Suffrage as Nihilism: Voting is Dead

I’ve seen and heard an election dogma that can only be described as pure, unadulterated nihilism. A complete void of being. It goes as follows: “it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the only important thing is that you vote.” Another version plays with words a bit: “the only wrong choice is not to vote.”

How clever!

The implication is clear: who or what gets elected isn’t important; the only thing that has importance is that someone, anyone, gets elected. It may not even matter that anyone or anything gets elected at all, the only essential thing is that people show up to vote, come what may. We just need to look good on the surface — like white-washed tombs.

Why is suffrage the only thing that matters? When did it become an end in itself? It could be the case, if we take these claims seriously, that modern liberal democracy — or call it whatever you want, you get the point — has finally realized its heartless, empty core and is now willing to confess to a zombie public that can hardly stay awake to understand the confession anymore.

If the only thing that matters about voting is voting, no matter what the outcome, then voting has no direction, no telos, no being in-itself. Nothing. No thing.

Voting is dead.

Suffrage — the practical political muscle behind modern democracy — is no longer just a shallow projection of our romantic longings for free will and self-governance and other impossible pipe-dreams. Suffrage is now aware of its own emptiness and is willing to admit to being a ritual where nothing matters. The gods do not eat the offerings, they are idols. The only fragile thing holding us together is that we continue to bring our sacrifice, mindlessly, regardless of the god or the sacrifice.

There is nothing. Nothing but nothing. Or, as Slavoj Zizek suggests: less than nothing. Vote for nothing: vote to vote to vote to vote to vote to vote…

Therefore, now more than ever, it absolutely important that we vote. Don’t forget to remember to vote. Burn it into your memory, like a cigarette smolders into your soft arm-flesh. Otherwise, nihilism will vanish into itself. And we would not want that to happen. We might lose our indoor plumbing. And shopping, too. And Disneyland, what about that!

Again, with feeling: don’t forget to vote — modernity itself depends on it. Like the Kings of yesteryear depended on their subject’s unqualified obedience, so too today: by not voting we risk revealing the dark, apophatic reality of the divine right of democracies: it doesn’t exist.

(Read the follow-up: Abstention is Still a Choice: The Power of Negative Voting)

  • Recovering Scientist

    Point mostly taken, but I think you’re just slightly off the mark. Could it be that by voting, we have a populace that is invested in Democracy–which is good? Isn’t it better that people vote and accept the peaceful democratic process rather than losers violently revolt? If you answer yes, then it *is* important to vote because you tacitly accept democracy.

    Of course, then the issue is that Democracy is made the supreme good. Still bad, but not nihilism per se.

    • srocha

      No sir. The implicit point is that this propaganda is true. I read it as democracy’s last gasp, admitting to it’s nihilistic non-being. Democracy’s divine right is what I am trying to expose as nothing.

      • Recovering Scientist

        But is living free of from fear that there might be a political revolution strictly nothing? That seems like a pretty substantial thing to me…

        • srocha

          Yes. That is, strictly speaking, nothing. Fear of suffering and death is deeply nihilistic and perhaps the greatest anti-accomplishment of modernity.

          • Recovering Scientist

            Ah… so you’re basically doing the Augustinian thing of treating “nothing” and “bad” as the same thing… fair enough; I can accept that.

          • Recovering Scientist

            Actually, I rescind my “fair enough” because doing so robs the word ‘nihilism’ of any meaning whatsoever.

          • The Pachyderminator

            Fear of suffering and death is bad, but that doesn’t mean every course of action that prevents suffering and death is bad. Dismissing all efforts to sustain a stable government as nihilistic is reactionary, not reasonable – simply a mad rush to the opposite extreme, like the drunk horseback rider Luther spoke of.

            Also, there’s something unsavory about people who have never experienced revolution making grand speeches about suffering and death. It seems likely that if any of us had actually lived in a society where we couldn’t count on power being transferred peacefully – i.e., if any of us had any experience of what we’re actually talking about when we talk about whether voting is worthwhile – we would be having a very different conversation.

          • srocha

            Is this a comment or a meta-comment?

