Evolution, devolution, and other political possibilities
Truth, Fact, and Possibility
Badiou claims ‘May ’68,’ the Paris Commune, and Mao’s Cultural Revolution were Events, singular moments of spontaneous political change. To this list I would add Machiavelli’s examples of the eventful careers of Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, [and] Theseus,” as well as my own example of the “Arab Spring.”
What becomes of the recent Occupation movement, as I have witnessed in both the United States and Turkey, remains to be seen, however I do feel that this style of protest and disregard of authority has the potential to become an Event. This is why I am writing this particular blog series, to explore the actuality behind its potential, to explain what dangers and limitations it faces and why.
Badiou reminds us that we do not have the language to tell different stories from the ones we tell now. These are stories of the “party-state,” of the material manifestation of the ideologies of dominators and exploitators who weave wealth and influence into the control of value and distribution.
The language to transcend the party-state does not exist, not yet, and this explains why the communist experiments and Eastern revolutions failed in actual practice.
As in the Tunisia and Egypt, once the yoke lifted in Mao’s China and in the Commune’s France, the way forward proved to be succumbing to factionalism and re-installing the form of what they had just dissolved. Machiavelli explains this process thusly, “What happens is that men willingly change their ruler, expecting to fare better. This expectation induces them to take up arms against him...”
This means that when an Event occurs, it occurs because subjects expect to be better off as autonomous collective agents than as exploitable objects. Yet, unrest grows among the people because “you cannot satisfy them in the way they had taken for granted.”
Further, as Machiavelli claims, “The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order.” Displaced agents of the de-legitimized state struggle to re-gain control and add to the confusion.
Rejection of the standing authority is disruptive, chaotic, and violent, in a word, injurious. The new prince, i.e. the Event, is compelled to inflict injury upon the established order and its material agents in virtue of the Event’s recognized existence. The general masses, in virtue of their subjective authority, are compelled to stand against the injuries of the transition with active intention. They fight both with and against the Event, consciously and unconsciously.
In the chaos of the moment, anything, everything, is possible. But as the moment lingers, the moment becomes an hour, a day, a week, a month. For the impossible event to remain possible, new truths must actively and consistently continue to trump traditional normative and assumed facts as they arise.
How long can the impossible continue to be recognized as possible, as the complete break from social domination, when the impossible is unrecognizable, dynamic chaos with no legible constitutional form?
Badiou’s distinction between “fact” and “truth” is crucial.
Tensions and needs
When the slate wipes clean in such manner, what remains in the instant of the event are two things: truths and facts. New truths creating new ideas creating new subjects, and this stands against recognized facts establishing recognized patterns establishing recognizable citizens.
The tension in the moment of the Event and in its immediate consequences comes down to the essence of Badiou’s distinction between fact and truth.
The tension pulls between two needs.
One, the need to embody an active fidelity to the event, staying true to the re-politicization of the subject and pushing forward new truths in place of old assumptions.
Two, the basic social reality of the need to create new facts to support the continuity and vitality of the re-born world of limitless political possibility.
For example, Badiou says of the Paris Commune, “On the one hand, then, we have an insurrection that establishes nothing of duration; on the other, a day that changes the state.”
The momentum and recognition of the actively evolving reality of the Event succumbed to the ‘corruption’ of traditional epistemological and ontological assumptions and was “confiscated by bourgeois politicians primarily concerned to re-establish the order of property…”
Mao, in his effort to re-stabilize what he had de-stabilized, formed his Party-State in hopes of materially containing the dynamic force and momentum of the Cultural Revolution. However, the spontaneity that fueled Mao’s event could only be bogged down and corrupted by the degradation of their message into controlling and oppressive language; “[t]he Cultural Revolution… bears witness to the impossibility truly and globally to free politics from the framework of the party-state that imprisons it.”
Truths liberate the state, but facts keep it going. This tension in and following an Event leads to either the evolution or the devolution of the socio-political climate.
Evolution or Devolution
Fidelity to the event requires fidelity to an unsystematized, ahistorical, transcendent form of princely power: authority as natural order shared absolutely.
But this is challenged by the practicality of Machiavelli’s axiom to new sovereigns, “If the ruler wants to keep hold of his new possessions, he must bear two things in mind: first, that the family of the old prince must be destroyed; next, that he must change neither their laws nor their taxes. In this way, in a very short space of time, the new principality will be rolled into one with the old.”
