in conversation with Aude Lancelin


(An excerpt from CONFRONTATION, forthcoming from POLITY)


              Translated by Susan Spitzer 


from “MAY '68”


AL: Let’s turn now to a completely different subject, yet one that’s not unrelated to the issue of progressivism. Alain Finkielkraut, your highly critical views on the “spirit of May ’68,” especially when it infiltrates an institution such as school, are well known. As it happens, the views of your opposite number, Alain Badiou, on this subject are far from being as enthusiastic as might too easily be supposed. In The Communist Hypothesis, for instance, an essay of his that was published shortly after the thirtieth anniversary of the “events of May,” we read the following passage: “We are commemorating May 68 because the real outcome and the real hero of 68 is unfettered neo-liberal capitalism. The libertarian ideas of 68, the transformation of the way we live, the individualism and the taste for jouissance have become a reality thanks to post-modern capitalism and its garish world of all sorts of consumerism.” Owing to his hostility to neo-liberal libertarianism, isn’t Alain Badiou ultimately closer to you than might have been imagined in connection with this thorny “68” affair?


A. Finkielkraut: Possibly . . . But I’m not going to be fool enough to try to squeeze ’68 into a one-size-fits-all formula or blame the spirit of ’68 for all the problems plaguing French society. What I condemn is the broadening of the field of struggle to sex, culture, and school. “I hate servitude as the source of all the ills of humankind,” Rousseau said, and the pan-Rousseauism of May saw servitude everywhere. The omnipresence and the omnipotence of the concept of power: that, for me, is '68 thought” [la pensée 68]. At the time, we (I played my own small part in this) tarred domination and authority – or, as Lévinas put it, the master who conquers and the master who teaches – with the same brush. We regarded education as a kind of oppression, teaching as symbolic violence, and so-called legitimate culture as cultural tyranny elevated to a position of dominance by the power relations in society. Today, I would concur with Simon Leys and respond to this by saying that the demand for equality is a noble aspiration in its own sphere, social justice, but is pernicious in the realm of the spirit. 


Democracy is the only acceptable political system; yet it pertains to politics exclusively, and has no application in any other domain. When applied anywhere else, it is death – for truth is not democratic, intelligence and talent are not democratic, nor is beauty, nor love . . . A truly democratic education is an education that equips people intellectually to defend and promote democracy within the political world; but in its own field, education must be ruthlessly aristocratic and high-brow [...]1


Yet this response has become almost inaudible because yesterday’s protests have taken over the doxa. Anti-institutional thinking is triumphant in institutions. The anti-authoritarian slogans we shouted 40 years ago now inspire the decision-makers’ actions. Look at school. What is the enemy of the national education inspectors nowadays? It’s the teacher’s authority or what they call “frontal pedagogy.”2 The spirit of May ’68 has eliminated class ranking, abolished discipline, and done away with podiums. How should this spectacular, belated victory be considered? It’s not Marx who can help us understand but Tocqueville. It’s not The Communist Manifesto but Democracy in America. It’s not the distinction between formal rights and real rights; it’s the discovery of the egalitarian direction our societies have taken.


AL: Yes, but for that very reason we can see how far beyond the issue of May ’68 the issue of the breakdown of authority goes. It is one general trend among others linked to the emergence of mass democratic societies...


A. Finkielkraut: You’re right: 1968 wasn’t a break, it was an acceleration of the process. The last bastions of hierarchy were swept away, the rules of formality broke down, and democracy leveled whatever disparities were still left in our world. The boundaries between adults and children and men and women were dissolved, but so too were those between culture and entertainment, since legitimate culture was now nothing but the dominant culture. And, ever since then, interchangeability has become the name of the game. As a result, two interrelated tasks must be accomplished. The first of these is to fight for more

equality, for the sake of social justice. When you see what happened to the Philips factory workers and employees, who were informed of their plant’s closure only the night before the appointed day and were shamelessly offered a job reclassification in Hungary paying only 450 euros a month, there’s only one thing you can think: social justice has to be a priority. But there’s another task that’s absolutely incumbent upon us, one that, as soon as I dare mention it, earns me the label of “reactionary”: the task of reining in democracy and restraining the passion for equality as much as possible so as to prevent the world from lapsing into indifferentiation. 


