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Towards a united humanity

I Know There Are So Many Of You
Forfatter: Alain Badiou
Forlag: Polity Press (Storbritannia)
We live in the midst of a world historical drama where revolutionary hope must be kept equal. Only in this way can we build civilization for everyone, claims philosopher Alain Badiou.


The new book by 85-year-old French philosopher Alain Badiou is like the previous one, The real life, addressed to the youth. Since the lyrics are based on speeches he has given to high school students and art students in Paris, they seem immediate and educational, giving Badiou free letters to explain basic points without having to include a skeptical academic audience. The contact with students also allows Badiou to circle back to the 68 rebellion, where he himself was involved, and to reflect on what has happened since.

The world is young!

The first of the two lectures in the book opens with a reminder of what Badiou calls "banal facts", which he relaunches in a way that makes them appear astonishing. A first point: Humanity as a species is a newcomer to evolution, only 200 years old. Our cosmic adventure has only just begun. The world is young! says Badiou excitedly. The second point is that science has recently confirmed that humans all over the globe are extremely similar genetically. Despite all the differences, humanity is one. Until a few years ago, such a claim was scandalous, the philosopher points out, and therefore people are still obsessed with distinctions between ethnic groups. Third, when we look at the evolution of humanity on the planet from the point of view of the stars, our species has undergone only one real transformation of significance: the transition from life as hunters and gatherers to settled farmers in the Neolithic – the Neolithic period – that is, from 000 10–000 years ago. When we grew grain, we could store the profits – and from this came property rights, an upper and a lower class, an authoritarian state, standing armies and wars between nations. This is the world we still live in – and in that sense we are all still Neolithic people.

Neolithic logic

Neolithic logic leads to a distinction between people within society – and a constant conflict between different societies. There is a general competition in society that creates winners and losers, victory lords and defeated. Such is nature, one could object – and Badiou says in one way the same: To the extent that we continue this way, we are trapped in an animal struggle for existence, with the difference that we are now struggling with technological and ideological means.

Badiou writes about the failed revolutions – the series of broken expectations that haunt the left as a repeated and demoralizing trauma.

However, when this state of competition does not convince as the definitive truth of man's basic conditions, it is because societies founded on class and competition have always been forced to deny the fundamental unity of all. With lie create (hold) such a social system distinguishes between "us" and "the others". A genuine recognition of people from groups other than one's own is still a political utopia, Badiou claims.

The eyes of the excluded

But recognizing other people, what does that really mean? In his answer, Badiou explores the term the other and moves from the history of civilization to modern philosophy. Common to thinkers like Victor Hugo, Sartre, Lacan and Hegel is that the other is a fundamental part of ourselves – for understanding who we are. Just as fully, this part of us is foreign – and something we constantly try to control, deny, subjugate and master. The competitive relationship between us and the others, between my group and others' groups makes the others a fragile element – yet an element we cannot do without: "Hell is the other," Sartre's gloomy-satirical formulation reads. At Hegel's the other a subservient slave, whom the Lord both denies and relies on.

The winners of the global competition game have a hidden sense of guilt towards the sea of ​​losers being banned and exploited. The refugee and the nomadic unemployed get the mental picture on the other today – and challenges us to take the decisive step toward brotherhood. If this step is to become more than an empty and guilt-ridden gesture, we must dare to speak communism, Badiou claims.

The "Neolithic Stage" remains a primitive power struggle with sophisticated means – a brutal state of war covered by a thin varnish of civilization. As Badiou sees it, a new revolution must take place – the real revolution that can bring us into a real global civilization.

The forgetfulness of the revolutionaries

The book's second lecture contains 13 theses on world politics. Some are about war, while most of them analyze failed revolutions, the series of broken expectations that haunt the Left's project as a repeated and demoralizing trauma. Why did it go so well with the Arab Spring, with the Occupy movement, with Syriza in Greece? Much of the error lies in a narrow time horizon, according to Badiou. The movements lack historical understanding and are unable to learn from past mistakes.

Badiou is also old and tough enough to warn against the insurgents' naive expectation that the problems will be cured overnight. Monopoly-based power and the power concentration of capital concentration are lifestyle diseases that have become entrenched in civilization for millennia. To think of world history and communist means for Badiou to work long term, patient and strategic towards a healthier society.

War, revolution – or both?

Badiou was part of the Maoist movement during the 68 uprising, and towards the end of the speech he addresses the young reader or belongs in the role of revolutionary leader: We must start schools that can spread the message of communism, he declares – get mass meetings and slowly counteracting the capitalist state apparatus before the world powers collapse into a new and fatal world war. The fact that Badiou does not mention the environmental problems seems a bit out of date, considering the young audience he is addressing.

At first glance, the philosopher here appears to be a typical old radical left behind in the post-war-filled worldview. That may be true, but maybe it's the complete opposite – that the generations after Badious's own have forgotten how tough politics really are. World War II is nothing more than the manifestation of the principle of competition in which the world community is still founded.


Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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