Translation by Steven Corcoran
The moment is no doubt favourable for examining, being sure to guard an ethnological distance, the custom of the vote: the last sacred cow of our comfortable and agreeably nihilistic countries. With the United States showing the way, a half of the people — the majority of the young and the popular classes — have progressively ceased to conform to this custom. Savage disbelief in the democratic religion, with its joint cult of number and the secret conviction of souls, grows. And as we have recently witnessed in diverse instances, the vote has become more and more unstable and irrational. It calls, at last, for philosophical critique!
I will focus here on the French Presidential elections of 2002, in fact, on the sequence from April 21 to May 5. Its details are quite easy to recall. After the first round, the socialist candidate, incumbent Prime Minister and poll favourite, Jospin, is eliminated. Instead, it is Le Pen, the extreme right-wing candidate, who makes it into the second round to challenge the incumbent President Chirac, who himself did not shine with all his glory, not even having gained 20% of the votes. This situation arouses considerable agitation throughout the country between the two rounds. The left-wing parties (the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Greens (ecologists) and even the Trotskyite Revolutionary Communist League) call to vote for Chirac, their intimate enemy, so as to block Le Pen’s road and “save democracy”. High school children take to the streets. On May 1st a large demonstration of 500,000 people proclaims its will to say “no” to Le Pen, proposing a vote for Chirac as the sole means of doing so. On May 5th Chirac is elected with a soviet-style score, Le Pen’s vote remains stagnant and the emotion dissipates into the air like mist.
The referent being such a short and singular sequence, what would a philosophical method possibly consist in? And why give to this peripeteia of the French parliamentary system the honour of a philosophic consideration?
Concerning the second point, what compels me is the vigorous manifestation of a public affect, that which in the language of the 18th century was called an “emotion”. Yes, Le Pen’s presence at the second round of a French Presidential election provoked in quite a number of my fellow citizens an insomniac emotion: I must admit that I don’t share it in the slightest. As such I was struck by the extent and unanimity with which it was felt by fellow philosophers — philosophers who were manifestly (but they should not have been) a sort of echo chamber of all the “intellectuals” and also a non-negligible part of the educated youth. In truth, the electoral result seemed significant to me of the fact that, as I have thought and said for many years now, this country is quite politically ill. Not seeing in this result any reason worth losing one’s head, I also saw that such cool headedness was held to be pathological, including by those that I love and value. The emotion being for them an antépredicative I thus said to myself that it had better be analysed, that it were a good point of entry into the sulphurous question of the vote and of “democracy”.
Returning to the first point, I propose the following by way of an order of reasons:
1. An examination and a nomination of the public affect in correlation with its cause;
2. A critical examination of the names used to legitimate and confer upon this affect some political dignity, to give it a symbolic way out;
3. An identification of the general space wherein the link established between the public emotion, its cause and its consequences played itself out. That is, the construction of a problem which is ultimately the problem of the vote;
4. A proposition of this problem’s general intelligibility and a radical displacement of its axiomatic position.
The cause of the affect was that there where one expected Jospin in came Le Pen. It remains to find out exactly what this there is...