Negation & Politics

* This rejoinder was written in 2008 for Arena Journal. It is my first attempt to work through Alain Badiou’s thought. I’m still reasonably happy with it; though some aspects are inchoate or naive.


Underlying Matthew Sharpe’s ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology, or the Abstract Passion of Alain Badiou’ is the intersection of philosophy and the Left.[1] ‘If the Left is not to repeat … those moments of its history that today provide such ammunition for the “there is no alternative” chorus from the Right’, Sharpe says, ‘Badiou cannot save us’.[2] He proposes instead a critical theory ‘addressed [to] those subjects … most historically capable of … and most directly interested in … progressive political change’.[3] But the impasse of the Left is exactly the absence of the subject. Whom, therefore, to address?­

The powerful vote that elected Labor in 2007 does not count today, given the very law that Your Rights at Work (putatively) campaigned against has been retained. In Badiou’s jargon, this was a campaign ‘convoked by the state’, in the leadership of the ACTU.[4] The parliamentary Left is so much the property of property that, where once it would have used state power to reduce inequality, it now advocates a ‘productivity revolution’. The self-immolation of the radical Left — let’s say, a Left that abjures inequality, property and the state — after 1968 has clearly left a gap in the landscape. The return of radical thought in the decades before 1968 was a response to the morose theory of Stalinism and the need to reassert the political subject. However, the crisis that stretched from 1968 to 1989 left this Left lacking any referent in the state, or with the obscure and difficult referent of Social Democracy. Either way, Alex Callinicos concludes, even with the (re)emergence of some sort of a Left during the late 1990s and after, ‘the present is … a moment of transition, in which one political subject has died and a new one has yet to emerge’.[5] But from where does a political subject emerge, if not from its own impasse?

Alain Badiou’s project in philosophy has been to continue the radical thought that came under attack after May 1968. His philosophy highlights an entropic tendency in thought and counters this with the ethic, ‘keep going’.[6] ‘Philosophy in its very essence elaborates the means of saying “Yes!” to the previously unknown thoughts that hesitate to become the truths that they are’, he says.[7] The relationship of philosophy to politics is not to provide directives, which politics provides itself, or a theory of ‘the good state’, an oxymoron after Marx, but to work out what is required for political thought not to deteriorate into the non-thought of a dull reflection of what is; for Theodor Adorno, to become ‘a piece of the politics it was supposed to lead beyond’.[8] For this reason, Badiou argues that to break its impasse, to reassert the political subject today, the Left must develop a ‘discipline of thought’ subtracted exactly from what is generally taken to be political, or what is.[9]

This makes politics unpalatably indiscernible for Sharpe.[10] At the centre of his paper is an insistence on what is generally taken to be political against Badiou’s insistence on politics as something going beyond this.[11]  So a question is immediately posed: What is politics? But in Sharpe’s discussion, where the central claim is that Badiou’s thought is a pristine example of Hegel’s ‘unhappy consciousness’,[12] this question settles on a more specific problem for philosophy: What is negation? If politics is a ‘renunciation’ of what is generally taken to be political, what is the nature of this negation?


Hegel describes the unhappy consciousness as being aware of its own preference for an abstract freedom of thought, but, in this, being aware that its preference is for something one-sided. In fact, it experiences it as a violent denial of self-realization.[13] Hegel draws on this idea to account for The Terror during the French Revolution, but its significance here is the example of Christianity. For Sharpe, the best way to understand Badiou is to locate Christianity as the hidden condition of his thought — something Badiou unwittingly invites with his 1997 book Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism.[14] Badiou is a ‘(Meta-) Political Theologian’ because his notions of event, truth and subject exactly deflect verifiability from the standpoint of their situation.

This is particularly the case with Badiou’s notions of equality and justice. Politics is entirely subjective; not simply a necessity in any given situation, but something actively directed upon it. For instance, the possibility of sexual equality should not be investigated: it should be affirmed as a political axiom. Any politics that is not immediately egalitarian is not a politics.[15] This strong subjective quality captures Saint Paul’s invocation: ‘you are not under law, but under grace’.[16] ‘Justice is that by which the subject’s nodal link to the place, to the law, takes on the divisible figure of its transformation,’ Badiou says. ‘More radically, justice names the possibility—from the point of view of what it brings in to being as subject-effect—that what is non-law may serve as law.’[17] This is why, Sharpe argues, Badiou separates and valorizes ‘a new elect’ (the subject) from those ‘left behind’ the affirmation of a truth. As for Martin Luther, the problem of bridging ‘Higher Truth’ and ‘this worldly politics’ then emerges.[18]

