Volume 3, Number 1 (January 2006)
Author: Jean Baudrillard
Translated by: Laura Nyssola
The vote is fixed. If the “no” side wins the day this time, they will make us vote again (as in Denmark and Ireland) until the “yes” wins. We may as well vote yes right now.
We are free to wonder though, at the upsurge of the no side in April and the reasons for this tenacious, silent dissent. This was a remarkable event. The bounce back of the yes side was nothing more than an inexorable return to normality (only the no is a mystery). This no is not what its official proponents say it is, as the arguments behind it are as inconsistent as those advanced by the proponents of the yes. A politically inspired rise in the no is impossible to sustain and it is this politically inspired support for the no which recedes under the return of the yes.
The most interesting and exciting thing in this trompe l’oeil referendum is the no that hides behind the official no – the no that is beyond political rationalization – the part of the no that represents resistance. It must be very dangerous to mobilize the enormous powers and energies which have assembled to defend the yes. Such panic points to a skeleton in the closet.
This no is an automatic (instinctive) reaction to the ultimatum this referendum has represented from the beginning. It is a reaction against the coalition of good conscience, to divine Europe, and to the pretensions of universality and the infallibility of a position (yes) that its supporters did not imagine would ever be challenged. This no is not a no to Europe, but a no to the unquestionable yes.
No one can stand the arrogance of a victory which has been declared in advance – whatever reasons are given (in this case for a Europe that is merely virtual). The outcome of the vote has been decided in advance and all that is sought is public consensus. Yes to the yes. Behind this banal formulation rests a terrible mystification. The yes itself is no longer really a yes to Europe, or yes to Chirac, or yes to the liberal order. It has become yes to the yes, to the consensual order, and it is no longer the answer to a question – but the essence of a question.
What is being put to the test is Europositivity. The unconditional yes has generated an equally unconditional no – a reaction against pride and assumed consensus. It is a great mystery why there has not been an even stronger reaction in support of the no against yes-ification [oui-trification]. The reflex to support the no does not have to be politically aware: it is simply a backlash against those who presume to usher in the universal Good while consigning their opponents to the darkness of history. What the forces of the yes failed to anticipate were the perverse effects of what they understood as the Good – a kind of unconscious understanding that allows one to know that those who say they are right are not. Since Maastricht and April 22, the forces of political correctness on the left and on the right have not wanted to know about this silent dissent.
This no, which comes from the depths, should not be understood as a work of negation or of critical thought. It is simply the response of defiance against a hegemonic principle descending indifferently from a great height for the consent of the people. Virtual Europe – this carbon copy of world power – must be protected at all costs from the masses whose role is to serve as an alibi for the project. Those in power have good reason to be suspicious of referenda and any kind of true expression of political will which, in the true context of representation, might turn against them. And so Parliaments are left to validate the process and make Europe quietly.
But we are well accustomed to this misappropriation of public opinion and political will. It is only a short time since the War in Iraq took place led by an international coalition of power against the massively and spectacularly expressed will of all the peoples. Today this serves as the model for building Europe. It is surprising that the no camp has not made more of this complete distain for popular will of the people.
All of this goes well beyond the current referendum episode and it reveals the bankruptcy of the very principle of representation as representative institutions no longer function in a democratic manner – of people confronting power – now they operate in exactly the opposite manner – by fake consultation and the trick of a question and answer charade where the yes answers only to itself.
At the heart of the political then rests the breakdown of democracy. If the electoral system, already riddled with non-voters, is to be rescued at all cost (even before answering yes, the categorical imperative is to vote), it is by functioning as the reverse of true representation – as imposed decisions taken in the name of the people (even if secretly the people think otherwise).
Like a world power, Europe grows by annexations. Behind the abreaction to the yes the no represents a refusal of this kind of Europe which forebodes more than the mere intrusion of supranational institutions and global market forces: the liquidation of true representation, leaving to the people only the figurative role of extras – saying yes to foregone conclusions. As for the outcome of this referendum, there remains some suspense.
Given that the insolent hegemony of the yes has led to a resurgence of the no – one may expect that the recent outburst of the yes campaign will lead to a further strengthening of the no. But can this no, which surfaces from the depths of the silent majority hold against the intoxication of the yes? It is a good bet that we will return to rule by consensus under the spiritual authority of those in power.
No matter what the outcome, caught between the yes and the no, the binary 0 and 1 of calculation, this is but one episode on a more serious outcome: the end of collective sovereignty. Already we can see the formation of something other than the passive or manipulated citizen with the new image of the hostage-citizen, of a citizenry hijacked by those in power. Such hostage taking has become the very form of terrorism today – a democratic form of state terrorism.
The original French version of this article appeared as “L’Europe Divine” in Liberation on May 17, 2005 – two weeks prior to the French Referendum on the EU Constitution. Two other English translations of this article are available on the Internet: See: Ctheory.net http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=477 (translated by François Debrix); New Left Review 33, May – June 2005.