Politics unbound

Reading Badiou with and against his postmarxist contemporaries

Englische Fassung meines Textes „Figurationen der Ent-Bindung“, übersetzt für einen Vortrag, den ich am 8. April 2010 auf Einladung Katja Diefenbachs an der  Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht gehalten habe. Vortrag und Debatte warenTeil von Diefenbachs Forschungsprojekt After 1968: „On the Notion of the Political in Political Theory“. Die dazu gehörige Website ist ein wichtiges Archiv für jede Phänomenologie des Geistes des Mai 68 und – nolens volens – des politischen Existenzialismus. English Introduction below! (länger)

From a leftheideggerian perspective, Thomas Seibert comments on Badiou’s idea of politics conceived in the form of unbinding and subtraction. He thereby traces Badiou’s Heideggerianism in politics by discussing the concepts of truth, decision, fidelity and prescription. He confronts and supplements his thought of politics with deconstructive and post-structuralist approaches criticising both the lack of politico-economical analysis in Badiou and the idea of a clear division between animality and militant political subjectivity, the inauthenticity of finite biological life and the existential authenticity of decisive being. Finally, his lecture opens to a rare encounter by reading Badiou with his postmarxist contemporaries, especially Derrida, Deleuze and Negri, a conflictual conjunction of political thoughts. (Katja Diefenbach)

The crisis of Marxism is over. This isn’t because it has been resolved, but because, for some time, it has been replaced by another game. This game is called “post-Marxism”, and the post prefix reveals the connection to other similarly named undertakings. Their collective historical signature is postmodernism, which in turn refers to May 1968. Post-Marxism has developed as a “thinking-with…”, whose differences and repetitions are derived from a broader history of Marxism – one should mention Antonio Gramsci or Mao Zedong, or more precisely, the aspects of their thought that are only now becoming evident. Mainly, however, these differences and repetitions are the effects of an encounter with other histories, such as those of feminist or postcolonial thought. In the following, I will primarily deal with a third archive: the problematisations in which Marxism and post-Marxism are positioned in a broader history of European philosophy.

From this particular perspective, it is possible to distinguish two generations of post-Marxist thought. The first comprises, in the narrower sense of the widely used term, poststructuralist discourses, and thinks, to name names, with and against Gilles Deleuze/Fèlix Guattari, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. The second brings discourses together that, despite their origins in May 1968, operate as a response to the first generation. Among this generation are Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, Donna Haraway, Antonio Negri/Michael Hardt and Slavoj Žižek. It is no accident that what both generations have in common can be named with a term that is derived from the last thinker of the crisis of Marxism, Louis Althusser – a term that was later expressly recognised by Hardt/Negri as the appropriate name for this common project: aleatory materialism.

With this term, Althusser bid a final farewell to dialectical materialism, in which in 1968 he still saw an “unprecedented revolution in the history of human knowledge”, but in 1986 only an “abomination”.[1] Materialist aleatorics (Lat. alea, dice, game of dice) thus means a thought for which history, after the disintegration of all idea of a determinant marking it in the last instance has become a “process without subject”[2] and thus without a first cause, highest entity and last ends. This history remains to be thought as “Marxist” because it nonetheless, or rather: because it only now, in the full sense, is to be carried out as an aleatorics of social struggles.

However, the new definition of materialism that results from changing the qualifying adjective is also one of philosophy. Although philosophy still remains a “battleground” for truths, and hence for “class struggle in theory”, its counterparts materialism and idealism now form a “pair” in which many materialisms turn out to be merely “reversed” idealisms. Therefore, from now on, “class struggle in theory” is no longer to be introduced into every individual philosophy as a contradiction between two opposing “blocs”, but as an interaction between different “tendencies”. In this, even an apparently nonsensical option becomes viable in which Badiou attempts to think the aleatory as a “platonic materialism” or a “materialism of the idea”.[3] The reason that this option seems nonsensical is because both Althusser and Hardt/Negri define aleatory materialism with a list of proper names whose only common feature is their anti-Platonism: Epicurus, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida.[4]

This isn’t, however, a case of postmodern arbitrariness in the rightly contemptible sense of the word. Of course Badiou’s appeal to Plato is not concerned with a prevalent Platonism; he remains faithful to the common feature of all aleatorics, according to which neither thought nor being have a final determinant, and thus cannot provide the first and highest idea that played such a crucial role for Plato. What’s more: Badiou’s appeal to Plato has the same function as his appeal to Heidegger, who the Platonist Badiou describes on the first page of his magnum opus as “the last philosopher who can be universally recognised.”[5]

The point of agreement between Badiou, Plato and Heidegger lies in the duty that they all recognise to hold fast “unshakably to the governing distinction between truth and knowledge or between cognition and thought”.[6] Heidegger summed up the “governing distinction” in his notorious remark that “science does not think”. That this wasn’t intended to be and isn’t anti-scientific is made clear by the preceding sentence which states that science “does not think and cannot think – which is its good fortune, here meaning the assurance of its own appointed course.”[7] Put briefly and very simply, this course leads to the objective cognition of what is objective, thus to the cognition of the intramundane facts in knowledge. Such cognition of the facts is made evident for Heidegger in the “rightness” of the sentences that enunciate them, and which are therefore not “true sentences” and cannot be such. Badiou varies Heidegger’s distinction between “truth” and “rightness” with his distinction between “truth” and “veridicity” (veridicité).[8] Only true sentences, in contrast, are reserved for thought and are aimed – again, put briefly – not at facts in the world, but at the world-disclosing truths of existence, being and event.

