The Peripatetic Reader
- Published on Amazon.com
The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes is one of the most important works of modern philosophy in part because it identified the crisis current in England at the time, and he offered his solution, a exposition and enumeration of natural laws. These rules would later form the basis of the emerging common law in England established what we now know as the modern world.
In much the same way Alain Badiou's Metapolitics explains what has gone wrong in the political world in the last forty five years, from the epoch-making events of 1968, and from the symptoms of the malady offers his own cure. It is the contemporary Leviathan.
Badiou is that great rarity in the current philosophical world: a self-proclaimed Platonist. His writing, like most Continental philosophers, are obtuse and convoluted, but he is easier to read, at least in this book, than, say, Zizek, or Derrida. At times this book is a difficult read. He also has that great inclination to comment on other Continental philosophers and their work to develop his own thesis. It is difficult to determine where his critique of other writers end and his thesis begins. With a little patience and determination, Badiou's masterpiece provides a penetrating look into the crisis of politics.
He accomplishes this in the course of the book by distinguishing his concept of the political from other Continental philosophers such as Althusser, Lacan, Lazarus, and Ranciere. He takes from here and dashes away from the other systems to arrive at his own conception of man's (i.e., the subject)'s relation to the State and politics and how it can operate as an agent for change.
Indeed, Badiou begins where Hobbes ends, with the creation of the Leviathan, the State, which is both the reason and the symptom of the political ills of contemporary life. It is a true beast, which is indifferent to justice and equality, and has no need for the truth, indeed, is the antithesis to truth. Contrary to bringing communities together through consensus, the characteristic of Badiou's State is to separate and divide, or what Badiou calls, to "unbind," not through oppressive means, while Badiou's State is certainly capable of that, but simply through the absence of Thought.
This he contends is what happened to the radical movements of the Sixties; they assimilated into establishment politics, ideologically stuck at a particular moment in history while separating thought from the political process. Badiou offers examples from the European experience, where the student radicals of Paris 1968 all became political officials in the European Union, with mixed results. There are many examples from the American experience. Think, for example, of Martin Luther King. Whenever his memory is mentioned, his "I have a dream speech" is the first and sometimes only memory to his long work. What is omitted are the primary projects he worked on at the time of his assassination: the Poor People's Campaign and his opposition to the war in Vietnam. The State does not want the people to think about those projects. His memory is further cements -- literally -- by his new, controversial statute erected at the Washington Memorial. This is the type of historicism that hamstrings progress, or, in Badiou's terminology, does not promote truth and justice. The State's ability to freeze movements in this manner is its most enduring and lasting characteristic, and the main focus of resistence.
This situation brings the need of a metapolitcs. Just as metaphysics transcends the experienced world of matter to its essence, so with metapolitics the rancor and division of the political process must be transcended to arrive at the primary purpose of politics, which is to promote Truth and justice. For Badiou the Leviathan, the State, is not interested in the truth; it is the world of opinion, political opinion; it is concerned with freedom of expression, not freedom of expression of the truth. The political system thrives on the voting system; the truth will not be found in voting results (which anyone who have reviewed the voting results of the national presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 will attest!) It is concerned with processes and procedures, not the subjectivity of Thought. It is concern with its own preservation and the continuation of the status quo. In reality with its emphasis on opinion, rancor, and procedures, the State has become an abstraction, the ideals which underpin its creation lost or forgotten. Thus the need for political distancing from the State to achieve the goals of Truth and justice.
This book is intended not only to be a look into the political health of our times but a call to revitalize the Left, what he calls the liberation or emancipatory movements, to re-think their agendas to move forward again with the promise started so long ago. Metapolitics is a deeply rewarding reading experience with splashes of brilliance and eloquence and is a classic in political philosophy.