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Christian Nadeau, Philosophy professor at Université de Montréal September 1, 2012
Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/politique/elections-2012/358264/surmonter-le-4-septembre
Photo caption: Last spring, the strike called into question a social order in which politics belong solely to those elected. It is our duty from today onward to follow up on those commitments, writes Christian Nadeau. (Photo credit: Jacques Nadeau, Le Devoir)
On August 1, Quebec’s lieutenant governor general, Pierre Duchesne, signed the order that would dissolve the National Assembly and trigger Quebec’s 40th general elections. Since that day, it’s been as though the debate of ideas had been completely set aside in favour of partisan streamlining and of the daily trivial circumstances affecting politicians.
The very moment the elections were called, politics were reclaimed by political professionals. Since then, they have been completely monopolizing the news, which has had the effect of further distancing civil society from its representatives. But how can we explain such a public infatuation – for it has been “public” – for Caesars devoid of their Rubicon, whose close guard always comprises one or two Brutus?
What happened? How did we come to that? How could we have so quickly turned our backs to the formidable political momentum kindled by the student strike and the events of this past spring?
What continuation to the spring of 2012?
Apart from the political parties, we are all responsible for the deleterious climate of these elections. The fatigue and bitterness that inevitably follow a social movement of such a magnitude cannot excuse it fully, nor can our burdened schedules. We have preferred reassuming the comfortable position of spectator and, what’s more, just in order to witness a piece in which the players are seeking their author. Now more than ever, the population of Quebec is listening to its political professionals, whereas we should be experiencing the inverse scenario.
Naturally, we can hold those elected responsible for having betrayed our confidence. That does not mean that we do not realize their power. They are free to overstep their prerogatives if, and only if, we afford them the latitude to do so, if only because of our passivity. Moreover, our feelings of anger and frustration, whether they are expressed through the vote or through contestation in the streets, will not change the current state of affairs if we continue to shunt aside our obligations as citizens.
The end and the means
We all know it, there’s danger in the premises. I’m convinced that the defeat of the Liberal Party of Quebec is essential if we wish to avoid a complete and utter transformation of Quebec as we know it. However, no matter what the result of the vote is, we must think about the day after September 4.
To vote, or to denounce a policy, to be a militant for a party or a cause, these gestures have their importance, of there can be no doubt. But more fundamentally, to fight corruption requires an understanding of why it is perpetuated. To fight against inequalities requires an identification of the locus of where these are greatest.
What do Quebeckers know about housing issues? What do they know about the relationship between poverty and public health? How to favour literacy? Why and how to ensure the funding of social services?
The growing awareness of such problems requires a continuous process of civic education, which itself entails a constant exchange to avoid the blinders of dogma and of ideology. Conversely, the politics-as-spectacle of the past month curb an understanding of the fundamental problems that we should be facing head-on and divert our attention from the central issues at the benefit of secondary considerations.
Voting in the name of what?
I am not condemning here the electoral process itself, but that which we retain of it: an ambitious fight and a contest of questionable promises. Voting is a necessary act, more particularly at this moment, no matter how minute the influence of each individual’s vote. We must also know why it is that we are voting. In the name of what? What do we want exactly? What do we wish for the months and years to come?
Last spring, the strike called into question a social order in which politics belong solely to those elected. It is our duty from today onward to follow up on those commitments. It is our duty to pursue this civic dialog and uphold this meeting of citizens. The strike, the demonstrations, just like the elections, are merely tools of democratic deliberation. Without such tools, we would not be in a position to exercise our citizen duties of supervision and defiance, nor would we be able to make choices. These are merely a collection of means and are not ends in and of themselves.
A mere battle of wills?
I might be accused of defending an idealized vision of political life. For many, politics is simply a battle of wills. I’ve heard the same opinion, both to the left and to the right, from politicians and political commentators alike, and I’ve also heard it very often amongst student strike militants. Yet I cannot understand that a simple battle of wills is justified in and of itself.
In fact, I would like to admit that political exchange, whether it takes place in the streets, on the media or parliamentary stage, comes even closer to battle than to deliberation. But if the result of a social debate depends solely on a battle of wills, then we are consenting to might equalling right.
Let me not be misunderstood. This does not mean that might should be absent from all political relations. On the one hand, that would be asking the impossible, and on the other hand, it would reduce debate to disembodied beliefs. Indeed, the assertion of a commitment, the fact of clearly expressing one’s position, all this requires an effort in the face of impressive obstacles. This effort against adversity already contains a battle of wills. However, even though might sometimes comes along with a conviction, it should never be one in itself.
It is high time that this election period come to an end in order for us to finally talk about politics. It is time that we build vast public spaces of shared contemplation and that we might, no matter what our political allegiances, justify our choices with arguments, ones that will be evaluated all together, beyond rhetorical games and partisan conceits.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.