The Millenarian Platonism of Alain Badiou (Part III)

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Plato’s RepublicAlain Badiou with Susan Spitzer, trans. Polity Press, Cambridge, 2015.

 

In the first two parts of this essay I outlined the millenarian Platonism of French Maoist philosopher Alain Badiou and the theoretical basis behind his attempt to rewrite Plato’s Republic entirely for a 21st century communism. I would now like to look closely at a couple of aspects of this text and how these reinvent or alter Plato’s original work. At last we come to the book review!

Badiou does away with certain large chunks of Plato’s original on matters specific to ancient Greece and ancient trades, but for the most part the old work is still there and often section for section identifiable. The big question, then, is why does Badiou seems to change certain parts out of sight, and then for unexplained reasons seems to leave certain other parts as they were in the original. Sometimes he does this with little or no explanation or discernible connection to the rest of his philosophical project. Let’s have a look at what I mean.

I

Plato’s philosophy of work in the Republic is based upon the idea of people being born with inherent natures. Everyone is dominated by one of three parts of a tripartite soul: the rational nous, courage or the lower appetites. All of these sorts of people are necessary for a society, but it is only a just society when those who pursue reason and wisdom are put in charge. Plato is thus more than willing to selectively breed a ruling class and dissolve the traditional family. He outlines the idea that children should be raised communally – at least in the Guardian class of philosopher rulers. This is so that people will be able to grow up, not only as brothers and sisters to everyone else, but so as not to be held back by their families expecting them to follow them into a trade which is unsuitable for their natural temperament.[1] Nothing upset Plato and Socrates more than the idea of a clever young man being discouraged from philosophy towards business instead. Famously, for that matter, Plato said that women could do most of the jobs men do (though he did insert a clause that men would still probably be better at them). [2]

The Republic also famously includes the myth of the “Noble Lie” in which the community is bound together by the idea that it is the product of the very Earth on which it is built. Because of this, different members contain different metals (gold, silver, iron etc.) responsible for the dominant part of the tripartite soul at work in them.[3] This “Lie” (Magnificent Myth?) borrows liberally both from “autochthony” myths, such as that of Erichthonius (the very earthy one) – the founder of Athens. So too the Hesiodic myth of the history of man as a series of “metallic ages”, from the Edenic “Golden Age”, down to the age of Homeric demigods and finally the Iron Age of miserable mortal men. The idea of right order to Plato meant finding a way to synchronise society with the transcendental plan immanent in the cosmos. For this he was reliant upon ideas such as that his Guardian rulers would have to be eugenically bred and born during an unspecified mating season to synchronise the society with the cosmos. [4] Plato even pursued these ideas as far as a colossal numerical puzzle usually called the “Nuptial Number”. This was a calculation of how long it would take a society to collapse due to dysgenics. [5]

II

Badiou’s version of all this is very interesting. He of course believes in total equality between men and women for starters. Whenever it looks like Socrates is about to say something “misogynist”, his fiery female student Amantha jumps in to correct him and even gets some of her own monologues (many of which are quite interesting). Yet, while there are plenty of popular far right conspiracy theories about the hard left trying to destroy the family, one might well expect Badiou to leap onto Plato’s communal families as some futurist “xenofeminist” communard like Shulamith Firestone would.[6] Yet Badiou doesn’t do this, as much as his Socrates misses the days of the communes, May ’68 and the Weathermen. He has Socrates say that he has been misinterpreted, that he didn’t really mean all that eugenics stuff about breeding people – that it is very dangerous: “No, that’s all disastrous, it all leads nowhere. Dear friends, I, Socrates, won’t pay the price for the necessary dissolution of the family, such as it is…Taking advantage of given me here by Badiou, I solemnly protest your brother Plato’s interpretation of my thinking.”[7]

