Among the political theories I find most appealing, is that of Badiou’s. There are roughly four reasons for this:
First, and perhaps foremost, Badiou does not treat everything as political. For Badiou, politics is only one truth-procedure among others (the three others being love, art, and science. For Badiou, politics is necessarily rare and exceptional. The mere fact that something involves power or exploitation or oppression does not yet make it political. Politics, for Badiou, is something very specific and is not simply or merely the presence of power.
Second, Badiou shares the position of object-oriented ontology in separating ontology and politics. Ontology is one thing, politics is another, art is yet another, and love is yet another. One cannot be reduced to another. Indeed, as Badiou will write in Manifesto for Philosophy,
….philosophy is…the configuration, within thought, of the fact that its four generic conditions (the poem [art], the matheme [science], the political and love) are compossible in the eventful form prescribe the truths of the time, a suspension of philosophy can result from the restriction or blockage of the free play required in order to define a regime of passage, or of intellectual circulation between the truth procedures conditioning philosophy. The most frequent cause of such a blockage is that instead of construct a space of compossibility through which the thinking of time is practiced, philosophy delegates its function to one or other of its conditions, handing over the whole of thought to one generic position. Philosophy is then carried out in the element of its own suppression to the great benefit of that procedure.
I shall call this type of situation a suture. Philosophy is placed in suspension every time it presents itself as being sutured to one of its conditions. (61)
Philosophy suffers whenever it is sutured or reduced to one of its conditions. Moreover, each of the generic truth-procedures suffers when it is sutured to another truth procedure. What Badiou says of art also holds of politics: Art, says Badiou, is characterized by “[i]mmanence”, in that it “…is rigorously coextensive with the truths that it generates,” and it is characterized by “[s]ingularity” in that “…[t]hese truths are given nowhere else than in art” (Handbook of Inaesthetics, 9). The truths of politics are immanent and singular to politics, and politics is under no condition to be artistic, scientific, or amorous. Likewise, the truths of a love are immanent and singular to that love, and that love is under no condition to be scientific, artistic, or political. Each of the four generic truth-procedures must be given its free reign to elaborate and develop its own immanent and singular truths.
Third, Badiou eschews positions of philosophical mastery. Philosophy is neither a tribunal of truth determining whether or not something meets certain epistemological criteria, nor does it produce any truths of its own. With regard to the first point, when Badiou calls for an “inaesthetics” with respect to art, it is a form of epistemology, of philosophical mastery embodied in the discipline of aesthetics that he is renouncing. The same holds with respect to all other generic truth-procedures. Philosophy cannot function as judge and tribunal of love, politics, or science. Rather, each of these truth-procedures develops its own criteria of truth. There can be no question of “making it explicit” here. To do so would be to subordinate each truth-procedure to what Badiou calls “the encyclopedia”, which is to say, the world of opinion. It would be to say that there is a pre-existent rule that could decide these things. Yet it is precisely this that Badiou’s theory of the event rejects: events are undecidable and indiscernible from the standpoint of the encyclopedia (“Philosophy and Truth”, in Infinite Thought, 62 – 63).
With regard to the second point, Badiou writes that “[t]he philosophical category of Truth is by itself void. It operates but presents nothing. Philosophy is not a production of truth, but an operation from truths, an operation which disposes the ‘there is’ and epochal compossibility of truths” (“The (R)eturn of Philosophy Itself“, in Manifesto for Philosophy, 124). Philosophy, according to Badiou, produces no truths of its own. Truths are always produced elsewhere, in one of the four truth-procedures. What philosophy does is think their compossibility in the present, how these absolutely distinct and plural truths, hang together in the formation of our time. In this regard, philosophy cannot be the domain of truth over and against other practices. It must always draw its truths from elsewhere. In this regard, Badiou’s philosophy is profoundly respectful and welcoming of other practices.
Finally, fourth, Badiou’s politics is above all not a politics of critique, but of construction. A political subject in Badiou, does not begin from a standpoint of critique, of debunking, of deconstruction, but rather from an affirmation. As Badiou remarks in “Philosophy and Politics”,
…political sequences are singularities: they do not trace a destiny, nor do they construct a monumental history. Philosophy, however, can distinguish a common feature among them. This feature is that from the people they engage these orientations require nothing but their strict generic humanity. In their principle of action, these orientations take no account of the particularity of interests. They induce a representation of the capacity of the collective which refers its agents to the strictest equality. (Infinite Thought, 70)
What does ‘equality’ signify here? Equality means that a political actor is represented under the sole sign of his or her specifically human capacity. Interest is not a specifically human capacity. All living beings protect their interests as imperative for survival. The capacity which is specifically human is that of thought, and thought is nothing other than that by which the path of truth seizes and traverses the human animal. (71)
This axiom of equality is what Badiou calls “justice”. It is not something that can be demonstrated, but rather something that can only be committed to. We thus see why the mere presence of power or interest is not political. This is the norm, common to all beings. What is specifically political is any sequence undertaken on behalf of a disinterested equality (73). This anarchic egalitarianism is not a given, but is rather both an axiom (something that cannot be demonstrated, only declared) and a project. Of course, the standard rejoinder to such a politics is that it veils a disguised particularity. But as Badiou writes elsewhere,
…in order for people to become gripped by truth, it is imperative that universality not present itself under the aspect of a particularity. Differences can be transcended only if benevolence with regard to customs and opinions presents itself as an indifference that tolerates differences… (Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, 99)
We thus see how Badiou’s politics is based on both based on affirmation and is a form of constructivism not critique. I’ll return to the issue of critique in a moment, but minimally we can say that such a politics is based on an affirmation in that it is an affirmation of equality. By contrast, it is a constructivism in that in the work of a truth-procedure, it sets about transforming the world in terms of the axiom of equality upon which it is based. This politics is not against something, but rather for something.
This does not mean that critique disappears in Badiou’s politics. Rather, it means that critique cannot be the ground or foundation of politics. Rather, critique is something that arises from the egalitarian affirmation. It is subordinate to that affirmation, and should never take center stage. Rather, critique will serve two functions with regard to constructivist politics: First, insofar as the egalitarian declaration must never present itself under the sign of particularity, egalitarian affirmation will necessarily require a dimension of self-reflexivity: “are our egalitarian constructions in fact veiled particularities? If so, how can this particularity be overcome?” Second, critique will be the exploration of of those dimensions of the social field that fail to meet the demands of the egalitarian axiom.
However, for Badiou critique will never take center stage. The moment of critique will rather be like the problems that artists encounter in attempting to execute a new type of work, that lovers encounter in reworking their lives to bear fidelity to their encounter, that scientists encounter in attempting to devise a new experiment. In the end, critique will only ever be undertaken for the sake of construction, of building a new type of anarchic social relation (here we should think of Badiou’s hostility to party politics). The danger of critique is that it can become a sort of black hole, a sort of industry, that forgets construction and becomes rather an end in-itself.