          • The Pachyderminator

            It’s a comment on your defense of your position, because the defense seems to me less defensible than the position itself. Which is beside the point.

          • srocha

            That’s what I thought. Read those secondary comments theologically and spiritually, not politically, and they will make sense without being too outrageous.

        • Ted Seeber

          Living free from fear is only the cowardly avoidance of the necessary- it eventually catches up with you.

  • CD

    I would like to understand this post better. Are you saying that people have set Democracy as an end in itself, without consideration for the kind of society it produces? Or are you saying that there was never any democratic right of the peoples in the first place? Thank you.

    • srocha

      Thanks, CD. A mix of both. I am arguing that democracy (vis-a-vis voting) cannot be an end in itself and, insofar as it is (and has always been to some extent), it is not under divine right. The two are simply restatements of the single fact the democracy is not exceptional in any theological or ontological way.

  • Mark E. Smith

    The United States has never had either a democracy or a republic. The Constitution gave us a plutocracy, rule by the rich. You might be interested in a talk I gave at the San Diego Public Library on Thursday, the 25th, about two essays, “The Counterrevolutionary Constitution,” and “You’ve Got to Stop Voting,” from my book, “Consent to Tyranny: Voting in the USA.” Here’s a link to the transcript:

    I agree with Sam Rocha that even if we had a democracy, democracy has no divine rights, and tyranny most certainly does not.

    Sam, may I have your permission to repost your essay on my small, totally noncommercial website please? It would be posted intact, unedited, with proper accreditation, the Patheos copyright prominently displayed, and with an active hyperlink back to the source here.

    • srocha

      Thanks for asking (and commenting), Mark. Yes, by all means: use it as you wish.

      • Mark E. Smith

        Thank you, Sam. Your totally brilliant piece is now reposted here:

        This year, for the first time, I’ve noticed an unusual phenomenon. I live in a senior building and every election up until now, most of my neighbors have been dutiful voters. This year, with more than $5 billion already having been spent to get out the vote, my neighbors are expressing disgust with the whole thing and finding the constant media ads, phone calls, and mailers annoying. We’re a security building and because many residents have serious health or mobility problems the management does not allow canvassers to go door to door. One gentleman, a stalwart Republican, was told by the security guard that some Republican canvassers had his name on a list and had wished to visit him, but that management had not allowed them to go upstairs. His reply was, “Thank you. You did the right thing.”

        • srocha

          Easy now, Mark. If you falsely accuse me of brilliance again I’ll have to censor you.

    • Ted Seeber

      I’d point out that in this, it’s no different than the Republic of Athens, the Republic of Rome, the Republic of Mongolia, the Republic of France, or even the United Kingdoms.

      In other words, I’ve never seen any Republic that wasn’t a Plutocracy formed expressly to protect the property rights of the Plutocrats.

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  • Ted Seeber

    Voting is only dead because the Empire itself is dying.

    Somehow, I imagine that could easily be a translation from Egyptian, Greek, Latin, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, Mongolian, Persian, French, Spanish, German, or even late 19th century English.

    It is true that the end of Empire is prefigured by Democracy Ruined by the Rise of Special Interests- especially those with a lot of money. Has been for over 3000 years. I don’t suspect the American Empire will end any differently at all.

  • Bob

    Do you really think Democracy is aware of its nothingness?

    How could people exert so much energy in knowlingly promoting nothing?

    Do you think that maybe instead the “just vote. I don’t care who for” mantra stems more from the modern desire not to offend, not to impose our views on others?

    • srocha

      I think the non-offensive stuff is a big part of it. By “aware” I guess I am trying to say that ideological emptiness is now speaking, projecting itself quite plainly through truism and cliches like these ones. In that sense Democracy is telling us how void it is — but we are so drunk of it, we can’t make out it’s message, a message we’re largely sharing on it’s behalf.

  • Frank

    Sam, if you’re speaking to the Christo-fascist detritus left in the RCC after more than a decade of Axis Catholicism, by all means dissuade them from voting.

    • srocha

      Frank, if you’re speaking English, by all means, please use words in a way I can make sense of.

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