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Published by: nighb on Sep 05, 2010
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ISSN 17551-8229
Volume One, Number Two - Žižek and Badiou
Truth as Formal Catholicism - On AlainBadiou, Saint Paul: La fondation del’universalisme
Marc de Kesel - senior researcher affiliated to Radboud Universiteit -
Nijmegen andJan van Eyck Academy - Maastricht, The Netherlands
For there must in fact be divisions among youso that those of you who are approved may be evidentPaulus, 1 Kor 11,19Das Ganze ist das Unwahre. Adorno, 1980: 57
Up until the late eighties, Soviet Communism was a significant point of reference for leftist political thought. Although heavily criticized, it at least lent formal support to the ideathat
our capitalist neo-liberal system had an alternative, an ‘outside’, an ‘other’. After the fallof the Berlin Wall in 1989, Western ideology critique had to make it without that support. Aradically alternative society seemed to be impossible. Besides, post-modernity was nowtelling us that the “grand narratives” were over and that we were, finally,
ideology.Since then, all “grand ideas” – even the very idea of truth itself – have been on the verge of being abandoned. Have not
all catastrophes of recent history been caused by absolute truth-claims? Was it not for this reason that
revolutions have turned so easily into totalitarianism,or, as we should now say, into fundamentalism? These days, absolute truth –
truth as such
 –can no longer form the horizon for any critique of ideology.Such, at least, is the generally accepted idea today. But this is not an idea that AlainBadiou is convinced by. According to this contemporary French philosopher, these well-
known post-modern conditions most definitely do not make up the horizon of our currentcritique. To the contrary. Today, more than ever, our post-modern era needs truths – truthsthat (despite that strange plural
) claim – and must claim – universality. Moreover, thegenuine locus for truth-claims is revolt and, therefore, the age of Revolution is far from beingover. Not reformation, but revolt will give our time the truth it needs. It needs
revolts,Badiou adds, for these are the only true ones. Formed in the Althusserian school, his politicalposition has always been ‘far left’.
 He was – and still is – a convinced Maoist. And his entireoeuvre is to be read as an attempt to give this leftist position a solid new philosophicalground.It is stunning therefore to see how positively he writes about Saint Paul, one of thefounding fathers of Christianity. For isn’t Christianity precisely the conservative ideology thatfor almost two millennia legitimized the existing political and cultural power? Was it not for this precise reason one of the primary targets
of our lengthy critical tradition? How can we,then, explain Badiou’s appreciation for someone who is responsible for this type of ideology?Why did he write an entire book on Saint Paul (Badiou, 1997a)?It is certainly not because of Saint Paul’s well-known evocations of human finitudeand sinfulness in which one easily recognizes the modern analysis of our ‘conditionhumaine’. This is what we find, for instance, in Jacques Lacan, another of Badiou’s‘masters’.
 Badiou’s approach to Saint Paul is completely different. He appreciates Paulsolely for his doctrinal side, i.e. his belief in Christ’s resurrection, and, more precisely, hisbelief that this is a ‘catholic’ truth, a truth for everyone in the whole world (being the meaningof the Greek word ‘καθ’όλος’,‘
.What Badiou affirms in Paul is above all his ‘formalCatholicism’. In this essay, I will first give a rough sketch of the theoretical context in whichBadiou’s reading of Paul is to be situated (cf. 1- 3). I will explain how, with his reference toPaul’s belief in Christ’s resurrection, Badiou illustrates his own theory of the ‘event’, i.e. themain topic of his magnum opus,
L’être et l’événement (Being and the event 
, Badiou, 1988),as well as that of his entire oeuvre. This will bring me, in a second moment, to an analysis of the fundamental presupposition secretly sustaining Badiou’s entire theoretical framework (4).Thirdly and finally I will counter Badiou’s interpretation of Paul with a reading of chapter eleven of Paul’s
Letter to the Romans
(5-6). I will show how the universality claimed there byPaul’s text contains an important element Badiou neglects. This will provide the basis for mycritique of Badiou’s notion of universal truth.
1. Event
 “Why Saint Paul?” asks Badiou in the opening lines of the first chapter of his book. Whyshould he, Badiou, a convinced atheist philosopher, refer to one of the founders of 
Christianity? His answer is clear: Paul fits into the “development” of his theory. He is aperfect illustration of what his philosophy is about. In a few lines on the first page of 
Saint Paul 
, which give a good impression of his clear and often apodictic style, Badiou brieflysummarizes the meaning of his entire philosophical project. “Why Saint Paul? […] How toinscribe this name in the development of our attempt: to give a new foundation to a theory of the Subject, which subordinates its existence to the aleatoric dimension of the event as wellas to the pure contingency of the ‘being multiple’ without sacrificing the theme of truth?”(Badiou, 1997a: 5; my translation)Rebuilding a theory of the subject, founding the subject in the ‘event’, connecting it with the‘multiplicity’ of being, and linking it up with a new theory of truth: these four points perfectlyencapsulate Badiou’s philosophical project. Let us briefly develop the logic linking these
four topics together.The immediate background of his attempt to formulate a new theory of the subject liesin his disagreement with Louis Althusser’s structuralist critique of the subject . This taught usthat the
human subject is not so much the
of its
ideas or its
‘ideology’, as the
of those ideas or ideology. The subject is already the result of an ‘ideological interpellation’,Althusser claims.
 Even man’s most intimate subjectivity is a creation of ideology. Runningcounter to Althusser’s structuralist elimination of it , Badiou stresses the philosophical andpolitical value of the subject which he judges indispensable for an effective critique of ideology. Despite the subject’s undeniable spontaneous inclination towards ideologicalinterpellation, a free subject is nevertheless possible. While ideology’s grip may beunavoidable, it is, at least to a certain extent, capable of acting independently of it. Accordingto Badiou, after the revolution of 1917, the Russian proletariat became the subject of afidelity to a new truth. This subject – , the Communist Party – was not only the effect of a newideology. It was, first and foremost, a free subject that, by its fidelity, gave
support to thetruth-event of the revolution.As we will see, Badiou’s theory – including his theory of the subject – is largelymathematical. Therefore, it is useful to consider the problem of the subject in its broader historical and philosophical context. The ‘subject’ is a term –
a problem – we inherit froma long philosophical tradition. The term itself is derived from the Medieval Latin word
’, which for its part is the translation of the Aristotelian Greek word
’. In Aristotle, it is a purely
term and stands for the ‘bearer’ or ‘support’of an attribute. In the proposition ‘the table is red’, for instance, ‘table’ is the
) of the attribute ‘red’. In the early middle ages, the term took on greater weightand became an
concept, becoming the ‘bearer’ or ‘support’ of 
, of 
assuch. In contrast to ancient philosophy, where the ‘subject’ was Being itself, medievalChristian thought situated Being’s ultimate subject (its final ground) in God. For (Aristotelian)Thomism, God was creation’s ‘first cause’ and, in that sense, was its ‘subjectum’. While

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