I prefer this…

Here’s part of Badiou’s recent (courtesy Verso) “Tunisie, Egypte : quand un vent d’est balaie l’arrogance de l’Occident”:

Shouldn’t we, in all urgency, closely study what has made possible the overthrow through collective action of governments that are oligarchic, corrupt and—possibly, above all—humiliatingly the vassals of Western states?

Yes, we should be the pupils of such movements, and not their stupid teachers. That is because, through the genius of their own inventions, they give life to some political principles that some have been trying for so long to convince us that they are outdated. And especially the principle that Marat never stopped reminding us of: when it comes to freedom, equality, emancipation, we owe everything to popular uprisings.

We are right to be revolted. Just as with politics, our states and those who take advantage of it (political parties, unions and servile intellectuals) prefer management to revolt, they prefer claims, and “orderly transition” to any kind of rupture. What the Egyptian and Tunisian peoples remind us is that the only kind of action that equals a shared feeling about scandalous occupation by state power is mass uprising. And that, in such a case, the only watchword that can federate the disparate groups of the masses is: “you out there, go away”. The extraordinary importance of the revolt in this case, its critical power, is that repeating the watchword by millions of people will show the worth of what will undoubtedly and irreversibly be the first victory: the man thus designated will flee. And no matter what happens afterwards, this triumph of the popular action, illegal by nature, will be forever victorious. That a revolt against state power can be absolutely victorious is a lesson universally available. This victory always indicates the horizon where all collective action, subtracted from the authority of the law, stands out, the horizon that Marx called “the failing of the state”.

Let me juxtapose this with Duane Davis’s recent claim about former radicals in the NDPR in a review of Sloterdijk’s Rage and Time:

There is a legion (or lesion?) of intellectual critics who were once radical thinkers — or considered themselves to be, at any rate — but eventually each one lost faith in the ability to change the world: Jean Baudrillard, Bernard-Henri Lévy, and Sloterdijk do not agree with one another in their provocative socio-political critiques. Unfortunately, all too frequently, they do not bother to agree with themselves in their mass-production of glossy-covered pap.

For some readers, this will appear patently unfair. But much of the impetus behind a whole slew of discussions about “micro-politics” and all those Agambenian readings of Bartleby’s “I prefer not” were premised, as Kristeva claimed at the beginning of her turn of the millennium trilogy on revolt, on the fact that the anesthetized masses were incapable of political change. One can find sentiments like this in Agamben’s Means without End (his discussion of modern capitalism and the docile people), Stiegler’s work to revive French 19th-century republicanism, and even in some of Jean-Luc Nancy’s writings about the end of the sense of world. As I’ve noted here before, these readings tend to conflate the trajectory of a certain world with what is happening in Europe and many of these same thinkers were also lecturing us about the supposed reactionarism of Islam (the revolts of 2005-6 in France really brought out these sentiments in the French)—they should now be modest enough to see that we who value freedom need to be pupils to movements happening at the heart of the supposedly “illiberal” Arab world. Those who have looked to Bartleby’s “I prefer not” as a vision for radical politics—you know, Bartleby does starve to death in the end—have only offered micro-political mirror images of Fukuyama’s twenty-year-old claim about the end of history: the time of great struggles are over and thus one can only transform, say, capitalism from within (this is Catherine Malabou’s claim, for example). Well, against Bartleby’s “I prefer not” political detachment, “you out there, go away” is a far better starting point for political praxis.



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