Nonetheless, Badiou’s Socrates does acknowledge that “reactionaries” use the family as a political weapon all the time and that at some point it will have to be overcome. However, he quietly says that this will be the business of future revolutionaries and up to their discretion in trying to follow the unfolding of the Event out to its conclusion. We then get that famous line from Wittgenstein: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence”, which, so Socrates says, becomes waiting upon the millenarian day on which “what we cannot speak about we must do.”[8] Problem dodged! Perhaps Badiou was worried that he might sound like a fascist if he went anywhere near Plato’s eugenics. It was really not so long ago that German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk was called a “pagan” and a “Nazi” for suggesting that Plato’s eugenics was perhaps the most important part of his Republic worth salvaging in order to build a transhumanist future.[9] This Nazi association seems the likeliest answer for Badiou’s weaselling. Yet this sits in a strangely dissonant position beside Badiou’s odd decision to retain the whole section on the “Nuptial Number” without any “updating” of it or connection to his philosophical project as a whole. The only change is that, as dysgenics builds up, society degenerates into “the idolization of sports and the sexual adventures of TV celebrities”.[10] Of all things this mystifies me the most. Are we simply supposed to take the “Nuptial Number” and its preoccupation with dysgenics as just an interesting maths puzzle to play with? It seems that way.

We should compare some of this with a very recent book Badiou wrote entitled The True Life. Although it is a slightly awkward and cringeworthy paean to the “kids” on how to live a meaningful politicised existence, some of the observations Badiou makes are very interesting and would seem to add to what he says concerning gender equality and the philosophy of work in the Republic. For instance, Badiou believes that one of the biggest problems facing young people today is that they no longer possess any kind of “rites of passage”. This, so he thinks, had led to a situation in which young men remain perpetual adolescents and young women are treated like they are always already adults in the name of liberal feminism – girls are told that they have to be successful, that they are just as smart or even smarter than boys. Badiou’s nightmare image of a liberal future is one of herds of unthinking adolescent males led along by some Hillary Clinton type figure, a “girl power” capitalist matriarch.

This evil matriarch does seem a little amusing, perhaps, maybe even a little “alt right”. But that’s the thing – Badiou recognises the fascists as the real enemy to his cause because they too take their appeal from telling directionless angry young men that the only alternative to nihilism and a “deadening discipline” of body modification, hedonism and self-absorption is politicised, purposeful discipline. He knows that he is in mimetic competition for the same audience as the neo-Nazis. Political causes need warriors. What then is his answer? Instead, says Badiou, the aim should be creating a “non-deadening” discipline that moves beyond gender and capitalism and hedonism towards a millenarian “the girl as yet unknown, but who is coming” – a figure of birth, creation, nurture and creativity in which the whole of society shares in a “universalized symbolization of reproduction.[11]” No one will be a slave to birth and childraising anymore, because developing citizens will be the central principle of the Neo-Maoist society. The meaning of all this seems extremely mystical and opaque, but it still remains within the wheelhouse of millenarian Platonism, I think, far more than simply reheated Maoism. Nonetheless, he still isn’t daring to go as far as Plato in speculating about dismembering and collectivising the family outright.

For that matter, as one might also expect, Badiou’s version of the “Noble Lie” myth is far more Marxian than Platonic. It tells the story of men arising from the same Earth (including newly arrived immigrants). Yet men have been made of different metals. This is not their innate psychic quality, but to Badiou a “class society”. Badiou continues that in spite of this, it is promised that someday in the future “subversive preachers . . . a counter-god” will come along and melt everyone down (maybe all the human race) so that they will all share the same fate.[12] If ever there was a Gnostic myth of an unfinished creation, it is this. The remade future men must all work for the good of the community and will no longer be able to differentiate their “classes” from one another.

Following an outline of the “four virtues” for building a communist society – justice, wisdom, courage and self-discipline (these are also Plato’s) – Badiou has Socrates declare concerning the division of labour:

“. . . we’re certain that, without every person’s ability to creatively and effectively replace any other person- for any task whatsoever- an ability which is combined with everyone’s freedom to develop their own particular talents- the other virtues will have neither a precise localization nor any universal openness. Only the dialectical relationship between localization and openness can guarantee any subjective aptitude its social or collective vigor. It’s basically the actual process of this dialectical relationship that is called'”justice'”.[13]

