Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Religion and Revolt

The notion of the Messiah could take root outside of Judaism only in the communistic form of the Christian community, of the crucified Messiah. It was only by faith in the Messiah and the resurrection that the communistic organization could establish itself and grow as a secret league in the Roman Empire. United, these two ideas-communism and belief in a Messiah-became irresistible. What Judaism had vainly hoped for from its Messiah of royal lineage was achieved by the crucified Messiah from the proletariat: he subjugated Rome, made the Caesars kneel and conquered the world. But he did not conquer it for the proletariat. In the course of its victorious campaign the proletarian, communistic mutual aid organisation was transformed into the world’s most powerful machine for mastery and exploitation. This dialectical process is not unprecedented. The crucified Messiah was neither the first not the last conqueror who ended by turning the armies, with which he had conquered, against his own people, subjugating and enslaving them. Caesar and Napoleon also emerged from democratic victories.

Karl Kautsky, Foundations of Christianity (1908)

1. Political Theology Today
Let’s begin with a thesis that we can hazard as the encapsulation of a certain Maoist sequence in French philosophy, going from the notorious ‘events’ of 1968 to the publication of Badiou’s Peut-on penser la politique? in 1985: The rebel is the one who gives rise to the exception. Or, in a cruder variant: the rebel is the exception. In either case, the sovereign’s decision, the decision of and for the state, is made in the wake of and against the irruption of the rebel, the subject (whether singular or collective) of revolt. I am echoing, of course, Carl Schmitt’s now infamous thesis, from his Political Theology, ‘the sovereign is he who decides on the exception,’ a thesis he identified as the distillate of a process of secularization whereby the concepts of politics relayed the categories of theology – illumined, like the latter, by the extreme case, preoccupied, like the latter, with the themes of authority, will, subjection and evil.
Can the recent resurgence in Christian, and more specifically Pauline, models of subjectivation and militancy warrant a characterization in terms of ‘political theology’? Are we, as I’ve begun to suggest, dealing with an inversion of the customary concerns of political theology (the reactionary science par excellence, one might argue); the excavation of a Biblical counter-discourse, to paraphrase Foucault, that would provide the wherewithal to invent new figures of universality and/or subversion after the much vaunted retreat of politics? In a more critical vein, are the propositions extracted from the exhumation of the militant corpus of the Christian faith to be accorded the status of secularized doctrines, with all the historical-metaphysical pessimism and suspicion that entails?
The more or less explicit links made between this Pauline turn and the figureheads of a putatively secular notion of politics and of revolt – whether Marx as a thinker of class in Agamben’s Il tempo che resta or Lenin as a thinker of organization in Badiou’s Saint Paul – beg the question: Are we now confronted with the more or less ironic confirmation of the renowned reactionary thesis of communism as secularized eschatology – not just with the confirmation, but with the proud assumption of this thesis? Given that the gap between the phenomena of revolt, political organization, and militancy, on the one hand, and religious or theological discourse, on the other, is the privileged site of ideology critique in the Marxist canon, is the formal or rhetorical equivalence drawn between commitment and conversion, universality (or communism) and messianism, a mere elision of that key problem? The disincarnate and often wildly rhetorical debates around this renaissance of Christian militancy sometimes make it seem as if we weren’t dealing with a field that has already, at least ever since Engels’s writing on Thomas Müntzer and the German Peasants’ War been richly ploughed, thematised, critiqued.

