The political as a truth procedure
25-11-05 Alain Badiou
Publicado originalmente en
When and under what conditions can we say that an event is political? To what extent is the "what is happening" happening politically?
We propose that an event is political, and that the procedure which it employs reveals a political truth, under certain conditions. These conditions are attached to the subject of the event, to infinity, to the relationship to the state of the situation, and to the numeration of the procedure.
1. An event is political if the subject of this event is collective, or if the event is not attributable to anything other than the multiplicity of a collective. "Collective" is not a numerical concept here. We say that the event is ontologically collective inasmuch as this event conveys a virtual requirement of the all. "Collective" is immediately universalizing. The effectiveness of the political emerges from the assertion according to which "for every x, there is thought."
By the word "thought," I denote any procedure of truth understood as subjectivity (prise en subjectivité). "Thought" is the name of the subject of a procedure of truth. We thus recognize that, if this thought is political, the all is inferred through the word "collective." It is not, as for other types of truth, only a question of address. Certainly every truth is addressed to the all. But in the case of the political, universality is intrinsic, and not just directed. For the all, in the political, there is at each moment the possible disengagement of the thought which identifies the subject. We call those who are constituted as subjects of a political stance the militants of the procedure. But militant is a category without boundaries, a subjective determination without identity, or without concept. That the political event be collective prescribes that the all are virtually militants of the thought which proceeds from the event. In this sense, the political is the only procedure of truth which is generic, not only in its result, but also in the local composition of its subject.
Only the political is intrinsically required to declare that the thought that it is, is the thought of the all. It has an organic need for this declaration. The mathematician, for example, only needs another mathematician to recognize that his demonstration is without lacunae. Love only needs the assumption of two to assure itself of the thought that it is. The artist needs no one. Science, art, love are procedures of aristocratic truth. Certainly, they are addressed to the all and universalize their singularity. But they are not in the regime of the collective. The political is impossible without the statement that people, taken indistinctly, are capable of the thought which constitutes the political subject of the post-event. This statement reveals that a political thought is topologically collective, which means that it can only exist as a thought of the all.
That the central activity of the political should be réunion is a local metonymy of its intrinsically collective, thus principally universal, being.
2. The collective character of the political event has the effect that the political presents, as such, the infinite character of situations. The political exhibits or convokes the infinity of the situation. All politics of emancipation refutes finitude, refutes "being for death." Since a political situation includes the thought of the all, it proceeds to elicit the subjective infinity of situations.
Of course every situation is ontologically infinite. But only the political convokes this infinity immediately, as subjective universality.
Science, for example, is created from the void and from infinity by the letter. It is not at all concerned with the subjective infinity of situations. Art presents impressions in the finitude of a work; it is the model of finite production, and infinity does not intervene except inasmuch as the artist portrays infinity in the finite. The political, on the contrary, is what treats infinity as such under the principle of the same, or the egalitarian principle. It is its point of departure: the situation is open, never closed, and its immanent subjective infinite is the labor of the possible. We could say that the numeration of the political procedure has the infinite as its first term. For love the first term is the one; for science, the void; for art, a finite number. Infinity intervenes in every procedure of truth, but it is in the first position only in the political because only there is the process itself the deliberation on the possible (and thus on the infinity of the situation).
3. Finally, what is the relationship of the political to the state of the situation, more particularly to the State, in the sense of the term simultaneously ontological and historical?
The state of the situation is the operation which, in the situation, codifies its parts, its subsets. The state is a sort of metastructure which has the power to count over all the subsets of the situation. Every situation admits a state. Every situation is a presentation of itself, of what composes it, of what belongs to it. But it is also given as a state of the situation, that is to say as internal configuration of its parts or subsets, and thus as re-presentation. In particular, the state of the situation re-presents collective situations since, in these collective situations, the singularities are not re-presented, but rather presented. I refer on this point to L'Être et l'Évenement (meditation 8). 1
A fundamental given in ontology is that the state of the situation always exceeds the situation itself. There are always more parts than elements; the representative multiplicity is of the type always superior to the presentative multiplicity. This question is in fact that of power. The power of the State is always superior to that of the situation. The State, and thus also the economy, which is today the norm of the State, are characterized by a structural effect of separation and of excess power in relation to what is simply presented in the situation.
We could show, mathematically, that this excess is not measurable. There is no response to the question of knowing how much the power of the State exceeds the individual, of how much the power of representation exceeds that of simple presentation. There is something errant in this excess. The simplest experience of relationship to the State shows, moreover, that one can relate to it without ever being able to assign a measure to its power. The representation of the State through power, in the case of public power, indicates on the one hand its excess, and on the other the indeterminacy, or errancy, of this excess.
We all know that the political, when it exists, instigates manifestations of the power of the State. It is evident in that the political is collective, and thus universally concerns parts of the situation, which is the field of existence of the state of the situation. The political-and it is the only procedure of truth to do it directly-convokes the power of the State. The ordinary figure of this convocation is that the political always coincides with repression. But repression, which is the empirical form of the errant excess of the State, is not the essential point.
