Octave Mirbeau

Voters Strike




The French writer Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917) provides us with an amazingly clear analysis of that buffoonery known under the name of “national elections”. The incredible fact is that this ignoble imposture finds still practitioners in our days. That's why this text should be read and re-read attentively by those who are willing to come, finally, to their senses.

The translation from the the original French text has been only actualized with reference to American political figures and geographical localities.



One thing astonishes me, I would almost say stupefies me, namely, that in this scientific age of ours, after so many daily scandals and revelations, there can still exist in our dear America one voter, one single voter that irrational, inorganic, dreadful animal who allows his life to be disturbed, all his dreams and pleasures to be interrupted, merely to vote for someone or something.

When one reflects for a moment on the surprising phenomenon, does it not lead astray the finest philosophies, and even confound Reason itself? Where is there a good writer to give us the psychology of the modern voter? Where a neurologist to explain for us the anatomy and pathology of this incurable lunatic? We await them.

Oh, I understand that a salesman always finds suckers; that censorship finds it’s defenders, and musicals his fans; I understand that even daily papers that write rubbish find their subscribers, and the politicians journalists that exalt their capabilities. I understand all that. But that a councilman, a senator, or a president of any republic, it doesn't matter which, amongst all the strange clowns claiming whatever elective function, it doesn't matter which, should be able to dig up one voter, that undreamed-of being, that improbable martyr who will nourish you with his bread, dress you in his coat, fatten you on his flesh, enrich you with his purse, and all this, only in the hope of receiving in return for such prodigious generosity a smack on the head, a kick in the ass, or maybe a bullet in the belly, truly, this surpasses even the most pessimistic opinion I’ve held till now of human idiocy in general and American stupidity in particular, our own “dear” and immortal stupidity!

I speak of course of the believing voter, the convinced voter, the philosophical voter who imagines, poor thing, that he is acting as a free citizen, demonstrating his sovereignty, expressing his opinions, imposing political programs and - admirable disconcerting lunacy - righting social wrongs. I’m not talking about the voter who “knows the tune,” who takes the Mickey out of everything, who sees in the results of his “political sovereignty” nothing but a conservative joke o a liberal nonsense. For him the electoral sovereignty of the individual consists in filling his pockets by way of this charade known as Universal Suffrage. He’s looking after himself and doesn't give a damn about anyone else. He knows what he’s doing. But the others?

Yes, the others ! The serious ones, the austere ones, the sovereign people, those who feel a great inebriation seizing them as they contemplate themselves in the mirror and say: “I am the voter! Nothing can be done without me! I am the foundation of modern society. By my will the President and the Congress make laws which bind over 300 million people, the richest and the poorest alike.” Where are these fools being manufactured? How can they be so stubborn, so swollen headed, so paradoxical as not to have become long ago discouraged and embarrassed by their actions? How can one still find, somewhere from Maine to Oregon, from Texas to Montana, a person so stupid, so irrational, so blind to what he sees and deaf to what he hears every day, as to vote Blue, White, or Red without being forced, without being paid, without even a free drink or a free dose of dope?

What Baroque sentiment, what mysterious mesmeric suggestion does he obey, this thinking biped endowed with free will (at least this is what people say), proud of his “rights,” absolutely confident that he has done his duty by dropping some piece of paper inscribed with some name into some ballot box?... What can he possibly say to himself to justify or even explain such an extravagant act? What does he hope for? Because, finally, in order that he agree to surrender himself to these greedy bosses who will sponge off him and bludgeon him to a pulp, he must tell himself something and hope for something so extraordinary we can scarcely imagine. Somehow, by some potent cerebral lucubration, to him the idea of the Politician has come to stand for the idea of Science, of Justice, of Devotion, of Hard Work and Probity. In the very names of Obama, Biden, Pelosi, and, before them, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, he must have discovered some special magic and seen, as if through a mirage, flowering and blooming in a garden some promise of future happiness and instant gratification.

And that’s what’s really dreadful.
It seems that nothing teaches him a lesson, neither the most burlesque of comedies nor the most sinister of tragedies.

Why should it matter, whether it’s Peter or John who demands, “Your money or your life !” since he is obliged to lose in any case? Well! No. In the presence of different thieves and torturers he wants to express his preferences, to cast his vote for the most rapacious and ferocious of the lot.

He did vote yesterday, he will vote tomorrow; he will vote always. Sheep run to the slaughterhouse, silent and hopeless, but at least sheep never vote for the butcher who kills them or the humans who devour them. More beastly than any beast, more sheepish than any sheep, the voter names his own executioner and chooses his own devourer. He fought revolutions in order to get this “right”.


Good voter, unspeakable imbecile, poor dupe, if instead of reading the same old crap that the morning papers serve you up you every day (big papers, small papers, right wing or left wing papers, conservative or progressive papers) in order to manipulate you the way they want; if, instead of swallowing that flattery that caresses your vanity and props up your lamentable and tattered sovereignty; if instead of gawking, as an eternal idiot, at the heavy bullshit of politics, you were, for once, sitting in your armchair, reading the work of Schopenhauer and Max Nordau [for instance The Conventional Lies of Our Civilization, 1883], two authors who have meditated deeply about you as a voter and about your leaders, perhaps you might learn something amazing and useful. May be, after reading their works, you’ll feel less obligated to put on again your air of gravity, wear your coat and run back to those murderous polls where, no matter whose name you choose, you are sure of picking up the name of your worst enemy. They tell you, those two connoisseurs of humanity, that politics is an abominable lie, opposed to all common sense, justice and right, and that, by meddling in it, you will gain no credit, you, whose fate is already written in the grand account of human destiny.

After that, dream if you will of paradises of light and perfumes, of impossible brotherhood, of unreal happiness. It’s good to dream; it eases our pains. But keep politics out of your dream, for wherever politicians are found, there too are sadness, hatred, and misdeeds. Above all, remember that he who solicits your vote is, by that very fact, revealed as a scoundrel, since, in exchange for your advantage and fortune, he promises a cornucopia of miracles he’ll never deliver because he hasn’t the power to deliver them. The man you elect represents neither your problems, nor your aspirations, nor anything of yours, but rather his own passions and interests, which are all opposed to yours.

In order to warns you about cultivating hopes that will soon fade away, do not imagine that the sorry spectacle at which you assist today is peculiar to one regime, and that it will pass away. All regimes are worth the same, that is, they are all equally worthless. So go home, my good friend, and go on strike against general elections. You have nothing to lose, and, at least, this should keep you amused for a while. From behind your windows, in your home shut firmly against all beggars of political alms, you’ll watch the obscene trafficking in votes and electoral favours.

And even if there exist in some unknown corner of this land, some honest man capable of governing you and respect you, don’t regret your decision. He would be too jealous of his dignity to participate in the dirty game of politics, too proud to accept from you a mandate you accord only to the boldest cynic, to insults and lies.

Dear good friend, I repeat my invitation to you:



Le Figaro, 11/28/1888


[Home] [Top]