Sharpe goes on to draw on Luther’s political writing to suggest the consequences of Saint Paul’s distinction between law and grace. For Luther, responsibilities to God are incommensurable with those to any human community.[19] Sharpe finds appropriately shocking passages in Luther to demonstrate this: Christian government is impossible because ‘the wicked always outnumber the good’ and therefore, in order to compel the wicked to law, ‘the secular sword should and must be red and bloodthirsty’.[20] This is the ‘rub’. Political thought must negotiate the relationship between a ‘transcendent Truth’ and the situation it transcends. But Luther’s ‘Christian appeal to the freedom of thought from secular “tyrannies” does not itself legislate any political consequences’.[21] Indeed, for Hegel, the only political consequence it can have is ‘the fanaticism of destruction’.[22]


What is missing here is that the unhappy consciousness is an expression of what Hegel calls ‘negative infinity’.[23] Hegel’s criticism of traditional Christianity is exactly that its God remains transcendental. For this Christianity, ‘[t]he death of Christ means that God has withdrawn from the world, and that there are no longer any mediators between individual and God’.[24] The vogue for Epicurus and Spinoza during Hegel’s youth subsequently led him to pursue the redemption of the Christian God under the notion that an absolute God must by definition be immanent in the world: if God is not in the world there is a place where God is not: God is not absolute.[25] Accounting for the infinite within the finite then becomes a dominant motif in Hegel. This culminates in the ‘Absolute Idea’ that closes his logic.

In the early paragraphs of the Philosophy of Right, quoted by Sharpe, Hegel sets out the basic movement of his dialectic of will. First, the will denies all limits; negating determination and naming itself infinite. Second, the will cancels this denial, and determines itself within the (finite) world. But this denial is a determination without the universality given (negatively) in the first moment. And so we finally have, third, ‘the unity of both these moments’.[26] He describes this final moment as the ‘self-determination of the ego’ and it is at this point that negative infinity, or the unhappy consciousness, gives way to the substantial being that he calls true or good infinity.

With the simple denial of limits all that is achieved is an infinite repetition of negation. Everything appears as a limit from the one-sided standpoint of the abstractly infinite will. This is a bad negation, a repetition compulsion. The location of the infinite within the finite, ‘the unity of both these moments’, breaks this logic. What previously appeared as a limit is now a determination of the will itself. ‘It is the will whose potentialities have become fully explicit which is truly infinite’, Hegel says, ‘because its object is itself and so is not in its eyes an “other” or a barrier; on the contrary, in its object this will has simply turned backward into itself’.[27]


Badiou retains negative infinity as a problem to be solved. An event, for Badiou, interrupts a situation and demonstrates a dysfunction in its structuring principle; the count-as-one, in his jargon.[28] A truth process involves an activist intervention that traces the consequences of an event through a situation. He insists that this intervention happens under the condition of the state and, therefore, criticizes attempts to name the event a radical break: ‘Speculative leftism imagines that intervention authorizes itself on the basis of itself alone; that it breaks with the situation without any other support than its own negative will’, he says. ‘This thought is unaware that the event only exists insofar as it is submitted … to the ruled structure of the situation.’[29]

During the twentieth century this ‘negative will’ took the form of an absolute attempt to purify the real. Badiou argues that the century was motivated by a ‘passion for the real,’ expressed in the destruction of the state but equally in a subtraction from it. Kasimir Malevich’s 1818 painting White on White is either the destruction of painting (nothing is presented) or, in Badiou’s view, a subtraction from the law of painting that is active in the ‘minimal difference’ between white and white, ‘the difference between place and taking-place’.[30] Badiou concludes, however, that it was ‘the century of destruction’: Stalinism, Fascism, etc.[31] Like the denial of limits in Hegel’s dialectic of will, destruction aims to strip the inauthentic away from the real but finds it infinitely laden. It is ‘a process doomed to incompletion, a figure of the bad infinite’, he says.[32]

Badiou draws together the categories destruction and subtraction in the concept of ‘true negation’. He argues that any novelty is a negation and that any negation involves both destruction and subtraction. But it is in subtraction from the law of a situation, not destruction, that novelty is created; destruction is never creation. Arnold Schoenberg’s invention of serialism in music is an example of this unity. ‘The new musical axioms which structure, for Schoenberg, the admissible succession of notes in a musical work, outside the tonal system, are in no way deducible from the destruction of this system’, Badiou says, ‘the musical discourse avoids the laws of tonality, or, more precisely, becomes indifferent to these laws.’ He continues: ‘we can say that the musical discourse is subtracted from its tonal legislation. Clearly, this subtraction is in the horizon of negation, but it exists apart from the purely negative part of negation. It exists apart from destruction.’[33] As for Hegel, where the final moment in the dialectic of will is ‘the unity of both these moments’, for Badiou ‘true negation’ is the unity of destruction and subtraction. Serialism is irreducible to either destruction or subtraction, but involves both: tonality must be destroyed for the Second Viennese School to create a-tonal music.

