- Politics = Truth:Badiou's The Rebirth of History
The year 2011 was a tumultuous one filled with contentious ruptures few saw coming. Alain Badiou's The Rebirth of History is an essential text for anyone interested in the possible meanings behind the uprisings of 2011 and where they may be headed. He argues that the uprisings which engulfed Tunisia and Egypt are indicative of a new chapter of history, one different from the neoliberal specter that has become a matter of orthodoxy since the fall of the Soviet Union. This book contains many bold arguments; perhaps the most conspicuous being the assertion that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are pre-political indicators of a coming political truth which is intrinsic to 'the people.' Badiou's organic version of politics, which is inherently tied to truth, teeters between dangerous versions of the truth that often lead to gulags and on the other hand a disregard of the general will expressed through a numerical majority. Expectedly, truth within this Marxian context is the commune or the "collective presentation of humanity" (87).
The reader is promptly introduced to a familiar world that is run by bankers, presidents elected on the premise of change, factory owners, productivity calculators, and economists. The dominant ideological values of this highly competitive system are based on Property, Occident, and Laicism (POL). The proclaimed aim of this short book is to oppose the normalized view of things, which not only implies opposition to the neoliberal order, but also to the norms within Western philosophy. According to Badiou, this opposition has already begun: "I therefore propose to say that we find ourselves in a time of riots wherein a rebirth of History, as opposed to the pure and simple repetition of the worst, is signaled and takes shape. Our masters know this better than us" (5). What is less clear is where these riots are going, but Badiou has no illusions regarding what the telos ought to be: "Communism revisited and nourished by what the spirited diversity of these riots, however fragile, teaches us" (6).
The commune will be "revisited and nourished," but capitalism, according to Badiou, is not different from the capitalism of Marx's day. For Badiou, capitalism with a human face or with Chinese characteristics obscures the fact that its logic has not fundamentally changed as it continues to perform what is expected of it. This problematic claim that contemporary capitalism shares identical features with classical capitalism is the first bold claim of the text and Badiou further asserts that today's globalization is not necessarily different from past forms either. The Rebirth of History is sure to provoke and/or inspire readers from all ideological backgrounds, which is likely what Badiou intended to accomplish with this accessible book. Depending on where one lies within the political spectrum or on what academic focus one may have, this book will either read as an inspiring manifesto or an intriguing work of political philosophy; for me it read as both and left me asking new questions about the philosophical implications of the Arab uprisings.
Riots: Immediate, Latent, and Historical
The unprecedented events in Egypt and Tunisia had an affective power that transcended sovereign borders, yet the London riots, which did not lead to such outcomes during the same year left many perplexed; why is this so? In both cases, protests were inaugurated with the blood of the downtrodden and were overwhelmingly led by the youth that identified with those victims. Badiou analyzes the similarities and differences between disparate episodes of riots, which he labels as "events." and classifies them sequentially as Immediate, Latent, or Historical riots. For instance, the London riots, which were provoked by a "state murder" of a young man, sparked the violent and anarchic riots with no apparent "enduring truth" (21). This is why Badiou believes that the London riots are neither political nor indicative of a birth of politics. In essence, the London riots did not have an affective potential since it lacked an Idea.
Badiou clarifies that an...