It can be oddly dispiriting when an election is won by the candidate who has led in the opinion polls from the start, just as when the favourite horse wins the race; anyone with the slightest feeling for a wager, a risk, an exception or a rupture would rather see an outsider upset the odds. Yet it could hardly have been the bare fact of Nicolas Sarkozy as President that seemed to come as such a disorientating blow to the French left in the aftermath of May How should it be understood? An initial factor was the way in which the outcome affirmed the manifest powerlessness of any genuinely emancipatory programme within the electoral system: preferences are duly recorded, in the passive manner of a seismograph, but the process is one that by its nature excludes any embodiments of dissenting political will.
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Shelves: nonfiction , history , politics , theory , paris-commune Before delving into the actual content of The Communist Hypothesis, let me first comment that this edition is incredibly cute. I assume its a pastiche of Maos Little Red Book. More critical theorists should adopt this adorable mini hardback format, Im fond of it.
As to the book itself, Badiou is adamant that it is philosophy, not critical theory or political analysis, or indeed history. Within I found it a mixture of all four, but I suppose philosophy sounds more exalted and can cover a wide space. Quite early in the reading process, I was reminded of Combined and Uneven Apocalypse which approaches similar topics in a different way.
Broadly, if I am not misinterpreting, Badiou is calling for a new Idea to counter the pervasive narrative of there being not alternative to representative democracy subordinate to free market capitalism. Meanwhile, Evan Calder Williams argues that, in the absence of any such big idea, all we can do is cobble together an alternative system from the wreckage of experiments with alternatives. What unites the two is an emphasis on the value of failed experiments in what can broadly be referred to as Communism.
He often states that a particular point is composed of, say, three elements, then goes through each in turn. The examination of these events in terms of the groups involved, their dynamics, and the implications for party politics is thoughtfully done. A few particular points that I appreciated now follow. On the Paris Commune: The proclamations of the Commune, the first worker power in universal history, comprise a historic existent whose absoluteness manifests the coming to pass in the world of a wholly new ordering of its appearing, a mutation of its logic.
The existence of an inexistent aspect is that by which, in the domain of appearing, the subversion of worldly appearing is played out. It is the logical marking of a paradox of being, an ontological chimera. Whist I could just about parse the above in context, occasional comments like this proved unrewarding: Take any situation whatsoever.
A multiple that is an object of this situation - whose elements are indexed by the transcendental of this situation - is a site if it happens to count itself within the referential field of its own indexation.
The final chapter, which is grounded in theory rather than historical events, is unsurprisingly harder to read. Nonetheless, the effort is worthwhile.
I liked the points about the ongoing importance of proper names rather than dismissing cults of personality as madness without considering why they came about and that the problems of the 21st century are closer to those of the early 19th than the 20th.
I can certainly support both the need for an Idea to counter TINA and the utility of examining past mistakes to build a better future. One thing that came to mind whilst I read this book was how communism would manifest given the 21st century level of economic development.
The rise of information as a means of production seems to me a vital consideration of any 21st century Idea to counter capitalism. Given the experiences she recounts in Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China , as well as the untold millions who perished due to famines and political upheaval, I can very well understand why Jung Chang would take a distinctly negative view of Mao!
This aside does raise an incredibly difficult issue, though, which the whole book alternately discusses and dances around: to what extent do the atrocities of self-defined communist regimes taint the Idea of Communism? There are three points I think apposite here. Firstly, if body counts are to be used as a proxy for the validity of political ideologies, the manifold victims of slavery, war, famine, pollution, and poverty under capitalism should also be accounted for.
Secondly, my 15 year obsession with Robespierre has taught me that personifying terrible events leads to over-simplistic, unhelpful interpretations. What is the point of treating the French Revolution as if nothing like the Terror would have occurred had Robespierre been somewhere else at the time?
All nuance and interest is removed by unequivocally demonising a single individual. Finally, I think it is possible to deplore the cruelty of a regime whilst still taking positive lessons from it.
The Communist Hypothesis
Laurent Joffrin: "Which no one wants anymore. Laurent Joffrin and Alain Badiou, November 6 He also announced that he would soon be publishing The Immanence of Truths, completing a trilogy that also includes Being and Event and Logics of Worlds. This sprightly octogenarian has not stopped publishing: he has recently brought out Je vous sais si nombreux… with publisher Fayard , la Tradition allemande dans la philosophie Lignes and Eloge de la politique [In Praise of Politics] Flammarion.