” … it is about that small but vital place where an organizing campaign or movement meets the public sphere.”Paul Kuttner, CulturalOrganizing.org
The Nihilist Democratic Party (NDP) was founded by a group of philosophy graduates and students who decided to run for public office on a nihilist platform. Fed up with the state of Danish politics, the students constructed an absurd political position, ironically claiming that the nihilism within religion and science had spread into the political sphere: “All Danes are nihilists. We have no values except our flat-screen TVs. Holding other values is considered religious extremism. The Nihilist Democratic Party, therefore, is the answer to the democratic deficit that we have witnessed up until now,” the party’s chairman and candidate for mayor of Copenhagen, Mads Vestergaard, explained in one of the NDP’s videos.
The party ran a full campaign in the 2009 local elections, promising such things as psychedelically painted subway tunnels (why should a subway ride be boring?), tax exemption on drugs and alcohol (the death rate stays at 100% anyway, so we might as well have some fun), and the production of a “cuteness canon” that would list all animals deemed cute enough for state-guaranteed protection and care — a reference to a heated debate about the government’s production of a “national culture canon” and to the fact that the extreme right wing in Denmark is obsessed with the needs of animals while comfortably ignoring those of immigrants.
The NDP’s platform ironically addressed a number of divisive issues. For example, it promoted an aggressive international security policy — not to defend Danish democracy, but to protect the Danes from people with “actual values” (such as Muslims). They were opposed to work per se as it aids the government in hiding “the metaphysical fact that life is pointless and completely void of meaning.” And they strongly opposed any set of cultural policies, considering culture and art an unwarranted escape from a meaningless existence. Only sports should be funded as they accurately represent the meaninglessness of life, one team or player fighting another for the sake of pointless scores.
The campaign provoked both delight and skepticism. Since the NDP always stayed in character and never admitted to being a hoax, some people, including noted intellectuals, criticized the project on its own terms. For most people, though, the party simply spiced up an otherwise predictable election period. On the popular talk show “Good morning Denmark,” the NDP won a poll based on the viewers’ text-messaged votes. Yet in the elections, NDP collected “only” around 4,500 votes (out of 2.8 million). Not enough to get into office — but enough to get into the spotlight. Thus, activists managed to deliver a critique of a political sphere riddled with empty pledges and spin much more effectively than had they been writing op-ed articles or otherwise made use of regular channels for citizens to present their views.
By officially forming a political party and running for elections—complete with banners, posters, flyers, a website, a Facebook page, public speeches, and several candidates in each key policy area—the NDP made it virtually impossible to ignore their candidacy. Because NDP candidates never broke character, voters were kept in a state of confusion. This provoked discussions about the soundness of the NDP’s arguments and positions. Indirectly, these discussions invited people to see the proper political parties in a new, critical light.
The NDP’s campaign was intended to galvanize opposition to the “empty promises, cleavage, and emotional porn” that permeate contemporary politics. Making fun of cynical campaign promises, their main slogans were “Everything is meaningless anyway – waste your vote on us” and “Politics is shit, and so is the NDP, but at least we admit it.” Exaggerating already existing tendencies — e.g., the tendency to see Muslim immigration as a threat to Danish culture or to give priority to the well-being of animals over that of human beings — the NDP called attention to the absurdity of some of the serious campaign pledges.
The NDP wanted Danes to see themselves for what politicians make them out to be: materialists with no higher values beyond what’s compatible with an easy, mediocre life demanding few personal sacrifices. Pledges such as the state protection of cute pets financed by a total elimination of foreign aid were intended to expose as false the (self) image of Danes as an idealistic people.
Nearly all major Danish newspapers wrote about the new party promoting no values, it being too good a story not to feature. In addition, chairman Mads Vestergaard, visually memorable for his combination of mohawk and business suit, made several appearances on prime-time talk shows, often accusing his political opponents of being “closet nihilists.” Both the idea and the execution of a “Nihilist Democratic Party” turned out to be fun enough to make journalists laugh, which, in turn, resulted in a good amount of coverage.
Basing their campaign on pledges such as “children and young people who spend eight hours a day playing World of Warcraft will be released from all mandatory education,” it was obvious that the NDP’s political to-do list, if carried out, would cripple society. The NDP had no intention of making good on these pledges if elected (which they knew wouldn’t happen). Although making sincere, critical statements about Danish politics, the NDP didn’t give into the temptation of using the media attention to propel a serious political career.