In the following, this agreement between Badiou, Heidegger and Plato is the point of departure for an exploration of the possibilities of politics disclosed by aleatory materialism as a mode of thought. Methodological support for this is provided by the circumstance that the post-Marxist “thinking-with…”, following the oldest and best Marxist tradition, is always also a “thinking-against…” that includes acts of partisanship, the moves and counter moves of “class struggle in theory”. This includes a clarification of differences in aleatory materialism, particularly at the point at which although it understands itself entirely as ontology, it doesn’t bring the ontological circle of being, truth and subjectivity into play in the same way. Thus, to be partisan means, at this point, to first want to produce the common: with and against Badiou, and in the interest of the matter in question itself – that is to say, aleatory materialism.

Process without subject?

The first thing both generations of aleatory materialism have in common is the attempt to solve “a paradox that runs throughout Marx’s thought: the paradox of confiding the liberation of the revolutionary subjectivity to a ‘process without subject’.”[9] The solving of the paradox is initially to be carried out through a closer designation of the “deconstruction” of the previously clearly given subject, already assumed in the talk of the “process without subject”. With a view to politics, one should first recall its extra-philosophical real: the history of twentieth century communism, which, with Marx and Engels, strictly should not be understood as a utopian “state of affairs” and not as a normative “ideal”, but as a “real movement that abolishes the present state of things.”[10] Indeed it is no small effect of the history of this movement that the deconstruction of its subject is often understood as the negation of the revolutionary subjectivity of the proletariat. In philosophical terms, however, it can be held against this powerful doxa that deconstruction, in the sense of its name-givers Heidegger and Derrida, as well as in the common sense of the word, is a rather more complicated act – that is to say, not merely negative, but one that also has a positive content. Heidegger designates the positivity of such de-construction generally as a “clearing away” of “concealment and obfuscation” and a “disruption” of “displacements” that uncovers the “original experiences in which the first and henceforth guiding designations of being were acquired”. This means the designations of being in general as well as the being of the subject in particular that Heidegger develops post-idealistically in the “a priori character of the merely ‘factual’ subject” that he calls “Dasein”.[11]

This game of negativity and positivity in the operation of deconstruction (although not always named as such) is played by Marx and Nietzsche no less than Derrida, Deleuze/Guattari, Foucault, Rancière, Haraway, Hardt/Negri or Žižek: they all negate handed-down subject constructions “only” in order to uncover the being of another, then emphatically occupied, subjectivity. This was particularly true of Badiou, who early on and without much hesitation spoke again of the subject.[12]

If, as a result, he comes particularly close to the Heidegger of Being and Time, this is due to the fact that both locate the subject explicitly and constitutively in a circle that they grasp as one of being, truth and subjectivity, and qualify through a circular stroke that they attribute, in each case, to a particular event. Outside this circle, Heidegger speaks of the “inauthentic existence” of his subject, of Dasein – Badiou, more radically, of an “animalistic life” of an anthropological type – I will come back to this point further on.[13] For both, therefore, the express task of philosophy is to formalise the difference between inauthentic and authentic or between “subjective” and “animalistic” life according to an explicitly ethico-political agenda: “I would like to say that (…) philosophy’s task is to show that there are forms of existence that are coherent and justified and others that are not. The question of universals has no other purpose than to attempt, through singular discursive means, to define a formalism of existence that is such that, based on this, it is possible to distinguish what is a properly subjective and fulfilled life, as far as this is possible, and what is a life that remains within animality.”[14]

At this point, however, two differences in the relationship between Heidegger and Badiou become apparent where I opt once in favour of Heidegger and once in favour of Badiou. The first difference relates to the concept of being itself, which Badiou develops from the mathematisability of all existing entities. If, on this point, I agree with Heidegger, I can do this, despite the weight of the decision, without further justification because being in the case of Badiou results at first glance already and still incontestably from a reduction of Heideggerian being, which can only be legitimated in a regional-ontological way: if the former ontologically “is” the horizon of thought of all countable entities, the latter ontologically “is” the horizon of thought of all somehow existing entities, that therefore also, without constraint, incorporates the countable entities.

The second difference concerns the concept of the event, which, in as much as an event forms a circle of being, truth and subjectivity, both think similarly. But while Heidegger basically only knows two events (that of the opening and of the torsion of all previous “history of being” in the arrival or death of God and the beginning or end of ontotheology), Badiou’s concept of the event goes further insofar as he makes thinkable a fourfold of the history of being, in which the truths, circle of truth and subject of truth of art, science, love and politics are both separated and held together. If I follow Badiou in this question, then this can be initially grounded in the reference to the disciplinary splitting up of philosophy in which the fourfold of the truths has, since Plato, been as fundamental as it has been ultimately unthought.[15] In the second step, Badiou’s concept of the event that he attains from the fourfold of the histories of being and truth is not only superior to Heidegger’s clearly poorer concept of the event, but also the event concepts of Deleuze/Guattari, Derrida, Foucault or Hardt/Negri that are multiplied to a state of indifference.

But how does all that help to solve the paradox of “confiding the liberation of the revolutionary subjectivity to a ‘process without subject’”? Ultimately, it is these two points, whereby the first is only relevant for the approach of aleatory materialism by emphasising that and how this is understood as ontology but no longer as the discipline of the first and last grounding, but as one of deconstruction. This self-understanding is expressly uncontested in both of the generations gathered here; it is the reason for the general reverence for Heidegger concerning this matter. The political use-value, or better: the explosive political force, of ontology understood in this way is disclosed in the moment in which the ontological deconstruction of the first cause, the highest entities, and last ends expressly affirms its political consequences, and this not only against the legitimating discourses of bourgeois rule, but also against dialectical materialism.

