As a follow up to my last post on Badiou, I figured I should comment on his recent essay, “The Communist Idea and the Question of Terror” in The Idea of Communism 2 (2013). While Badiou may be the philosopher of communist miracles, he apparently also seems to be an advocate for patience concerning the arrival of these “Events.” In the essay, Badiou addresses the controversy of whether or not there necessarily exists a relationship between communism and terror. Badiou attributes at least some of the historical appearances of terror during revolutionary efforts to impatience. As a counter example, the Chinese revolution is explained in terms of military strategy and timing: “The Chinese revolution, on the contrary, was bound up with the concept of ‘protracted war’. It was all about process, not sudden armed takeover” (8). I agree with Badiou that terror need not be associated with revolution, but I don’t know enough about the Chinese revolution to judge its success.
At the Hegel conference in London this May, Costas Douzinas made a great point about Badiou. Basically, in a moment where the left seems entirely dead, it seems appropriate that the major communist philosopher to rise to fame would be one whose emancipatory politics are based on hoping for a miracle of a historical change.
Badiou’s “Events” are unpredictable occurrences in a “Truth procedure,” in which the truth of an event comes about when an Idea enters “The Real.” This is influenced by both Louis Althusser and Jacques Lacan. The Althusserian influence happens specifically in the miraculous idea. Althusser was interested in aleatory materialism, a pre-socratic philosophy based on Epicures and Lucretius, who believe that the world is determined by the unexplainable accumulation of “atoms.” I recommend listening to, and reading Chris Cutrone’s responses to Badiou’s own “Communist Hypothesis” for a more in-depth examination of Badiou’s communism.
In The Critique of Pure Reason, on the topic of causation and freedom, there’s a moment near the end of “The Antinomy of Pure Reason: Third Conflict of the Transcendental Ideas”, where Kant gives exception to the Epicurean school with regard to his argument:
This requirement of reason to appeal, in the series of natural causes, to a first beginning from freedom is fully confirmed if we see that, with the exception of the Epicurean School, all philosophers of antiquity felt obliged, for the sake of explaining all the movements of the world, to assume a prime mover, that is, a freely acting cause which, first and by itself, began this series of states. For they did not attempt to make a first beginning comprehensible by an appeal to mere natural (411).
It’s interesting to find Kant’s thoughts on the lack of freedom posited in Epicureanism. I have been thinking about this problem for a few months now, although through a somewhat convoluted path from contemporary philosophers. Specifically, I was thinking about Alain Badiou’s inheritance of Louis Althusser’s aleatory materialism, which Althusser gets from Epicureanism. Badiou’s Events and Truth Procedures seem to come from Althusser’s Encounters, all of which end up leaving little room for subjectivity. Badiou himself makes a similar point about Althusser in Metapolitics (2005): “there is no theory of the subject in Althussser, nor could there ever be one. For Althusser, all theory proceeds by way of concepts. But ‘subject’ is not a concept. […] ‘Subject’ is not the name of a concept, but that of a notion, that is, the mark of an inexistence. There is no subject, since there are only processes” (59). But for both Badiou and Althusser, these processes develop at layers or moments beyond the manipulation of individuals. In a sense, this is true that individuals cannot immediately grasp all relations of the world. However, Badiou puts such a great distance between individuals and change in the world that the only thing left for militants is to keep an open mind in order to think the possibility of change, so that if an “Event” occurs, they’re not too blind to recognize it.
The passages in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason on causation, the conditioned, and the unconditioned are some of my favorite parts so far. More on that late.
Right now I’m attempting to think about my presentation through Badiou’s concept of metapolitics (see Metapolitics). In particular, I’m drawn to his ideas about the Subject that comes about during a “truth procedure.” I wish he would further explain the “subjectivation” that individuals experience during such a procedure, because I find that to be potentially a rich site for my essay to intersect with.