Divine Europe

Jean Baudrillard

Translated by François Debrix

First published in the French newspaper Libération on May 17, 2005 under the title "L'Europe divine." This article appeared 10 days before the French referendum on the EU constitution.

It's a done deal, no matter what. Even if the "no" wins, they will make us vote over and over again until the "yes" can finally prevail, as they did in Denmark and Ireland (so, we might as well vote "yes" right away...).

But this gives us the freedom to interrogate the surge of the "no" that took place back in April and to ask about the reasons for this silent but tenacious dissension. For this was an event in itself. The return of the "yes" later was only the mark of an inexorable normalization. Only the "no" remains a mystery. This "no" is certainly not the one pronounced by its official supporters, since their political arguments are as inconsistent as those advanced by the supporters of the "yes" vote. In any case, a politically inspired "no" would never have been able to set the opinion polls on fire, and it is precisely this political "no" that slowly seems to be receding under the pressure of the return of the "yes."

The most interesting thing, the only enthralling thing in this trompe l'oeil referendum is the "no" that hides itself behind the official "no," the "no" that is beyond political reason. It is this particular "no" that marks a resistance. And there must be something quite dangerous about it that can explain why all the energies and powers mobilized for the defense of the "yes" have to rally against it. Such a panic conjuration is really the sign that there's a dead body inside the closet.

The "no" is of course an automatic and immediate reaction to the ultimatum that has been the rallying call of this referendum from the moment it was announced. It is a reaction to the coalition of good conscience, to divine Europe, to a Europe that aims toward universality and toward an undefeatable obviousness. It is a reaction to the categorical imperative of the "yes," a "yes" whose supporters never stopped to think for an instant whether it could be taken as a challenge and thus be opposed. We are not dealing with a "no" to Europe, but with a "no" to the "yes" and to its insurmountable obviousness.

Nobody can stand the arrogance of a victory that has already been guaranteed, no matter what the reasons for this guarantee are (reasons which, in the case of Europe, are nothing but virtual anyway). The game has already been played, and what is sought after is only a consensual agreement on the result. Yes to the "yes": a terrible mystification is covered by this banal formulation. The "yes" itself is no longer really a "yes" to Europe, to Chirac, or even to the liberal order. It is a "yes" to the "yes," a "yes" to consensual ordering. This "yes" is no longer an answer but the very substance of the question.

What we are made to experience is thus a true test of "europositivity." This unconditional "yes" spontaneously generates an equally unconditional "no," as a reaction of pride, but also as an autoimmune response. As far as I am concerned, I would say that the real surprise is that there has not been a more violent and massive reaction in favor of the "no" and against this "yes-trification."[1]

This reaction or reflex does not even need to possess a political consciousness: it is merely an automatic backlash against the coalition of all those who are on the side of universality (while the rest have been sent back to History's dark times [2]). But where the forces of the "yes" and of the Good went wrong is on the matter of the perverse effects of what they postulated to be the superiority of the Good. They did not recognize there a sort of unconscious lucidity that always tells us to never give reason to those who already claim to master it.[3] Already with the Maastricht treaty and on April 22 the politically correct forces -- from the right and the left -- made it a point to ignore this silent dissidence.

The deep "no" is not at all the result of a "work of negativity" or of some critical thought. It is a response that takes the form of a simple challenge against a hegemonic principle from above according to which the will of the people is merely to be treated as an indifferent parameter, or perhaps as an obstacle that can be overcome. For such a Europe conceived as a simulation but which nonetheless must be protected at all cost in reality (and to which, in this fashion, everyone must adapt), for this virtual Europe, for this carbon copy of world power, it is obvious that people are nothing more than a maneuverable mass [4] that, whether they like it or not, must be made to adhere to the overall project so that the project itself can have an alibi. And those in power have good reasons to be suspicious of all forms of referendum and all sorts of direct expression of political will that, in the context of a true mode of representation, could turn against them. Thus, in most cases, it will be left to parliaments to validate the process and to softly and underhandedly ensure the making of Europe.[5]

But we are well accustomed to this diversion of public opinion and political will. Not so long ago, the war in Iraq took place because of an international coalition of powers that went against the massively and spectacularly expressed will of all the peoples. Europe is constructing itself exactly on the basis of the same model. I am surprised that the supporters of the "no" have not yet used this blatant example, this first major case of total disdain for popular preferences.

All that goes well beyond the issue of the referendum. What this all reveals is the bankruptcy of the very idea of representation. Representative institutions no longer function in a "democratic" fashion, that is to say, from the people and the citizens down to those in power, but, instead, they operate exactly in the opposite way, from political power all the way down, often relying on the trap of democratic consultation or on the circular trick of an answer/question game (where the question can only answer "yes" to itself).

We are thus witnessing the bankruptcy of democracy at the very heart of the political. And, if an electoral system, already riddled with abstention, must be rescued at all costs (since, even before answering "yes," the categorical imperative is to vote no matter what), it is because it functions today in the opposite way of true representation, as a forced induction of decisions taken "in the name of the people" (even if secretly the people think otherwise).

Behind this immediate abreaction to Europe's "single thought" embodied in the "yes," behind the liberal thought of a Europe that, unable to create new rules of the game, has no choice but to expand and get bigger by means of new annexations (following the model of a world power), we find the "no" we have been talking about. In this "no" and in its refusal of this kind of Europe, we encounter the foreboding feeling that a selling off is taking place, one that is, however, far more serious than the one that resulted from the global takeover by the market or by supranational institutions. Here, the feeling is that of the selling off of any true representation, with the consequence that people will definitely be granted figurative roles only, even if from time to time a formal acceptance will be asked of them.

As for the final result, there is still a bit of suspense. If it is likely that the insolent hegemony of the "yes" was responsible for the surging revulsion of the "no," the recent outburst in the campaign in favor of the "yes" vote should logically result in a strengthening of the "no." But it may also be that this "no" that surfaces from the depths of what we called the silent majorities once cannot resist the massive intoxication of the "yes." One can bet that we are about to return to a consensual mode of regulation placed under the spiritual control of those in power.

No matter what the result is, stuck between a "yes" and a "no" vote that is similar to the 0-1 binary of numerical calculations, this referendum is rather an unremarkable event.[6] Even Europe is an unremarkable event on the way to a more serious outcome, that of the disappearance of collective sovereignty. And we can start to see the formation of a typology other than that of the passive or even manipulated citizen with now the image of the hostage-citizen, of the citizen hijacked by those in power. Hostage taking has become the very form of terrorism today, a democratic form of state terrorism.


[1] This is a rather infelicitous and inelegant translation of Baudrillard's neologism/play on word "oui-trification."

[2] "Les ténèbres de l'Histoire" in French.

[3] "Il ne faut jamais donner raison à ceux qui l'ont déjà" in French.

[4] "Masse de manoeuvre" in French.

[5] "De blanchir l'opération et d'avaliser l'Europe en douce" in French.

[6] My translation of the word "péripetie" in this context (translator's note).

Jean Baudrillard is an internationally acclaimed theorist whose writings trace the rise and fall of symbollic exchange in the contemporary century. In addition to a wide range of highly influential books from Seduction to Symbollic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard's most recent publications include: The Vital Illusion, The Spirit of Terrorism, The Singular Objects of Architecture, Passwords, The Conspiracy of Art: Manifestos, Texts, Interviews (September 2005) and The Intelligence of Evil or the Lucidity Pact (November 2005). He is a member of the editorial board of CTheory.

François Debrix is Associate Professor of International Relations Theory at Florida International University in Miami, FL. He is currently working on a new book that explores the politics of fear and tabloid representation in contemporary geopolitical culture.