Metapolitics Paperback – Jan 16 2012
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“A figure like Plato or Hegel walks here among us!”—Slavoj iek
“An heir to Jean-Paul Sartre and Louis Althusser.”—New Statesman
“One of the most important philosophers writing today.”—Joan Copjec
About the Author
Alain Badiou teaches philosophy at the École normale supérieure and the Collège international de philosophie in Paris. In addition to several novels, plays and political essays, he has published a number of major philosophical works, including Theory of the Subject, Being and Event, Manifesto for Philosophy, and Gilles Deleuze. His recent books include The Meaning of Sarkozy, Ethics, Metapolitics, Polemics, The Communist Hypothesis, Five Lessons on Wagner, and Wittgenstein’s Anti-Philosophy.
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Even "difficult" thinkers such as Heidegger start in shallow water with simple concepts and take you on a journey, building arguments and challenging the writer's, and your own, assumptions. By the end of the journey, the writing points out areas for intellectual and emotional discovery. Difficult topics are approached cautiously and with precision.
Badiou relies on too many unexplained and weak assumptions along with huge leaps of faith. One can expect that a reader needs to bring with them some "basic principles" that don't bear repeating. However even here (or perhaps especially so) the great philosophers and thinkers put you to task, challenging key ideas or thought processes. In Metapolitics, there is something lazy and haphazard about how the thoughts are strung together with assumptions or concepts dangerously passed over, leading one to a feeling that the conclusions reached are suspect. Or worse, that the effort expended doesn't really bear any fruit.
In the case of Badiou's analysis and application of Sylvain Lazarus' work 'Anthropologie du nom (Des travaux)', my first question was "why Lazarus?" Yes, they are friends and political allies in L'Organization Politique but beyond that I found it very hard to agree with Badiou opening claim that "...it is no exaggeration to say that, today, philosophers cannot attempt any seizure of politics of thought without studying this [meaning Lazarus'] book..." Politically, this gesture is done in good faith but nothing that followed supported such a bold assertion. And ultimately, I felt that, contra Badiou, it was in fact an "exaggeration". So if there is exaggeration or a wilful blindness to the flaws carried by a friend (in this case Lazarus), what about other friends, human or ideological, approached by Badiou? And why stop there? One could, with complete peace of mind and even good conscience, exaggerate the "enemy". This dual suspicion haunts this work and weakens its impact.
Disappointingly, rather than finding key concepts such as "politics" and "democracy" being fundamentally challenged in this book, I found Badiou's thought being challenged. Let us say "autochallenged". As if inherent weaknesses in the text left it unable to sustain itself.
I would even have been happy to treat this as a polemical text (and there are some entertaining and powerful examples by Badiou and friends online) but I couldn't get engaged, let alone angry.
Rather than a meaty and challenging text, I found myself reading an intellectual soufflé that had overreached and then sunk under its own (lack of) weight.
The question for me goes like this: Badiou is an original enough thinker--sure. However, it is often difficult to place him in regards to traditions and currents because--as "original" philosophers often do--he rarely grapples with contemporary thinkers, and if he does, it is anything but clear as to how he positions himself in various flows of politics, etc.
There is certainly SOMEthing there in his work... it perhaps remains to be seen, though I would side with Simon Critchley's critique that Badiou tends to overly-romanticize the figure of the revolutionary figure. There is a sense of heroism that comes on a bit too strong for my taste.
Overall, I recommend Badiou's work. Just be prepared to grapple with it. Though it is not as if these texts were wordy or jargon-filled (such as a Heidegger or Lacan). The struggle here is more of a matter of what to make of this work and what its consequences are on philosophy, politics, and thought. If nothing else inspires you, the first 40 pages where he engages in a much-needed critique of "political philosophy" are certainly worth the price of admission, so to speak.
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.
This is largely a book whose roots lay in a suturing of politics to philosophy, but as the critic of Badiou has said, François Laruelle the demarcations of this suture is actually not as apparent as Badiou wishes. That aside, the sustained polemic against political philosophy, which Badiou seems to largely see as ethical and managerial at root, begins with 'Against Political Philosophy' in the first essay. Admittedly, when one can parse the idiosyncratic way that Badiou defines the state and events, his take-down of various forms of liberal political philosophy, such as the Levinasian reification of the other, Rawlsian "reflective equilibrium", Habermas's 'communicative ethics', Rorty's evocation of a 'conversation of mankind' moves it away from the purely ethical and the largely linguistic turns. These rhetorical defenses of pluralism are actually a defense of a homogenization of a liberal meta-state, but unlike critiques from the right, the ontology of "Being and Event" lingers in such a way that moves one to a nearly Maoist conception of the fidelity to the idea, and an Althusserian notions of structures, but which emerge from fidelity to events.
Now this makes sense in the larger movement of Badiou's work, but this is without Badiou's normal systemic lay-out of the position. However, the particular valorizing of Sylvain Lazarus and his ambivilent statement about Jacques Ranciere can seem hyperbolic even to those very familiar with contemporary French thought. Furthermore, as I have hinted at, it seems that even in Badiou's larger work, the argument for the suturing of evental politics to philosophy is actually quite thin in the larger work, and if that fails, so do most of these polemics.
Badiou, obviously, is refreshing, rigorous, and often insightful, although one sometimes suspects a formalization of Maoist impulses lie deeply within the text. People unfamiliar with Badiou's thought SHOULD NOT start with this text as it simple structure is actually predicated with much deeper knowledge of Badiou's methods and the philosophers in which he is in dialogue.