A. Badiou: Once again, I’m going to be less critical than might be expected . . .  and for the following reason. Basically, the point we disagree on is that, in your somewhat elitist, somewhat aristocratic conception of things, the only totally democratic exception you make is for politics. But why should that be so? I can’t see any reason why politics as thought, as a norm of collective action, and as an invention, too, inasmuch as it has a history, should be exempt from your general principle that it’s impossible for anything of value to be democratic in nature. You mentioned love and art, but you could also mention science and different types of knowledge. Why do you consider politics to be an exception to what can be called “truths,” in the sense that what we mean by “truth” is something that’s subject neither to the fluctuations of opinion nor to the law of numbers? That’s the issue. And I really think your position is self-contradictory, because the ills you perceive are in actual fact, as Tocqueville saw perfectly well, the consequence of democratic ideology’s absolute dominance – including and above all in the political field. If you accept that something as fundamental as the organization of society, the form of state power, is subject to the law of numbers, how can you expect that everything else won’t ultimately end up being subject to it too? If we learn that the law of numbers can determine whether there will be war or peace, what the reaction to the economic meltdown will be, what form of power there will be, and so on, how can you expect education to resist being swept up in the end too? Everyone knows that the gradual dismantling of everything you found so appealing about our schools is due to mass access to education. Democracy – as conceived of in our societies – has ruined education; that much is clear. And so I would tend to agree with you, but I don’t think your own views are radical enough! I think you should extend the critique of democracy to its core or hard kernel: political democracy. In that regard, I’m a sterner critic than you are.


A. Finkielkraut: Yes, I do have that impression . . .


A. Badiou: I’ve never regarded myself as a democrat in the Western sense of the term, any more than any of the real proponents of egalitarian politics has ever been a democrat, moreover, as is well known. And that includes Rousseau, whom you cited. “We shall force them to be free” is the authoritarian heart of Rousseau’s thought. The real problem you’re highlighting, as I see it, is the intrinsic relationship between equality and democracy. You act as though the essence of egalitarian possibility were political democracy, something that has in no way been proven. You say “social justice,” but actually the first automatic consequence of democracy today is enormous inequalities, not equalities. Sorry, but that’s how it is! So it’s not true that there is a special bond between democracy and equality. As a matter of fact, Chateaubriand wrote somewhere that there’s a secret collusion between equality and despotism. That strikes me as being truer and more confirmed by all the attempts at equality in one world after another. All of this is to say that what I take away from May ’68 is absolutely not the libertarian spirit, or generalized democracy, or the abolition of differences, and so on. What I personally take away from it is a political inspiration attempting to be egalitarian in a context other than representative democracy, because representative democracy as we know it, subjected in actual fact to capitalist oligarchy, is both a destroyer of truths and a producer of inequalities. It combines both those defects. So the critique of democracy should be extended to political and representative democracy, and we should ask ourselves what a politics that is respectful of the hierarchy between truth and opinion and yet doesn’t produce inequalities might be.


AL: Alain Finkielkraut, have you ever been tempted to extend your frequent criticism of mass democracy and its leveling effect to a questioning of political democracy itself?