2. Invariance of Revolt
In 1975, Alain Badiou, in the Yenan imprint at the Editions Maspéro of the organization he led, the UCFML (Groupe pour la formation d’une Union des communistes de France, marxiste-leniniste), published the first in a series of pamphlets on dialectical materialism, Théorie de la contradiction, to be followed by the collaborative De l’idéologie the next year. Where ex-Maoists (from the Gauche Prolétarienne) like Christian Jambet and Guy Ladreau drew their metaphysical balance sheet after, as they tellingly put it, ‘having hit bottom,’ Badiou set down, in painstaking and resolute detail, the philosophical groundwork of a Marxist-Leninist theory of revolt. The primacy of revolt – that is, the primacy of practice – is in fact the militant leitmotiv of Badiou’s writings in the seventies. This is especially true of Théorie de la contradiction, a terse speculative commentary upon Mao’s dictum ‘it is always right to revolt against the reactionaries’ (to which should perhaps be added the corollary by Lin Piao, recently quoted by Badiou in his afterword to Peter Hallward’s collection Think Again: ‘the essence of revisionism is the fear of death’). In it, we read the following: ‘Revolt does not wait for its reason, revolt is what is always already there, for any possible reason whatsoever. Marxism simply says: revolt is reason, revolt is subject. Marxism is the recapitulation of the wisdom of revolt.’ It is on the basis of this equation between political practice and antagonism that Badiou can write: ‘The real is not what brings together, but what separates. What happens is what disjoins’ [Le réel n’est pas ce qui rassemble, mais ce qui sépare. Ce qui advient est ce qui disjoint].
Here we must hear the materialist thesis that the faktum of revolt – or in Badiou’s more recent discourse the irruption of the event or dysfunction of a transcendental regime – comes first, subjectivation second. Moreover, to the extent that any structure of placements, any represented situation, is in a sense the fallout from or recuperation of its forceful dislocation by a subject, ‘resistance is the secret of domination’. Badiou comes closest to a dualistic matrix of the political, such as the one propounded by Jambet and Lardreau in their l’Ange (1975), in stating that the reason of revolt is an invariant, ‘deep and inextricable’; the refusal of mastery constitutes a subjective given that precedes Marxism and any causal or structural analysis it may provide. There is an ontological anteriority of revolt, an autonomous power of egalitarian opposition which operates like a trans-historical constant.
Following the Maoist thesis that division is the very essence of dialectics (‘One divides into two’), Badiou’s theory of contradiction is founded on the asymmetry of the terms of the contradiction, purifying force, on the one hand, the system of places, on the other. But, and here lies the key point, no angelic purity is given beforehand and neither can we put our hopes in a simple epiphany mechanically emerging from the ruins of the old. As Badiou writes in the Théorie du sujet: ‘in every contradiction, force manifests its impurity through the aleatory process of its purification’. In the Théorie de la contradiction, the thesis of the rightness of revolt (or of the justice of the new) is linked by Badiou to a whole partisan theory of consciousness and truth, whereby both Marxism as a science of social formations and the objective historical reality of revolts are doubled by, and indeed find their reason in, the conscious assumption of the tasks of revolt in organisation and directive, in short, in a party. Marxist truth, he starkly states, ‘is that wherein revolt finds its reason in order to demolish the enemy’ and, in a tone absent, for all intents and purposes, from his latest works, declares that it repudiates all equality before truth.
In Badiou’s work of the 70s but also in his most recent production, subject names precisely that point through which what is impossible in a given situation is forced into possibility: ‘A subject is a point of conversion of the impossible into the possible. The fundamental operation of a subject is to be at the point where some impossible is converted into possibility’ (Théorie axiomatique du sujet, unpublished manuscript, p. 8). On the basis of this minimally dialectical thesis we can ask: is the fundamental structure of mastery or of the discourse of mastery an invariant, such that the only change given is a change in the occupant of its eminent place? If there is a qualitative element in this change what are the criteria for evaluating it? Are they immanent, or rather based on some external criterion (morality, for instance)? In his 70s writings, whilst wary of the leftism of simply posing the purity of revolt, Badiou’s focus on novelty qua purification entails some unequivocal statements that seem to approximate to the thesis of the political theology of revolt stated at the outset of this article.
‘To the nothing new under the sun the thinking of revolt opposed the ever new insurgent red sun, under the emblem of which the unlimited affirmative hope of rebellious producers engenders ruptures’; ‘There are radical novelties because there are corpses that no trumpet of Judgment will ever reawaken’; ‘To resolve is to reject. History has worked best when its dustbins have been better filled’; ‘The field of Marxist knowledge is always in ruins – all truth is essentially destruction’; ‘There is no veritable revolutionary thought but for the one that takes the recognition of the new all the way to its unavoidable obverse, the old must die. […] Not just death but the dispersion of the ashes’. The last, for instance, in one of Badiou’s most pertinent examples, is the way in which colonialism should die, consigned to eternal forgetting. Cultural revolution is hereby affirmed as anti-memory. The paradox openly assumed by Badiou, in which I think is encapsulated what I have elsewhere called his communism of separation, is that the destruction of inequality, the obliteration of mastery has dualistic asymmetry (class struggle, in short) as its condition.