It does sound very odd indeed for Socrates to be speaking the sorcerous language of dialectical materialism. In Being and Event Badiou seems to disown dialectics in favour simply of an ontology of Event, but they are clearly there in many of his other works. Badiou possesses a strong debt to Hegel, but like that other contemporary left Hegelian thinker, Slavoj Žižek, there is no finalistic Absolute. Instead the dialectical process is forever open, always has an outside, and is unable to totalise all of reality. This, so one might think, is an implicit reaction to the Kojèvian understanding of Hegel with its “end of history” and Fukuyama’s appropriation of this to declare liberal democracy the finalisation. To Badiou, desperate to believe there is still a gap in which Events can take place, the identity between Being and Thought that extends from Parmenides through Plato to Hegel remains. But it is always local instead of universal– that of the Event that tries to gather up the universal as best it can.[14]

This said, at very least perhaps we should be glad that Badiou has at least attempted to give some tacit admission to the fact that the Marxist conception of the total fungibility and interchangeability of people has been responsible for some of the worst aspects of “real existing communism” in the 20th century. Nonetheless, what Badiou is looking for is the total mobilisation of the population towards the cause, for which it requires more than simply a generic “polymorphous worker” subject – it needs people who are good at things. Yet, at the same time he is very clear that people being good at this or that craft does not have anything to do with politics. Only his Subject engaged in naming and forcing the Event who can do that. The Subjects who drive the revolution are at once an elite with access to the truth, which the rest of society simply receives. Yet, somehow because they exist to produce egalitarianism, this Gnostic sect for remaking the world slides through.

In comparison, Plato’s great critique of democratic egalitarianism was in the idea that mass society prevented people from becoming experts in a task. A great deal of this was of course put down to the way in which unhinged, undisciplined desire in such a society made people lazy “lotus eaters” flitting from one interest to the next without ever really learning anything. [15] However, Badiou’s is a “society of discipline” so one might say. This is perhaps a bizarre idea these days, when even what remains of Marxism seems to increasingly tend towards “accelerationism”: waiting upon 3d printers and full automation to pay out a post-work society of plenty. Whether it is a liberal or socialist future, the coming of an “end of history” post-work, post-human, networked Otaku (geek shut-in) subject seems to be the tragic possibility – Kojève’s men becoming like instinctual animals again in an artificial Eden.[16] In Badiou, the old Maoist, you have to work for your communism. It requires the total uprooting of society and mobilising the labour force for the sake of making a new one – a “cultural revolution”. The idea is positively antique.

III

However, if we face the facts, like the notion of a post-industrial fascism, the very notion of a post-industrial communism is somewhat of a bizarre non-sequitur. The “information society” has arrived under the reign of American post-war liberalism. TINA (“there is no alternative”) holds so strongly, that cogent theoretical alternatives based around post-industrial infrastructure and production are barely conceivable (though I do try to find and catalogue examples attempting to break through this). Marxism and Fascism were all about mobilising the worker-warrior subject of the factory. The factory is no longer the centre of life in our age. Moreover, the industrial giant China is the last place today one might expect a communist revolution to take place. It is as though the passing of Maoism into capitalism has immunised it against any possible worker rebellion. The online alt right “meme wars”, failed Arab Spring social media revolutions and “internet anarchist” enthusiasm for cryptocurrency and the ending of digital copyright we see today are just a little pale in comparison to the monstrosity of the old political religions.

A prime example of this problem is epitomised in Badiou’s rather miserable tract called Our Wound in Not So Recent. This is a dirge on the defeat of communism, and how, if it were around, it would be the only way to somehow miraculously solve Islamic terrorism by gathering everyone up as equal to end global capitalism.[17] Shortly after this he tried to argue on the website of the publisher Urbanomic that one-world communism is the only solution for dealing with global mass migration from the third world into Europe.[18] Badiou’s empathy and enthusiasm for the migrant inhabitants of the banlieus in urban France and consideration of them as a possible revolutionary “worker” runs through much of his work in recent years. It recurs frequently in his Plato’s Republic. Is it a sort of desperate delusion? A weak version of Negri and Hardt’s Empire? It’s hard not to think so.

