In the uprisings of the Arab world, Alain Badiou discerns echoes of the European revolutions of 1848. In both cases, the object was to overthrow despotic regimes maintained by the great powers—regimes designed to impose the will of financial oligarchies. Both events occurred after what was commonly thought to be the end of a revolutionary epoch: in 1815, the final defeat of Napoleon; and in 1989, the fall of the Soviet Union. But the revolutions of 1848 proclaimed for a century and a half the return of revolutionary thought and action. Likewise, the uprisings underway today herald a worldwide resurgence in the liberating force of the masses—despite the attempts of the ‘international community’ to neutralize its power.
Badiou’s book salutes this reawakening of history, weaving examples from the Arab Spring and elsewhere into a global analysis of the return of emancipatory universalism.
I will say once again that I think that the fundamental figure of contemporary oppression is finitude. The strategic axis of this seminar is to provide the means for a critique of the contemporary world by identifying something within its propaganda, activity etc. at whose centre is the imposition of finitude, that is to say, the exclusion of the infinite from humanity’s possible set of horizons. At each session, from now up until the end of the year, I want to give you an example of the way in which something taking place today, or some commonplace or constantly used category, can be represented as a figure or operation of reduction to finitude. As such, each of these things can be encapsulated in terms of the general oppressive vision of finitude.
Today I would like to take the example of Ukraine, the way in which the historic events in Ukraine serve the propagandist consensus that both constitutes and envelops it (at our next sessions I will address two connected notions, which are similarly hegemonic and bask in consensus: the notions of the republic and of secularism – and what I call false invariants: what is assumed to be an invariant, a commonplace of thought, and even a proof of what it is that unites us).
In late January the philosopher Alain Badiou was in Athens, where he gave three talks. The theme of the first of these was Plato, the second was on Lacan, while the third – the text of which appears below – was the most ‘political’. Each of the three talks had a packed-out audience. For this third talk, indeed, even the amphitheatre of the Law School did not suffice to contain the great number of attendees, with many of the large crowd of young people present filling out the stairs and floor. It took place on 25 January, and was jointly organised by the psychoanalysis review Alithia, the municipal elections movement Open City, and the SYRIZA youth organisation ‘Left Union’. It was supported by the Nikos Poulantzas Institute.
The principle that there is a single world does not contradict the infinite play of identities and differences
I would like to thank, and to salute, all our Greek friends, and beyond that all those who are today struggling against the terrible situation inflicted on the Greek people by the financial oligarchy that today holds power in Europe, in service of globalised capitalism.
Alain Badiou: From ‘Spring’ to Revolutions
Invited to speak by the Institut du monde arabe, the philosopher Alain Badiou developed a lively and accessible exposition of his reasoning on the ‘promise’ of the ‘uprisings’ in the Arab world, which have (still?) not turned into revolutions.
How ought we interpret the events that have played out in many Arab countries over the last couple of years? Popular uprisings, the overthrow of autocratic régimes, unsteady electoral processes, the return of Islamism to the political arena, and unexpected coups d’état, have posed the whole world questions as to the meaning of these movements and their likely outcome. Can we term them ‘revolutions’? Do they open the way to a new politics, or, on the contrary, are they a vehicle for old schemas?