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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 dreadful. 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. I TELL YOU, GOOD FRIENDS, GO HOME ! GO ON STRIKE ! Le Figaro, 11/28/1888