Home Forum Research Alain Badiou and CasP

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      I’ve spent the last year or so getting acquainted with the philosophy and political writing of Alain Badiou, and I’d like to share some thoughts about its relevance, or rather, its complementariness with CasP.

      I’m not going to try and summarize his whole philosophy here, and I should add a disclaimer that his philosophy involves re-thinking the meaning and context of a number of foundational philosophical and political concepts (as well as theories of history, of ontology, and epistemology) and contains a lot of logico-mathematical argumentation that is way beyond my capabilities of evaluation. So I can’t say much about whether I think Badiou’s philosophy is ‘correct’, only that I find a lot of what he says extremely interesting, and I think that he will become/is already a highly influential philosopher – both as a thinker of emancipatory politics and of philosophy more generally. So his work is worth exploring.

      In this post, I just want to draw attention to two facets of his thought that I think resonate with CasP, at least at the margins. To me, these resonances signal great potential for new research. Final caveat: I’m going to skate over an enormous amount of detail, and for any Badiou/CasP readers, I apologize in advance for reducing and/or misrepresenting his arguments.

      Facet 1: The separation of politics, as mode of thought/action, from ‘social analysis’

      In Can Politics Be Thought? Badiou makes a distinction between politics and the political. Politics, for him, means emancipatory politics – specifically, militant revolutionary thought/action guided by a fidelity to the truth of an ‘Event’. By ‘Event’, Badiou refers to the rare, epochal occurrences where the prevailing social order is disrupted by a mass collective action against the state, in the name of egalitarianism. These extremely rare and sequential occurrences (the event + the wave of political organization that follows) basically create a new social situation, literally changing the terms of social reality. Some of the few examples of political Events Badiou grants include the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, the Maoist Revolution, and the events of May 1968.

      The political, on the other hand, concerns only matters of state: what is a good state? What is a good citizen? It largely takes the assumptions, terms, and rules of the existing hierarchical social order as fixed, given categories and operates strictly within them. The political, in other words, examines social relations of power and domination as if they were the whole of possible social reality, while politics attempts to think outside of those relations.

      Badiou has little good to say about the social sciences, which for him are basically an extension of this state logic. In his mind, the social sciences are not concerned with universal truths, but merely with classifying and detailing the operation of the social situation as re-presented by the state (and usually, with suggesting incremental reform). In other words, social science is ‘politically weak’ (in the sense of politics) because it concerns itself only with what is already presented within the given social reality – it cannot say anything about that which lies beyond it – namely the event and its consequences.

      That is not to say Badiou does not value science, however. He sees science as one of the four regimes of truth (the others being politics, art, and love) and as such an essential pursuit of humanity. My understanding is that Badiou does not mean to exclude social sciences in toto, but to emphasise the difference between true science, which contains a revolutionary dynamic (always questioning its own foundations; a willingness to discard theories in the face of new evidence/unsurmountable problems; and an essentially creative and experimental approach), and the kind of stagnant and power-serving factories of academic ‘facts’ for which fields like neoclassical economics are known. I think he is also drawing a firm line between politics and the kinds of political posturing that are common in academic social science writing.

      Interestingly, Badiou actually lambasts none other than Marxist political economy for this. In Can Politics Be Thought? He calls out Marxist political economists for losing sight of the very purpose of Marxist politics – which is to be “an interpretive precarity of working-class consciousness” and a “strategy of the event,” rather than reproducing arguments of ‘economic necessity’ that echo those of capital’s ideologues (33). While he has said that he thinks Marxist economic analysis is generally correct, he takes pains to separate and deemphasize Marxist political economic analysis from the essentially political (again, in the sense of politics here, not the political) and creative/experimental project of Marxism.

      So where does CasP fit in? Badiou’s comments immediately recalled to me statements made by Nitzan and Bichler on the limits of CasP in presenting an alternative to capitalism. For them, CasP is an analysis of the rules regulating capitalism as a mode of power, and as such, any alternative is likely to be, well, totally different! In turn, they have mentioned that in their own subjective view, they would generally be proponents of a democratic, autonomous form of society that has yet to be implemented. Their notion of democratic politics as an ‘unmaking’ of modes of power resembles, at least on the surface, elements of Badiou’s thought, but which I won’t get into here. On another occasion, I believe on this forum, Nitzan and Bichler made another similar claim to Badiou – namely that Marxist politics continues regardless of the problems of Marxist political economy, and therefore these two things are actually quite separate.

      In sum, while Badiou largely accepts the general claims of Marxist political economy, he does not really concern himself with its subtleties, nor does he deny its problems. Rather, he explicitly separates Marxist ‘social analysis’ as a whole from the work of emancipatory politics. I see a distinct parallel here with Nitzan and Bichler in the sense that they both think lumping emancipatory politics and the scientific analysis of capitalism into the same field of activity makes a category error. Not that the two cannot aid on another, but that they are distinct kinds of activities – one concerns studying what is empirically given, and the other concerns bringing into world something that doesn’t exist yet.