This paradox is therefore that of the necessity to master the path to masterlessness, to dominate domination in order for non-domination to arise – the paradox, to give its obvious classical Marxist topos, of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But what then, we may ask, of Christian Jambet’s sober observation, partly aimed at Badiou, that the theme of anti-memory, of the Year Zero so famously linked to the killing fields of Cambodia, depends on the most radical hypostasis of Mastery, on a discourse reduced to the inscrutable secrecy of an unknowing command to work and submit to anonymity, coupled, inevitably perhaps, with the most pointless and exorbitant practices of confession – witness the practices at the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh? In response to such objections, we could recall that one of the key theses in Badiou, reading Mao, is that it is not the primary contradiction, the one of exploiters and exploited, from which novelty emerges, but rather from a ‘secondary’ contradiction, from a separation or division within the camp of the primary contradiction itself – from the partisan truth of a faction, for instance, which separates itself in order to separate out (or subtract) a real which is denied by the state of the situation. It is transforming this secondary contradiction into a primary one which is the formalization of the act of revolt.
The critique of ‘anarchism’, from the attacks on Stirner (or Sancho) in the German Ideology to Badiou’s own invectives against Deleuze-Guattari in both Theory of Contradiction and the article ‘The Flux and the Party’, is founded precisely on the denial of anarchism’s key thesis that the politics of power, of struggles over the place of domination or the discourse of mastery, are merely quantitative shifts that leave the eternal reality of oppression untouched – establishing another dualist but non-dialectical matrix which consigns one to a marginality that colludes with mastery in a semblance of subversion. The opposition to the dualistic matrix of Jambet and Lardreau’s ‘angelic’ thesis – which begins as a defence of revolt and ends up in the false alternative between Kissinger and Khmer Rouge – is thus based on one of the inaugural gestures of Badiou’s thought, the critique of structuralism for the sake of a twofold dialectics of force and place, in which antagonism is asymmetrical, and the forcing of a subject in the place of mastery (the dictatorship of the proletariat) is by definition a qualitative change (I say by definition in the sense that what marks out a subject is that, as an included part forcing itself upon the whole, it engenders qualitative change, and what defines qualitative change is conversely the presence of subjective action).
In these early writings, Badiou can be found arguing that the presence of subjectivity changes the nature of violence itself. Inasmuch as the dialectics of a real revolt introduces qualitative novelty into a situation – such that ‘The State, which is to say the concentrated form of all phenomena of domination, no longer even has the same name’ – it divides death itself, into what is incorporated and metamorphosed under a new law (symbolically reinscribed) and what is simply abrogated. In purely structural phenomena devoid of novelty, in which it is only a quantitative shift of places that is at stake, be it colonialism or WWI, the drive to conserve and continue is accompanied for Badiou by enormous violence, in his stark words: ‘When nothing changes, men die.’ It is precisely the lack of asymmetry, the ultimately non-antagonistic basis of the massive antagonisms that appear to deploy themselves on the battlefield which mean that such ‘structural’ antagonisms depend on pure quantitative triumph, and are thus cumulative, non-creative, interminable, bloody and sterile.’ In brief, then, against the opposition of resistance and power, Badiou proposes a political dialectics of structure (materialist) and tendency (dialectical). Needless to say, it is very difficult indeed to see either reinscription or dialectics at work in the obstinate carnage perpetrated by the Pol Pot’s Angka. Death was clearly not divided by novelty in Democratic Kampuchea and the character of its ‘change’ remains deeply obscure.

3. Political Theology Today: Slight Return
The very title ‘political theology of revolt’, as I hinted at the outset, is meant to bring into relief one of the questions which, posed by Schmitt, seems to have gone lost in the critical evaluation of a supposed turn or return to Christianity. Inasmuch as it is patent that such a turn is motivated by a political, or even ideological, deficit and not a theological need we seem to be faced with at least three options.
