Nobody Rules

Indiana Evening Gazette, Feb 21, 1940

It’s always frustrating to show up and vote here in CNY, because although the vast majority of voters are registered Democrats, without fail Republicans secure all the major offices. One of the reasons for that is poor voter turnout, but this year even with record turn out in an off-year election, Republicans still swept the ballots. But every year I show up, and vote against them. It would be great if anybody else were to win. Frequently, the Republicans run unopposed, but that was not the case this year. Ultimately, nobody wins when local politicians are primarily focused on maintaining the status quo. I was reminded of the first election I voted in, back in 1976. Nobody ran, but I voted for Jimmy Carter.

The last presidential election prompted the  resurrection of an antiquated term to describe our present form of government: kakistocracy (government by the worst). What reading Hannah Arendt lately has done for me is point out that there is, indeed, such a thing as rule by nobody. No, it isn’t anarchy or libertarianism (anarchy for rich people). Most people who like conveniences like roads and indoor plumbing (and have thought about it) recognize that some form of the modern state is not only necessary, but desirable.

Power, strength, force, authority, and violence are the core political definitions that Arendt begins from, the modes of rule.

In terms of our traditions of political thought, these definitions have much to recommend them. Not only do they derive from the old notion of absolute power that accompanied the rise of the sovereign European nation-state, whose earliest and still greatest spokesmen were Jean Bodin, in sixteenth-century France, and Thomas Hobbes, in seventeenth-century England; they also coincide with terms used since Greek antiquity to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man- of the one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, and of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy.

After this review, the key concept leaps of the page:

Today we ought to add the latest and most formidable form of such domination: bureaucracy or the rule by an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could properly be called rule by Nobody. (If, in accord with traditional political thought, we identify tyranny as government that is not held to give account for itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. (137)

Arendt identifies this as the primary reason for the political unrest sweeping the globe in the 1960s. It hardly matters if the bureaucracy is communist, capitalist, or socialist. If there is no responsibility taken, it is tyranny. The “Nobody for President” campaigns were primarily tongue in cheek, meant to drive voter registration and involvement in saying “no” to the status quo. The platform centers on having a “none of the above” option when choosing our leaders. But choosing tyranny seems the stupidest choice of all. Curtis Spangler, Nobody’s campaign manager, states it well:

There is one story I would like to share with you about the media and our 1976 arrival in Washington, D.C. They told us “if we wanted more or better coverage” _then_ “we would have to become more political”. We decided Nobody was an AKA (also known as) for “None of the Above” and should be included on the ballot. We figured if a majority of people voted for ‘None of the Above’ rather than “voting for the lesser of two evils”, it might force a situation where Americans would have to find someone competent to lead them. The media said, “Nobody could argue with that logic”.

Finally, to reiterate, the Campaign was not an endorsement of mass apathy. It was a humorous approach to the elections designed to encourage people to register and vote. (history)

I was happy to see so many Democratic candidates this year. However, without fail the campaigns centered on “vote against the Republicans,” and that simply wasn’t enough. I look forward to voting for somebody again next election.