      Facet 2: The concept of the state as structuring operation and metastructure

      The second facet is even more intriguing. In my view, Badiou’s philosophical concept of the socio-historical State shares fascinating similarities with Nitzan and Bichler’s concept of the State of Capital. I’ll only say a few words here, but I recommend reading meditations 8 and 9 in Badiou’s Being and Event and Nitzan and Bichler’s writing on the State of Capital and coming to your own conclusions. Caveat: Badiou’s more general definition of the State designates an entire ontological category. Here, I just focus on the socio-historical State.

      From Being and Event:

      “The State is simply the necessary metastructure of every historic-social situation, which is to say the law that guarantees that there is Oneness, not in the immediacy of society—that is always provided from by the non-state structure—but amongst the set of its subsets. It is the one-effect that Marxism designates when it says that the State is ‘the State of the ruling class’. If this formula is supposed to signify that the state is an instrument ‘possessed’ by the ruling class, then it is meaningless. If it does mean something, it is inasmuch as the effect of the state—to yield the one amongst the complex parts of historico-social presentation—is always a structure, and inasmuch as it is clearly necessary that there be a law of the count, and thus a uniformity of effect. At the very least, the term ‘ruling class’ designates this uniformity, whatever the semantic pertinence of the expression might be.” (109-110)

      In other words, the State, for Badiou, is an operation which legitimizes and reinforces the structure/restructuring of the social order. It both re-presents that which presents itself in the social situation and enacts a prohibition on the unbinding of the count. In less abstract terms, one might say that private property laws both formalize the organized social power which is being exercised through the control of the property, and guarantee, through the threat of force, the prohibition on directly challenging those ownership claims. The state is the re-presentation, or metastructure of the pattern and distributional dynamics of social forces – it makes the count count, as it were, as a uniform, consistent system.

      Now here are Nitzan and Bichler in ‘Notes on the State of Capital’:

      “In our view, every hierarchical social order is characterized by a unique mode of power: we call this mode of power the ‘state’ of that society.

      Symbolically, the logic of capitalist power is represented by capitalization. Capitalization is the central ritual of capitalism.

      Contrary to the impression given by finance books, capitalization isn’t a mere technical formula. And contrary to Marx’s pronunciation, it is anything but ‘fictitious’. First and foremost, capitalization is the power algorithm of capitalism, a distilled representation of organized social power. Every component of capitalization – be it earnings, hype, risk or the normal rate of return – is driven and shaped by power relations, and only by power relations.”

      Finally, here are Nitzan and Bichler in Capital as Power:

      “In this framework, the total dollar value of capitalization maps the power that capitalists exert over society. Any given fraction of this totality denotes a corresponding, undifferentiated share of that power. Individual or groups of capitalists secure their claims through particular organizations, institutions, and processes, so the content of their power is always qualitatively unique. But because this power is exercised over society as a whole, its form can be quantified in universal monetary units; that is, as claims on the entire process of social restructuring.” (311-312)

      To my mind, the operation of re-presenting, or counting the count (i.e., formalizing and reinforcing the restructuring of society) in Badiou’s language mirrors the quantified representation of social forces undertaken by capitalization in Nitzan and Bichler’s work. ‘Re-presentation’ and ‘presentation’, in Badiou’s terminology, parallel Nitzan and Bichler’s ‘form’ and ‘content’. The translation of power into homogenous monetary units mirrors Badiou’s “uniformity of effect” of the law of the count. And just as capitalization re-presents the qualitatively unique power of owners in a universal form (prices), for Badiou, the State uniformly designates and makes uniformly comparable the ‘rulers’ of society as those who own capital.

      An objection: for Nitzan and Bichler, the Marxist conception of the State is flawed in placing economic relations outside the State, and in general separating the economic and political conceptual. On this point, Badiou is also surprisingly ambivalent. For instance, he frequently refers to the structure of state power as ‘capital-parliamentarianism’, which combines both the economic and political regulation of social relations. In addition, he sees economic solutions as misguided and beside the point – for Badiou, emancipation can only be secured through political change. So in a sense, he subsumes economics under a broader category of social relations of domination. However, this interpretation might be a stretch, and Badiou in general stands by the Marxist version of political economy.

      There is a lot more to be thought and said – both frameworks are expansive and complex. I also did not focus on the differences between Badiou’s political analysis and CasP.
      Yet as far as Marxist political thought goes, I think aspects of Badiou’s philosophy complement CasP, particularly Badiou’s philosophical concept of the state (which is what I’m most interested in). In addition, Badiou has a lot to offer those who are interested in thinking beyond the state of capital, and not just analysing and critiquing it.

      • This topic was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by CM.
      • This topic was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by CM.
      • This topic was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by CM.
      • This topic was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by CM.
      • This topic was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by CM.
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