The first option is that revolt is to be thought of in terms of the secularization of theological categories, specifically as a secularization of the kind of apocalyptic equality that calls upon the dominated to traverse and abolish the structures of iniquity and worldly corruption, as a forced anticipation of, or preparation for, the promised kingdom of humanity. In this sense the political theology of revolt is the hidden, but perhaps primordial counterpart, within the subjective matrix of Christianity, of the submission to worldly authorities and the temporality of the wait attached that is attached to it. Saint Paul, as the original debates and proclamations surrounding the peasant revolt prove, is the name for the metastable conjunction of these two theologies. Herein, theology is simply the unsurpassable framework of our political thought. This thesis is conservative, fatalistic.
The second option is to argue that theology is merely an apparently seamless constriction, imposed by the interest of the dominant class, over the subjective practices of revolt. This, to some extent or another is the classical thesis of historical materialism, for which theology is in the main nothing but an obstacle, an epochal distortion of class struggle, determined by the particular state of the relations of production and their statist correlates,. This can be more or less virulent in its repudiation of the theological, considering, with Marx, a possibly positive function in religious-revolutionary enthusiasm, or, with Engels, seeing religion either as an iron mask over class struggle or as traversed by a debilitating double truth (such that Thomas Müntzer, at the helm of his armed league of peasants, could not voice what the real content of his practice was).
The third option is to argue that the form of revolt, or the form of cultural revolution, as such is indifferent to the distinction between the political and the theological. This is the stance of Lardreau and Jambet, who put forward the Manichean thesis of the two worlds, implying that Lin Piao and the early Christian desert monks are essentially subjects of the same transhistorical injunction to have done with mastery, whilst the Catholic Church and Deng Xiaoping likewise stand united on the side of mastery. Since the history of revolt and the history of mastery (the latter being a discontinuous, vanishing or even foreclosed history) are essentially separate from one another and indifferent to the politics/theology distinction the subject of revolt does not enjoy any kind of dialectical articulation with ideology and thus escapes any thesis of secularization.
Badiou’s own contribution to this debate is tellingly formulated by way of a commentary on Engels’ writings on the German Peasants’ War, and specifically on the articulation between religion, revolt and ideology. Still within the categorial ambit of the historical materialist, Marxist-Leninist tradition, Badiou’s theory of communist invariants is essentially articulated around two arguments.
(1) Aspirations for radical equality, for the annihilation of property and state, are present throughout the history of politics, revealed in the intermittence of revolts, in the specific figures of the antagonism between domination and the dominated. A key thesis here is that the exploited have always known they’ve been exploited, that the height of ideology is precisely the thesis that ideology is efficacious through and through. Revolt is primary, indeed, as Badiou writes, the universal agent of transformation is the revolutionary revolt of the masses. Thus, communist invariants are essentially disjoined from any economic teleology and constitute the spontaneous thought of the masses in the face of the structured objectivity of exploitation, as represented by the dominant ideology. There is, in other words, an ‘immediate intelligence’ of communism, which constitutes the antagonistic thought of the masses, the force of their resistance, and which is unrepresentable from the point of view of the state.
(2) These communist invariants are only realised with the constitution of the proletariat, that is, with the advent of that figure that signals the transformation of the masses (and not the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, etc.) into the revolutionary class. The communist invariants, which until then had been structurally destined to defeat – (a) expressed in the language of domination and (b) serving the needs of another class – are now themselves directed by the party and guided by the divisive analysis of class. This conjunctural opportunity is, in the eyes of Badiou and Balmès, absolutely new, and bound to the fact that the invariants are no longer a demand of equality heterogeneous to the order of representation, but, albeit foreclosed, are structurally transitive to this order. In other words, with the advent of capitalism the unrepresentable force that had driven revolt up to that point is capable, by means of the antagonistic conjunction of masses, class, and party, to assume its role as the foreclosed source of order, to take power in the clear knowledge that ‘resistance is the secret of domination.’