A. Finkielkraut: No, certainly not. And let me quote Tocqueville again: “Feelings and ideas are renewed, the heart expands, and the human spirit develops only through the reciprocal action of human beings on one another.”3 Tocqueville, as everyone knows and constantly repeats, was a liberal thinker. He concurred with Benjamin Constant in defending “that part of human existence which, of necessity, remains individual and independent, and which is by right outside of all social competence.”4 He went even farther, though: “but [the people] could not take part in public affairs at all without broadening their ideas and abandoning set ways of thinking.”5 Tocqueville, in other words, was a republican. He wanted to free people from politics, but he also saw in politics a way to free, disalienate, and relieve them of themselves, of their everyday troubles and their usual distractions. Hence the magnificent tribute that he, the aristocrat, paid to the beginnings of the French Revolution: “I think that no epoch of history has ever witnessed so large a number so passionately devoted to the public good, so honestly forgetful of themselves; so absorbed in the contemplation of the common interest, so resolved to risk everything they cherished in their private lives, so willing to overcome the small sentiments of their hearts.”6

   With representative democracy, there is always a risk of the citizens abandoning political freedom solely for the sake of their own individual independence or, as Tocqueville already feared, for the small pleasures of consumption. But the contempt that all of direct democracy’s advocates display for the non-political part of human life strikes me as ominous. As history has shown, it can only lead to the elimination of that great achievement of modern times, private life.


A. Badiou: But why do you regard today’s representative democracy as one of the great achievements of modern times, since you’re constantly diagnosing its ills? That’s what I find so surprising. How is it that it’s precisely in modern, democratized countries, all of which have a representative system of government, that the omnipotence of commodity production and the total fascination it exerts on people has developed so irresistibly? There does indeed appear to be an intrinsic link between unrestrained capitalism and representative democracy. There is every reason to believe that it constitutes an indissoluble unity, cemented, moreover, by the right of free enterprise, which may be part of those private freedoms you speak about. Free enterprise means that, through consolidation and systemic competition, critically important poles of power are created which, as is well known, are productive and financial ones, poles of power with their own rationale and interests, aimed at summoning every subject to the market as a consumer. To that end, as Marx perfectly saw, these poles of power need to dissolve everything in “the icy waters of egotistical calculation.” That’s an absolute imperative. And so they also have the crucial function of dissolving institutions, which are regarded as relics of the old world, and ensuring that there exists an atomization of separate individuals with no community other than sharing as much as possible in the delights of the market. There you have it. I think that, for you, that world is a hellish one, but I hate to tell you that that world happens to be the condition and the consequence – both at once – of representative democracy. You want to preserve the very thing you think is fundamentally pernicious! I really can’t see how you could improve representative democracy in such a way that it wouldn’t reinforce what could be called the dictatorship of commodities, the institutional dissolution of everything of value, of everything that’s part of a hierarchy based on something other than commodities. You inevitably have to arrive at the idea that politics as we know it, across the whole ideological spectrum, is without a doubt systematically complicit with this dominant vision of people as competitive predators and consumers of things. All the governments rushed to rescue the banks in Fall 2009 because the banks were a pillar of their systemic vision.


A. Finkielkraut: They didn’t rescue the banks; they rescued people’s savings. They prevented a situation like 1929 from happening again . . .


A. Badiou: I’m not saying they didn’t! But if avoiding a systemic crisis of capitalism was of such vital importance, it can only mean that we’re subject to the unconditional law of this type of organization of production and exchange. Ultimately, all the phenomena you describe – the defeat of thought, the eradication of the hierarchical system of values, the increasing lack of differentiation between culture and entertainment – all these things are consequences of the absolute power of commodities, consequences that were predicted by Marx far more explicitly than they were by Tocqueville, contrary to what you say. Namely, the general dissolution of everything of value, or everything that imposes a hierarchy on thought, in the icy waters of egotistical calculation. This is exactly what’s happening today, which moreover proves that, contrary to what has sometimes been said, Marx’s prophetic gift was absolutely remarkable, because all this is infinitely truer today than it was in his time. Your objectives could only be achieved by means that are completely different from the ones you’re suggesting. You can’t, on the one hand, want to preserve the existing political system, linked as it is in a thousand ways to the abominable world of business, and, on the other hand, complain and whine that it has terrible effects on culture, values, and so on. You want to preserve the old world in the new one! And you won’t be able to. By your own standards, if the economic and political framework remains the same, things will go from bad to worse. Unavoidably.