If “the family of the old prince” is read as the hereditary line, the assumed royalty of princely blood and its social value, then this intuitively extends to the general existent socio-political hierarchies and structures that support the established distribution of power and its justifications.
The Event, the new ruler, destroys these justifications in taking hold of its new possessions. The continual creation of new truth to replenish the factual void is how they stay destroyed.
The truth, then, is the subject, creating new political realities in the dynamic rejection of the state and its constraints. In the tumultuous times between de-stabilization and re-stabilization, social, political, and psychological issues must be dealt with in a manner true to the rejection of traditional explanations and descriptions.
Evolution then is a sustained and progressively stabilizing rejection of the full breadth of existing normative social ontologies that effectively carves out space for new political possibilities.
Still, Machiavelli’s second point, to keep familiar and politically strategic mechanisms in place (i.e. established political spheres of authority, general laws and taxes) points out the contradiction in revolutionary truths and facts.
A subject is the embodiment of truth, and as truth is a process, its material consequences exist in the conditions of socio-political life.
Sovereign power obtains authoritative stature because it is recognized as authoritative. This recognition implies recognition of the structural apparatus of sovereignty, i.e. the hierarchy of the state, the magistrates and ministers serving as bureaucrats for the princely power.
Recognition of the “prince,” the “sovereign,” is to recognize its security and military, its laws and punishments, and its systems of hierarchy and value. A true political Event destroys this in a moment of spontaneous social rupture.
However, in order to sustain the evolution of the event, the old facts must be constantly challenged on a mass scale, old patterns broke with, and the constant social un-ease and uncertainty must be dealt with.
The new truth must be constantly recognized by acting subjects. If not, devolution occurs.
Devolution, in this context, refers to the failure of the revolution of the event, the falling backwards into familiar patterns for familiar reasons. Security, health, personal possessions or identity. It is as Machiavelli claims, “men… are ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers,” But I understand that it is more than just that.
Humans are indeed ungrateful fickle, deceivers, but we are also simply human, wanting quiet and peace, stability and comfort. As any revolution moves forward, it must deal with humanity’s basest instincts, as well as our most pure and our most banal.
Like all great new princes, the Event, the subjective reclamation of political power by the people, hinges on circumstance and timing. As Machiavelli says, “Fortune, as it were, provided the matter but they gave it its form; without opportunity their prowess would have been extinguished, as without such prowess the opportunity would have come in vain.”
The momentum of history is great, and isolated events of impossible change create disconnected stirrings in the flow of time. Badiou suggests these individual events are not evocative of historical failures, but are instead important lessons to be learned on the path of the evolution of the Communist Idea and true socio-political emancipation.
Badiou’s insight is that an Idea “presents the truth as if it were a fact.” As I will explore further in my next blog concerning autonomy and the modern woman, the Idea of Capitalism, its truth, embedded in its discourse and norms, is the repressive system upon which it functions.
So, what are the choices, the functions, and the stakes inherent in a moment of “true” political change? Does the Occupy Movement represent such a change? The Occupiers presence has certainly fueled an atmosphere of global unrest, but it remains pointless to speculate on the course the movement will traverse.
Echoing the ideals of the Occupy Movement, Badiou says, “[T]he Cultural Revolution showed that it was no longer possible to submit either the revolutionary mass actions or the organizational phenomena to the strict logic of class representation.”
What does a real, tangible, practical, and feasible alternative to the political systems we have developed as a species over the course of our history actually look like, and how would we be able to implement it in a healthy and truthful manner? It is fascinating to think about and daunting to conceive.
However, it is worth saying that the movement towards such possibility will only be what the people recognize it as being, and will only exist as long as it continues to actively evolve.
The voices calling out for justice, for release from the bondage of a social system that does not work for their advantage, are everywhere, and with advances in communication and information technology, “humankind” seems, for the first time, something more tangible than just a platitude or poet’s dream.
 Machiavelli, pp. 20
 ibid. pp. 8
 ibid. pp. 8
 ibid. pp. 21
 Badiou, pp. 218
 Badiou, pp. 154
 Machiavelli, pp. 9
 Machiavelli, pp. 21
 Machiavelli, pp. 20
 Badiou, pp. 116
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