The second point relates to the consequences that result from this politico-ontological an-archy for its subject, which is then also necessarily a politico-ontological subject. Decisive here is that the post-Marxist de- and re-constructed subject is no longer the autonomous subject of idealism or dialectical materialism, but a “responsive” subject that owes its being co-originally to an event as well as its response to this event. If the autonomy of the subject thought both idealistically and dialectically-materially implies the “self-positing” of its subjectivity, to grasp the responsive subject that aleatory materialism thinks in the formula of “positing-oneself-as-posited” that doesn’t result from the denial, but “from the radical thinking-through of the autonomist concept of subjectivity” and found its classical designation in the existentiality of the “thrown project”.[16] Sufficient reason then to set down the circle of being, truth and subjectivity in the place in which its relevance also remains to be made evident: in politics.

The circle of politics

To properly understand Badiou’s concept of the truth-subject, it is first necessary to hold onto the fact that this subject isn’t necessarily an isolated self. This becomes clearest in the truth-circle of politics, since, according to Badiou, this is produced by the “masses” and their “party”: a circumstance that political ontology grasps with the observation that “the central activity of politics is the gathering”, and its truth, the ontologically (world-disclosing), not ontically (intramundane) understood equality of all, which Badiou also simply calls justice.[17]

In a second step, Badiou orients himself to Marx, Lenin and Mao Zedong as the essential thinkers of the masses and the party. In Metapolitics he reports on the common objections according to which the masses are either seen as a mere fiction of intellectuals or as a homogenised block, if not a manipulated mob, and the party is seen as nothing but a system of representation arising from a mixture of authoritarianism, the rule of cliques, and asceticism, only waiting for an opportune moment to seize the state and hence social wealth. The common denominator of these masses and this party is the “one” as the sign of a “primordial bond”, bound by which, the masses/party pairing “oscillate between the barbarism of the pure real and the grandiose deception of the imaginary.”[18]

He then introduces the deconstruction of these ontic, not unguarded, objections with the concept of a “oblivion of politics” analogous to Heidegger’s “oblivion of being”, whose current most prominent form he sees in liberalism. Badiou initially agrees with the liberal critique to the extent that he also sees the “great enigma” of politics in the circumstance that “the most heroic popular uprisings, the most persistent wars of liberation, the most indisputable mobilisations in the name of justice and liberty only end (…) in opaque statist constructions wherein none of the factors that gave meaning and possibility to their historical genesis is decipherable”. Against liberalism, however, and in carrying out a methodical critique of the liberal oblivion of politics, he insists on the fact that the enigma of politics can only be solved by adhering to the “hypothesis” that there was once, there still is, and there will be a politics of emphatic meaning.[19] To this end, the procedures of equality and justice fulfilling the emphatic concept of politics should not be understood as something “objective” – speaking with Heidegger: not be confused with an entity, but must be thought in their being. If this occurs, then, for the equality assumed by politics and first all brought into being, it isn’t a matter “of an equality of status, of income, of function, and even less of the supposedly egalitarian dynamics of contracts or reforms.” Instead, it must be understood – that is to say, already followed – as “a political maxim, a prescription”. The fact that Badiou does not understand the concepts of maxim and prescription “normatively”, but as an announcement of a “real movement” in the Marxian sense, is made clear in his designation according to which equality isn’t something that we simply “want or plan”, but “what we declare under fire of the event, here and now, as what is, and not as what should be.” For this reason, equality and justice cannot be “a programme of the state”: “‘Justice’ is the qualification of an egalitarian moment of politics in actu. (…) Consequently either we are within justice or we are not.”[20]

If we retain this specific designation, the prescription of equality can initially only be understood as a circle, and from this circle: it “is” only in its essentially practical subjective affirmation that can only “be” one again when politics – that is to say, equality and justice – has already become prescription, and is affirmed as such. Whoever takes this circularity formally-logically as an objection in the matter should be referred to the laconic response with which Heidegger had already countered such reservations in Being and Time: “What is decisive isn’t to get out of the circle, but to come in to it in the right way.”[21]

The closer designation of politics understood in this way is then consequently acquired by Badiou in his short and dense phenomenology of the “egalitarian moment of politics in actu” drawing on the Jacobins, the Communist Party of 1848, and the Bolsheviks. A point of reference in this matter is the insight that in this case masses and party are not placed under the sign of the “one” as the sign of a “primordial bond”, but are rather distinguished by their unlinking from such a bond, becoming a “signifier of extreme particularity, of the non-lien”.[22] And indeed: the party, whose Manifesto was written by Marx in 1848, is planned by him in definitional terms not as homogenous block, but as open process of communication between the most radical, because, in the literal sense, unreservedly un-bound elements of the total class movement: “the communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.”[23] The first designation of this party in and beyond the separated working-class parties is therefore also “not its firmness, but rather its porosity to the event”, which gives it in the successful case “an unfixable omnipresence, whose proper function is less to represent class than to de-limit it”. Badiou finds the same logic in the Bolsheviks and in Lenin’s relation to the party of the Bolsheviks: far from being determined by the “iron discipline” of their “professional revolutionary”, “Lenin’s party, the party of 1917, besides having been a disparate coalition riddled with all sorts of public disagreements, debates and factions”, becomes, for Lenin, the object of furious insults, “when the party, privileging the bond of its continued existence over the risk that was posed to it, retreated, terrified, when the hour of insurrection was at hand.”[24]

Badiou’s designation of the communist politics of the masses and the party as a prescription of equality and justice implemented in praxes that imposes its subjectivity in the “fire of the event”, and is momentarily affirmed and testified by it, is then crossed in the field of aleatory materialism with a discourse that is initially perceived, in tone and temperament, to be that of its antipode: with that of Derrida. Indeed, Derrida also thinks politics out of a circle in which its being, truth and subjectivity refer to each other in such a way that justice as the being and truth of politics in actu falls together with the evidence according to which a political subject affirms an already practiced fidelity to, and an already practiced faith in, justice. Derrida goes so far as to link the justice preceding and exceeding every positive law with deconstruction itself: “This kind of justice, which isn’t law, is the very movement of deconstruction at work in law and the history of law, in political history and history itself, before it even presents itself as the discourse that the academy or modern culture labels ‘deconstructionism’.”[25] Naturally, the talk of justice as the pre-philosophical “movement of deconstruction” like Badiou’s talk of justice as the “qualification of an egalitarian moment of politics in actu” is an echo of Marx-Engel’s talk of communism as a “real movement”: all three formulations criticise the designation of justice and equality as a state of affairs to be brought about (utopia), an ideal to follow (normativity), as well as its liberal downgrading to the qualification of positive law.