A. Finkielkraut: “Every world will be judged,” Péguy wrote, “on what it considered negotiable or non-negotiable. All the degradation of the modern world, i.e., all lowering of standards, all debasement of values, comes from the modern world regarding as negotiable the values that the ancient and Christian worlds regarded as non-negotiable. And this universal negotiation is the cause of its universal degradation.”7 But it’s not representative democracy that’s the issue here; it’s the hatred of representation and what can only be called egalitarian nihilism: everything is interchangeable, anything can be substituted for anything else because, at bottom, everything is equal to everything else and is equally valid. I would add that the second reason for my breaking with the spirit of May ’68 – this occurred to me as I was listening to you – has to do precisely with that slogan that I personally never uttered but was able to hear at the time without being shocked by it: “Run, comrade, the old world is right behind you.” 


AL: But it seems to me that the new world Alain Badiou was talking about a moment ago is the world of globalized capitalism. That’s hardly a bright future we should be running to catch up with . . .


A. Finkielkraut: Yes, but Alain Badiou pits a different future against that ominous one and wants to “make a clean slate of the past.”8  I myself believe that the past is  our responsibility, that we have to take care of it, and that the old world isn’t oppressive but fragile and perishable. So I endorse the agenda Albert Camus set out in the wonderful speech he gave in Sweden: “Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself.”9 Capitalism carries within it the threat of the world’s dissolution or contraction, as Adam Smith astutely observed right from the start: “These are the disadvantages of a commercial spirit. The minds of men are contracted and rendered incapable of elevation, education is despised or at least neglected, and heroic spirit is almost utterly extinguished.”10 A society in which capitalism, having become hegemonic, eliminated all the principles that came before or were irrelevant to its functioning would be a truly unbearable society. But – as we’ve learned the hard way – so would a society organized in such a way that there’s no longer any room for private initiative: that’s the grain of truth in liberalism.


A. Badiou: In other words, you accept the most fundamental axioms of our society while complaining bitterly about the consequences of those same axioms. I’m really convinced that your position is self-contradictory. And that’s in fact why all your statements will become more and more melancholy; they’ll translate that contradiction into melancholy. Inevitably, owing to mass democracy’s impotence, you’ll see everything you value slowly but surely crumble away. The real defenders of what you value, of a society that, by virtue of its very existence, can keep alive principles other than those of competitive survival, are not and cannot be today’s “democrats.” The other kind of collective organization, the one that’s protective of truths, is not the same as the existing one and will have to emerge from it through a rupture whose contemporary process I can’t guess. How can you not see that a politics based exclusively on the law of numbers is obviously homogeneous with a reality based on the market and money? In none of the areas you value would the law of numbers be acceptable, so why would you suddenly find it acceptable for politics? Isn’t politics a thought, one of the loftiest and most sophisticated of all?  Isn’t it a value? Every day, we see what its subjection to the law of numbers leads to. Your beloved Tocqueville, who was already melancholy, had in many respects anticipated this, moreover.


A. Finkielkraut: Sure, but we’ve also seen what a politics that ignored the sentiment of the majority led to . . . So we have to take the excesses, the atrocities, and the madness of the twentieth century into account.


A. Badiou: Absolutely. But in what way do such excesses and madness detract from the
view that everything you cherish is completely corroded by capitalism and its inseparable partner, representative democracy?


A. Finkielkraut: What I cherish isn’t corroded by representative democracy but by the egalitarian dynamic that introduces democratic norms into areas where they have no business being, such as the family, education, and culture.


