The Divided Voter

Ni hao, haterzz.

There’s an article in El País today from superstar philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek, who is writing about the fallout from the Irish referendum and what it means for Europe. It is a translation. I don’t know what language Zizek originally wrote the piece in, and I don’t know from which language it has been translated to render it into Spanish, but I have translated an excerpt into English, in my rather rough and ready style, because I thought it was worth bringing to your attention, what with its exploration of what it means when party politics cannot express the viewpoint of the people.

The Irish No is a repetition of the 2005 French and Dutch No to the European Constitution project. Many interpretations have been offered on the Irish vote, some of these even contradictory: it was an explosion of narrow nationalism and of fear of globalization, incarnated in the United States; The United States is behind the No because it fears the competition of a united Europe and it prefers to deal bilaterally with weak partners…However, these ad hoc interpretations do not take into account something more important: this new rejection means that we are not faced with an accident, a simple slip, but with a dissatisfaction at the back, which has been around for years.

Now, three weeks later, we can see where the real problem is: a lot more worrying than the No itself is the reaction of the European political elite. It has learned nothing from the 2005 No, it has discovered nothing. In a meeting of EU leaders held 19th June in Brussels, after mentioning, to keep up appearances, the obligation to ‘respect’ the decisions of the voters, they quickly proceeded to show their true face and talk of the Irish government as though it were a poor primary school teacher who was unable neither to control nor to educate his backward students. They said they would give it another chance: four more months so that it would correct its error and bring the voters back into line.

The Irish voters had not been presented with a symmetrical choice, because the very terms of the referendum gave preference to a Yes. The authorities proposed to the people an option which, in practice, was nothing of the sort, since it consisted of ratifying the inevitable, which was the result of enlightened experience. The media and the political elite portrayed the referendum as a choice between knowledge and ignorance, between experience and ideology, between post-political administration and old political passions. However, the very fact that there was no alternative and coherent political vision that could serve as a basis for the No vote constitutes the greatest possible damnation for the political and media elite: proof of their inability to express, to translate into a political vision, the yearnings and dissatisfactions of the population.

In other words, this referendum had something rather peculiar: its result was simultaneously the expected one and a surprise, as though one knows what’s going to happen but, somehow, can’t believe that it’s happening. This discrepancy reflects far more dangerous division among the voters: the majority (of the minority who bothered going out to vote) went against the treaty despite the fact that all the parliamentary parties (with the exception of Sinn Fein) were decidedly in favour.

The same is happening in other countries, like in the neighbouring UK, where, just before winning the last election, Tony Blair was chosen by a large majority as the most hated man in the country. This divergence between the explicit political choice that the voter makes and his intimate dissatisfaction ought to sound the alarm bells: it means that party democracy is unable to capture the mood of the people, the fact that a vague resentment is building up which, without due democratic expression, can only flow out in dark “irrational” bursts. When referendums transmit a message that directly contradict the message of the elections, we are dealing with a divided voter, who, for example (thinks that he) knows very well that Tony Blair’s policies are the only reasonable ones but, even so.. (he can’t abide him.

It’ll probably come out in English soon, but allow me the dubious illicit pleasure of feeling like that French kid who translated Harry Potter.

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