Now, this figure of revolt, crystallised in what the authors refer to as the ‘communism of production’, is entirely sustained by the historico-political notion of realisation, whereby the unrepresentable excess that has always driven revolt can constitute itself not just an intermittently recurring force, but, through class-antagonism and the appropriation of production, emerge as a transitional representation of the unrepresentable, as a dictatorship of the proletariat. Whilst this position is not the ‘classical type’ of a classist politics – as testified to by the eternity of the invariants and the decisionist character of the antagonism directed by the party, which evacuates the teleological dimension of classism, the idea of the party as ‘midwife’ of communism – it does accord to class a crucial role, to wit that of providing the dialectical articulation of the unrepresentable demands of resistance (‘the eternity of the equal’) and the law which structures and orders representations (in this case the ideological expression of the relations obtaining under capitalism). The transitivity of the excess (in the guise of resistance) to the structural totality (the capitalist mode of production and its ideological component) is crucial here; it sustains, in the domain of historical becoming, what Badiou will later refer to as the Marxist hypothesis, which posits the task of egalitarian politics as the domination of non-domination.

4. The Revolution of the Common Man: Excursus on the German Peasants’ War
‘Anno domini 1525, at the beginning of the year, there was a great, unprecedented upheaval of the Common Man throughout the German lands’, thus we read in Stumpfs Reformationschronik, the attestation of what Marx too would call ‘the most radical fact of German history’. Badiou’s early assessment of this fact, whilst providing the occasion for formulating his theory of communist invariants, and tending toward the most positive characterization possible of the part played by non-ideological subjectivity in such a revolt, nevertheless seems to follow the Marxist vulgate in declaring the material and historical necessity of its failure. Thus the standoff between his early dialectical materialism and the angelic philosophy of plebeian resistance, of the kind put forward by Jambet and Lardreau, seems to recapitulate another philosophical debate, the one which saw György Lukacs, in his History and Class Consciousness, provide a scathing critique of Ernst Bloch’s Thomas Müntzer: Theologian of the Revolution. Whilst Bloch certainly did style himself a Marxist, his positing of an Ubique – a trans-historical, mystical kernel of revolt that Marxism actualized despite itself, and which was only being unearthed by what he regarded as the ‘religious element’ in the Russian revolution – is not unlike the ‘thesis of the Angel’, of the juxtaposition of the world of the Rebel and the world of the Master, of cultural revolution and ideological revolution, offered by Lardreau and Jambet in their l’Ange.
The stark repudiation of mastery in the 1525 revolt, despite the customary references to the Pauline requirement to respect worldly authorities, is patent. Michael Gaismair, revolutionary leader in Tyrol and the author of a truly astounding and lucid plan for the constitution and economic structure of a non-capitalist republic in Switzerland, wrote of creating a union of ‘masterless men’. Müntzer, whose statement Omnia sint communia is the very emblem of communist invariance, even took this repudiation of authority into theological terrain, arguing in his theology of crucifixion that the ascetic assumption of suffering was akin to a becoming God and even bridging the gap between scatology and eschatology. As Luigi Parinetto notes in his fine if idiosyncratic La rivolta del diavolo, in Melanchton we find transcribed what was allegedly one of his enemy’s favourite formulae: ‘I shit on God, if he does not put himself at my service like he did with Abraham and the Prophets.’ Mannheim plausibly argues in Ideology and Utopia that the revolts of 1525, inasmuch as they are motivated the apocalyptic sermons of the likes of Müntzer are anarchistic (‘leftist’ in Badiou’s parlance), not socialist: ‘Chiliasm considers the revolution as a value in itself; it is not at all a means to attain a rational purpose, but rather is conceived as the only creative principle in the present.’
