The Dangers to the Multitude

Last week the functionaries of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) assigned themselves a very generous compensation for the arduous work they did during this electoral year. The total prize of 404,000 pesos (approximately 40,000 USD), which should be added to a monthly salary of 161,000 pesos (approximately16,000 USD) for each functionary (the head council of the IFE receives more than that). Perhaps with the help of these emollients the functionaries of the IFE can now explain to us the manipulation of the PREP (the IFE’s system for electronic preliminary results) and all the other irregularities of the 2006 elections.

But the highlight is not in these functionaries’ exorbitantly high salaries in and of themselves; rather, it is in the political and moral erosion that these imply. Since its birth the IFE was driven by the absurd notion that its functionaries should earn extremely high salaries. What was the justification for such a notion? The answer to this question was never made explicit but it flowed like a river during rainy season nonetheless: this way the functionaries of the IFE would not be bought and we would have a clean election.

In reality, things can work exactly the reverse. The astronomical salaries of the IFE officials can be a perverse incentive for corruption. With these salaries there now exists a long line of would-be officials willing to do anything to occupy this position. With awards this big the last thing an IFE official wants is to lose his job. For this reason it is not that hair-brained to think that the logic of astronomical salaries is in fact the preamble to corruption. So that no one can buy you, you make sure to sell yourself first. The anachronistic vision of the “democratic” institutions crystallized in the instruments of Power is the enemy of democratic reason. Why couldn’t there have been an electoral institute truly under citizen control and without monumental remuneration for its functionaries? This reveals one of the dangers of the technological conceptions of democracy, in which the multitude is nothing and the electoral moment is everything.

However, this is not the principal danger to the multitude. The worst corruption is that which liquidated civic life and annulled the moral of the public “thing.” That is why what is at stake today is nothing less than the reconstitution of the republic. Yes, of course, in the short term there is the issue of the vote recount. But the demands of the multitude go far beyond this immediate step.

In order to understand this it is important to reread the Treatises by Spinoza on democracy. We are referring here to the most radical and brilliant political thinker on this very topic. His definition of democracy weighs today more than ever on the multitude: Omnino Absolutum Imperium. Democracy is the absolute empire of all. But take note, the term “absolute” refers to that which is eternal, and not to that ideological entelechy* of absolute Power.

Democracy is not a form of government analogous in its essence to other forms of organizing the political. It is the space internal to which all forms of political structure must earn its sense. Or, in the words of Antonio Negri, democracy is no longer defined merely as one of the possible forms of government, but much more radically as the schema of legitimation of all possible forms of the political organization of the social.

Spinoza’s position is contrary to the technical efficacy of the contractarians, from Hobbes to Locke. It is also the antithesis of that political economic project that wishes to cement the social order through the mechanisms of the “invisible hand” (that tradition founded by Smith). In his Political Theological Treatises Spinoza writes:

“From the principles of the State it follows that its ultimate purpose is not to dominate men nor to subject them through fear to the rule of another, but on the contrary to free them all from fear so that he may best preserve his own natural right to exist and to act without harm to himself or others. It is not the purpose of the State to transform men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but rather, to enable them to develop their mental and physical capacities in safety, to use their reason without restraint and to refrain from the strife and the vicious mutual abuse that are prompted by hatred, anger and deceit. Thus the purpose of the State is, in reality, freedom.”

In order to rescue this vision it is absolutely necessary to recognize the dangers that surround the multitude. Today in Mexico those dangers exist on at least three levels. First, is the risk of corruption of political life and the evacuation of public space. This danger leads to the distortion of democracy, which is then reduced to a mere ideological instance and an electoral moment. The second danger lies in the risk of violence and manipulation. The multitude must act intelligently and be able to teach the path of its pacifist nature (never to be confused with passive). The multitude is not scared, but it also does not suffer from the arrogance of Power. Finally, the third danger, perhaps the most serious, is to lose itself in the immeasurability of its quantity. This path can lead it to a certain “pragmatism” and back to a technological reason. The multitude is one and it does not have to be gathered in a plaza to feel its power. When the multitude loses its way the Power of domination thrives.

*Note: Entelechy is used by Aristotle to refer to the condition of a thing whose essence is already fully realized.

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