Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On Evil: An Interview Alain Badiou

On Evil: An Interview with Alain Badiou,
by Christopher Cox and Molly Whalen,
Cabinet Magazine Online, Issue 5, Winter 2001/02

An excerpt:

The idea of the self-evidence of Evil is not, in our society, very old. It dates, in my opinion, from the end of the 1960s, when the big political movement of the 60s was finished. We then entered into a reactive period, a period that I call the Restoration. You know that, in France, "Restoration" refers to the period of the return of the King, in 1815, after the Revolution and Napoleon. We are in such a period. Today we see liberal capitalism and its political system, parlimentarianism, as the only natural and acceptable solutions. Every revolutionary idea is considered utopian and ultimately criminal. We are made to believe that the global spread of capitalism and what gets called "democracy" is the dream of all humanity. And also that the whole world wants the authority of the American Empire, and its military police, NATO.

In truth, our leaders and propagandists know very well that liberal capitalism is an inegalitarian regime, unjust, and unacceptable for the vast majority of humanity. And they know too that our "democracy" is an illusion: Where is the power of the people? Where is the political power for third world peasants, the European working class, the poor everywhere? We live in a contradiction: a brutal state of affairs, profoundly inegalitarian—where all existence is evaluated in terms of money alone—is presented to us as ideal. To justify their conservatism, the partisans of the established order cannot really call it ideal or wonderful. So instead, they have decided to say that all the rest is horrible. Sure, they say, we may not live in a condition of perfect Goodness. But we're lucky that we don't live in a condition of Evil. Our democracy is not perfect. But it's better than the bloody dictatorships. Capitalism is unjust. But it's not criminal like Stalinism. We let millions of Africans die of AIDS, but we don't make racist nationalist declarations like Milosevic. We kill Iraqis with our airplanes, but we don't cut their throats with machetes like they do in Rwanda, etc.

That's why the idea of Evil has become essential. No intellectual will actually defend the brutal power of money and the accompanying political disdain for the disenfranchised, or for manual laborers, but many agree to say that real Evil is elsewhere. Who indeed today would defend the Stalinist terror, the African genocides, the Latin American torturers? Nobody. It's there that the consensus concerning Evil is decisive. Under the pretext of not accepting Evil, we end up making believe that we have, if not the Good, at least the best possible state of affairs—even if this best is not so great. The refrain of "human rights" is nothing other than the ideology of modern liberal capitalism: We won't massacre you, we won't torture you in caves, so keep quiet and worship the golden calf. As for those who don't want to worship it, or who don't believe in our superiority, there's always the American army and its European minions to make them be quiet.

Note that even Churchill said that democracy (that is to say the regime of liberal capitalism) was not at all the best of political regimes, but rather the least bad. Philosophy has always been critical of commonly held opinions and of what seems obvious. Accept what you've got because all the rest belongs to Evil is an obvious idea, which should therefore be immediately examined and critiqued. My personal position is the following: It is necessary to examine, in a detailed way, the contemporary theory of Evil, the ideology of human rights, the concept of democracy. It is necessary to show that nothing there leads in the direction of the real emancipation of humanity. It is necessary to reconstruct rights, in everyday life as in politics, of Truth and of the Good. Our ability to once again have real ideas and real projects depends on it.

Read the Entire Interview

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Since time has become diluted, compressed--a malleable horizon of discrete events--it's no longer "ripeness" that is all (important), but perspective. We can't really claim that capitalism is the least evil system possible, since that conclusion is so entirely premature.

The "socialism" of Stalin is not socialism. Until a different means of redistributing wealth is attempted with the same degree of fervor and intensity with which capitalism has defended itself (and, indirectly, its largely unacknowledged depradations--ecologocal, social, and otherwise), we really can't make such judgments.

To even consider the relative merits of these two systems (and who limited the realm of possibilities in such a drastic, implausible manner?), we would first need to step back far enough to consider three questions:

1.) How much is the lens of our critical eye informed or distorted by the vast seas of propaganda this issue has generated?

2.) What was the effect of the interaction between the two competing sytems? (The role that each played in the development, or conversely, the destruction of the other.)

3.) Is that all there is? Have we so hamstrung our only godlike attribute-our imaginative faculty--that we can't think beyond the parameters laid out by the experts? I'm just a self-educated schmuck with a computer and I know of a half dozen far better alternatives--why do we let our thoughts be constricted by these models?