Badiou, Overturning Traditions

Alain Badiou

Alain Badiou (b. 1937) hasn’t gained that much reocognition outside of France due to the fact of his polemical style and that he also:

refuses to accept that Nietzche was the last metaphysician, or that an educated use of ordinary language can dissolve all philosophical “non-sense,” or that Plato, Hegel, and Marx were the precursors of totalitarianism, or that Auschwitz demands a complete transformation of philosophy, or that Stalin’s crimes compel a return to republican parliamentarism, or that cultural anthropology must replace the universalism of concepts, or that recognition of “whatever works best” should replace the prescription of principles, or that philosophy must be sacrificed to an ethics of the altogether Other.  His ontology breaks with the entire neo-Heideggerian legacy, from Levinas and Derrida to Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthre.  His assertion of an absolute ontological multiplicity excludes any covertly theological recourse to the unity of being (Deleuze) or a One beyond being (Lardreau, Jambet).  His measured fidelity to Plato is a challenge to the modern triumph of sophistry (Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Lyotard).  Though faithful to the militant atheism of the Enlightenment, his peculiarly post-Lacanian realism is a principled refusal of pragmatism in all its forms.  Badiou has never accepted that “twilight of radical universalism” now condoned by so many once-Marxist intellectuals, but his singular conception of the universal sets him apart from Kant and the transcendental tradition.  His hostility to communitarianism is even stronger than his contempt for merely procedual conceptions of justice or morality.  His insistence on the rigorous universality of truth aligns him with the scientific and rationalist tradition against the linguistic or relativistic turns in all forms, but his conception of the subject marks a break with the Althusserian as much as with the conventionally empiricist conception of science.  Last but not least, Badiou’s work condemns in the strongest terms the emergence, since the late 1970s, in both French philosophy and Anglo-American cultural criticism, of an ethics oriented to the respectful recognition of (cultural, sexual, moral, political, and other) differences.  Badiou’s proximate targets here, though seldom mentioned, are those who used to be called the nouvaeux philosophes, but his argument extends to a confrontation with positions as diverse as those of Levinas and Rawls, along with much of what is called “cultural studies” in North America. (Hallward, xxii-iii)


Hallward, Peter.  Badiou: A Subject to Truth.  Minneapolic, MN: Unversity of Minnesota Press, 2003.

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