The true characteristic of the political event and of the procedure of truth which it activates is that a political event fixes the errancy, assigns a measure to the excess power of the State, fixes the power of the State. As a consequence, the political event interrupts the subjective errancy of the power of the State. It constructs the state of the situation. It gives it shape; it gives shape to its power, it measures its power.
Empirically this means that when there is a truly political event, the State shows itself. It shows its excess of power, the repressive dimension. But it shows also a measure of this excess which in ordinary times does not let itself be seen because it is essential to the normal functioning of the State that its power remain without measure, errant, unassignable. The political event puts an end to all that by assigning a visible measure to the excessive power of the State.
The political puts the State at a distance, in the distance of its measure. The apathy of non-political time is maintained by the State's not being at a distance, because the measure of its power is errant. We are captives of its unassignable errancy. The political is the interruption of this errancy, it is the demonstration of a measure of State power. It is in this sense that the political is "liberty." The State is in effect a bondage without measure of the parts of the situation, a bondage of which the secret is precisely the errancy of the excess power, its absence of measure. Liberty is here to set a distance from the State, through the collective fixation of a measure of excess. And if the excess is measured, it is because the collective can measure it.
We will call political prescription the post-event calculation of a fixed measure of the power of the State.
We can then enter into the construction of the numeration of the political procedure.
Why does every procedure of truth have a numeration? Because there is a fixing of the relationship of every truth to the diverse types of multiples that singularize it: the situation, the state of the situation, the event, and the subjective operation. A number (including the Cantorian or infinite numbers) expresses this relationship. Thus there is an abstract scheme of the procedure, fixed in typical numbers in which one can read the "traversing" of the multiples which ontologically constitute this procedure.
Let us render to Lacan his due: he is the first to make systematic use of numeration, if only by assigning the subject to zero as the space between 1 and 2 (the subject is what chooses between the primordial signifiers S1 and S2), or the synthetic significance of 3 (the Borromean knot of the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary), or at the function of the infinite in feminine jouissance.
As for the political, we have said that its first term, tied to the collective character of the political event, is the infinite of the situation. It is the simple infinite, the infinite of presentation. This infinite is determined, the value of its power is fixed.
We have also said that the political necessarily convokes the state of the situation, and thus a second infinite. This second infinite is in excess over the first, its power is superior, but in general we cannot know by how much. The excess is without measure. We can thus say that the second term of political numeration is a second infinite, that of the power of the State, and that of this infinite we only know that it is superior to the first, with a difference that remains indeterminate. If we call the infinite fixed cardinality of the situation and the cardinality which measures the power of the State, we do not have, outside of the political, the means to know other than that: is superior to . This indeterminate superiority covers the alienating and repressive nature of the state of the situation.
The political event, in the teeming materiality of a universalized collective, prescribes measure to the without-measure of the State. To the errant e it substitutes a fixed measure, almost always still superior to the power s of the simple presentation, but which no longer has the alienating and repressive powers of indetermination. We symbolize the result of the political prescription on the State with the expression ().
The mark designates the political function. It has (but we will not enter here in these details) various operative spaces, correlated to the places of a singular politics ("places" in the sense of Lazarus). This mark is the trace, in the situation, of the missing political event. We mean it here in its greatest efficacy: to interrupt the indetermination of State power.
The three beginning terms of the numeration of the political procedure, all infinite, are thus:
1. the infinity of the situation, convoked as such by the collective dimension of the political event, that is to say the supposition of "for all" of the thought. We note it as ;
2. the infinity of the state of the situation, convoked as repression and alienation because it is the supposed control of all the collectives or subsets of the situation. It is an infinite, indeterminate cardinal number, except that it is always superior to the infinite power of the situation of which it is the state. We thus write: > ;
3. the fixation through political prescription, under a collective event condition, of a measure of State power. By this prescription, one interrupts the errancy of State excess, and one can thus practice and calculate in words of militancy a free distance from the political thought to the State. We write this (), and this writing designates an infinite determined cardinal number.
To illustrate the fundamental operation of the prescription, we can give some examples. The Bolshevik insurrection of 1917 is the demonstration of a weak State, damaged by war, in which Tsarism was par excellence a quasi-sacred indetermination of the excess power of the State. In a general fashion the political thought of an insurrectional type is tied to a post-event determination of the power of the State as being very weak and thus inferior to the power of the simple collective presentation.
On the other hand, the Maoist choice of the prolonged war and the encirclement of villages by the countryside prescribes to the State a still strong measure, elevated by its power, and calculates with precaution the free distance to this power. It is the reason Mao's question is still: why does the red power exist in China? Or: how can the weakest carry on more strongly in the long run? This means that for Mao, (), the prescription as far as the State is concerned, remains greatly superior to the infinite of the situation, such that the political procedure organizes the convocation.
The three beginning components of numeration, the three infinites , are affected at each political sequence and have no type of fixed determination except that of their relationships. Every political event in particular proceeds to its own post-event prescription under the power of the State: it is, in substance, the creation, in the wake of the swell of the event, of the political function .
At the moment that the political procedure exists, up to the point of the prescription on the State, then, and then only, can the logic of the same be deployed, that is to say the egalitarian maxim, proper for every politics of emancipation.