What is essential to this process is the (re)definition of the act of composition against what is generally taken to be composition. This (re)definition, a formalization of composition, is indifferent to, is subtracted from, the law of composition: tonality. The production of novelty is not reduced to the destructive act, the absolute break of a ‘speculative leftism’, but neither is destruction cast aside. This renders Sharpe’s claim that ‘Badiou is interested … in a radical new beginning’ implausible.[34] It is not the stoicism of an unhappy consciousness, but a (re)definition en acte of what will count as legal for a definite situation.


Sharpe insists that the benefit of ‘immanent critique’ is its negotiation of ‘the descent of the philosopher back into the polis’.[35] The difficulty emerges as he repeatedly conflates this negotiation with Badiou’s assumption that thought and politics form a tautology. For instance, ‘Badiou’s … philosophy seems to sail very close to recasting politics in its own elevated image’.[36] What Sharpe misses is, first, that ‘politics is thought’ and, second, that philosophy is the thought of thought for Badiou.[37] It is therefore quite straightforward that Badiou’s philosophy would deal with the question of politics in terms of what is required for thought to continue.

If we are to restate some old principles, let’s say that Sharpe’s assumption captures what Lenin referred to as economism: the attribution of philistinism to practice, or the separation of thought from politics.[38] In a deliberately ironic passage, Sharpe suggests that whether democracy is thought of not, ‘is not a question many militants, or any other political agents, can be expected to have reflected upon’.[39] The problem is that Sharpe’s irony presupposes a role for philosophy within militant politics after having noted that Badiou holds the opposite view.[40] Sharpe’s conflation discloses the limit of his own critical theory in relation to practice: he wants a transcendental synthesis of philosophy and politics, thus the language of ‘ascent’ and ‘descent’. The pertinent question is: can we think thought outside some practical activity? If we can, it is only as a distinction of reason, as Hume suggests we can think whiteness and sphericality separately to their existence as a white marble globe.[41]

Adorno insists that a materialist philosophy must acknowledge an outside. ‘Philosophical content must be grasped solely where philosophy does not mandate it’, he says.[42] This is why Badiou says political thought is a condition on philosophy, rather than a sub-genre. Adorno presupposes Marx’s view that capitalist society hypostatizes an irreconcilable split between value and use-value; it stops at book two of Hegel’s Science of Logic (1812-17). The task of capital is to deny that values have an outside, viz. use-values, or to say that money is simply a differential measure. ‘The circle of identification, which ultimately always identifies only itself’, Adorno says, ‘was drawn by the thinking which tolerates nothing outside; its imprisonment is its own handiwork’.[43] It is the task of dialectical thought to think against this. ‘To think is, in itself and above all particular content, negation, resistance against what is imposed on it’, he says. ‘The primacy of the principle of contradiction in dialectics measures what is heterogeneous in unitary thought.’[44]


The primacy of contradiction becomes a motif in Badiou’s thought after 1968.[45] By 1975 a core group of May activists had moved from the speculative leftism of Gauche proletarienne to the Thermidor of Nouvelle philosophie. At the same time, the communist and socialist parties joined in the Programme commun under the leadership of François Mitterrand in a bid for political clout; indeed the communists were good enough to announce that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ did not apply to modern French conditions. In philosophy, Althusser and Lacan dismissed the May events. Althusser rejected the possibility of the subject, claiming rather that ‘ideology has always-already interpellated individuals as subjects’.[46] Bruno Bosteels notes that Lacan’s comment to a meeting of young radicals, that ‘the only chance of the revolutionary aspiration is always to lead to the discourse of the master’, was exactly the argument made later by the Nouveaux philosophes in their denunciations of May.[47]