In apparent contradiction to Badiou’s definitive separation of equality or justice from the “quality of status, of income, of function” and the “egalitarian dynamics of contracts or reforms”, Derrida expressly points out that justice in actu cannot be thought without this law: although it is a surplus beyond all law, it has its place in the given law itself when in each case it refers this law in actu to a new law. That this contradiction is only an apparent one is shown at the point in which Derrida defines the political act in which justice inscribes positive law by assigning it to a new law as a “politicisation of law”[26]: a formula that, not only formally, but also according to the specific case, meets the formula of the “prescription of the state” in which Badiou not only relates the prescription character of politics to its own subjectivity, but also to the state. In this way, Badiou concretises the, as it were, “real-political” work of justice implemented in actu by pointing to the fact that it is the equality and justice actualised in the event-open gathering of the masses as well as the event-open high tension of its party that first creates the “distance” to the state, from which this can then be subjected to a historically specific “measure”: “We will call political prescription the post-event calculation of a fixed measure of the power of the state.”[27]

If the history of communism in the twentieth century called for at the beginning appears from the perspective of its end as the rupture of already several processes of politicisation of law or the prescription of the state, then it is not possible to extract a final judgement concerning the truth of the approach followed in each case since, in the emergence and interruption of “real movements”, the historicity of events and singular “modes” or “sequences” of the political, it is not the teleologically oriented history of a universal subject in the Hegelian sense that remains to be thought – that is to say, still as a process, or better: processes, that are singular in themselves without such a subject. With recourse to a formulation of Sylvain Lazarus’, Badiou goes a step further and generally absolves the politics of emphatic meaning from attributions of possible “failure”: “Politics is precarious, the mode begins and terminates, without this termination ever amounting to a measure of the mode, or there ever being cause to speak of failure. (…) The termination of a politics isn’t enough to identify it. On the contrary, it is essential to think the termination of all politics. Termination, then is no longer a litmus test, but rather that which comes about at the end of the sequence and constitutes the idea of the sequence.”[28] If among the effects nevertheless yielded by a termination understood in this way of singular sequences of the politicisation of law or the prescription of the state is precisely the oblivion of politics with which “politics” is reduced to the simple management of related societies by law and state, then it should be opposed to such an oblivion of politics that the events standing at the beginning of such sequences are world-disclosing acts and consequently not intramundane facts of knowledge or cognition, but rather “matters of thought” (Heidegger). Belonging to the precariousness of their being is then the fact that the foundational event of a political sequence is never given as immediately present for its subjects, but always only in the manner of vanishing or appearing – with the result that the responses of the subjects to “their” event can never be “objectively” covered, and consequently are always only interpretations, and hence always also interpretations that – Heidegger again – can lead to “errance”. However, the possibility of such confusion should not be understood as an insufficiency, but must be thought of as the actual challenge of the freedom of its thus responsive and not autonomous subjectivity. Hence, Badiou and Derrida agree that the possibility of confusion should not be liberated from the constraint to the free response, and therefore never the cause of liberal moderation – an affirmation of freedom that Derrida sums up in the prescription: “One must be juste with justice.”[29]

If Badiou and Derrida define the subjective affirmation of the event-like un-binding and unlinking from the intramundane order of things into the freedom of the response and consequently the responsibility as a relationship of faith in, or fidelity to, the event, they do this from opposing perspectives: if for Badiou, fidelity and faith relate to a past event, Derrida refers to a coming event.[30] My suggestion to take together both types of faith and fidelity is then not owed only to the evidence of the matter itself, but also the evidence that only thus the positing-oneself-as-posited of the truth-subject implemented in the fidelity and faith is fully designated. This self would then be thought with Lacan from the “extimity” (externality/intimacy,TS) of the event: the being of the subject in its innermost; constituting from there, and situated in such a way in this interior, the event thus remains the outermost outside and in this way the “mystical foundation of authority” of personal freedom.[31]

