The meaning of SarkozyOctober 16, 2011, 6:40 pm
One may wonder whether translating a book on an election held in 2007 in France and its results is of use and relevance to Sri Lanka. I think Vangeesa Sumanasekera’s effort is welcome for two reasons. As history has shown since French Revolution, French political events have universally significant theoretical and political ramifications. Secondly, if we substitute a name of a present or past political leader (like Obama, Blair, Bush or Mahinda Rajapaksa) who exercised governmental power for Sarkozy in the title, book still makes sense. Hence the book has a universal relevance. Alain Badiou, the author of the book, The Meaning of Sarkozy (MS) is a French Marxist philosopher. The first chapter of the book was written just before the 2007 French presidential election that made Sarkozy the president of France. The last two chapters were later developed in his recent book, The Communist Hypothesis (CH).
Like in many countries, France has two histories. One is conservative and more bound up with the structures of the state. If we limit ourselves to modern period, this history began with Thermidorian reaction after 1794 and moved through 1815 Restoration, victory of Napoleon III, the massacre of the Paris Commune in 1871, and colonial wars to the election of Sarkozy. The second history that is progressive is the one written by the intervention of the anonymous masses beginning with the great French Revolution and continues with the recent riots on Paris streets by workers and students. In this context, elections are not democratic exercises but state exercises. Badiou identified the election process as one of the ideological state apparatuses described earlier by Louis Althusser. In 2007 election, two fears were in operation, one was original while the second was derivative. While Sarkozy uses the original fear for his advantage, the socialist candidate thought she would be benefited by the second. Since there was no clear alternative voters en masse voted for the Sarkozy to make him president. "I shall propose a theorem: every chain of fears leads to nothingness, and voting is the operation of this. If this is not a political operation, as I maintain, what is its nature? Well, voting is a state operation. And it is only by assuming that politics and the state are identical that voting can be conceived as a political procedure" (MS, p. 12).
Fear will be used to legitimise terror and war both within the country and abroad and at the same time to stress the importance and need of the unity, protection of the ‘motherland’. Badiou writes: "The underlying logic is after all the logic of the single party. This is exactly what our president has in mind: together everyone under his wing. It’s only natural! Once the whole world accepts the capitalist order, the market economy and representative democracy, these facts being equally objective and indubitable as universal gravitation,if not more, why carry on with the fiction of opposing parties?" (MS, pp. 28- 29). Of course this strategy is adopted not only by Sarkozy, but many other elected presidents and prime ministers.
We have been told that we live today in a unified world characterised by free market, democracy and human rights. Badiou poses the question: Is it a unified world? This is the answer given by him. "The world of globalization is uniquely a world of objects and monetary signs, a world of the free circulation of products and financial flows. It is precisely the world foreseen by Marx a hundred and fifty years ago: the world of the global market. All that exist in this world are things - objects for sale - and signs - the abstract instruments of sale and purchase, the various forms of money and credit. But it is not true that human subjects freely exist in this world. To start with, they totally lack the basic right to move around and settle where they wish. In their crushing majority, the women and men of the supposed ‘world’, the world of commodities and money, have no access at all to this world.They are rigorously locked out of it, where there are very few commodities for them and no money at all" (MS, p. 55).
What should be the task of emancipatory politics in this historical context? Is it extending Western democracy? Making it real? Badiou thinks that perceiving the task of emancipatory politics as an extension of democracy is absurd. "The absolute material basis of the Western democratic world is the free circulation of objects and monetary signs. Its most fundamental subjective maxim is competition, the free competition that imposes the supremacy of wealth and the instruments of power. The inevitable result of obeying this maxim is the separation of living beings by and for the bitter defence of the privileges of wealth and power" (MS, p. 58). The dominant discourse on democracy, human rights and ecology is in this historical juncture trapped within this model and subordinated to the global governance system. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel’s aggression towards Palestine and many other imperialist interventions ‘proves that ‘the world’ thus conceived [as unified] does not really exist. What exists is a false and closed world, artificially kept separate from general humanity by incessant violence" (p. 60).
What is that world that we should seek? Badiou informs us that such a unified world can be built through collective emancipatory political action not by individual effort. He opines: "To assert therefore that ‘there is only one world’ is a principle of action, a political imperative. This principle is also that of the equality of existences at every place in this single world. The principle of the existence of a single world does not contradict the endless play of identities and differences. It simply means, when it becomes an axiom of collective action, that these identities subordinate their negative dimension (opposition to others) to their assertive dimension(development of the same)" (MS, p. 68).
To transform the current exploitative world context, people need courage. Badiou defines courage as the virtue displayed by endurance in the impossible. In re-arranging the world people need courage to maintain and preserve the idea that new ‘events’ may generate new possibilities that would make the communist hypothesis a practical possibility. What is meant by the communist hypothesis? He answers: "In its generic sense, ‘communist’ means first of all, in a negative sense - as we can read in its canonical text The Communist Manifesto- that the logic of classes, of the fundamental subordination of people who actually work for a dominant class, can be overcome…. The communist hypothesis is that a different collective organisation is practicable, one that will eliminate the inequality of wealthand even the division of labour: every individual will be a ‘multi-purpose worker’, and in particular people will circulate between manual and intellectual work, as well as between town and country. The private appropriation of monstrous fortunes and their transmission by inheritance will disappear. The existence of a coercive state … will no longer seem a self-evident necessity. There will be, Marx tells us- and he saw this point as his major contribution – after a brief sequence of ‘proletarian dictatorship’ charged with destroying the remains of the old world, a long sequence of reorganisation on the basis of a ‘free association’ of producers and creators, which will make possible a ‘withering away’ of the state" (MS, p. 98- 99).
Badiou in his previous writings, especially in Being and Event, developed concepts like, ‘truth’, ‘event’, ‘state’ or state of situation’ and deployed them in reloading the idea of communism as a guidance to emancipatory collective action. I have already discussed the way in which Badiou portrayed the current world context. This is the given ‘state’ or ‘state of situation’. The ‘state’ or the ‘state of situation’ is defined by Badiou as "the system of constraints that limit the possibility of possibilities"(CH, p. 243). Does it mean that we have become the slaves of the given situation? The so-called TINA (there-is-no-alternative) syndrome? Absolutely not! Badiou defines ‘event’ as ‘a rupture in the normal order of bodies and languages as it exists for any particular situation" so that it generates new possibilities. It is not just a realisation of existing possibilities. Hence, "the ‘state’ is always the finitude of possibility and the ‘event’ is its infintization" (CH, p. 243).
In my opinion, Badiou’s view that the communist hypothesis is still alive has gained credence with the emergence of new ‘events’ during the last decade or so. The serious economic crisis that surfaced in 2008, failure of the NATO interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, many mass uprisings in developed as well as in developing world to protect their gains, and intellectual decadence of the bourgeoisie have time and again proved that the world is now entering a new phase that also generates new possibilities for a new world. In this context, the materialisation of the idea of communism, in Badiou’s opinion, would be possible. In this historical juncture, the making his book, The Meaning of Sarkozy, available to Sinhala readers would be a useful contribution to the on-going debate on alternatives to the present exploitative system.
This is the text of the talk delivered at the launch of the Sinhala translation of the book, The Meaning of Sarkozy at Library Service Board Auditorium on October 12, 2011