The Marxist Philosopher, In His Own World…

The failure of communism in Eastern Europe, and the failure of Western Europe to become communist, left Marxists disillusioned and resentful. They turned, increasingly, to internationalism, projecting their ambitions onto peoples in the third world, with, in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Cuba and Venezuala, almost uniformly atrocious results. Such third worldist attitudes inspire at least some of their support for multiculturalism.

Alain Badiou, a French philosopher, and one of the most influential and renowned Marxists writing today, has published an absolutely bonkers essay on immigration. I respect a lot of my ideological opponents, and Badiou’s writings on the other subjects might be respectable, but this essay is completely, mind-blowingly bonkers.

Badiou’s argument is universalist: “there is only one world”; “one sole world of living women and men”. He thinks this idea is more profound that it seems to me. To him, we face a choice between “one world in which we all exist in equality” and two worlds with “separations, walls, controls, hatred, deaths, fascism, and ultimately war”. Why it is impossible for us to maintain different regions in single world without descending into hatred, fascism and war is never mentioned, let alone explained.

Multiculturalism, Badiou argues, struggling to apply his concept to the real world, should entail an affirmative process of interaction, not a hostile demand to integrate. Sometimes, of course, this can be valuable. We have all enjoyed sharing ideas with different people. How, though, it prepares us for dealing with, for example, female genital mutilation, honour crimes and religiously sanctioned domestic abuse is beyond me. I despair of theorists offering prescriptions that are totally abstracted from actual lives. Nice as Badiou’s idea might sound extremely limited precedents for success.

But wait! He argues that “persecution will not reinforce the process of creation, but the process of purification”. Attempts to force people to integrate will reinforce their attachment to malign aspects of their identity. There is some truth to this, no doubt (I am no advocate for “persecution”) but Badiou’s argument is terribly incomplete. We know that “young islamists ready to martyr themselves for the purity of their faith” respond not just to persecution but to difference, disagreement and derision. The novels of Salman Rushdie or the art of Charlie Hebdo persecuted no one yet ended in bonfires and bullets. It is morbidly ironic that Badiou sings the praises of ” creative identity” while ignoring this.

Badiou goes from being disingenuous to bonkers later; exposing his bitterness towards his culture and compatriots by saying that it is with migrants that “a new politics to come is to be invented” to save us from “nihilist consumption and policed order”. “Let the foreigners teach us at least to become foreign to ourselves,” he writes, fervently, “To project ourselves out of ourselves, enough to no longer be captives of this long occidental, white history that is finished, and of which we can no longer expect anything but sterility and war.” It is as presumptuous to be so dismissive of the culture that one’s countrymen still value, in their different ways, as it is to cast migrants, with their humble thoughts of jobs, wages and benefits, as one’s ideological saviours. One also observes the same vague yet impassioned optimism that drove communists in the twentieth century. Some things never change.

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8 Responses to The Marxist Philosopher, In His Own World…

  1. Simon says:

    What the Alain Badious of the world forget is not only that most humans do not function psychologically without some type of collective identity with a clear sense of historical continuity at its centre to belong to, but that the nation-state is out of all forms of collective identity we know to actually function in practice by far the one most compatible with progressive ideals! After all, what it formed in reaction against during the late 18th/early 19th century were absolute monarchy, feudalism and theocracy.

    All the attempts to create distinctly cosmopolitan collective identities throughout the 20th century have been far from successful. Remember how the USSR collapsed along ethnic lines into conventional nation-states, and noticed how the EU might very well do the same?

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    • bsixsmith says:

      What’s astonishing is that he kind of concedes it. His argument appears to be that class consciousness demands an immense transformative psychological shock.

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      • Simon says:

        I think he’s guessing that class consciousness will then fill in for nation-states and religions, but even the USSR couldn’t survive for that long without *some* degree of “socialist patriotism”. Hell, the fact that the People’s Republic of China and DPRK have survived until now might be that their official ideologies now emphasize that over the Marxist economics, with both countries now being communist only in name. (even the DPRK now admit that their “Juche” ideology has very little to do with communism and very much to do with Korean nationalism)

        As a matter of fact, I consider it very likely that the world might be getting more localized politically speaking rather than more globalized! Notice how Brexit might pave the way for a second Scottish independence referendum, which if successful this time around could function as a “we can do it” signal to separatists elsewhere on the planet. I keep wondering if Brexit did as much to get Trump elected as anything happening inside the US, because it again encouraged nationalists elsewhere in the West.

        Outside Europe, we also see for example how the Syrian Civil War has empowered Kurdish nationalists.

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      • bsixsmith says:

        There’s certainly a backlash against modern gigantism, though I’m not sure how meaningful it will turn out to be. A lot of Scottish nationalist sentiment seems to be more anti-English than pro-Scotland (though unlike English anti-Englishness, Scottish anti-Englishness is actually funny).

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      • Simon says:

        Also if you look at the French elections: That country’s left-wing establishment’s voters have been stolen completely by JL Mélenchon’s explicitly illiberal left-populist movement “La France Insoumisse” (“The Defiant France”) party, which is as anti-globalization and *almost* as anti-EU/NATO as Marine Le Pen is right down to using similar nationalistic rhetoric. (not just the name but for example calling the EU project “German imperialism”) Basically the dream party of the Chapo Trap House/Jacobin Magazine contingent.

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      • bsixsmith says:

        Certainly not as anti-immigration, though.

        I think Chapo Trap House is really funny, even if they would hate me for saying that.

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  2. Whyaxye says:

    “a new politics to come is to be invented”

    That’s an interesting phrase, isn’t it? I think it is a poetic way of saying “I’m so excited by my own ideas, I can’t be bothered to think about the consequences”.

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