Masses, minorities, multitudes and cyborgs

If the following remarks represent only a parenthesis, then this is due to the fact that they touch on an examination that remains to be carried out elsewhere. Here, the most important position is marked by Hardt/Negri; to this should be integrated – which is my approach here –  the positions of Derrida, Deleuze/Guattari, Foucault and Haraway as well as that of Badiou. One reason for this is the fact that Badiou only speaks of the masses to oppose the liberal reduction of mass politics to a homogenised block related to the state or party. Badiou opposes this with a conception of the masses as a figuration of the un-binding and unlinking, and hence the subjectivity of sequences of politics that are anti-state or at least distant to the state – one point in which all mentioned aleatory positions agree. This was first applied by Deleuze/Guattari followed by Foucault for whom politics is always subjectivised in “minorities”. The latter term is misunderstood if it is interpreted as a designation of quantity: a minority should not be understood numerically, but as a movement of qualitative “becoming-minor” that “escapes” a similarly qualitatively constituted majority. The definition of the majority is based on a “constant” that Deleuze grasps with the formula “white, Western, male, adult, reasonable, heterosexual, residing in cites, speaking a standard language”: “It is obvious that ‘man’ holds the majority, even if he is less numerous than mosquitoes, children, women, blacks, peasants, homosexuals etc. (…) Majority assumes a state of power and domination, not the other way around. It assumes the standard measure, not the other way around.” The last sentence sums up Deleuze/Guattari and Foucault’s political approach: if every majority is constituted by the state and by the law, a minority is constituted in the measure in which it gains a distance to the state and law, and in this way – here they wouldn’t have disagreed with Badiou or Derrida – concedes the possibility of placing the state under a prescription or of politicising law. However, since minorities are repeatedly threatened with “recognition” from the state or law, Deleuze/Guattari extend the majority/minority pairing with the concept of a becoming-minor whereby majority and minority relate to each other like a system to its sub-system while the becoming-minor ultimately escapes both: “The problem is never to acquire the majority, even in order to install a new constant. There’s no becoming-majoritarian; majority is never becoming. All becoming is minoritarian. Women, regardless of their numbers, are a minority, definable as a state or subset; but they create only by making possible a becoming over which they do not have ownership, into which they themselves must enter; this is a becoming-woman affecting all of human kind, men and women both.” [32] While Foucault concretised this project with the politics of the post-68 new left and new social movements,[33] Deleuze/Guattari retain its connection to the politics of the class struggle at least in definitional terms by expressly pointing out that “the power of minority (…) finds its figure or universal consciousness in the proletariat.”[34]

The indeed very time-related primacy of the new social movements and the merely definitional connection between the becoming-minor and the class struggle provided Hardt/Negri with the problem that they attempt to solve with their project of a politics of “multitudes”. Indeed, Hardt/Negri carry out what Deleuze/Guattari only remark upon: that the power of the becoming-minor finds its essential challenge in the struggles for the production and means of production of social wealth. With this, Hardt/Negri dis-place the handed-down concept of class struggle and extend it from the factory to all social relationships: an insight that they largely owe to feminism.

But who are the multitudes? When and where do they appear? In a step beyond Deleuze/Guattari and Foucault as well as Derrida and Badiou, Hardt/Negri name this concept, which can literally be translated as “crowd” or “masses”, on the one hand, as a “class concept”, so called because it can only be sufficiently designated in a politico-economic investigation.[35] If, on the other hand, with Deleuze/Guattari, Foucault, Derrida and Badiou, they expressly distinguish it from the bourgeois concepts of populace or nation as well as the traditional Marxist concept of class as universal subject, they update Deleuze/Guattari, Foucault, Derrida and Badiou’s critique of subject constructions in reference to a sovereignty established by the state and the law, but also insist, in this respect, on the concrete politico-economic designation. Here they also follow Deleuze/Guattari and Foucault in the deconstruction of the concept of the individual, and think the generation of multitude subjectivities as a “singularisation” that also and precisely escapes being identified in an in-dividual. Multitudes or singularities are thus to be thought as possibilities of both proletarian and post-proletarian subjectivisation linked to politico-economic conditions and liberated from this conditionality in class struggles.[36]

If one compares Hardt/Negri’s thus-understood concept of the masses with that, particularly, of Badiou, an ambivalence arises that should be examined from both sides. Thus, Hardt/Negri have so far only carried out the generation of multitudes either in a very general way or in the very concrete though hardly conceptually reflected form of interviews on the current political situation.[37] On the other hand, Badiou’s masses thought much more precisely via such events appears distinctly poorer than Hardt/Negri’s multitudes to the extent that he thinks them only incidentally away from their relation to the “biopolitical” de-limiting of capitalism from all social relations and in this way the whole of life – a conceptual impoverishment that finally leads Negri, in dialogue, to the accusation that Badiou conducts a “materialism without matter.”

The biopolitical de-limitation of capital should be clarified with Donna Haraway, who in the concept of the “cyborg” analyses a specific biopolitical type of subjectivisation in which the ontological thresholds between human, animal and machine are blurred, subjecting all politics of this kind to their historically broadest either-or: “From one perspective, a cyborg world is about the final imposition of a grid of control on the planet, about the final abstraction embodied in a Star Wars apocalypse waged in the name of defence, about the final appropriation of women’s bodies in a masculinist orgy of war. From another perspective, a cyborg world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints.” Against this either-or, it’s a matter for Haraway, as well as Hardt/Negri, of always also thinking politics as an “anthropological exodus” in which the multitudes and their singularities are able to bring about a post-anthropological being.[38] It is this option that is missing in Badiou, although he needed to urgently take it up to be able to politically concretise his critique of humanism drawing on Nietzsche, Heidegger and Foucault.[39]

However, the meaning of this ambivalence, which is seen most clearly in a comparison of Hardt/Negri and Badiou, can finally be emphasised through a recent counter move, this time also in the direction of Deleuze/Guattari, Foucault and Haraway, who like Hardt/Negri formulate their politics without reference to the “metapolitics” of equality and justice, which conversely forms the approach of Badiou and Derrida. This weakness becomes particularly evident in Foucault’s vitalist historicism, which always ends up coming close to what is still only a liberal understanding of politics when, in the back-and-forth of the metamorphoses of life, he only wants to orient himself to a “hyper- and pessimistic activism”. Here, it is no longer a matter for the nonetheless expressly demanded “ethico-political choice” of an emphatically understood distinction and hence one that is also to be qualified by “good” and “evil”, but only of a necessarily defensive designation of what currently constitutes the “main danger”.[40]