The apparently bi-polar shift from Gauche proleterienne to Nouvelle Philosophie was supposed otherwise by Badiou. It simply reflected a sort of thinking that can only grasp opposing forces in their alterity.[48] Badiou rejects this. ‘There is not just the law of Capital, or the cops’, he says. ‘To miss this is to stop seeing the unity of the space of placement [esplace], its consistency. It is to fall back into objectivism, whose inverted ransom by the way is to make the state the only subject — whence the antirepressive logorrhea.’[49] The fall back into objectivism was also what Althusser and Lacan achieved in the doctrine of structural causality, where the key moment of the dialectic is the location of a structure’s absent cause: the economy or the traumatic real.[50]

Keep in mind that Badiou is doing philosophy here, and not political analysis.[51] What he is trying to work out is what is required for thought not to deteriorate in the midst of a general abandoning of the May events so dear to him.[52] It is in this connection that he says, ‘those who gave up on revolution, whether they talk about the gulags or the retreat of the masses, show that, if they were part of the movement, of ’68 and its consequences, they never seriously partook in the subject whose evanescent cause they beheld in those occurrences. These people belong to the structure.’[53] What is required, of course, is (anachronistically) ‘true negation’. The logic that must supplement structural causality is dialectical scission. ‘There is A, and there is Ap (read: “A as such” and “A in an other place,” the place distributed by the space of placement, or P)’, Badiou says. ‘We thus have to posit a constitutive scission: A = (AAp).’[54] Any force, A, is split between itself and its indexation to the regime of places that structure a situation, P. As we saw earlier with Malevich’s White on White, there is both place and taking-place. The unhappy consciousness thinks there is only the stark alternation of P and A, ‘the idea that the world knows only the necessary rightist backlash and the powerless suicidal leftism’.[55] What the formula A = (AAp) is decomposed to here is Ap(Ap), where there is nothing but the regime of places, and A(A), where the force is entirely abstract.[56]

What Badiou is moving towards is an account of the subject as something more than the affirmation of the situation’s absent cause. Badiou takes from Lacan the idea that the alternation of anxiety and the superego can be positively supplemented with the figures of courage and justice.[57] The first two terms alternate over the abyss of the absent cause; recognition of the absent cause undermines the structure giving either the anxiety of placelessness or a punitive superego that reinforces the unhealthy situation itself. Badiou supplements this with an account of how the impasse might not only lead to indefinite anxiety or the superego, but might let the absent cause extend the situation into a new truth. While anxiety and the superego are subordinated to the space of placement, Ap(A), courage and justice actively limit this determination, A(Ap). The latter actively exacerbate the situation. Anxiety is given courage to affirm the destruction of placement, while justice sublates the superego as the subject reconstructs the situation.  ‘Everything that belongs to a place returns to that part of itself which is determined by it in order to displace the place’, Badiou says, ‘to determine the determination, to cross the limit’. The dialectical matrix that Badiou affirms contains the structural determination given in a situation, Ap(A), but also the limit put on this, A(Ap).


If this dialectical scission is left aside, or if the Hegelian matrix of synthesis is presupposed, we miss what is at stake in Badiou’s thought. An example of this is Sharpe’s argument that the thesis of Badiou’s 1988 book Being and Event is ‘a category error of the first order’.[58] Sharpe’s concern is that, ‘[i]f the power of the state is postulated as infinite, it follows directly that there is no immanent space, process or potentials within the world as it is that the Left might look to with a view to progressively transforming the existing order’.[59] What Badiou maintains in Being and Event is that, if God is dead, we have to affirm that being is not one but many, or infinitely multiple; the language of ontology is, therefore, mathematics.[60] The notion that state power is errant says that an excess of included parts is counted over belonging elements when we try to grasp infinity.

What does that mean?

If our situation is the infinite set of ‘all natural numbers’, we can count out a supplementary set of its squares. The elements — 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. — belong to the situation, the part — 1, 4, 9, 16, etc.— is included. The ‘state of the situation’ duplicates the situation by including every conceivable part in order to delimit the situation’s ‘void’, viz. the underlying and indifferent multiplicity that testifies that the structure might be otherwise — what we have just been calling the absent cause. If we consider the national situation, individuals are presented as elements but are re-presented as parts: citizens and non-citizens, tax payers, trade unionists and bosses, ethnic and sexual minorities, etc., in order to fix them to a set of structural places; to hold together an inconsistent multiplicity in a consistent ‘one’ nation.[61] What is important is that these included determinations have a quantitative power (number) in errant excess of the presented situation as such; an individual relates to this errant infinity as having ‘alienating and repressive powers of indeterminacy’, what we have just been writing Ap(A).[62]

Badiou refers to the fixity that the state gives its situation as ‘literally the fictionalising of the count’.[63] That the state is a fictionalization of what it duplicates means that parts do not necessarily rely on elements for their existence. This creates opacity. A situation can include absolute fictions: for instance, ‘race’ is an entirely fictional part of the human situation. By allowing fictions to exist in the situation the state itself creates the possibility of a breakdown of the structure, that it might have missed or included something it should not have. What it risks including is its void, that is, its not-being, demonstrating that the structure might be otherwise. We only need to note the present economic turbulence to see the problem that indeterminate excess, the valuation of various derivatives, creates when it encounters its void, the not-being of these values.

