On the eve of the municipal elections, it’s worth reflecting on the practice of voting itself. I wonder how Badiou’s thesis plays out at the municipal level where, depending on the size of your city of course, the notion of preferences versus truth seem to play out in different ways. citizens Candidates, at least at the ward level are often known in the community, not mere celebrity politicians, and appear more immediately accountable; media manipulation is less intense, though increasingly becoming more so; local concerns are, at least, the driving force of most of the campaigns; and citizens appear to feel more a part of the political process. On the other hand, the seeming irrational fidelity to the number is still the guiding rationality. Nevertheless, either out of the the affective dimension Badiou takes up in the first section, or more likely out a reflex guilt of what might happen if I don’t – which is more about having to fend off accusations of apathy and the admonition “You can’t complain if you don’t vote” (indeed, you can if not a single candidate appears to be doing the right thing; a free society is not free if one is compelled by law or moral edict to vote for one of several bad candidates, especially since their are no suitable provisions for “no votes” or “spoiled ballots”), I voted.
NOTE: As I was writing I found out that Rob Ford has been elected mayor of Toronto. This man is a buffoon, and is a perfect example of the triumph of preferences over right. The most telling feature will be the total number of votes cast, which at the time of writing was only around 600,000. The lack of turnout in elections raises another crucial point, which adds fuel to the above admonition about getting out to vote, which is that these figures are hardly representative of the number of dispossessed and marginalised, people who feel, legitimately that they’ve been sold out by a system that does not have their best interests and those of their fellow citizens at heart, and feel that change is beyond their power.
I submit Badiou’s thoughts for your assessment.
Badiou, Alain. 2002. “Philosophical considerations of the very singular custom of voting: an analysis based on recent ballots in France.” Theory and Event 6:3.
The only reasonable conclusion is that when decisive political transformations are at stake in a country putting them to a vote will ensure that nothing happens because they will have been submitted to the principle of the homogeneous. And it is interesting to note that, in general, a partial but large mass of opinion, whether it be “democratic” (in defence of free existential comforts) or directly bourgeois (in defence of property rights and earnings), serves to guarantee, on the street, the principle in question. That is, it guarantees our continuing just like before.
Paradoxes of the vote
This thinking oneself heroic when in reality one is simply conservative furnishes us with a good introduction to examination of the paradoxes of the vote. For example:
1. That the vote is a free formalism, indeed, some say, the formalism of political liberty itself, yet it is also obligatory. It is,as one knows, juridically obligatory in a number of countries. But as we witnessed this time in the violent diatribes against abstention for many it is also subjectively, or morally obligatory. (That is, let it be said in passing, for any intellectuals and students, but not so much for the essential people. For they abstained in still greater numbers in the June legislative elections. Little by little, “democracy” is taking the turn of a minority ritual).
2. That there is equality of number, such is the law of suffrage. Yet, as we have said, the decisive places are coded according to norms which transcend numbers.
3. That there is a flagrant asymmetry between “yes” and “no”. The consequence of a “no” is elimination and it is effective. On the contrary, what is played out with a “yes” could not be more elusive. What commitments are elected members held to? Nothing of worth, in any case, which holds even more today as the notion of “program” had been practically discredited. Thus, for the voter there is, a real of the negative sanction, but no real foreseeable effect of success — except that of the conservation of the principal parameters of existence. At least, that is, of those ones over which elected representatives exercise some authority. Such is the secret of lukewarm politics: the only way to stay in power is to do nothing.
The reason for the paradoxes of the vote are well known: its technical rationality means the result is gotten from a pure count, which authorises the infinite attentions of sociologists and political scientists — as concerned with numerical details and variations as the specialists of climactic history — and works to cover over massive irrationality. For why would number have political virtue? Why would the majority, modifiable at will thanks to the ruse of infinite modes of balloting, be endowed with the attributes of a norm? Such approximations are simply not tolerated in other domains where human thought is at stake. Great scientific creators and innovative artists have been right contrary to dominant opinion. Even violent amorous passions affirm themselves against mediocre social judgement. Is politics, and it alone, to be condemned to the conservatism of numerical means? Everything indicates that this is not the case. Since each time a capital political decision is to be taken, by everyone in their own name, the partisans of the just and the true are initially entirely in the minority, indeed, electorally insignificant. The résistants of the 1940’s, those of the 1950’s opposed to the sordid colonial wars, the “leftists” of the 60’s and 70’s: all of them were absolutely in the minority just as are those who today see imperialistic ambitions and the spirit of servitude hide beneath the mask of “humanitarian interventions”, or the “war against terrorism”. And, basically, everyone knows that number, the majority, won as it is from blind lists upon leaving the ballot box, has no real meaning.
Rousseau knew it well: “Individual will by nature tends to preferences, and the general will to equality”. The manifestation of the return of a general will, were it on a single point, will necessitate sacrificing preferences. This is where philosophy can help. Since, in its most general inspiration it teaches us that the universality of truth is preferable to mere preferences. And it is then that one is fortunate–beyond the market.
Read the whole thing here.