Perhaps the following provides a perfect distillation of these problems. Recently Urbanomic posted a reply to Badiou’s Our Wound by none other than Nick Land, the most prominent contemporary “accelerationist” – a believer that technological progress must be sped up at any expense. Land is a transhumanist and ex-Marxist right-wing thinker with a great deal of influence in contemporary continental philosophy (I have written on him before here). No one alive has probably fathered more contemporary movements on both left and right.[19] Land mocked Badiou mercilessly as an example of the total defeat of communism as a viable ideology. He instead declared that the only remaining revolution is the unleashing of capital from its bonds to the welfare state and other Keynsian remnants of the “New Deal” and war economy era. [20] Capitalism must be loosed to “accelerate” futuristic technology. People are unimportant compared with this.

To Land the “absolute deterritorialisation” of capital steamrolls populations without any remorse. “Nothing makes it out of the future alive” as he once famously said. Land in his essay was clever enough to hide most of his usual racist discarding to the Juggernaut of anyone who isn’t a White or East Asian destined to build his robot future. However, he did emphasise his belief that Islam is a meaningless nuisance that had comedically failed again and again at modernity. Badiou, in comparison with this supposedly “cutting edge” thought, looks like a kind of amusing remnant of the past who doesn’t realise he’s already dead. “Accelerationism”, in comparison, looks a whole lot like the apotheosis of the worst, most destructive and colonialist aspects of Marxism and Liberalism combined. Continental political philosophy isn’t a well animal, to say the least.

What might seem equally antique, for that matter, is Badiou’s moralism. Like Plato he considers the enemy to be an unconscious society driven by appetitive desire. The outcome of this is the rise of the biggest desire-monster of them all – a dictator with no self-control who systematically ruins a community for his own pathological desires for sex, entertainment and violence.[21] Badiou cannot help but assume, even in his version of Plato’s Myth of Er, that behind the life of the archetypal billionaire businessman there lurks a paedophile.[22] Now we could read this is as just a cheap insult, but in the spirit of Plato, to Badiou the link between domination by the appetitive instincts and moral degeneracy into the worst sort of crimes is accepted absolutely. Just as Plato believed that democracy can’t help but get so venal and stupid it becomes tyranny, to Badiou liberal democracy’s consumerism is characterised as three quarters of the way to fascism. Now, not everyone, even communists, is going to buy this.

For someone like Badiou all the crimes and abuses done by communist elites (whether violent, sexual, drunken, corrupt) are indeed “evil” because, as noted above, they represent the betrayal of the universalist revolutionary Event. In the Republic there is a little sum, often called the “Platonic number”, in which he calculated how many times more immoral each transition to a lower form of government is. Badiou utilises this to claim that the corruption of communist party members into plutocrats is far less evil than allowing communism to fall and turn into the consumer venality and the total absence of faith in Events one finds under liberal democracy.[23] Yes, only a very certain sort of person is going to agree with this sort of thing. Someone, who, like Plato, after Athens put his master Socrates to death, has a very strong axe to grind in elevating the experience of this betrayal to the cosmological.

Now much of this concern with moral degeneracy might be put down to Badiou’s history of rivalry with Gilles Deleuze, that scion of unleashed mass desire and the father of “accelerationism”. Deleuze came to the conclusion that the ongoing revolution of capitalism is always more revolutionary than attempts at communism for producing spaces of resistance for “nomadic” minority groups of rebels, creatives and the dispossessed. Therefore, to a certain sort of reading typified by Nick Land, the increased consumption of the planet apparently somehow means the increased intensity in a desire that is going to liberate the world by producing magical technology. It sounds ridiculous, and some Deleuzians have certainly suggested that it confuses quantitative increase in capital and qualitative increase in desire.[24]

Indeed, some Deleuzians like Land seem to have forgotten that the spirit of the Spinozan conatus vitae (the urge to live) is epitomised by Henry Miller’s line, which Deleuze and Guattari quoted so approvingly: “the men who were most in life . . . ate little, slept little, owned little or nothing.”[25] As Daniel M. Bell jr., a Christian Deleuzian (what a combination!) has said: “capitalism is a form of sin, a way of life that distorts human desire.”[26] One needs to turn desire towards something else, a “therapy”, so Bell would call it, or it will be co-opted and caged by consumerism. The immanent has become saturated with junk – we need to go back on Deleuze’s silly obsession with “absolute immanence” and rediscover the transcendent. If we do not try, then we seem doomed to resignation or Gnostic powerless before a fallen world. This is the “transcendental miserablism” Land seems to take to be the case – There is No Alternative except ploughing onwards towards glorious extinction or a nihilistic powerlessness before the fact that an out of control capitalism will do it anyway.