A. Badiou: But wait a second – the egalitarian dynamic isn’t the problem! We live in a totally oligarchical society.


A. Finkielkraut: So, to overthrow the oligarchy, you advocate a different type of political organization than representative democracy. And you’ve said, repeatedly, that the only politics worthy of the name is a politics inspired by the revolt against inequality. But look at how the Internet, for example, works.  In light of this new reality, we ought to reread “The Order of Discourse,” the fascinating, famous inaugural lecture Michel Foucault gave at the Collège de France. “I am supposing,” Foucault wrote, “that in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality.”11 And he goes on to list these procedures of exclusion by implicitly drawing on the example of a utopian society in which they would no longer exist. But such a society exists here and now. On the Internet, in the blogosphere, the order of discourse has been blown to bits. All censorship has been eliminated: equality reigns supreme, spontaneity bursts forth, and speech is unbridled. Intermediaries are bypassed. There’s no question of mediation anymore. You have the right to say whatever you want; you can talk about anything at any time; anyone at all can talk about anything at all. The distinction between truth and falsehood has been wiped out; there are no standards anymore, only opinions. Nothing is better than anything else; historical facts and their denial exist side by side, and whatever was left of civility – the priority of the Other in human relations – has given way to the heady lure of direct communication between faceless people. With the end of inhibitions, the beheading of authority figures, and the breakdown of decorum, the Internet is ’68 preserved in perpetuity. Will that space ever become civilized again? It will require a revolt against democratic imperialism. But that imperialism is grounded in a passion that’s too strong for any such scenario to be imaginable.


A. Badiou: You neglected to specify what kind of equality is involved. “Equality” in no way means the generalized equivalence of opinions. That’s a really lousy definition of equality. So I come back to my basic elitism, namely, any equality must be relative to the system of truths it refers to. Otherwise, the equality of opinions would be indistinguishable from market equality: it would amount to the interchangeability of opinions, exactly the way money is interchangeable. And in this regard, we need to return to Plato’s largely justified critique of democracy. Society won’t be able to function in an acceptable, civil way, to use your term, if it purports to be based only on the interchangeability of opinions. Plato says as much explicitly and, as everyone knows, I’m a Platonist.


AL: But not always! For example, in your programmatic text entitled “The Courage of the Present,” which was published in Le Monde on February 13, 2010, you call for a total interchangeability of tasks, and in particular for an end to the “oppressive distinction between intellectual and manual labour.”12 That’s a vision of the social order that’s not very Platonic for once.


A. Badiou: The universal Plato is the one who defines thought as the safeguarding of truths. The particular Plato is the one who sympathizes with the Greek conception of the division of labor. I would obviously favor the former over the latter, who, as is clear when you read the text closely, is not very sure of his convictions. The idea that humanity is capable of establishing a community based on the potential versatility of each person’s work rather than on a rigid division of tasks does not contradict what I just said about equality. Versatility is clearly a goal for humanity in general to strive for. In particular, it’s crucial to eliminate the disastrous separation between manual and intellectual labor, which is the source of class conflicts. Ideally, general versatility would be the necessary norm of any education worthy of the name. But to get back to the crux of the debate, I think that the egalitarian norm is negated by the infinite substitutability of opinions, because the latter, including in its guise as the Internet, is necessarily controlled by monetary interchangeability. Ultimately, it’s very clear that, for the time being, the Internet only exists to the extent that it’s structured by great financial powers.


A. Finkielkraut: It’s always easy to pin the blame on money! But there are passions operating on the Internet . . .


A. Badiou: Yes, but the inscription of those passions, I regret to say, has only been made possible by a computerized capitalism that’s one of the most powerful in the world at the present time! All of this is possible only because of behemoths like Google, and so on. And these are products circulating on the Net in accordance with the law of market interchangeability, i.e., the fact that any inscription can be equal to any other one. So I agree with you that we should indeed start with the question of the relationship between the collective body and truths of principle. But the problem is, to formalize this, you can’t start with today’s representative democracy since it obviously couldn’t care less about principles. 