Finitude and immortality

Badiou is able to avoid what is still merely a defensive position precisely because he not only separates himself from the vitalism of Foucault, but also from the more optimistically coloured vitalisms of Deleuze/Guattari, Hardt/Negri and Haraway, as well as the earlier vitalisms of Spinoza, Marx and Nietzsche, in order to refer to Plato precisely at this point. His turning to Plato can be called “materialist” to the extent that the good, for Badiou, isn’t the ontotheologically highest but an immanent-ontological designation of a circle of being, truth and subjectivity: “good” is, what is perpetuated by a reciprocal reference of subject and truth, thereby affirming the power of its circle (fidelity and faith); “bad” is what undermines this or turns against itself (betrayal, delusion and terror in relation to an event).[41] In the Platonic combining of ethics with the relationship of the subject to the truth that is bears witness to, Badiou’s abovementioned “formalism of existence” is encapsulated that submits the radical discontinuity of a “subjective” (truth-related) and “animalistic” (related to a-subjective passions of “mere sex”) life and therefore only speaks about subjects where, with an event, a circle of truth, of being and of subjectivity is set down and unfolded to develop a truth-procedure of art, science, love or politics that is finite in its duration, but infinite in its content. Beyond such procedures, Badiou only knows living – that is to say, mortal – beings from which the extremely rare subjective being is therefore also separated because, as bearers of an “eternal” truth, they are themselves “immortal”.[42]

If Slavoj Žižek, otherwise Badiou’s closest ally in aleatory materialism, is able to go a decisive step further in this matter, then this is based on his criticism of Badiou’s dualism of “animality” and “subjectivity” as being only an abstract reversal of the otherwise rightly rejected vitalism. Žižek constructed this argument, thus aimed against Badiou as well as Deleuze/Guattari, Foucault, Hardt/Negri and Haraway, with recourse to the psychoanalytic uncovering of the “death drive”, the existential-analytical uncovering of the “being-towards-death”, and the Kantian “analytics of finitude” (Foucault), in which the closing of being to a entirely determined positive order is contested for the first time by appealing precisely to this finitude. This enabled him to attain a subject that, although it has its ontological place post-idealistically “in life”, cannot be reduced to this life because it is designated in and from its liveliness, and hence mortality, as “the negative gesture of breaking out of the constraints of being that opens up the space of possible subjectivization.”[43] He achieves this because he reconstructs the undisguised implementation of “limit experiences” of the being-towards-death as an act of conversion in which the death drive passes into the acts of sublimation that are actualised sequentially in the fidelity to a truth of art, science, love or politics. Žižek is thus able to deconstruct the dualism, in which Badiou violently separates the immortality of the truth-subject from the finitude of the living being, as “regression to ‘non-thought’”, which he then reveals in the “topic of human finitude, from Heideggerian ‘being-towards-death’ to Freudian ‘death drive’”.[44] For Žižek, the decisive point of deconstruction is the insight that the splitting of the human, only abstractly set down by Badiou, “between mortality (a finite being destined to perish) and the capacity to participate in the eternity of the Truth-Event”, precisely as such splitting, and with it provides the proof that in both – in being-towards-death and in the participation in eternal truth – “we are dealing with a finite/mortal being”: a finite subject that enables the sequential subjectivisation of eternal truths, and thus, as living being, is or can be more than a living being.[45] In the same move, however, Žižek is also able to deconstruct the vitalist ontologies of Deleuze/Guattari, Hardt/Negri and Haraway in which living human beings and their “more than a living being” should be brought together without expressly passing through the “outermost edge of human experience” acted out in the death drive and the “radical subjective destitution” suffered in it.[46]

Žižek’s own point becomes politically relevant in the failure of both Badiou and Hardt/Negri to designate, in the figure of the “militant”, an actual subject of politics.[47] Although both initially discern this subject in the subjectivity of the masses or multitudes, from their political experience, they come up against the problem of an, in fact, isolated – in the extreme case, even lonely – subjectivity of the political. If Hardt/Negri already show the importance of this step by making it the focus of the closing chapter of Empire, it is shown in Badiou not coincidentally in the engagement with an earlier associate, Jacques Rancière. Badiou accuses Rancière of “tendentially” reducing his thought of politics to pitting “phantom masses against an unnamed state” and thereby to leap over the fact that in the “real situation” of the present we pit “a few rare political militants against the ‘democratic’ hegemony of the parliamentary state.” These isolated “few” are, in the highlighted sense, the subjectivity of the political because they distinguish themselves not only through the mass participation in the immediacy of the evental rupture, but also and particularly in the fidelity to the past as well as the coming, and hence absent, event, and to this extent are militant as opposed to merely rebellious. In definitional terms, Badiou points out: “The central subjective figure of politics is the political militant.”[48]

While Hardt/Negri’s conception of militancy hardly goes beyond a lyricism of vital creativity, Badiou’s militant, as a result of his abstract setting down of the difference between “animalistic” and “subjective” life, is only distinguished through the promotion of violence in which it splits from the living being to which it belongs. Corresponding to this reduction is the lack of clarity in which Badiou leaves the question of how precisely a subject abstracted in such a way from its Dasein should gain the mobility to constantly test the truth of the event anew – that is to say, in constantly new ways. In relation to vitalism and anti-vitalism, Žižek also leads precisely the figure of the militant back to the living being-towards-death in which a subjectivity is referred to itself and its possible. “So the point” Žižek writes with and against Badiou “is not to deny the specifically human mode of ‘immortality’ (that of participating in a Truth-Event sustaining a dimension irreducible to the constrained positive order of being), but to bear in mind how this ‘immortality’ is based on the specific mode of human finitude.”[49] This is distinguished, however, by a truth of its own that precedes the truths of politics just as those of art, science and love. Heidegger described it as the “truth of being” that in its subjectivisation can become the “truth of existence”. To be founded on this truth is a “formalism of existence” that neither abstractly sets down nor, in the simple metamorphoses of an élan vital, renders indifferent the difference between a living being and its “more than a living being”.[50]

What would be attained, with such a formalism, for an aleatorics of the truths, and the question of “to what end” it is practiced? No less than the “real point” from which to think anew and then also transform the relation in which the militants of the political sequence to be generated now undertake the critique of the biopolitical economy – that is to say, the current mode of equality and justice.[51]


Althusser, Louis: Lenin und die Philosophie. Hamburg 1974

Althusser, Louis: Für Marx. Frankfurt/Main 1968

Althusser, Louis, Écrits philosophiques et politiques, Bd. 1. Paris 1994a

Althusser, Louis: Sur la philosophie. Paris 1994b

Althusser, Louis: Die Veränderung der Welt hat kein Subjekt. In: Neue Rundschau, 3 (1995), 9ff.

