File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0110, message 162

Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2001 21:53:29 -0600
Subject: Polemics


Don't give up on this yet.  This discussion isn't meant to be all that
theoretical. I certainly think that what Badiou is talking about has a
clear relevance to such things as cluster bombs, terrorism and stupid
wars waged by fundamentalist cowboys. That is why it is important to
talk about this now.  These are not merely abstractions. If we cannot
directly stop what is occurring, at least we can attempt to understand
and find ways to resist.

I find it interesting that Badiou's Ethics was published in France back
in 1993.  Baliou himself talks about the book having a polemical as well
as theoretical aspect.  With regard to the former, he makes the
following statement.

"As regards the first angle, I have no regrets.  We have since had to
endure the intervention of Western bombers against Serbia, the
intolerable blockade of Iraq, the continuation of threats against Cuba. 
All of this is still legitimated by a quite unbelievable outpouring of
moralizing sermons.  The International Tribunal is clearly prepared to
arrest and try, in the name of 'human rights', anyone, anywhere, who
attempts to contest the New World Order of which NATO (i.e. the United
States) is the armed guard.  Today, our 'democratic' totalitarianism is
all the more firmly entrenched.  It is now more necessary than ever that
those with free minds rise up against this servile way of thinking,
against this miserable moralism in the name of which we are obliged to
accept the prevailing way of the world of its absolute injustice."

It is clear what Badiou's polemic against ethics, human rights, identity
politics, multiculturalism and difference really is about.  As he says:
"In reality, the price paid by ethics is a stodgy conservatism."

His critique is that ethics represents a disguised politics, one that
affirms the status quo at the price of negating other more radical
possibilities and one which tends to regard others as victims from its
own privileged standpoint.  Ethics thus becomes a form of political
control, patronizing gestures and arrogance.

What I find interesting is that Badiou was saying this over eight years
ago.  Recently, this same insight regarding the problematic nature of
pop ethics has received collaboration from other contemporary Globalist

Naomi Klein points to the ways in which identity politics was easily
co-opted as a new marketing strategy by transnational corporations.  She
writes: "As we look back, it seems like willful blindness. The
abandonment of the radical economic foundations of the women's and
civil-rights movements by the conflation of causes that came to be
called political correctness successfully trained a generation of
activist in the politics of image, not action. ... We were too busy
analyzing the pictures projected on the wall to notice that the wall
itself had been sold."

Negri and Hardt make a similar critique.  "The affirmation of
hybridities and the free play of differences across boundaries, however,
is liberatory only in a context where power poses hierarchy exclusively
through essential identities, binary divisions, and stable oppositions. 
The structures and logics of power in the contemporary world are
entirely immune to the "liberatory" weapons of the postmodern politics
of difference.  In fact, Empire too is bent on doing away with those
modern forms of sovereignty and on setting differences to play across

So, Badiou is certainly not alone in his critique of ethics.  His great
merit is that he was there much earlier than most and that he goes
beyond the political nature of critique to engage the problem of ethics
philosophically as well.
Now that I have looked at the polemics, I will begin to analyze its
theoretical side in my next post.



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