A. Finkielkraut: I don’t think capitalism is stirring up the passions unleashed on the Web. Instead, I think there’s a disturbing homology between the law of interchangeability and the assertion that all practices, behaviors, and styles are equal. And, as I was listening to you, I thought of that line of Flaubert’s that Barthes analyzed in the pages of Le Nouvel Observateur in 1978: “I write not for today’s reader, but for every reader who might appear, as long as the language lasts.”13 What concerned Barthes and gave him food for thought was the fact that Flaubert didn’t link literature to doctrines or to revolutions in mentality but to a form: the French language. And Barthes didn’t see that form as being something that would last forever. The French language might well die. And tomorrow the French might speak a post-national language, i.e., a language to
tally independent of literature, traditional syntax, and the rules of correct usage. We are closer to that tomorrow now than Barthes was when he expressed his concern, because the very idea of correct usage has disappeared from education – and it’s not the MEDEF [employers’ federation] that has put that disappearance on the syllabus but progressive 

pedagogy. What Barthes foresaw has come to pass: “In other words, it’s today that we need to be thinking of Classical Writing as released from the Durable in which it was embalmed. Now that it’s no longer caught in the Durable, it becomes New.14 And the same Barthes who, in Mythologies, had ridiculed all the symbols of “francité” [Frenchness], asserted in his final seminar, The Preparation of the Novel, that the work that needs to be written should be filial. That’s where he stood. And that is, mutatis mutandis, where I stand, too.


A. Badiou: Once again, let me try to list the points we agree on. We agree on the fact that a certain May ’68 was actually only an acceleration or a consolidation of strong trends toward the general substitutability of opinions, objects, and bodies. This May ’68 basically contributed to the dissolution of everything in the icy waters of capitalism. And so we agree on the fact that the solution doesn’t lie in that direction, in the promotion of that sort of substitutability. Furthermore, we agree that, in reality, the consideration of what the community is really capable of, or its civil humanization, or its maximal existence, is clearly linked to the preservation of a certain number of principles. This means that we’re both opposed to a cer tain strain of libertarianism still lurking in the situation today, and we also agree that not everything is interchangeable and that there are hierarchies in the order of thought. These are, after all, two boundaries within which we’re placing our discussion, but I can clearly see that you’re trying to pin the main blame for this state of affairs, which you think is disastrous, and one of whose black marks is the demise of language, something I couldn’t agree more about–you’re trying to pin the main blame for all of this on progressivism’s passion for equality. That’s the issue on which I disagree totally with you. The root cause of this situation is obviously a world in which nothing has any value or power except what can circulate in a form that must always be able to be measured in monetary terms. And that’s something Marx foresaw: the old hierarchies, institutions, and values would gradually be eliminated in the universal circulation controlled by capitalism. I wonder why, as is patently obvious, you’re trying to find excuses for capitalism. It’s clear that you don’t want to go so far as to condemn it, and I just can’t understand why not. After all, you don’t need to embrace the legacy of the communist experiments of the twentieth century for that! Even before deciding what assessment should be made of state communism, it’s still possible to take a stand on the fact that all the vices you denounce in the development of French society today can be largely blamed on capitalism, which also means that they can be blamed on the successive governments that were responsible for managing society. Everything you’re complaining about is contemporaneous, after all, with the demise of a powerful, tough, and well-structured opposition to the dominant oligarchy. Logically, you ought to be nostalgic for the time when there was a powerful Communist Party in France – that should be your biggest regret! The Communist Party was one of the most effective conservative defenders of everything you love. It was one of the defenders of education, of the hierarchy of labor, and of the nation. It was the Communist Party that said: “Let’s produce French” [Produisons français]; it was the Party that kept things under control in the banlieues and in the factories. It’s not surprising that it was one of May ’68’s targets. There was something that connected the French Communist Party to everything you love, which I, for one, would call – because I love it, too – French charm, meaning a paradoxical combination of love of novelty and passion for order and rules. A French charm reflected in our language, in its classicism, in its transmission in school via the dictée, that spelling test that’s still a mass exercise and is even broadcast on TV. This charm is constantly being attacked and destroyed by the outright unleashing of contemporary globalized capitalism’s energies in this country. 


AL: Actually, the lack of any dimension of critique of capitalism in your thinking is surprising, Alain Finkielkraut. One might even get the impression that that aspect of things simply doesn’t interest you and that you’ve decided to exclude it from your field of vision. Yet there are some notable examples of thinkers in the twentieth century – I’m thinking of Walter Benjamin, in particular – whose radical rejection of the ideology of progress existed side by side with an equally strong critique of commodity fetishism . . .


