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  • Philosophical Considerations of Some Recent Facts
  • Alain Badiou
    Translated by Steven Corcoran (bio)

A/ Method

Faced with the destruction of New York’s Twin Towers by planes whose passengers, like the neo-pilots — those assassinating impostors — were transformed into incendiary projectiles, there was, everywhere, the evidence of a certain affect. For those who more or less secretly celebrated — an extremely numerous crowd, hundreds of millions of living; all the enemies of the lugubrious and solitary American superpower — it was a matter of an unbelievable mass crime. “Attack” is an inappropriate word; it evokes the nihilist bombings of the Tsar’s coaches, or the attack of Sarajevo — it has a fin de siècle resonance to it, but of another century. At the beginning of this millennium, the evidence of that affect registers the extraordinary combination of violence, calm, quiet relentlessness, organisation, indifference to fire, agony and destruction, necessary in conditions of such technological sophistication, to bring about the death of many thousands of common people and ordinary workers deep in the heart of a great metropolis. It was an enormous murder, lengthily premeditated, and yet silent. No one has claimed responsibility for it. That is why, one could say that, formally speaking, this mass crime — which aimed, anonymously and with the most perfect cruelty, to destabilise a “normal” situation — conjures up the fascist concept of action. And as a consequence, everywhere throughout the world, and quite apart from the immediate position of one’s soul — devastated or complicit — there was a paralysing stupefaction, a kind of paroxysmally denied disbelief: the affect that signals a disaster.

Philosophy must certainly register the evidence of this affect. Yet it is also its duty to never be satisfied with it. Religion may declare its confidence in evidences of the heart. Art, says Gilles Deleuze, gives form to percepts and affects. From the latter, philosophy must arrive at the concept — this is its arid destination — no matter how traumatic may be the affect on which the research is opened, or the construction undertaken.

Proposing itself thus to philosophical labour is a second kind of evidence, not that of an affect, but of a name: the name “terrorism”. This nominal evidence (that the mass crime of New York — signalled by the affect of the disaster — is a terrorist action) has since played a decisive role. It has, in fixing the designated enemy, cemented a world coalition, authorised the UN to declare that the US is in a state of “legitimate defence”, and has participated in the programming of the targets of vengeance. But more significantly, the word “terrorism” has performed a triple function:

There, once again, philosophy has the duty, if it is to register the widespread evidence of the word “terrorism” as an important symptom, to examine its origin and significance.

In short, there are two rules to the method. First, philosophy must not be transitive to affect no matter how widely accepted it might be. It should be agreed that a crime is a crime. But the consequences of a crime should not mechanically lead to other crimes. And this designation should also be applied to State crimes, including those — innumerable — committed by “democratic” States. As one well knows, ever since Aeschylus’ Oresteia, thus for a long time, the question is always to know how to reinstate justice in the place of vengeance. Secondly, as commonly held as they may be, philosophy should not accept the dominant nominations without critical examination. One knows that, in general, such nominations are under the control of the powers that be and propagandistic. We will thus proceed to a meticulous examination of names. Our point of departure is the central name, “terrorism”. Then, following upon that, we will engage in a critique of the trio of the predicate (“Islamic”), the subject (“The West”) and the sequence (“the war against terrorism”).

B/ Terrorism?

Originally, a “terrorist” was one who legitimated and practised Terror (la Terreur). It was an objective designation that was defamatory only for certain political adversaries. In this way, the Grand Jacobins of the Committee for Public Safety during the French Revolution declared themselves to be “terrorists” without complex. They officially placed Terror ‘à l’ordre du jour...

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