Alain Badiou: The Politics of Hope

I am perfectly in agreement with the statement that philosophy depends on certain nonphilosophical domains, which I have proposed to call the ‘conditions’ of philosophy.

 –  Alain Badiou,  Philosophy for Militants

The nonphilosophical domains upon which philosophy depends for Badiou are science, art, politics and love. In science his work depends on a new “concept of the infinite”; in politics on new forms of “revolutionary politics”; in art, the poetry of Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Pessoa, Mandelstam or Wallace Stevens, on the prose of Samuel Beckett; and, finally, on love the context of psychoanalysis and the questions of sexuation and gender that have emerged in our time. (3) 1 And, he offers, we must accept that philosophy always comes in the aftermath of such nonphilosophical domains, is a second rate affair at best.(3)

Hegel, he tells us, is the night-bearer of such wisdom. For he was the first to proclaim that philosophy is the discipline that comes after the day of knowledge, after the day of real-life experiments – when night falls.(3) Yet, we should not fret at this state of affairs he assures us, instead we should see in our time a new awakening, a fresh breath of air for philosophy. That new and creative experiments in all of the nonphilosophical domains is arising; and, that since our civilization is bankrupt, exhausted, at the end of its dark night we can expect philosophy to die its slow death at night in perpetual obscurity.(4)

And, yet, against such a reading as this Alain Badiou tells us that this is just the kind of philosophy he despises, this last philosophy, the philosophies of our era from Hegel to Derrida, with their need to die the death of philosophy, to overcome its metaphysical dilemmas. Against such pronouncements of the death of philosophy, of a new type of thinking or thought, or its resurrection and flight from the metaphysics of despair he finds the philosopher Althusser.  In Althusser he discovers that philosophy has no history, that philosophy has been doing what it does best all along, that philosophy depends on the nonphilosophical and has always developed its arc against such domains. So how can there be a death for something that never ceased being new?

First he tells us that if philosophy is always new, always productive of novelty and change, then why all this despair over death and night? Why are we being told that philosophy must die? Is it possible that we do not know the true nature of philosophy? He tells yes, that is it, we do not know What philosophy is.  He reminds us that philosophy has two tendencies, a reflexive mode of knowledge on the one hand, which entails the knowledge of truth in the theoretical domain, the knowledge of values in the practical domain.(8) The second mode of knowledge is neither theoretical nor practical, but is instead transformative: it provides an almost religious and subjective challenge, this philosophy comes very close to religion, even though its means are exclusively rational; it comes very close to love, but without the violent support of desire; very close to political commitment, but without the constraint of a centralised organisation; very close to artistic creation, but without the sensible means of art; very close to scientific knowledge, but without the formalism of mathematics or the empirical and technical means of physics.(8-9)

In my last post on Badiou I spoke of his need for creative repetition, for the philosophical act.

But if the philosophical act is formally the same, and the return of the same, we will have to account for the change in historical context. For the act takes place under certain conditions. When a philosopher proposes a new division and a new hierarchy for the experiments of his or her time, it is because a new intellectual creation, a new truth, has just made its appearance. It is in fact because, in his or her eyes, we have to assume the consequences of a new event within the actual conditions of philosophy.(15)

But what is this new event and condition of philosophy for our time? Badiou is adamant: it is politics. Yet, politics has yet to absolve itself of its alliance with tyrannical forms of philosophy. What we need he tells us is a democratic politics wholly different from the actual democratic State: the hypothesis of a place where the rule of submission to a free protocol of argumentation, open to be debated by anyone, would have as its source the real existence of emancipatory politics. (36) And, what would this emancipatory politics look like for philosophy? He describes:

The key to understanding the obscure knot between politics, democracy and philosophy thus lies in the fact that the independence of politics creates the place in which the democratic condition of philosophy undergoes a metamorphosis. In this sense, all emancipatory politics contains for philosophy, whether visible or invisible, the watchword that brings about the actuality of universality – namely: if all are together, then all are communists! And if all are communists, then all are philosophers!(38)

Yet, this should not entail a return to the limited Platonic form of communism in which an aristocracy of philosophers who would live an egalitarian, sober, virtuous, communist life. No. He tells us that we must move toward a generalized notion of communism:

Our city-polis, if this name is still appropriate for the political place constituted by the thought-practice of contemporary politics, will ignore the social differentiation which to Plato seemed inevitable – just as our democratic contemporaries, in the name of ‘realism’ and terrorised by the idea of Terror, consider it inevitable for there to be property, inheritance, extreme concentration of wealth, division of labour, financial banditry, neocolonial wars, persecution of the poor, and corruption. And, as a result, this city-polis will also ignore the distinction, as far as the universality of philosophy is concerned, between the source and the address. Coming from all as well as the destiny of all: that will define the existence of philosophy insofar as, under the condition of politics, it will be democratic, in the communist sense of the term, both at the source and at the endpoint of its actual existence.(38-40)

Got to love Badiou, but then, for me, comes the harsh truth: how can we ever implement such a politics? A dream of philosophy and democratic politics that ignores social differences, that does away with property, inheritance, wealth, division of labor, banks, war, poor, and all forms of corruption; as well as the distinctions between source and address, philosopher and epigone: a philosophy of all by all. Such a noble pursuit, but how is such to be implemented? Where are the pragmatic and practical steps in offering a politics of struggle to attain such noble ideals in a world of injustice and inequality as our own world? Can one see this coming to France or the U.S.A. anytime soon? And, what of any country on the planet today? What are the hard truths we will have to face in such a struggle (i.e., that such a world will not come peacefully? At what cost? And, of course, we know that it must come? That things cannot go on as they are? That the earth cannot sustain such societies as we have invented? That the environment itself is almost beyond the moment of sustainability?). Where are the hordes of such philosophers that will awaken us to such democracies, such communal visions?

1. Badiou, Alain (2012-12-03). Philosophy for Militants (Pocket Communism).

3 thoughts on “Alain Badiou: The Politics of Hope

  1. Pingback: Alain Badiou: A New Mental Country? Heroic Figures? | noir realism

  2. “Can one see this coming to France or the U.S.A. anytime soon? ” Certainly not. Even Badiou would acknowledge that ‘we’ have a long march ahead of us. He has also said, in a way which is uncannily reminiscent of Machiavelli, that ‘a truth affirms the infinite right of its consequences, with no regard to what opposes them’. The end justifies the means. Any means. So what if the quickest road to communism is to wipe out half the world population? What if the course of one truth collides with that of another? What if evil isn’t to be located in the way we as a species organise ourselves socially, economically and politically, but in our very Gattungswesen? Those are questions to which I’d like to hear him respond.

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