A. Finkielkraut: You’d have to be blind or ignorant not to see that capitalism, especially in its current – finance, shareholder, post-entrepreneurial – version, increases inequalities and causes real human tragedies. I’m also convinced of the need to fight our society’s tendency not to make any room for excellence or honor and to be wholly controlled by the profit motive. But a social critique denouncing the spirit of capitalism and at the same endorsing the democratic scorn of any kind of greatness or distinction is, under its trenchant exterior, a very inadequate and ultimately tame social critique. 


A. Badiou: And yet that’s precisely what the initial critique of capitalism was! It’s striking that what we are indeed seeing today is the breakdown of all traditional forms of authority, and for what I think is a very simple reason: the hierarchy of opinions, not their equivalence, creates a subjectivity that’s at odds with capitalism. Capitalism requires a separate, individual, consumerist subjectivity. And even the Internet is a tool for molding a subjectivity of that type, a solitary subjectivity that considers its most off-the-cuff opinion worthy of being communicated to the whole world, equal to all the others. But what is this, actually? It’s capitalism’s dream subject! Capitalism certainly doesn’t want a subject who thinks there are values that are non-interchangeable. What could it do with a subject who loves beauty, love, revolutionary politics, or pure mathematics, or even with subjects like you and me who love their country? It wants nothing to do with them, because subjects like that are completely incompatible with the kind of circulation it organizes.


A. Finkielkraut: That “it” bothers me a bit, though – it becomes a subject in its own right . . .


A. Badiou: But it’s just a metaphor for the system. Let’s call it “K” if you prefer, das Kapital.


A. Finkielkraut: That bothers me even more!


A. Badiou: It’s only normal that such a powerful social organization, and one that has moreover spread all over the world, would mold its own type of subjectivity. So my question to you is: you’d like for there to be other kinds of subjectivities, different kinds, but where are you going to get them from if you begin by approving of the means of production of the very subjectivities you’re opposed to? Capitalism destroys everything it has no need of . . . 




Simon Leys, The Hall of Uselessness (New York: New York Review of Books, 2013), 447.

As Ira Shor defines it in his Empowering Education (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 96, “frontal pedagogy” is the practice in which the teacher speaks from a position of authority at the front of the classroom to students sitting in rows before him or her. 

3  Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Library of America, 2004), 598.

4  Benjamin Constant, The Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments, ed. Étienne Hoffman, trans. Dennis O’Keefe (Indianapolis: Literary Fund, 2003), 31.

5  Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 279.

Alexis de Toqueville, L’Ancien régime et la Révolution francaise. Cited in Raymond Aron, Main Currents in Sociological Thought, vol. 1, trans. Richard Howard and Helen Weaver (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1998), 275.

Charles Peguy, “Note conjointe sur M. Descartes et la philosophie artésenne,” in Note conjointe (Paris: Gallimard, 1935). Cited by Alain de Benoit and translated by Greg Johnson,

Finkielkraut is alluding here to lyrics from “The Internationale.”

Albert Camus, Nobel Prize acceptance speech, December 10, 1957,

10  Adam Smith Lectures on Jurisprudence, ed. R. L. Meek, D. D. Raphael, and P. G. Stein (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1982), 541.

11  Michel Foucault, “The Discourse on Language,” in The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Vintage 1972), 216.

12  Alan Badiou, “The Courage of the Present” trans. Alberto Toscano,

13  Roland Barthes, “Day by Day with Roland Barthes,” trans. Richard Howard, in On Signs, ed Marshall Blonsky (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 109. The line occurs in a letter Flaubert wrote to George Sand on December 4, 1872.

14  Roland Barthes, The Preparation of the Novel: Lecture Courses and Seminars at the Collège de France (1978-79 and 1979-80), trans. Kate Briggs (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 295.

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