This ‘dialectic of void and excess’ is exactly what Sharpe misses.[64] He takes us as far as the infinite excess of state power and stops. Badiou goes on to say, ‘the resignation that characterises a time without politics feeds on the fact that the State is not at a distance, because the measure of its power is errant’.[65] The question that Sharpe does not ask is: what is a time with politics? The purpose of Badiou’s insistence on the errancy of state power is that politics is entirely subjective. ‘However exact the quantitative knowledge of a situation may be’, he says, ‘one cannot, other than by an arbitrary decision, estimate “by how much” the state exceeds it’.[66] In other words, it is necessary to act to determine the state. Sharpe’s account leaves us amidst an infinity of determinations without truth, a negative infinity; but it is exactly the affirmation of what is generic in the situation, the collective’s truth, A(Ap), that can, in turn, determine that infinity: ‘The real characteristic of the political event and the truth procedure that it sets off is that a political event fixes the errancy and assigns a measure to the superpower of the state’.[67]

Bruno Bosteels notes that this creates the immediate reversal of an objective impasse into its subjective determination.[68] Lenin says, ‘the human mind should grasp … opposites not as dead, rigid but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another’.[69] In other words, there is no relationship of descent nor ascent between subject and object (philosopher and polis). By presupposing that there is, Sharpe misses what Badiou’s ontology achieves. The infinite power of the state does not limit possibilities for the Left but creates them; in the last instance the subject is the product of its own impasse, or A = (AAp).


But why does Sharpe miss this? The best point about his paper is that it makes negation a problem to be solved. We can relate his view that the philosopher ascends from the polis before descending, a fortiori, to Hegel’s conception of ‘determinate being’ travelling through otherness back into itself.[70] This is a simple treatment of the movement of the Absolute Idea, the negation of the negation, and is the form Hegel finally attributes to the state: the state is the transcendental synthesis of contradictory elements. The matrix it works within is the reconciliation of alienation within the ‘absolute moment’, when the idea and the real are indistinguishable: ‘the unity of both these moments’. Sharpe’s repeated defence of the state seems to demonstrate a belief in something of this sort. His comment about Badiou’s ‘renunciation of the institutions and power relations constitutive of political life’ misses Badiou’s opposite view of the state: he does not view the state as constitutive of political life, but exactly as its death. This polarity finally draws out Sharpe’s inability ‘to see why Badiou’s thought tends to be perceived as progressive at all’.[71]

The problem Badiou’s thought rests on is how we can think against the state under the condition of the state: ‘to think the new in the situation … we have to think what is repetition, what is the old, what is not new, and after that we have to think the new’.[72] If thought is put under the weight of the state it is stopped, as Sartre said, in the exigent pragmatism of ‘practical politics’, just as practice is made the junior partner to normative thought. Is this not what leads to Sharpe’s defence of ‘discursive democratic will-formation’?[73] This pessimism is a problem of the subject. The absence of a coherent subject leaves radical thought homeless, or a couch-surfer in antithetical rooms (Social Democracy, for instance). But the fact that we can locate and talk about this gap is cause for optimism. I agree with Badiou that it is in making this gap a force within our situation that the subject of a new politics can emerge. Philosophy is simply charged with what it is always charged: to set out the possibility of thinking against the state under the condition of the state, ‘; for Adorno, ‘not to play along’.[74]

[1] M. Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology, or the Abstract Passion of Alain Badiou’, in Arena Journal, New Series, no. 29/30, 2008, pp 273–303.

[2] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p 299.

[3] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p 300.