Badiou, Alain: Theorie du sujet. Paris 1982

Badiou, Alain: Zwei Briefe an Gilles Deleuze. In: Balke, Friedrich; Joseph Vogl: Gilles Deleuze – Fluchtlinien der Philosophie. München 1996

Badiou, Alain: Manifest für die Philosophie. Wien 1997

Badiou, Alain; Jacques Rancière, Rado Riha, Jelica Šumič: Politik der Wahrheit, Wien 1997

Badiou, Alain: Das Sein und das Ereignis. Berlin 2005

Badiou, Alain: Über Metapolitik. Zürich, Berlin 2003a

Badiou, Alain: Deleuze. Das Geschrei des Seins. Berlin 2003b

Badiou, Alain: Ethik. Wien 2003c

Badiou, Alain: Das Jahrhundert, Zürich, Berlin 2006

Badiou, Alain: Was bedeutet der Name Sarkozy?, Zürich 2008

Badiou, Alain: Das Konzept des Modells, Wien 2009

Badiou, Alain: Zweites Manifest für die Philosophie. Wien 2010

Deleuze, Gilles: Kleine Schriften, Berlin 1980

Deleuze, Gilles; Félix Guattari, Antiödipus. Kapitalismus und Schizophrenie, Bd. 1. Frankfurt/M 1977

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Thomas Seibert
Reading Badiou with and against his postmarxist contemporaries
Politics unbound

Kathrin Thiele
Nietzsche with Deleuze II
The thought of becoming

International conference
Becoming-major, becoming-minor

Marina Gržinić
Global capitalism, necropolitics and contemporary art

Roberto Esposito
The dispositif of the person

International Conference
Encountering Althusser

Conference material: schedule, abstracts, articles
Encountering Althusser

Antke Engel
Queer/ing Images of Sexuality and Economy
The Surplus of Paradoxes

Matteo Mandarini
Negri’s encounter with Guattari: the elision of Lenin
Communists like us

Ruth Sonderegger
A cinematic diagnosis of biopolitics
The cinema of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Christian Kerslake
The specter of an unsolved problematic
The Meanings of Immanence in Deleuze’s Philosophy

Luca Basso, Vittorio Morfino
A French Marx
The singular, the trans-individual and the common

Pier Vittorio Aureli, Andrea Cavaletti, Katja Diefenbach, Mark Purcell, Miguel Robles-Duran, Lukasz Stanek, Roemer van Toorn, Peter Trummer, Sven-Olov Wallenstein
State-space symposium no. 1
Biopolitics of scale

Paul Hegarty, Vanessa Theodoropoulos, Jean Louis Violeau
Against the economic: Reading Baudrillard with Bataille, Lacan, Marx, and Debord
A Workshop on Baudrillard

Lecture of Tom Rockmore at the International Institute for Research and Education, Amsterdam
Is Marx a Fichtean?

Martin Saar
Negri on Power.
Political Spinozism

Steve Wright
The Refusal of Labor
Tronti’s Legacy

Massimo De Angelis, Pier Vittorio Aureli, Anne Querrien
The production of commons, subjectivity and space
Communists like us

A. Auerbach, K. Diefenbach, S. Dillemuth, M. Vishmidt
The politics of bohemia

Maria Muhle
Politics, police and power from Foucault to Rancière

Manfred Hermes
Narrative strategies of subjectivisation in Fassbinder’s „Berlin Alexanderplatz“
In the figurative sense

Serhat Karakayali
On political hegemony and militant becoming: Gramsci and Deleuze
The poetics of knowledge

Ruben Martinez, Jaron Rowan, Marina Vishmidt, Katja Diefenbach
The cultural producer as model of the post-fordist worker
In the mood for work

Grahame Lock
The actuality of Althusser’s thinking
Dictatorship of the proletariat as political science

Judith Hopf
The imposition of creative work
Hey production!

Raul Zelik
Notes on asymmetric warfare and governance
Sovereign police


[1] Althusser (1968), p. 207 and (1994a), p. 582. Cf. also Negri (1996).

[2] Althusser (1995), pp. 9ff.

[3] Althusser (1968), p. 207 and (1994b), pp. 49ff.; Badiou (2010), p. 54; before, Badiou (1997), pp. 19ff.

[4] Althusser (1994b) l.c.; Hardt/Negri (1997), p. 17.

[5] Badiou (2005), p. 15.

[6] Badiou (1997), p. 70.

[7] Heidegger (1984a), p. 4.

[8] Heidegger (1978), pp. 177-203. On the designation of “veridicity”, in nuce, Badiou (1997), p. 22.

[9] Hardt/Negri (1997), p. 23.

[10] Marx/Engels (1969), pp. 35f.

