees in his mandate nothing but right wing
cold cuts or liberal stew ; the sovereignty of such a voter consists of guzzling at
the springs of Universal Suffrage and after all, why not ? He’s looking after
himself and not hurting anyone else ; he knows what he’s doing.
But... the others ? Yes, the others ! The serious ones, the austere ones, the
sovereign people, those who feel a great intoxication seize them as they look
around and say to themselves, “I am a voter ! Nothing can be done without me !
I am the basis of modern society. By my will Congress makes laws which bind
over 40 million people.” Where are these fools being manufactured ? ! How can
they be so stubborn, so swollen headed, so paradoxical as not to have become
long ago discouraged and embarrassed by their actions ? How can one hope to
discover anywhere from the backwoods of Kentucky to the inaccessible regions
of Brittany a person so stupid, so irrational, so blind to what he sees and deaf to
what he hears, as to vote Blue, White, or Red without being forced, without
being paid, without even a free drink ? What Baroque sentiment, what
mysterious mesmeric suggestion does he obey, this thinking biped endowed with
free will.
So, I’m told, that he should delude himself, puffed up with his “rights,”
into thinking he’s done his duty by dropping some piece of paper inscribed with
some name into some ballot box ? What can he possibly say to himself to justify
or even explain this extravagant act ? What does he hope for ? Because finally,
in order that he agree to surrender himself to these greedy bosses who will
sponge off him and bludgeon him to a pulp, he must tell himself something and
hope for something so extraordinary we can scarcely imagine it. Somehow, by
some potent cerebral deviation, the idea of the Politician had come to stand for
the idea of Science, of Justice, of Devotion, of Labor and of Probity. In the very
names of the politicians themselves, he must have discovered some special
magic and seen, as if through a mirage, flowering and blooming in a garden
some promise of future felicity and instant gratification. And that’s what’s really
It seems nothing teaches him a lesson, neither the most burlesque of
comedies nor the most sinister of tragedies. Look how during Humankind’s long
centuries societies have risen and fallen, all alike in this one fact which rules all
history : the great are protected, the small are crushed. And yet our voter still
cannot grasp the sole real reason for his historic existence : to pay for heaps of
crap he’ll never enjoy, and to die for some political bullshit which is none of his
business. Why should it matter, whether it’s Peter or John who demands, “Your
money or your life !” since we’re obliged to lose both in the end ? No, really, do
you think one bunch of thieves and torturers preferable to another, and cast a
vote for the most rapacious and ferocious of the lot.
One voted yesterday, again tomorrow; one always votes. Sheep run to the
slaughterhouse, silent and hopeless, but at least sheep never vote for the butcher
who kills them or the “bourgeois” who devours them. More beastly than any
beast, more sheepish than any sheep, the voter names his own executioner and
chooses his own devourer, and for this precious “right” a revolution was fought.
Good voter, unspeakable imbecile, poor dupe, suppose for once that,
instead of reading the same old bilge with which the morning paper regales you
for a franc (big paper, small paper, Right wing or Left wing, Moderate or any
other madness all earn their money by skinning you) — suppose that, instead of
swallowing that flattery that caresses your vanity and props up our lamentable
and tattered sovereignty ; suppose that instead of gawking and rubbernecking at
the weighty bullshit of politics, suppose that just once, you curled up by the fire
with the work of Schopenhauer, one philosopher who has meditated deeply
about you and your masters why, who knows, perhaps you might learn
something amazing and useful. Perhaps, after reading his works or the work of
Nordau you’ll feel less obligated to put on again your air of gravity and coat and
run back to those murderous polls where, no matter whose name you choose,
you’ve picked the name of your worst enemy. They tell you, those two
connoisseurs of humanity that politics is an abominable lie, opposed to all
common sense, justice and right, and that meddling in it will gain you no credit,
you whose fate is already written in the grand account of human destiny. After
that, dream if you will of paradises of light and perfumes, of impossible
brotherhood, of unreal happiness. It’s good to dream ; it eases our troubled
minds. But keep people out of your dream, for wherever humans are found,
there too are sadness, hatred, and murder. Above all, remember that he who
solicits your vote is by that very fact revealed as a scoundrel, since in exchange
for your advantage and fortune he promises a cornucopia of miracles he’ll never
deliver because he hasn’t the power to deliver them. The man you elect
represents neither your misery, nor your aspirations, nor anything of yours, but
rather his own passions and interests, which are all opposed to yours.
Do not imagine that the sorry spectacle at which you assist today is
peculiar to one regime, and that it will pass away. All regimes are worth the
same, that is, they are all equally worthless. So go home, my good friends, and
go on strike against Universal Suffrage. You have nothing to lose, and at least is
should keep you amused for a while. From behind your door, shut firmly against
all beggars of political alms, you’ll watch the mob march past and sit in silence.
And if there should exist in some unknown corner some honest man capable of
governing you and loving you don’t regret his loss. We would be too jealous of
his dignity to hurl him into the gladiatorial game of politics, too proud to accept
from you a mandate you accord only to the boldest cynic, to insults and lies.

Le Figaro, 11/28/1888

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