[4] He makes this claim about the French ‘No!’ campaign against the European Union constitution. Badiou wrote a polemic for the ‘No!’ campaign. It is interesting to note that Badiou’s position regarding the state (he does not vote in elections, for instance) is not dogmatic. He also wrote a stunning polemic against the introduction of the law banning young Muslim women from wearing the veil. See F. Del Lucchese and J. Smith, ‘We Need a New Popular Discipline’: Contemporary Politics and the Crisis of the Negative, Interview with Alain Badiou, 2 July 2007. For Badiou’s polemic, ‘The Law on the Islamic Head Scarf’, see A. Badiou, Polemics, trans. S. Corcoran, London, Verso, 2006, pp 98–110.

[5] A. Callinicos, The Resources of Critique, Cambridge, Polity, 2006, p 257.

[6] See A. Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. P. Hallward, London, Verso, 2003.

[7] A. Badiou, ‘Democratic Materialism and the Materialist Dialectic’, trans. A. Toscano, in Radical Philosophy, no. 130, March/April 2005, pp. 20–4; see p. 21. See: A. Badiou, Logics of Worlds, trans. A Toscano, London, Continuum, 2009 (forthcoming at time of writing).

[8] T. W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. D. Redmond, 2001, ‘The Relationship to Left Hegelianism’, Part II: Concept and Categories, <>.

[9] ‘Politics puts the State at a distance, in the distance of its measure.’ A. Badiou, Metapolitics, trans. J. Barker, London, Verso, 2006, p. 145. See also Del Lucchese and Smith, ‘We Need a New Popular Discipline’.

[10] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, pp. 290, 292.

[11] ‘ … the point here concerns how Badiou talks about the vast majority of events, processes and actions that the rest of the world describe as “political”’: Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 293.

[12] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p 277. Peter Hallward makes the same suggestion in the standard English-language reference for Badiou: P. Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth, Minneapolis, Minnesota University Press, 2003, pp. 241–2. Daniel Bensaid, Slavoj Zizek and Alex Callinicos have drawn similar conclusions. See D. Bensaid, ‘Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event’, in P. Hallward (ed.), Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, London, Continuum, 2004, chapter 7; S. Zizek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, London, Verso, 1999, chapter 3; and A. Callinicos, The Resources of Critique, chapter 3.

[13] G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind (1807), trans. J. B. Baillie, New York, Harper & Row, 1967, pp. 242–67.

[14] For Badiou’s rebuttal of these claims, including a comment on Slavoj Zizek’s contribution to this reading of his work, see A. S. Miller, ‘An Interview with Alain Badiou “Universal Truths and the Question of Religion”’, Journal of Philosophy and Scripture, vol. 3, issue 1, Fall 2005, pp. 38–42.

[15] ‘Only politics is required to declare that the thought it is, is the thought of all.’ Badiou has been celebrated for securing universal truth against the grain of postmodern thought. For Badiou, any truth is truth for everyone in a definite situation; politics as a truth procedure, the production of a political truth, must therefore address itself to everyone; equality is axiomatic for politics. ‘Politics is impossible without the statement that people, taken indistinctly, are capable of the thought that constitutes the thought of the post-evental political subject.’ By contrast with Badiou’s other truth procedures, the scientist only needs one other scientists to recognise a truth; two lovers are a truth; and the artist has their truth alone. See Badiou, Metapolitics, p. 142.

[16] Romans 6:24. See Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, pp. 275 and 278–9.

[17] A. Badiou, Théorie du sujet, Paris, Seuil, 1982; quoted in B. Bosteels, ‘Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject: The Recommencement of Dialectical Materialism (Part II)’, in Pli, 13, 2002,’, p 185. See: A. Badiou, Theory of the Subject, trans. B. Bosteels, London, Continuum, 2009 (forthcoming at time of writing).

[18] ‘Higher Truth’ is of course contradictory with Badiou’s philosophy, where truths only exist within real historical practices; truth is concrete, as the maxim goes. Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 291.

[19] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 279.

[20] Quoted in Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, pp. 292, 301.

[21] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, pp. 280, 279. Badiou does not disagree with this point; below we will see that he does not think that anything is created in destruction, but only in subtraction from a situation.

[22] G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right (1821), trans. T. M. Knox, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1967, p. 22. See also Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, pp. 599–610: ‘All these determinate elements disappear with the disaster and ruin that over take the self in the state of absolute freedom [abstract autonomy]; its negation is meaningless death, sheer horror at the negative which has nothing positive in it, nothing that gives a filling’, p. 608.

[23] G. W. F. Hegel, Logic: Being Part One of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1830), trans. W. Wallace, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1975, p. 137. Sharpe does not mention it directly, but he directs us to Hegel’s notion of negative infinity. The passage he quotes from, the remark for paragraph five of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, is exactly where Hegel introduces the concept of infinity in this book. See Hegel, Philosophy of Right, p. 21.