For Lukacs, who includes his critique of Bloch’s Müntzer within a broader attack on the insufficiencies of any revolutionary humanism, the problem of the peasants’ revolt is the problem of starting from man in Christianity and the gospels. This entails either the conservative ontology of a moral defence of the status quo, the political theology of authority mentioned above; or a utopian response which is itself split into apocalypse as the global annihilation of empirical reality, on the one hand, or the ascetic ontology of the saint, on the other. Any relaxation of utopia, as in the collapse of cultural into ideological revolution mapped by Lardreau and Jambet, equals the capitulation to conservatism, a capitulation which Lukacs contends is written into the very undialectical fabric of the utopian instinct. Revolutionary utopianism is mired in undialectical humanism, a ‘consumption communism’ (of the kind some have accused Hardt and Negri of peddling, incidentally). It depends on the idea that an unblemished internal life could be awakened independently of man’s concrete historical life, that we could simply organise the exodus from the apparatuses of production and reproduction impinging on the realisation of a non-dominated human essence. What’s more, Lukacs reaffirms the Weberian thesis that this revolutionary messianism was not by chance developed in the heartlands of capitalism, and was thus but the preparation for a subjection to the imperatives of capital: ‘For the union of an inwardness, purified to the point of total abstraction and stripped of all traces of flesh and blood, with a transcendental philosophy of history does indeed correspond to the basic ideological structure of capitalism’ (p. 192). The target of Lukacs polemic is thus the ‘irreducible quality and unsynthesized amalgam of the empirical and the utopian’ that he finds obscured by the elemental vigour of Müntzer.

But closer inspection of the way in which the religious and utopian premises of the theory concretely impinge upon Müntzer’s actions will reveal the same ‘dark and empty chasm’, the same ‘hiatus irrationalis’ between theory and practice that is everywhere apparent where a subjective and hence undialectical utopia directly assaults historical reality with the intention of changing it. Real actions then appear – precisely in the objective, revolutionary sense – wholly independent of the religious utopia: the latter can neither lead them in any real sense, nor can it offer concrete objectives or concrete proposals for their realisation. When Ernst Bloch claims that this union of religion with socio-economic revolution points the way to a deepening of the ‘merely economic’ outlook of historical materialism, he fails to notice that his deepening simply by-passes the real depth of historical materialism. When he then conceives of economics as a concern with objective things to which soul and inwardness are to be opposed, he overlooks the fact that the real social revolution can only mean the restructuring of the real and concrete life of man. He does not see that what is known as economics is nothing but the system of forms objectively defining this real life. The revolutionary sects were forced to evade this problem because in their historical situation such a restructuring of life and even of the definition of the problem was objectively impossible. But it will not do to fasten upon their weakness, their inability to discover the Archimedean point from which the whole of reality can be overthrown, and their predicament which forces them to aim too high or too low and to see in these things a sign of greater depth.

Crucially, Lukacs hold that is strictly impossible for the individual to exit the situation of reification, especially through an affirmation of inner freedom which is merely the utopian counterpart of a frozen empirical realm. The species, or even Gattungswesen, as a mythologized individual, is also incapable of such a feat. ‘And the class, too, can only manage it when it can see through the reified objectivity of the given world to the process that is also its own fate’ (p. 193). Lukacs thus concurs to some extent with Badiou, though the latter, in order not to hold what he thinks is the untenable thesis of the complete unconsciousness of revolt to itself – that is in order to affirm a pre-proletarian or pre-revolutionary political space not entirely under the thrall of ideological dissimulation – put forward his theory of communist invariants. Like the latter he also provides a strong critique of the leftist deviation which emerges in a certain political theology of revolt, which depends on the dualistic matrix of the utopian and the empirical, or the Angel and the Master.
But do any of these stances really do justice to the relation between politics and theology in the peasants’ war? Much of the recent work on that ‘radical fact’ testifies against the Marxist tenets behind the work of Lukacs and Badiou – inasmuch as the latter, in order to bolster the logical singularity of the proletariat as class subject must overplay the importance of theology in that historical event (and, we might add, in other events too), thus skating over its invention of its own modalities of political thought and subjectivity. This is what emerges in part, from the work of the historian Peter Blickle, who attacked the primarily East German, Engels-derived thesis of 1525 as an ‘early bourgeois revolution’ as untenable, countering with the thesis of the revolution of the common man: according to this thesis the peasants’ war was a transversal alliance, across classes, as well as across the division between those who were to suffer the impositions of princely absolutism and, we should add, following Parinetto, the joint destructive political effects of the rise of monopoly capital, personified by the figure of Jacob Fugger (or Fucker, as Luther preferred to call him) – an explicit nemesis of figures like Gaismair. Here the figure of the common man is neither an invariant doomed to failure, nor a mere unwitting vehicle for the irruption of a bourgeois revolution, nor even a theologically overdetermined figure that substitutes for the proletariat as the only subject conscious of its own revolt and that revolt’s conditions – it is instead a political configuration in its own right, in which the religious element does not play the overweening ideological role ascribed to it by many interpreters. It is worth noting here that the preference for a preacher like Müntzer over a far more articulate political agitator like Gaismair is an index of the refusal to immanently think the political mode of the 1525 revolts, preferring to immerse it into a political-theological matrix dominated by the themes of ideology, secularization and the invariance of communist utopia – leading to the overestimation of the theological debates over the Reformation in the genesis of the peasants’ revolt and the fascination with the theological-political juxtaposition of Luther and Müntzer.

