French philosopher Alain Badiou speaks during his lecture on American democracy and the presidential election in ASEAN Auditorium on Nov. 17. (Rachael Meyer / The Tufts Daily)

Alain Baidou responds to Trump’s election, encourages revolt against current system

French philosopher Alain Badiou spoke about President-elect Donald Trump’s election and theorized about what that means for the state of democracy and capitalism during a lecture last night in the ASEAN Auditorium.

Over 120 people attended the event, which was co-sponsored by the Department of English, the Center for the Humanities at Tufts and the Toupin-Bolwell Fund.

During the talk, Badiou acknowledged that many people are afraid and anxious at the prospect of Trump’s presidency. However, he chose to diagnose the reasons for Trump‘s victory through three lenses: the failures of capitalism, the current state of democracy and the path forward for those on the political left.

“Trump is like a spot on the face of the contemporary political world,” Badiou said. “Trump must be interpreted as an ugly symptom of the global situation.”

Badiou contended that the capitalistic system has created tremendous and ever-growing economic inequality. Additionally, he said that it has stratified the population into groups of employers, consumers and peasants, along with leaving out a large group of isolated people who are looking for a place to fit into the system.

Those people who are looking for a place, he said, cannot be helped by capitalism because the system is fundamentally limited and motivated by profit. As evidence, he cited that people with jobs are working longer hours while the unemployed and isolated are not being given any work at all.

“We have a surplus within the existing humanity today, which is people without any destination, without any reason to exist from the point of view of globalized capitalism itself,” Badiou said.

In addition to those structural issues, Badiou added that many people currently see capitalism as the only possible system of societal organization. He insisted that the alternatives, especially communism, must be discussed as possibilities.

Badiou concluded that the current political system is facing tensions both from the left and the right. He explained that the democratic system is constrained to the center of the political spectrum, with very little room for far left or far right viewpoints. Thus, he said that the center is united by the ideology of capitalism.

Badiou said that both the centrist left and the centrist right are currently facing tensions from their respective sides because many people are not satisfied with the center. He defined Trump as the fringe of the right and Secretary Hillary Clinton as more of a centrist. For that reason, he claimed that the 2016 election was asymmetrical and that Trump caused a contradiction of the system, causing Clinton to lose.

“The fundamental symptom today is the impossibility of the two big parties to continue … their mixture of contradiction and collaboration,” he said.

Badiou identified four problems that define the current political crisis worldwide: the brutality caused by capitalism, the decomposition of the political elite, the population’s responses to those problems and the perceived lack of any other strategy.

Finally, Badiou called for people on the political left around the world to try to create a new system rather than modify the current capitalistic system. He referred to the new system as theoretically “communism,” although he acknowledged that the term has been historically difficult.

Badiou laid out four principles that people on the left can use to define the new system: rejection of the need for private property and inequality, rejection of the separation between manual labor and intellectual work, rejection of the idea that racial division is inevitable and rejection of the need for states with separated power to exist.

Badiou said that Trump’s victory should be treated as an opportunity to revolt against the current system using the principles that he outlined. He said that the revolt will occur outside of the current system and that it can be through an alliance of intellectuals, young people and poor workers.

“The system cannot propose a place for novelty, so we must create something outside the system as it is,” he said.


6 Responses

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  1. A Libertarian Pragmatist
    Dec 04, 2016 - 08:49 AM

    Alain, your unrelenting adolescent radicalism makes me
    smile, I am charmed for a moment, but then I feel for you, you seem lost. Rejection
    of private property? Communism? What do your slogans really mean and amount to?
    You certainly have not been able to elaborate a plausible alternative political
    economy. Did you ever try? Did you not have enough time? Was it not urgent?

    But you are calling for a revolt! What kind of revolt is
    this? Riots? A general strike? And then what? The hope that a leadership with a
    viable revolutionary programme will form on the spot before all go home again?

    Or are you just saying what you have always been saying as a
    “radical left intellectual” who wants to maintain his radical street cred with
    each new generation while knowing that these calls don’t amount to anything you
    would ever have to take responsibility for?

    • David C
      Jan 07, 2017 - 10:07 PM

      I graduated from Tufts about 18 years ago. It was great then, but I’m just about to cut off ties with the school. I could never justify spending $70,000 for the day care the students have now

    • Lee Zaslofsky
      Jan 31, 2017 - 11:04 PM

      Libertarianism was originally another word for anarchism. Now it is another word for corporate rule.

      Borders are obsolete, except as roadblocks to the free movement of people — surely a “libertarian” value, but ignored by those who claim to be libertarians. Badiou is only pointing out that fact when he says the existence of nation states is past its expiry date.

      As for the current form of property: it has resulted in the concentration of wealth among a tiny group of people, a large proportion of whom were born rich, like the current president. This concentration or wealth serves no useful purpose for society as a whole, and is based on the exploitation by these lucky heirs and heiresses of the rest of the population.

      Therefore, the current system of property needs to be changed, and radically, since it has delivered a world in which a few individuals “own” as much wealth as billions of poor people put together. That is a radical deformation of human society; radical change is necessary to bring property relations in line with the needs and aspirations of most humans.

      Badiou’s call for communism is radical, but no more radical than the current system. The word has been made odious by the horrible oppression practiced by Communists in the 20th century. But the same objection applies to Christianity, which is also guilty of horrific crimes, as well as to other religions and ideologies, including the one now dominant.

      A society in which people cooperate to ensure a decent life for all its members may sound outlandish to those who can imagine only an endless accumulation of wealth by the super rich, and growing impoverishment and oppression for the rest of us. it may indeed be impossible for humans to create and maintain such a society. But the current system, if imagined by some theorist before it came into existence, would also seem outlandish and unworkable.

      The Left must not simply oppose the current system; it must pose an alternative, even one that is not fully developed, even one that is radical and “impossible”. Badiou calls it “communism”, others may use other words — though “communism”, with all its “baggage” has “name recognition”. And, despite the horrors committed in its name, it has also a great history as an ideal for which millions of decent people worked, fought, and sometimes died.

  2. Monk
    Jan 08, 2017 - 11:59 AM

    Inequality is a fact of life. We cannot even provide perfect equality of opportunity, let alone equality of outcomes. People just need to decide whether or not they want to realize their own unique potential and stop envying others.

    • Zona Enders
      Feb 02, 2017 - 11:26 PM

      Allow me to play Devil’s advocate here for a minute: You’re wrong,, actually

  3. ThirdEye
    Jan 31, 2017 - 05:01 AM

    Blokes a complete nutcase. I like his deconstruction of the current morass but then his solutions are ridiculous. Communism and the loss of private property. What a joker.

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