[24] F. Beiser, Hegel, New York, Routledge, 2005, p. 137.

[25] See Beiser, Hegel, chapters 1 and 2.

[26] Hegel, Philosophy of Right, pp. 21–3.

[27] Hegel, Philosophy of Right, p. 30.

[28] See A. Badiou, Being and Event, trans. O. Feltham, London, Continuum, 2007, pp. 23–30.

[29] Badiou, Being and Event, p. 210 (emphasis in original).

[30] A. Badiou, The Century, trans. A Toscano, Cambridge, Polity, 2007, pp. 55–7.

[31] Badiou, The Century, p. 54.

[32] Badiou, The Century, p. 56.

[33] Badiou, ‘Destruction, Negation and Subtraction,’ public open video lecture for the faculty and students of the European Graduate School, Media Studies Department Program, EGS, Saas-Fee, Switzerland, Europe, 2007. A transcription of a version delivered in Los Angeles is available at,

[34] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 275. If Badiou is interested in a new beginning, he agrees with Deleuze that, ‘One begins again through the middle’. Quoted in J. Marks, Gilles Delezue: Vitalism and Multiplicity, London, Pluto Press, 1998, p. 33.

[35] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 300. I do not agree that Sharpe has at all produced an immanent critique of Badiou; the quotation marks here are important: I am one who thinks that there is a priceless contribution to thought in dialectical thinking.

[36] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 289. Also, ‘Badiou’s numerical definition of politics … at least demands an enquiry as to whether Badiou’s “metapolitics” does not rest on a fundamentally mistaken prioritization of theoretical knowledge over the categories and considerations generic to political practice’, p. 285.

[37] Badiou, Metapolitics, pp. 22–57.

[38] Lenin’s argument in What is to be done? (1902) is that the working class is spontaneously validating the view that communism is their self-emancipation, but that his fellow intellectuals see workers as very limited, only being able to engage in ‘economic’ struggles, ‘hip pocket’ issues, and not ‘political’ struggle, which should be left to the enlightened middle classes. He repeatedly accuses his contemporaries of attributing their own philistinism to workers. See: Lenin, What is to be done? (1902), Moscow, Progress, 1978, pp 63-4.

[39] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 287.

[40] ‘Badiou is a student of Althusser, who always maintained the “relative autonomy” of different disciplines and their theoretical objects. Badiou is accordingly careful to “delimit” the scope of his . . . philosophy.’ Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-) Political Theology’, p 280.

[41] See: D. Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, London, Penguin, 1985, p 72.

[42] Adorno, Negative Dialectics, ‘Infinity’, Introduction.

[43] Adorno, Negative Dialectics, Part II, ‘Mediation Through Objectivity’. The ‘circle’ in question is Hegel’s ‘journey through otherness back to oneself’. Throughout Negative Dialectics Adorno mocks Hegel with the recurrent phrase, ‘the magic circle’.

[44] Adorno, Negative Dialectics, ‘Dialectics Not a Standpoint’, Introduction. Compare with Badiou: ‘Thus, at the heart of the Hegelian dialectic we should disentangle two processes, two concepts of movement,’ Badiou  says, ‘(a) A dialectical matrix covered by the term alienation; the idea of a simple term that unfolds in its becoming-other, in order to come back into its own as an accomplished concept. (b) A dialectical matrix whose operator is scission, under the theme: there is no unity other than split. With out the least return to self, nor any connection between the final and the inaugural.’ Badiou, Theorie du sujet, quoted in: Bosteels, ‘The Subject of the Dialectic’, p 156.

[45] The best account of Badiou’s Maoist period, and its influence on his later work is B. Bosteels, ‘Post-Maoism’, Positions, vol. 13, no. 3, winter, 2005, pp. 575-634.

[46] L. Althusser, ‘Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses’, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1971, p. 175. Bosteels suggests that Althusser’s references to schools and police in this essay are references to May 1968; but this can only be speculated. See Bosteels, ‘Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject (Part II)’, p. 133.

[47] Quoted in Bosteels, ‘Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject’ (Part II), p. 135.

[48] Indeed, Christian Jambet and Guy Lardreau, two ex-militants of Gauche proletarienne, produced a book called L’Ange (1976) where they identified their ’68 selves positively with Hegel’s notion of the Beautiful Soul. See Bosteels, ‘Post-Maoism’, pp. 612–17.

