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  • On Militantism in ThoughtA Formal Consideration of Badiou's Political Subject
  • Jan-Jasper Persijn (bio)


The relation between philosophy and politics has always been a problem for philosophers rather than for politicians. Most importantly in his 1998 book Abrégé de Métapolitique, Badiou blames what he calls "political philosophy" for providing a legitimation of political discourse, insofar as every "political philosophy" necessarily comes to legitimate the State in the end. From within Badiou's philosophical system, the answer to this critique is well known: politics is one of those domains that condition philosophy by making it a retroactive moment of reflection that cannot but produce silence in the heat of political processes themselves—an idea that is most clearly articulated in his 1992 book, Conditions, but that appears throughout all of his work.1 The evident problem, then, is that it becomes hard for a philosopher to engage in politics in his function as philosopher. It has to be considered a matter of philosophical rigor that philosophy is structurally unable to produce political truths itself.

However, I will argue in this essay that Badiou's philosophical system is to a certain extent conditioned by the particular form of his very own Maoist engagement. Therefore, I will follow his own logic as outlined here, that is, philosophy as conditioned by nonphilosophical truth domains. Hence, this essay applies an insight from within his theory to the historical elaboration of his system itself. In the first part of the argument, I will show how Badiou's Theory of the Subject (2009) forces the Lacanian legacy on the subject into a possibility of political emancipation. I will try to demonstrate that it is in this sense that he is able to implement his own Maoist convictions within the formal structure of his project. In a second part, I will examine the hypothesis that [End Page 27] this Maoist core is preserved in Being and Event (2005b), although the context and conditions of this book are significantly different. I will try to demonstrate a certain continuity between both parts insofar as the notion of "force" in the early work and the "event" in the later work are equally centered upon an inquiry into the subject. I will do so, however, within a limited scope, that is, without losing sight of the ongoing debates on this question of continuity in his work.

In all this, it is my underlying motivation to understand all of the philosophical work of Badiou as a relevant unity, as it is suggested, following "a single idea," although crossing different philosophical territories, moments, and modalities (Badiou and Tho, 103). Insofar as the argument works, it becomes clear in what sense Badiou's philosophical inquiry reflects a certain (at least formal) Maoism—whatever that may mean for now—although still faithful to the idea that philosophy is unable to produce any truth itself. In this way, a question is addressed that Badiou asks himself as well:

At bottom, what is the internal link between the traversing of the Maoist experience in all its dimensions and the arrangement of thought … ? And is this link of such a nature as to enable us truly and persuasively to isolate it, in the way I have attempted to do, starting in Being and Event, so as to reconstruct all the elements while separating them from their political genealogy?

(Badiou and Bosteels, 298)

the subject of force: a formal articulation

It is the main aim of this first part to demonstrate how exactly a Maoist engagement can be read from the formal structure of Badiou's early philosophical project. Hence, I will point to a couple of significant moments in his early philosophical career that bear some importance for the investigation of this hypothesis. Hence, the general idea of my argument is centered upon the subject as pivotal point: insofar as its specific formal figure was, to a certain extent, "designed" to serve Badiou's political purposes, a certain militantism became formally inscribed in his philosophical system as well. More generally, this part investigates the relation between experience and thought: never "a question of history, or of historical facts" but "a matter of transmitting the...


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