Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil

One of the most powerful voices in contemporary French philosophy explodes the facile assumptions behind the recent ethical turn.
Ethical questions dominate current political and academic agendas. While government think-tanks ponder the dilemmas of bio-ethics, medical ethics and professional ethics, respect for human rights and reverence for the Other have become matters of broad consensus.

Alain Badiou, one of the most powerful voices in contemporary French philosophy, explodes the facile assumptions behind this recent ethical turn. He shows how our prevailing ethical principles serve ultimately to reinforce an ideology of the status quo, and fail to provide a framework for an effective understanding of the concept of evil.

In contrast, Badiou summons up an “ethic of truths” which is designed both to sustain and inspire a disciplined, subjective adherence to a militant cause (be it political or scientific, artistic or romantic), and to discern a finely demarcated zone of application for the concept of evil. He defends an effectively super-human integrity over the respect for merely human rights, asserts a partisan universality over the negotiation of merely particular interests, and appeals to an “immortal” value beyond the protection of mortal privileges.


  • “This is a fiery little book. ”
  • “His reasoning is powerful and surprising, making some of the best writing in current European philosophy, and his credentials are impeccable.”
  • “Badiou is at his strongest in pointing to the inconsistencies of a facile multiculturalism, the pluralism of the food court and the shopping mall, which wilts in the face of any genuine expression of cultural hostility to liberal values.”
  • “His lively, stimulating and sometimes completely batty book is an attempt to make us think differently about what matters to us ... it is hard not to feel some sympathy for Badiou's intuition that 'morality', 'evil' and indeed much of our standard moral vocabulary often serve as almost deliberate disguises for mediocre policy-making, social complacency and a general lack of adventurousness about life”


  • Alain Badiou: "Mao thinks in an almost infinite way"

    Fifty years ago, on 16 May 1966 Communist leader Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution. Badiou's apparently "unrepentant" Maoism has been one of the most controversial, if misinterpreted, elements of his thought. Badiou is interviewed on the question by an anonymous Chinese philosopher, maintaining that Mao continues to provide a model for dialectical thought, if not for a historical project. Visit LEAP to read the original piece in full.

    ILLUSTRATION / Wang Buke

    A Dialogue Between a Chinese Philosopher and a French Philosopher

    Some time ago, French philosopher (and venerable Maoist) Alain Badiou traveled to China to speak to a Chinese philosopher. Though his or her name appears to have been lost in the ashes of time, the transcript of this alleged meeting remains, and bears a noted resemblance to a series of conversations Badiou had with Lu Xinghua, a contentious proponent of the theorization of Chinese contemporary art. A restaging of this dialogue this past December in New York, with an actress as the skeptical interlocutor, provided a window into Continental philosophy’s most ardent Orientalist fantasies—and an hour or two of solid dialectical entertainment.

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  • Victor Hugo: The Great Prose of Revolt

    This essay was first published in Ballast. Translated by David Broder. 

    There are three kinds of conception of the novelistic. There is what we could call the official lineage, which the academy presents as the history of the French novel, proceeding by way of Stendhal and Flaubert. Here, the novel is the narrative, the capturing of the real, in a rapid, narrative and stylised prose. Then there is the current that I would call the tendency of great totalisations: the novel has the objective of capturing the spirit and the uniformity of an era, of constructing a sort of vast universe in which the spirit of the time takes hold, like in an orchestra. I would include Balzac in this totalising current — and it was perhaps him who invented it, with his La Comédie humaine — as well as Zola, perhaps Proust, and Martin du Gard. Then there is a third current, which is rarely recognised as officially making up part of the history of the novel (more than a current in itself, it is a sort of space apart, a freak case). In this current we have a certain number of freak novels: Rousseau’s Julie, or the New Heloise, Chateaubriand’s Mémoires d’outre-tombe and Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Three literary freaks. We don’t really know how they should be classified. We have the epistolary Julie, or the New Heloise, which is today little studied or read, whereas in the eighteenth century it was an extraordinary best-seller. We have the Mémoires d’outre-tombe, which is a novel only in that we know that Chateaubriand was just recounting what he wanted to (and with many of his wonderful stories, it is doubtful whether they are real). But we can, ultimately, take it as a magnificent historical and personal novel. And we have Les Misérables, which we will concern ourselves with here.

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  • Radical Thinkers Competition: win the entire series!

    The competition is now over! Thank you to everyone who took part: the answer and winners have been announced here.

    The notorious 
    Radical Thinkers competition is back! This time to celebrate the publication of Set 12!

    We'll be picking two SUPER WINNERS who will win a copy of every single Radical Thinkers book we currently have in stock. That's well over 100 books covering everything from the development of US capitalism since 1945 and studies on Freudian metapsychology to classic theory from the likes of Judith Butler, Alain Badiou and Louis Althusser!

    A further 6 runners up will win the new setfeaturing Ellen Meiksins Wood, Judith Butler, Norman Geras, OSkar Negt and Alexander Kluge.

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Other books by Alain Badiou Translated by Peter Hallward