FIGAROVOX/STAND – In a video unearthed on social networks, the journalist claimed to be in favor of introducing a “voting permit”. If this proposition is questionable, Aymeric Caron’s reflection articulates the eternal question of the link between knowledge and power, argues normalizer Nathan Devers.
Nathan Devers is a normalien, agrégé in philosophy, author of smoking area (Grasset, 2021).
In his famous speech in Bordeaux in 1871, Gambetta returned to a curious paradox of which the history of France has a secret: when the Republic had just been restored, the first parliamentary elections granted a majority to the monarchist candidates. How can the vote be the organ of anti-democracy? Baffled by such a contradiction and convinced that the relationship with knowledge was at stake, Gambetta then launched a chorus that would take over the next few decades: “We have only one job, to educate the people.”
More recently, a video has surfaced on social networks: a television archive, dating from 2017, in which the journalist Aymeric Caron (candidate in the parliamentary elections in the 18th arrondissement of Paris under the colors of the “New People’s Union”) affirms, in a television program, for the establishment of a “voting rights”causing it to occur “Uneducated and Irresponsible Citizens” (the quote is from Anne-Elisabeth Lemoine) to be able to express herself at the ballot box. As per Twitter’s habit, it was enough to spark a lively controversy – albeit sparked by the context of the parliamentary elections. My first reaction, when faced with such a series, was astonishment: it is so rare to hear essayists in France calling for a restriction on voting rights! After this surprise, I thought it necessary to go back to the source of this controversy. For while Aymeric Caron’s idea is questionable in many ways, the fact remains that in defending it the political problem he raises is indeed real.
First of all, let’s remember that this proposal by Aymeric Caron is old and has nothing to do with his possible candidacy. It is formulated in his essay Utopia XXI which, as the title indicates, does not consist of a political program, but aims to rehabilitate a specific literary genre: utopia, that is, the fresco of a society without place, and therefore impossible to happen concretely, but whose model can be serve as an ideal throughout history. In a section entitled ‘Utopian proposals’, Aymeric Caron puts forward several arguments for the license to vote. He rejects the prospect of compulsory voting, which he sees as anti-democratic (as it conflicts with individual freedoms) and counterproductive (in his view it would encourage involuntary voters to vote arbitrarily), but believes, on the contrary, that the challenge is to improve the quality of the public promote debate, which means inverting our traditional perception of the Republic:The advocates of compulsory voting, he is writing, his mistake“. It’s the exact opposite that should happen. Some people should be prevented from voting.
Who would be the citizens who are not worthy to vote? Those who would vote “contempt”, that is, on a subject they would not know the stakes of. Prenons l’exemple d’un référendum qui porterait sur l’Europe: si je décide de me rendre à l’isoloir (quel que soit le contenu de mon bulletin) sans être informé du fonctionnement des institutions européennes, quelle sera la valeur de mon the opinion ? Wouldn’t it undermine the “quality” of citizen speech, Aymeric Caron asks, and as such, would it not be evidence of a shift from “democracy” to “idiocracy”?
The presupposition of this thesis is to see voting not as a freedom inherent in everyone, but as a responsibility.
To mitigate this risk, and noting that there are: de facto limited in France to the right to vote (including for minors), Aymeric Caron proposes to institute an exam responsible for verifying the “general political knowledge” voters about the country’s institutions, the history of ideas and political parties, as well as essential information in every major area (economy, agriculture, defense, environment, etc.). This procedure, coupled with a test that is renewed at each election, to verify that individuals are aware of the candidates’ program, would, according to the author ofUtopia XXIto vote consciously.
The presupposition of this thesis is to see voting not as a freedom inherent in everyone, but as a responsibility, that is, as an act which, dissatisfied with involving citizens in their being, can have harmful consequences – such as, in short, driving a car. What Aymeric Caron expresses is the view that democracy can be threatened from within: through ignorance, false debates, sophisms and misinformation.
The idea of a voting permit naturally encounters several objections. First of all, we note that it conflicts with the character inalienable of the right to vote. Not that the latter is absolutely universal (it is not open to children), nor that it cannot be revoked (one can lose one’s civil rights), but it is based on nothing but itself: having the right to express oneself in the city, it suffices to be a citizen – and vice versa. Participation in the general will, in short, cannot be conditioned without the very idea that politics suffers.
By criticizing voters who vote “in ignorance of the facts”, Aymeric Caron seems to think it is possible to vote deliberately.
More generally, Aymeric Caron’s reflection articulates, in new terms, the eternal question of the relationship between knowledge and power—of how the structures of knowledge always ultimately reverberate from the structures of control. Of the complex process, analyzed by Michel Foucault, that in a society transforms the norms of truth into principles of legitimation and then into political effects. Of the troubled and ambiguous relationship that scholars and the rest of the people cultivate together. By criticizing voters who vote “subconscious”“Aymeric Caron seems to think that conscious voting is possible. But what would be the criterion of such validity? In the context of global elections such as the presidential election, does every citizen decide not only on the basis of his own skills, but above all on the issues he projects in his ballot paper? Without even starting from personal interests sublimated by the ballot box, some will vote mainly on purchasing power; the other related to the energy, tax, agriculture, education program; still others will think of the suitors’ individual qualities, their eloquence, their capacity for embodiment, even their physical beauty–and so on, until a formidable republican cacophony is formed. The confusion of the public debate that Aymeric Caron describes arises not so much from a knowledge problem as from a deeper misunderstanding: elections are moments when citizens give inexorable answers to the political questions they ask themselves. And how in a society to control the production of questions of general interest?
And above all, if it is necessary and even vital to civic education to citizens, can a republic rule out the realm of ignorance without denying itself? I leave the question open, not out of a penchant for indecisive conclusions, but because it will be the next few decades to answer them, for better or for worse for democracy.