This aporetic situation seems especially bad for the immanentist materialists who still believe in revolution like Badiou. For instance, much of Badiou’s Theory of the Subject is concerned with trying to use a mathematical dialectics of “remainder” to overcome what Badiou calls the “Gnostic” materialism of pure mechanicism in which everything is dogmatically the same, and that which he calls “Arian” – which seems to be the Deleuzian obsession with multiplicity and flows of matter. He finds both parties lacking because they do not commit to partisanism, to the active attempt to become a revolutionary subject game enough to try to force uprising and change reality. These two parties seem to me to reflect the trajectory towards the apolitical found in a lot of materialism, especially contemporary neo-Darwinian nihilism and post-Deleuzian “speculative realism.” Stuff just is and human politics don’t mean anything. This is inviting as a kind of pseudo-religious consolation after the failures of the “political religions” and a seemingly powerlessness before things like climate change. As Voegelin said of Lucretius and Santayana, the materialist metaphysic at its most profound ends up in a kind of will to sink into the Nirvana of matter.[27] The quiet of the grave beckons. Today we might add, everyone wants to sleep, but the Spectacle will not let them.

But what if living desire, if it is a positive force as Reich and Deleuze believed, rather than a lack, it should be turned towards the productive love of the ongoing exploration and falling into God and one’s fellow man. Perhaps that is what Voegelin’s Platonic-Christian understanding of “erotics”, questioning and the flow and tension of zetesis (seeking) and helkein (a pull from Beyond) needs. Catherine Pickstock has pointed in this direction regarding the Eucharist and that what there is to know about it in the search for its meaning is desire: “not desire as absence, lack and perpetual postponement…but rather perpetually renewed and never foreclosed.”[28]

Norman O. Brown also almost got here through Georges Bataille, a horrible base materialist if ever there was one. This is even if Brown in his late “Dionysos in 1990” used Bataille to announce that believing in anything like had done in his hippy heyday had been “elitist” and that we should just shout “here comes everyone!” and let them consume the planet.[29] Perhaps it is time to recall the Georges Bataille Brown spoke of at the end of this – one who never quite stopped being a Christian in his realisation that man through an imitatio Christi must be wounded, “torn apart” and sink into others for the sake of the community, rather than the Georges Bataille of Nick Land from the same period that was bolted to Deleuze to render the latter “gothic”. A Bataille-Deleuze in which there is only nihilism, chaos, waste and atomisation.[30] The desire to become anti-social Otaku nomad must be overcome we should declare. The bubble that immunises the self must be painfully burst time and time again through the living desire and âme ouverte to fall into God and one’s fellow men who all bear the immanent mark of his presence that anagogically points back to the transcendent.

Yet, a great deal of Badiou’s moralism simply seems to be that he simply firmly believes that to build a communist society requires a directed, shared discipline, as was said above concerning the Republic and True Life. All we might seem to have in comparison is the consumer superego demanding “here comes everyone”, a colossal discipline trying to sell itself as a lack of discipline: “spoil yourself etc”. But it is a discipline, a devilish deadening one, for it occludes not only any religious dimension, but also, as we have seen, the political religions too and even the ability to take seriously any “speculation” about an alternative system that might be more just. Plato did not quite tease this out enough, I think, but Voegelin understood it: Socrates in his explorations was trying to turn away from the “collective unconsciousness” of Athens during his day.[31]

In a society where souls have been reduced to base desires, they infect one another, creating the ethos that binds what that society finds “good”. Thus, being a sailor one day, a philosopher the next, a swimmer the day after that is the discipline, a kind of great parody that immunologically acts to keep out any other system. Yet Plato’s political cosmology is pleromatic – every sort of person gets their time in the sun at some point in the history of regimes. It is just that the more the tripartite soul is closed down to its lowest parts, the more anyone who seeks wisdom or who is ruled by courage becomes a powerless alien. Only in the speculative Republic is there room for all personalities, well balanced.

