Zizek has given me another reason to distrust and dislike the philosophy and politics of Alain Badiou. I say this in the knowledge that Zizek is probably twisting some more subtle point of Badiou’s into fodder for his own arguments, as he is wont to do. But given some of my knowledge of Badiou’s thought already, the following idea makes sense.
|Alain Badiou will tell you what to do.
According to Zizek at least, Badiou has endorsed the cult of personality in social revolutions against capitalist systems. That is, a revolutionary no longer justifies his actions in terms of the universal principles — escaping a hardscrabble existence in the name of human dignity, overthrowing social structures of stratification and servitude in the name of freedom. Instead, a revolutionary commits the acts he does in the name of his loyalty to the Leader. I do what I do because it is the will of the Leader.
Holy fuck. I have yet to check this, as I haven’t had time to track down a copy of the conference presentation where Badiou presented this idea. But the conference was called “On the Idea of Communism,” it was organized by the School of Law at Birkbeck College in London, and the conference took place over 13-15 March 2009. If this is at all accurate, then the Utopias project would have few enemies bigger than Alain Badiou. It advocates a politics in which you surrender your will to a movement and its Leader in the name of freedom. Well, no, actually, it goes beyond that. You don’t even surrender your will in the name of freedom, but only because the Leader demands that you surrender your will.
This makes sense in the light of some of Badiou’s writings which advocate that philosophy can only occur in the structure of the master-disciple relationship: Alain is the master, who develops new revolutionary thoughts, and you rabble are the disciples who absorb those words and act according to the master’s guidance and orders.
Badiou used to send his dedicated students to shout down his colleague Gilles Deleuze in the middle of his lectures, accusing him of cultural conservatism, hatred of the people, and similarly awful things. The point was only to assault and humiliate a fellow professor, and not even to do so to his face. Why would a student agree to act as Badiou’s proxy, spewing hatred at a professor when his own master did not have the guts to behave so anti-socially? Because Alain is the master, and you are the disciple.
As it is in philosophy, so it is in politics, a fundamental parallelism in Badiou’s thinking. The reasoning goes that the universal or universalizing concepts to which we currently have reference to justify our actions can’t be genuinely universal. They’re products of the current regime of thought and life, a regime that the revolutionary (following from the conclusions about the nature of the revolutionary in yesterday’s post) seeks to overthrow completely. In a genuine revolution, nothing of the old order remains. There is a total ontological change, no continuity between this world and the next. So to usher in the next world, a political movement must have no reference to the concepts that were created to deal with this world. It must be the product of an idiosyncrasy, a singular presence.
Such a singular presence is not a concept, but a person or a leader. Sorry, a Leader, or specifically, his proper name. The proper name escapes the context of contemporary universals precisely because it is a singularity, both in terms of its uniqueness and its nature as a limit concept, that which we approach and transcend.
A nice goal, certainly. But its possibility is doubtful. More thoughts as I think of them, I think.