Evolution, devolution, and other political possibilities
Between the recent protests in Turkey, the failed revolutions of Syria and Egypt, the promise of the “Arab Spring” of 2010-12 and the ongoing effects of the Occupy Movement in the United States, questions concerning the possibility of political change are relevant and far reaching. In my next several blogs, I will discuss the theoretical aspects of political events that disrupt, destabilize, and rupture the normative assumptions of a particular state.
Through these processes of destruction, an event of sufficient magnitude can permanently de-legitimize a traditional authoritative structure since such authority is itself ontologically based on the normative force of accepted political hierarchies. In this void of authority, the impossible becomes possible.
The world as it was before recognizing such a singularity (the revolutionary event) becomes lost, and with it go its benefits and burdens, its laws and limitations, its ideas and discourses. With nothing left, the question becomes: what now?
In this three-part blog, I will examine this question by referring to two views in tension, Alain Badiou and Niccolo Machievelli. Badiou’s concept of an “event” and Machievelli’s insights on how new states become legitimate, provide an interesting frame for discussing the tensions that occur when an event, a singularity of spontaneous political change, forces a recognition of a new truth, incompatible with the old facts, upon the subjective experience of political agents.
Badiou and the ontology of political events
This blog concerns the moment of reality at the end of an idea. The realization of a political event so meaningful, so total, that the social contract becomes void, the “sovereign” shrugged off as individuals, in a wave of spontaneity and declaration, reclaim the reigns of their lives and become personally responsible for the fortunes and misfortunes that await.
The emancipatory event is, for Alain Badiou, the final form of the idea of communism: the release from the exploitative, domineering “party-state” and a chance to create new possibilities for political agents. Badiou claims that the “political” are those endeavors of humankind where decision-making, distributions, and social values are created and sustained in collective processes and agreements. He writes, “An event is political if the subject of this event is collective.” These collective endeavors become methodically subverted by a political state, with the state defined as “the system of constraints that limit the possibility of possibilities.” Badiou is particularly concerned with “the modern, so-called ‘democratic’ form of the bourgeois State, of which globalized capitalism is the cornerstone.”
Following general Marxist theory, he claims that in the capitalist state socio-political structures are organized around a principle of accumulating excess capital; hoarding wealth and decision-making power in the hands of the few at the expense and exclusion of all others. According to Badiou, the capitalist state maintains, “often by force, the distinction between what is possible and what isn’t,”  and he defines the capitalist state by one goal: the prevention of the Communist Idea from designating a possibility.
In any given situation, it is the state that creates the range of potential actions and choices an agent can make. Badiou writes, “[T]oday we are faced with an utterly cynical capitalism, which is certain that it is the only possible option for a rational organization of society. Everywhere it is implied that the poor are to blame for their own plight.” The capitalistic liberal state, behind its free-market, unencumbered ‘veil of ignorance,’ neglects, ignores, or is simply blind to the fact that the disadvantages the majority of its citizens begin with are products of the discourses that describe an individual’s circumstances.
Normative assumptions and values underlying social arrangements create the conditions for political paradigms to be created, justified, recognized, and internalized. If the Idea of Communism is to free the people from the capitalistic party-state so that they may discover new political possibilities, then, in Badiou’s dichotomy, the Idea of Capitalism would be to support the party-state structure by legitimizing and naturalizing existing political arrangements.
The capitalist state exploits individuals and limits their possibilities by creating facts to justify this arrangement and by suppressing truths that would destabilize and radically re-orient structures of political power and favor. For Badiou, facts create the State’s version of truth; they set the range of the discursive apparatus and possible conversations that count as knowledge or possible world-view.
Facts are objects, ‘things’ conceived in the dominant group’s language, pieces controlled by the structures of the State in order to maintain, legitimize, and empower its own unquestionable hierarchal authority. Facts are “the consequences of the existence of the State.”
Facts are not truths. Facts are concrete, preconceived, and catagorizable while truths reveal themselves in the process of their discovery, in the moment of creative, dynamic and evolving self-definition.
He writes, “I call a ‘truth procedure’ or a ‘truth’ an ongoing organization, in a given situation (or world), of the consequences of an event.” Badiou emphasizes the relational qualities of events, truths, and political subjects, equating truth to the subject in a process of self-creation.
Badiou claims that the truth procedure of the event authorizes the individual “to go beyond the Statist constraints of mere survival by becoming a part of the body-of-truth, or the subjectivizable body.”
In short, the event creates subjects, freed from the discursive objectivity of their abandoned sovereign. The agent, for Badiou, is subjectified temporal and spatial consciousness, either creating itself or being created, either in control of itself or being controlled. The subject is a product of relationships, between herself and other subjects (social), between herself and the State (political), and between herself and her own “self” (psychological). Truth is found in the subject’s recognition of herself as a political vehicle, and as this is a communal event, it is relational, thus incorporates the cumulative subjectification of all those involved in producing new ways to perceive and understand. In sum: facts control, truths emancipate.
 Lacan.com, “Highly Speculative Reasoning…”
 ibid. pp. 243
 ibid. pp. 258
 ibid. pp. 244
 ibid. pp. 259
 ibid. pp. 244
 ibid. pp. 244
 ibid. pp. 252
The Communist Hypothesis, Verso, 2010, New York
-http://www.lacan.com/badtruth.htm, Highly Speculative Reasoning on the Concept of Democracy from Metapolitcs, New York: Verso, 2005
The Prince, Penguin, 1999, England
PART TWO: coming the week of November 11th
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