How does Badiou deal with this? He curiously agrees wholeheartedly with Plato’s idea of banning the poets from the city because they feed on people’s lower desires and detract from the Truth.[32] To Plato the Good is the pursuit of knowledge of the Forms against mere imitation; to Badiou it is loyalty to the revolutionary Event against the imitative distraction of entertainment. This might seem a little odd coming from a man like Badiou who is a playwright himself and likes Aeschylus, Paul Valéry and many other poets very much. And indeed his Socrates is troubled by the decision to cast them out. But in the end, it is but a short distance from this difficulty concerning the poets and entertainers to Badiou’s version of Plato’s Myth of the Cave. At first glance, Badiou’s version is so typical that it is bathetically boring. One can sense it coming a mile away, because the comparison is made so frequently now that all it tends to do is produce a sort of phatic cynicism. Yes, Plato’s cave for Badiou is the media, a “cosmic movie theatre”. It’s the Society of the Spectacle keeping people confused, coddled and unable to think about the possibility of changing society. [33]

One can find a very similar aporic misery about this in Slavoj Žižek of course, and even Russian Nazbol mystic Aleksandr Dugin. It is “silly sooth” – the simple truth – and that’s why it’s very hard for it to be overcome. Cynicism and inertia meet totalising “infotainment” and it deadbolts the Political fast. The revolutionary begs: “If only we could break from the consumer Spectacle and its symbolic bonds! Then we would be able to see all our problems with clarity and renew the desire for Utopia!” Such a notion might well seem many times more difficult today compared with but a couple of years ago to get a clear picture of things in the touted era of “fake news” and increasing self-consciousness about producing “alternative” politicised information. The irony is that what seems like an awakening of politics with the coming of “alternative” sources on both left and right simply fuels online “second realities” – consolatory fantasies that click, like, criticise and share but cannot survive outside of their “echo chamber”.

One might go as far as to suggest that it we have built an epistemological system that produces what might be called “evental burnout.” Every tiny occurrence is represented as if it might be a World-Historical Event in order to perpetuate the news cycle, while massive natural and political disasters become no more important than anything else that is reported. Everything is turned up to eleven, which means that nothing is more important than anything else. In relation to this one should emphasise that even Jean Baudrillard, that utter post-modern nihilist, retained a strange shred of Platonism in believing that in the past accurate representation had been possible under a lost pre-modern “sacramental order”, which slowly decayed. It is only truly in the post-industrial era that everything had fallen into a dizzying electronic “hyperreality” of simulated illusion.[34] Deep down we all want to believe this – that we once had reality, but that we have lost it and are now “trapped in the symbolic”. The hyperreal becomes a new Fall as much as a new Platonic cave. Salvation, however, seems dim, quite simply because we are bound hand and foot by our basest desires and have convinced ourselves that desire cannot be turned towards anything higher, whether the courageous political act or the sacred pursuit of luminosity.

IV

This all said, it might not seem particularly obvious what might be gained from reading Badiou’s Plato’s Republic – for anyone, at very least, who isn’t a fideist communist already certain of the messianic coming of the Event. But I think that we can take a couple of things from it. The first is that any philosophy, however “speculative” or millenarian, which attempts to think the ontological, political and mathematical together should be applauded. This is because it returns us to the very bases of Western thought, which the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in their “two cultures” of the humanities and sciences rent asunder. It may well be that through this root that something approximating valid “speculations” on “natural law” for our current age might become possible.

