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.
A debate has long been raging between France’s public intellectuals regarding Israel/Palestine and the question of anti-Semitism. From Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1946 Anti-Semite and Jew to Jacques Derrida’s “Interpretations at War” to Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster, France—the country with the largest population of Jews and Arabs in Europe—has been fertile ground for these public debates. Even amongst philosophical allies positions have been fragmented; Deleuze expressed his support for the Palestinian cause, while Foucault held a strong pro-Israel stance.
Today, however, the debate has turned personal as well as ideological as attacks have been levelled against Alain Badiou, whose outspoken pro-Palestinian position and advocacy of a single state, along with his thoughts on anti-Semitism, have aroused much debate. Leading the charge is Éric Marty, a professor of contemporary literature at the University of Paris-7 and the author of Une querelle avec Alain Badiou, philosophe (2007). Marty had begun his querelle with Badiou as early as 2000 when he criticized Badiou for his enthusiasm for the ideas of the Cultural Revolution in China. By 2006 Marty published a full on attack with an article titled ‘Alain Badiou: the Future of a Negation’ in Les temps modernes. The ‘querelle’ continued with Badiou’s response to Marty titled ‘The Word “Jew” and the Sycophant’, in his book POLEMICS. Reflections on Anti-Semitism, a book co-authored with Eric Hazan and Ivan Segré, set out to definitively dispel all accusations of anti-Semitism against Badiou.
Still, in July, the debate heated up once more with the publication of Gérard Bensussan’s article in Libération titled, ‘The far Left has done what the far Right only dreamed of.’ There Bensussan, a professor of philosophy at the Université Marc Bloch in Strasbourg, charges Badiou and the far left critics of Israel with helping to restore anti-Semitic sentiments in France.
Below are several responses to Bensussan’s article. The first is Badiou’s retort followed by a response by Cécile Winter, the author of the essay 'The Master-Signifier of the New Aryans', which is published in Polemics. The final response comes from Ivan Segré, a Talmudic scholar and co-author with Badiou of Reflections on Anti-Semitism.
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.