The egalitarian maxim is effectively incompatible with the errancy of state excess. The matrix of inequality is precisely that the excess power of the State cannot be measured. Today, for example, all egalitarian politics are rendered impossible and declared absurd in the name of a necessity of the liberal economy without measure or concept. But what characterizes this blind power of unchained Capital is precisely that at no point is this power measurable or fixed. What one knows is only that it weighs absolutely on the subjective destiny of collectives, such as they are. Consequently, in order that a politics can practice an egalitarian maxim in the sequence opened by an event, it is absolutely necessary that the state of the situation be put at a distance by a rigid calculation of its power.
The inegalitarian conscience is a deaf conscience, captive of an errancy, captive of a power of which it has no measure. It is what explains the arrogant and peremptory character of inegalitarian statements, even if they are evidently inconsistent and abject. It is that these statements of the contemporary reaction are entirely supported by the errancy of state excess, that is to say by the violence deployed entirely by the capitalist anarchy. It is why liberal statements represent a mix of certitude in regard to the power and total indecision about what is important for the life of people and the universal affirmation of collectives.
The egalitarian logic cannot be broached except when the State is configured, put at a distance, measured. It is the errancy of excess which obstructs egalitarian logic and not the excess itself. It is not at all the simple power of the state of the situation which interdicts egalitarian politics. It is the obscurity and the without-measure in which this power is enveloped. If the political event authorizes a clarification, a calculation, a demonstration of this power, then, at least locally, the egalitarian maxim is practicable.
But what is the cipher of equality, the cipher of what prescribes that one treat collectively and in political thought each singularity identically? This cipher is evidently the 1. To count finally as 1 that which is not even counted is the stake of each true political thought, of each prescription which convokes the collective as such. The 1 is the numeration of the same, and to produce the same is what an emancipatory political procedure is capable of. The 1 deconstructs every inegalitarian presumption.
To produce the same, to count for each 1 universally, one must work "locally," in the open space between the political and the State, a space of which the principle is the measure . It is thus that Maoist politics can practice an outline of agrarian revolution in the liberated zones (those which are outside the range of reactionary armies), or that Bolshevik politics can partially replace certain State operations in the hands of the Soviets, at least where they are capable of it. What is working then is again the political function p, applied in the condition of the prescriptive distance that it has created, but this time with the ends of producing the same, or of producing the real under the egalitarian maxim. One thus writes: , to designate this reduplication of the political function which, in the conditions of freedom of thought/open practice through the calculation of State power, works to produce equality.
We can thus complete the numeration of the political procedure. It is composed of three infinites: that of the situation; that, indeterminate, of the state of the situation; that of the prescription, which interrupts indetermination and permits the State distance. And it is achieved by the 1, partially engendered by the political function in the conditions, themselves issued from this function, of the distance from the State. The 1 is here the cipher of the same and of equality.
Numeration is written: .
What singularizes the political procedure is that it goes from infinity to 1. It makes happen as universal truth of the collective the 1 of equality, through a prescriptive operation on the infinite of the State, an operation through which it constructs its autonomy, or its distance, and can effect its maxim.
We should remark that the inverse, as I established it in Conditions, 2 the amorous procedure which makes truth, not of the collective, but of difference, or of sexuation, goes from 1 to the infinite, in the mediation of two. In this sense, and it is an object of meditation that I leave to the reader, the political is numerically the inverse of love. Or: love begins where the political ends.
And since the word is today decisive, let's give as conclusion our own definition of democracy, where its identity may be read in the political, of which we have already spoken.
Democracy is an adjustment, still singular, of liberty and equality. But what is the moment of liberty, in the political? It is that of the distancing (mise à distance) from the State, and thus where the political function p operates as the assigning of a measure of the errant excess power of the state of the situation. And what is equality but the operation through which, in the distance thus created, the political function is applied anew, this time to produce the 1? The political adjustment of liberty and of equality is thus nothing but, for a determined political procedure, that of two final terms of numeration. It is written: . We can say we have here the writing of democracy. Our two examples show that this formula had singular names: "Soviets" at the time of the Bolshevik revolution, "liberated zones" in the Maoist process. But democracy had other names in the past. It has some in the present (for example: "assemblage of collectives of undocumented workers in the foyers and in the political Organization"). It will have others in the future.
As rare as it may be, the political, hence democracy, existed, exists, will exist. And, with it, under its exacting condition, metapolitics: what a philosophy declares, for the ends of its own effect, as deserving of the name of "the political." Or yet: what a thought declares to be a thought, on condition of which it thinks that which is a thought.
1. Badiou, Alain, L'Être et l'Évenement, coll. "L'ordre philosophique," Paris: Seuil, 1988.
2. Badiou, A., Conditions, coll. "L'ordre philosophique," Paris: Seuil, 1992.
translated by BARBARA P. FULKS
This essay - from Abrégé de Métapolitique (Paris: Seuil, 1998) - was published in lacanian ink 19 (Fall 2001), now out of print. It appears in Metapolitics, New York: Verso, 2005