I think that “Radical Orthodox” thinker John Milbank has pointed in the right direction in his bringing to light Augustine’s previously obscure Neo-Platonic tract De Musica. Here Augustine uses the Platonic-Pythagorean idea that music illustrates the proportions, harmonies and disharmonies that are written into the whole of the world. The cosmos, polis, church become an ongoing “song” in search of harmony, a musical ethos. Milbank writes that “For Christianity, true community means the freedom of people and groups to be different…yet at the same time it totally refuses indifference.” What is needed is a consensus that “moves and ‘changes’, a consensus musicus.”[35] Indeed if there is something that Badiou overlooks in his understanding of Plato it is the search for harmony, to synchronise with the world and its micro and macro levels. The “millenarian Plato” instead looks only forwards, to the interruption of dissonance, the “splace” where the “wolf note” enters and renders the other instruments silent in confusion. But there is nowhere for the “wolf” to go. The Musak of the present has been overcompressed so that only the rhythm remains, turned up to a deafening level. In the same way the “accelerationist” thinks that he has learned to love industrial noise, a thousand little dissonances, but all he has is the endless midi chime of looping elevator music that never delivers.

The other thing worth commending is that Badiou dares to ask about the degenerating fate of a society crippled by and controlled through desire – an idea which might seem perfectly “reactionary” to many after the “cultural neo-liberalism” of the co-opting of the New Left excesses of the 1960s (“spoil yourself”, “you know you want to”, “you’re special – you deserve it”…). Like Slavoj Žižek, Badiou has to go to an awful lot of trouble to try to convince people that it is possible to rise from domination by the lowest appetites and instead desire what Plato would have called man’s courageous warrior aspect. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to try to get from the courageous to noetic reason?! In the end, for all his mathematics, Badiou’s philosophy is one for the courageous, not for the “rational”. Yet Badiou dares to ask in the 21st century what a society with a collective telos might be like. This is very strange, even if it is a telos which emphasises not simply the “end” with the coming of the Revolution, but instead the idea of letting it develop and breathe beyond the Event. Most importantly, the very fact that his ideas contain a philosophy of work in our era is also something which one should at least, cum grano salis, be a little glad for.

Alain Badiou’s ideas might seem like sorcerous nonsense maths and more than a little naïve. Even if they ever stood a chance of actually changing the world they would probably be extremely dangerous, in the sense that only a millenarian fideism with a licence to do as it pleases in the name of immanent “justice” can be. But at very least he is a little refreshing after so much post-modern perspectivism, irony and relativism. As someone who was there when it all happened and yet refused to give into it, this makes him a unique entity, far more than the more well-known “meme philosopher” and populariser of some of his ideas: Slavoj Žižek. Badiou may well be the first expression, someday, of all sorts of renewed fideist political philosophies across the spectrum. Ones which attempt to dig themselves out of the hole into which they have crawled in the adoption of lazy personal victimology, identity-consumerism, and LARP-ed online political fantasies. Let’s see what happens.

 

Notes

[1] Plato, The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee, Penguin Classics, Penguin Books, London, 2007, 414b-415d, 457b-458d, 459a-461e.

[2] Ibid, 454e-455d.

[3] Ibid, 414b-415d.

[4] Ibid, 546a-b.

[5] Ibid, 546b-c.

[6] Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, Verso, London, [1970] 2015.

[7] Alain Badiou, Plato’s Republic, p. 159.

[8] Ibid, pp. 159-61.

[9] Peter Sloterdijk, Not Saved: Essays After Heidegger, trans. Ian Alexander Moore and Christopher Turner, Polity, Cambridge UK, 2017, pp.193-236; idem and Hans-Jürgen Heinrichs, Neither Sun nor Death, trans. Steve Corcoran, Sexiotext(e), Pasadena CA, [2001] 2011, esp. pp. 45-136.

[10] Alain Badiou, Plato’s Republic, pp. 249-51.

[11] Alain Badiou, The True Life, trans. Susan Spitzer, Polity, New York, 2017. Also see this review: Malcolm Harris, “A French Philosopher Considers the Kids,” New Republic, 15th May 2017, https://newrepublic.com/article/142695/french-philosopher-considers-kids

[12] Ibid, p. 109.

[13] Ibid, p. 129.

[14] See: Alain Badiou, The Logic of Worlds, pp. 143-4

[15] Plato, Republic, 560d-562a.