[11] On de(con)struction, cf. Martin Heidegger (1984b), pp. 19ff. and p. 129 as well as systematically in the programmatic text Anzeige der hermeneutischen Situation, which, in a concise anticipation of the later subject hermeneutics of Foucault, states in definitional terms: “By beginning with the idea of the human, the ideals of life, and representations of the Being of human life, the philosophy of today’s situation moves within offshoots of basic experiences that have been brought forth by Greek ethics and above all by the Christian idea of the human and of human. Even anti-Greek and anti-Christian tendencies persist fundamentally in the same directions of view and ways of interpreting. Thus the phenomenological hermeneutic of facticity (…) sees itself as called upon to loosen up the handed-down and dominating interpretedness in its hidden motives, unexpressed tendencies and ways of interpreting; and to push forward by way of a dismantling return toward the primordial motive sources of explication. The hermeneutic carries out its task only on the path of destruction.” Heidegger (1986/87), pp. 237-274. On the largely neglected identity and difference of “subject” and “Dasein” in the “a priori character of the merely ‘factual’ subject” cf. in definitional terms Heidegger (1984b), p. 229.

[12] Badiou (1982).

[13] Before introducing the term “Dasein”, Heidegger uses in this place that of the “factual life”. Cf. above all Heidegger (1988).

[14] Cf. Alain Badiou (2009), p. 18, as well as my remarks in Seibert (2009), p. 194. In the famous Davos disputation with Cassirer, Heidegger defines the “liberation of Dasein in man” developed in this “formalism of existence” even as “that of a task that the philosopher must confront”, because it is “singular and central” to “what philosophy is able to offer as philosophising” Heidegger (1998), p. 285.

[15] On the fourfold of the history of being, truth and event in Badiou, cf. in nuce Badiou (1997), pp. 17ff.

[16] Gethmann (1974), p. 141 and p. 145; Gethmann introduces the term “responsive subject” on p. 80. On the “thrown project”, cf. Heidegger (1984b), § 31.

[17] Badiou (2003a), pp. 81ff. and p. 152.

[18] Ibid., p. 82.

[19] Ibid., pp. 82f.

[20] Ibid., pp. 111f.

[21] Heidegger (1984b), p. 153.

[22] Badiou ((2003a), p. 86. Badiou also speaks of “un-binding” and “unlinking” as the essential trait of the political and of thought generally in (1996), p. 249; (1997), pp. 61f.; (2003b), p. 117; (2006), pp. 116f.

[23] Marx/Engels (1972), p. 474.

[24] Badiou (2003a), pp. 87f.

[25] Derrida (1991), pp. 51f.

[26] Ibid., pp. 57f.

[27] Badiou (2003a), p. 155. In the designation of the “state” Badiou makes use of a wordplay between the terms Etat (State) and état (state of affairs) whereby, under “State”, he understands the given “status” of a “situation”, cf. Badiou (2005), p. 123, n. 50 as well as passim (also 2003a).

[28] Badiou (2003a), p. 60.

[29] Derrida (1991), p. 40.

[30] Cf. besides Derrida (1991), Derrida (1995) and (2001) among others.

[31] Derrida takes the subtitle of his book from Pascal, who takes it from Montaigne. Cf. (1991), p. 24.

[32] Deleuze (1980), p. 27.

[33] Cf. in nuce Foucault (2005a) pp. 273ff. and Seibert (2009), pp. 179ff.

[34] Deleuze/Guattari (1992), p. 653. Cf. ibid., pp. 145ff, 396 ff, 650ff. On the related designation of the minority as the “class of the classless”, cf. Deleuze/Guattari (1977), pp. 326ff.

[35] Cf. Hardt/Negri (2002), pp. 107ff as well as Negri (Berlin 2003a), pp. 111f.

[36] The extent to which Hardt/Negri thus no longer stand in the tradition of dialectical materialism but in that of Marx and Engels is revealed in a glance at the Manifesto of the Communist Party. The proletariat of the Manifesto isn’t a homogenised block, but a diffuse milieu that emerges from the deconstruction of handed-down subjects. Thus “the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population”, from members of the lower middleclass, as well as small trades people, shopkeepers, the retired; therefore also craftsmen and farmers “sink” into the proletariat, and with them the “portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole.” The singularities of these proletariat are thus not only material, but also subjectively “without property”, have escaped the “bourgeois family relations” as much as they have been “stripped” of “every trace of national character”. They are potentially revolutionary not least because “law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.” Cf. Marx/ Engels (1972), pp. 469ff.

[37] On Negri’s general concept of event, cf. (2003b). On an implicit logic of political sequences founded by an event, cf. the book of interviews Negri/Scelsi (2009).

[38] Haraway (1995), p. 40. On the reception of Haraway’s thought in Hardt/Negri, cf. (2002), pp. 104ff. and pp. 227ff., methodologically pp. 61f; cf. also Seibert (2009), pp. 94ff.

[39] Cf. Badiou (2006), pp. 203-219.

[40] Foucault in: Dreyfus/Rabinow (1987), pp. 268. Foucault’s political weakness is contrasted with the strength attained in the dimensioning of his ethics to the measure of a “reformation”. On this, cf. Seibert (2009), pp. 183ff.

[41] On this, cf. Badiou (2003c), pp. 81ff.

[42] Ibid., p. 23 and passim.

[43] Žižek (2001), p. 219.

[44] Ibid., p. 224.

[45] Ibid., p. 225.

[46] Ibid., p. 221. If I make an exception of Foucault, this is because in a small text from the last year of his life he expressly referred the “care of the truth” to the investigation of the forms of Dasein, “through which man in the fate granted him of his liveliness and mortality expresses, invents or denies himself.” Foucault (2005b), p. 798.

[47] In the German-speaking world it is constantly pointed out that the “militant” in non-German use does not necessarily mean a perpetrator of violence, but still a “political fighter”, who distinguishes himself from others through his fidelity and faith.

[48] Badiou (2003a), p. 132.

[49] Žižek (2001), p. 225.

[50] On this concept, cf. Heidegger (1984b), pp. 221, 297, 307f.

[51] On the term “real point”, cf. Badiou (2008), pp. 23f., 39f., 43ff., 47-75.