5. Nihil novi sub sole?, or, Left and Right Deviations in Political Theology
One of Badiou’s early dialectical theses, put forward most forcefully in his reading of Hegel at the beginning of the Theory of the Subject (in seminars overlapping with the publication of the Theory of Contradiction) is that totalitarianism doesn’t exist, being what he calls a pure structural figuration with no historical reality, the idea that there is only the collapse of supposed novelty into the nihil novi sub sole of the eternal order and inevitability of mastery and hierarchy (the right wing, or structuralist stance) or a powerless, suicidal, leftism, a novelty so absolute it cannot get its hands dirty with realisation (the anarchist or libidinal materialist capitulation to mastery and semblance of revolt). The thesis of totalitarianism is essentially bound to this dualistic matrix so prominent in the work of Jambet and Lardreau as well as André Glucksmann: the state and the plebe (but no proletariat), the master and the angel (but no subject).
Badiou turns to the history of the church in order to illustrate this critical point. Indeed, he argues that the Hegelian dialectics of division is entirely organised around the reciprocal torsion and determinations of the relationship between the Father, with which Badiou schematizes force, and the Son, with whom he schematizes place. Both dualistic anarchism (i.e. there is pure force without process) and the fatalistic idea of a perennial structural repetition (i.e. there is a structure of places free of force), are thus presented as the by-products of the process of division itself, or, more precisely as the arrests in the process of division that, according to Badiou, moves through the figures of Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. The ‘leftist’ deviation and the ‘rightist’ deviation are thus equivalent not in their manifest content, which is indeed reversed, but rather in the fact that they both deny the dialectics of force, the real process of determination – they both freeze division, turning contradiction into opposition. Within the history of the Church, the rightist heresy of Aryanism collapses the passion of the Christ into the statement that ‘the Son is only a creature’, that is, Christ is human and there is no link between the infinite and the finite (that he was only a place, not an intrinsic division or determination of the force of God). The ‘leftist’ heresy of Gnosticism, in the contrary, de-dialecticizes the resurrection, stating that ‘God has never descended into the world’, that the Christ is absolutely divine and cannot be endowed with a real body. ‘Just as much as the peaceable and reasonable hierarchical order of the Aryans, this ultra-leftist heresy, obsessed by the pure and the original, violently oriented toward Manichaeism, blocks the dialectical fecundity of the message.’ In the axiom of the council of Nicea, the split identity of God and Christ, Badiou recognizes the key need for a dialectical thinking of revolt, to always think the identity in division of force and place, the work of purification and not the reality of purity. It is not the least of the interests of Badiou’s early texts that a philosophy of revolutionary rupture also presents itself as a defence of orthodoxy, of a living orthodoxy that must continually separate itself from its non-dialectical fallout.
The passage, after the publication in 1985 of Peut-on penser la politique?, to a non-dialectical theory of political subjectivation, generic equality and truth, whilst it might allow us to think the autonomous modality of political subjects such as Geismair’s ‘common man’, nevertheless leaves in abeyance what I would in the earlier work appears as the problem of realisation: without the historical a priori of the proletariat and its logical power the eternity of communism cannot be translated into the reality of communism, cannot be fully subjectivated. Does this mean that we remain in the inevitably ideological grip of masks and displacements, inasmuch as the communist invariants are always included within a particular ideological conjuncture and can never find their ‘proper’ expression? Or are we indeed to leave behind the entire problem of ideology, and of the religious and theological mediations of politics, for the sake of a renewed attention to the autonomy of politics?


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