[16] See this book especially on Kojève, the Last Man and the Otaku: Hiroki Azuma, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, trans. Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, [2001] 2009.

[17] Alain Badiou, Our Wound is Not So Recent, trans. Robin MacKay, Polity, New York, 2015.

[18] Idem, “From False Globalisation to the One Communist World, via the Question of ‘Foreigners’,” Urbanomic, 2017, https://www.urbanomic.com/document/badiou-false-globalisation-one-communist-world/

[19] There’s a massive forest of this stuff. There’s “unconditional acceleration” which seems to be apolitical and just in it for futuristic aesthetics: Metanomad, “What is #RhettTwitter?” Meta-Nomad (blog), 27th May 2017, https://www.meta-nomad.net/what-is-rhetttwitter/. There’s the youthful internet troll “Alt Woke” movement: Anon. 2017a. “#AltWoke Manifesto.” &&& (journal), February 5. http://tripleampersand.org/alt-woke-manifesto/, Anon. “#AltWoke Companion.” Monoscope, April 2017, https://monoskop.org/images/f/fa/The_AltWoke_Companion_Apr_2017.pdf. There’s Keynsian left acceleration that harkens backs to 1960s “Jetsonian” futures:  Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, “#Accelerate Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics.” Critical Legal Thinking, 14th May 2013 http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/acceleratemanifestoforanaccelerationistpolitics/. There’s the mystical Rosicrucian “illuminated” acceleration which dreams of a brotherhood of man: Nicholas Laccietti, “Towards an Illuminated Accelerationism: The #Accelerate Manifesto and the Universal Brotherhood.” The Light Invisible (blog), 14th May 2017, http://thelightinvisible.org/2017/05/14/toward-an-illuminated-accelerationism/. Last but not least, there’s trans- everything Xenofeminism that wants to reinvent woman and overcome nature:  Laboria Cubonicks Collective, “New Stabilized Version of the Xenofeminist Maniifesto Uncovered,” e-flux, August 2016,  https://conversations.e-flux.com/t/new-stabilized-version-of-the-xenofeminist-manifesto-uncovered/4380

[20] Nick Land, “Sore Losers,” Urbanomic, 2016,  https://www.urbanomic.com/document/sore-losers/

[21] Alain Badiou, Plato’s Republic, pp. 286-98.

[22]Ibid, pp. 350-1.

[23] Plato, Republic, 587b. Cf. Alain Badiou, Plato’s Republic, pp. 309-12.

[24] Brian Massumi, The Power at the End of the Economy, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2015, pp. 91-2, 119-20.

[25] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, trans. Robert Hurley et al., Athlone Press, London, 1984, p. 27.

[26] Daniel M. Bell jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History: The Refusal to Cease Suffering, Routledge, London, 2001, p. 2.

[27] Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis, p. 33

[28] Catherine Pickstock, “Thomas Aquinas and the Quest for the Eucharist,” Modern Theology 15, 1999, pp. 178-9.

[29] Norman O. Brown, Apocalypse and/or Metamorphosis, University of California Press, Berkeley and London, 1991, pp. 179-99

[30] Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation: George Bataille and the Virulent Nihilism, Routledge, London, 1992.

[31] See especially on Jung, Plato and the contemporary public “unconscious”: Eric Voegelin, Collected Works Volume 18: Order and History Volume V: In Search of Order, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 2000, p. 76.

[32] Alain Badiou, Plato’s Republic, pp. 333-8.

[33] Ibid, pp. 212-19.

[34] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glasser, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, [1981] 1994, p. 6.

[35] John Milbank, “Postmodern Critical Augustianism,” in The Radical Orthodox Reader, eds. John Milbank et al, Routledge, London, 2009, p. 52.

 

This is the third of three parts, with parts one and two available.

Jonathan Ratcliffe

Written by

Jonathan Ratcliffe is Associate Editor of VoegelinView and a doctoral candidate in Asian History at the Australian National University. He is working with Chris Heggie-Brown on a history of technology and politics, provisionally titled "Voegelin Among the Machines."