[49] Badiou, ‘Selections from Théorie du sujet on the Cultural Revolution’, trans. A. Toscano, Positions, vol. 13, no. 3, winter 2005, p. 637 (translation altered).

[50] The most substantial study of Badiou’s thought during this period is B. Bosteels, ‘Alan Badiou’s Theory of the Subject Part I: The Recommencement of Dialectical Materialism?’, Pli, vol. 12, 2001, pp. 200–29; and Bosteels, Alain Badiou’s ‘Theory of the Subject’ (Part II), pp. 173–208. See also B. Bosteels, Badiou and Politics, Durham, Duke University Press, forthcoming.

[51] Alex Callinicos makes this error by asking Badiou to provide an account of how we can identify a genuine event from a false event. Badiou’s entire point is that we cannot know in advance what is going to happen; we therefore have ‘faith’ in the event of a situation. Lenin could not have known the proletariat would really overturn tsarism; and yet he was faithful to the working class as event. See Callinicos, The Resources of Critique, p. 110.

[52] ‘I admit without reticence that May 68 has been for me, in the order of philosophy as well as in all the rest, an authentic road to Damascus’: A. Badiou, Théorie de la contradiction, Paris, Maspero, 1975, p. 9, quoted in B. Bosteels, ‘Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject’ (Part II), p. 173.

[53] Badiou, ‘Further Selections from Théorie du sujet on the Cultural Revolution’, trans. L. Chiesa, Positions, vol. 13, no. 3, winter 2005, p. 652.

[54] Badiou, Théorie du sujet; quoted in Bosteels, ‘Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject’ (Part II), pp 175–7.

[55] Badiou, Théorie du sujet; quoted in Bosteels, ‘Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject’ (Part II), p 177.

[56] From Badiou’s Maoist perspective, at the time, these are the rightist and leftist ‘deviations’. See B. Bosteels, ‘Post-Maoism: Badiou and Politics’, pp. 575–634, esp. 595–608.

[57] ‘Should we not push the analytical intervention all the way to the fundamental dialogues on justice and courage, in the great dialectical tradition? J. Lacan, Le Séminaire I, Les écrits techniques de Freud, Paris, Seuil, 1975, pp. 164-165. Quoted in Bosteels, ‘Alain Badiou’s Theory of the Subject’ (Part II), p. 184

[58] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 284.

[59] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 296.

[60] Badiou, Being and Event, pp 4-16, 23-30.

[61] Badiou comments that the void is a ‘spectre’ ‘haunting’ the state, in a very oblique allusion to The Communist Manifesto (1848). Badiou, Being and Event, pp. 95, 94. A chapter called ‘The Factory as Event Site’ was removed from the final version of Being and Event, but printed in the journal of his political group, L’Organisation Politique. Here Badiou considers the great discovery of Marx’s Paris Manuscripts (1844) to be ‘the void, directly subsumed by the generic being of workers, since the latter possess nothing but a saleable abstraction … it is because they are nothing that they are capable of organising everything’. This renders Sharpe’s view that with Badiou we lose Marx’s early humanism implausible. See ‘The Factory as Event Site’, trans. A Toscano, in Prelom, no. 8, 2005, pp. 171–2. See also A. Toscano, ‘Marxism Expatriated’, in Prelom, no. 8, 2005, pp. 152–69.

[62] This is the closest Badiou comes to state the Marxist notion of alienation: Badiou, Metapolitics, p. 147. He stakes his dialectic against any reconciliation of Hegelian alienation by affirming the single law of the dialectic as scission, or in Mao’s inescapable axiom: ‘one divides into two’.

[63] Badiou, Being and Event, p. 95.

[64] Badiou, Being and Event, p. 110.

[65] Badiou, Metapolitics, p. 145.

[66] Badiou, Being and Event, p. 278. See also Badiou, Being and Event, pp. 93–103.

[67] Badiou, Metapolitics, pp. 145, 148.

[68] B. Bosteels, ‘The Subject of the Dialectic’, p. 161.

[69] Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38, Moscow, Progress, 1972, p. 109.

[70] See Hegel, Logic, pp. 133–41.

[71] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 297.

[72] B. Bosteels, ‘Can Change be Thought? A Dialogue with Alain Badiou’, in Alain Badiou: Philosophy and its Conditions, Albany, SUNY, 2005, p. 253.

[73] Sharpe, ‘Resurrecting (Meta-)Political Theology’, p. 297.

[74] Adorno, Negative Dialectics, ‘The Vertiginous’, Introduction.