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Language and Symbolic Power, Bourdieu, P., 1991
On power and the mechanisms for ensuring the legitimacy of one’s own voice

“The first procedure the minister may employ is the one which consists in making himself appear necessary. […] What Nietzsche is suggesting is that in order to consecrate himself as a necessary interpreter, the intermediary must produce the need for his own product. And in order to do that, he must produce the difficulty that he alone will be able to solve. The delegate thus performs -  to quote Nietzsche again – a ‘transformation of himself into something holy’. To enable his necessity to be fully felt, the delegate thus resorts to the strategy of ‘impersonal duty’. ‘Nothing works more profound ruin than any “impersonal” duty, any sacrifice to the Moloch of abstraction. The delegate is the one who assigns sacred tasks to himself. ‘If one considers that the philosopher is, in virtually all nations, only further development of the priestly type, one is no longer surprised to discover this heirloom of the priest, self-deceptive fraudulence. If one has sacred tasks, for example that of improving, saving, redeeming mankind … one is already sanctified by such task. 

These priestly strategies are all based on bad faith, in the Sartrean sense of the term: lying to oneself, that ‘sacred lie’ by which the priest decides the value of things by declaring that things are good absolutely when they are good for him: the priest, says Nietzsche, is the one who ‘calls his own will God’. (The same could be said of the politician when he calls his own will ‘people’, ‘opinion’ or ‘nation’.)  To quote Nietzsche again: ‘The “law”, the “will of God”, the “sacred book, “inspiration” – all merely words for the conditions under which the priest comes to power, by which he maintains his power – these concepts are to be found at the basis of all priestly organizations, all priestly or all priestly-philosophical power structures. What Nietzsche means is that the delegates base universal values on themselves, appropriate values, ‘requisition morality’, and thus monopolize the notions of God, Truth, Wisdom, People, Message, Freedom, etc. They make them synonyms. What of? Of themselves. ‘ I am the Truth.’ They turn themselves into the sacred, the consecrate themselves and thereby draw a boundary between themselves and ordinary people. They thus become, as Nietzsche says, ‘the measure of all things’. 

It is in what I would call the oracle effect, thanks to which the spokesperson gives voice to the group in whose name he speaks, thereby speaking with all the authority of that elusive, absent phenomenon, that the function of priestly humility can be seen: it is in abolishing himself completely in favour of God or the People that the priest turns himself into God or the People. It is when I become Nothing – and because I am capable of becoming Nothing, of abolishing myself, of sacrificing myself, of dedicating myself 0 that I become Everything. I am nothing but the delegate of God or the People, but that in whose name I speak is everything, and on this account I am everything. The oracle effect is a veritable splitting of personality: the individual personality, the ego, abolishes itself in favour of a transcendent moral person (‘I give myself to France’). The condition of access to the priesthood is a veritable mentanoia, a conversion. The ordinary individual must die in order for the moral person to come into being: die and become an institution (that is the effect of the rites of institution). Paradoxically, those who have made themselves nothing in order to become everything can invert the terms of the relation and reproach those who are merely themselves, who speak only for themselves, with being nothing either de fact or de jure (because they are incapable of dedication, etc.). The right of reprimanding other people and making them feel guilty is one of the advantages enjoyed by the militant.

In short, the oracle effect is one of those phenomena that we delude ourselves too quickly into thinking that we have understood (we have all heard of Delphi, of priests who interpret oracular discourse), and hence we cannot recognize this effect in the set of situations in which someone speaks in the name of something which he brings into existence by his very discourse. A whole series of symbolic effects that are exercised every day in politics rest on this sort of usurpatory ventriloquism, which consists in giving voice to those whose name one is authorize to speak. It happens very rarely that, when a politician says ‘the people, the working classes, the working masses, etc.’, he does not thereby produce the oracle effect, in other words, the trick which consists in producing both the message and the interpretation of the message, in creating the belief that ‘je est un autre’, that the spokesperson, a simple symbolic substitute of the people, is really the people in the sense that everything he says is the truth and life of the people.” (Language and Symbolic Power, Bourdieu, P., 1991)

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