Alain Badiou on The Courage of the Present

200px-Alain-Badiou_lk_UseOriginally published in Le Monde on February 13 2010 (translated by Alberto Toscano), over at Infinite Thought:

For almost thirty years, the present, in our country, has been a disoriented time. I mean a time that does not offer its youth, especially the youth of the popular classes, any principle to orient existence. What is the precise character of this disorientation? One of its foremost operations consists in always making illegible the previous sequence, that sequence which was well and truly oriented. This operation is characteristic of all reactive, counter-revolutionary periods, like the one we’ve been living through ever since the end of the seventies. We can for example note that the key feature of the Thermidorean reaction, after the plot of 9 Thermidor and the execution without trial of the Jacobin leaders, was to make illegible the previous Robespierrean sequence: its reduction to the pathology of some blood-thirsty criminals impeded any political understanding. This view of things lasted for decades, and it aimed lastingly to disorient the people, which was considered to be, as it always is, potentially revolutionary.

To make a period illegible is much more than to simply condemn it. One of the effects of illegibility is to make it impossible to find in the period in question the very principles capable of remedying its impasses. If the period is declared to be pathological, nothing can be extracted from it for the sake of orientation, and the conclusion, whose pernicious effects confront us every day, is that one must resign oneself to disorientation as a lesser evil. Let us therefore pose, with regard to a previous and visibly closed sequence of the politics of emancipation, that it must remain legible for us, independently of the final judgment about it.

In the debate concerning the rationality of the French Revolution during the Third Republic, Clemenceau produced a famous formula: ‘The French Revolution forms a bloc’. This formula is noteworthy because it declares the integral legibility of the process, whatever the tragic vicissitudes of its unfolding may have been. Today, it is clear that it is with reference to communism that the ambient discourse transforms the previous sequence into an opaque pathology. I take it upon myself therefore to say that the communist sequence, including all of its nuances, in power as well as in opposition, which lay claim to the same idea, also forms a bloc.

So what can the principle and the name of a genuine orientation be today? I propose that we call it, faithfully to the history of the politics of emancipation, the communist hypothesis.