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Highly Speculative Reasoning on the Concept of Democracy

from Metapolitcs, New York: Verso, 2005

When and under what conditions can we say that an event is

political? To what extent is the "what is happening" happening
We propose that an event is political, and that the procedure which
it employs reveals a political truth, under certain conditions. These
conditions are attached to the subject of the event, to infinity, to the
relationship to the state of the situation, and to the numeration of
the procedure.
1. An event is political if the subject of this event is collective, or if
the event is not attributable to anything other than the multiplicity
of a collective. "Collective" is not a numerical concept here. We say
that the event is ontologically collective inasmuch as this event
conveys a virtual requirement of the all. "Collective" is immediately
universalizing. The effectiveness of the political emerges from the
assertion according to which "for every x, there is thought."
By the word "thought," I denote any procedure of truth understood
as subjectivity (prise en subjectivit). "Thought" is the name of the
subject of a procedure of truth. We thus recognize that, if this
thought is political, the all is inferred through the word "collective."
It is not, as for other types of truth, only a question of address.
Certainly every truth is addressed to the all. But in the case of the
political, universality is intrinsic, and not just directed. For the all, in
the political, there is at each moment the possible disengagement of
the thought which identifies the subject. We call those who are
constituted as subjects of a political stance the militants of the
procedure. But militant is a category without boundaries, a
subjective determination without identity, or without concept. That
the political event be collective prescribes that the all are virtually
militants of the thought which proceeds from the event. In this
sense, the political is the only procedure of truth which is generic,
not only in its result, but also in the local composition of its subject.

Only the political is intrinsically required to declare that the thought

that it is, is the thought of the all. It has an organic need for this
declaration. The mathematician, for example, only needs another
mathematician to recognize that his demonstration is without
lacunae. Love only needs the assumption of two to assure itself of
the thought that it is. The artist needs no one. Science, art, love are
procedures of aristocratic truth. Certainly, they are addressed to the
all and universalize their singularity. But they are not in the regime
of the collective. The political is impossible without the statement
that people, taken indistinctly, are capable of the thought which
constitutes the political subject of the post-event. This statement
reveals that a political thought is topologically collective, which
means that it can only exist as a thought of the all.
That the central activity of the political should be runion is a local
metonymy of its intrinsically collective, thus principally universal,
2. The collective character of the political event has the effect that
the political presents, as such, the infinite character of situations.
The political exhibits or convokes the infinity of the situation. All
politics of emancipation refutes finitude, refutes "being for death."
Since a political situation includes the thought of the all, it proceeds
to elicit the subjective infinity of situations.
Of course every situation is ontologically infinite. But only the
political convokes this infinity immediately, as subjective
Science, for example, is created from the void and from infinity by
the letter. It is not at all concerned with the subjective infinity of
situations. Art presents impressions in the finitude of a work; it is the
model of finite production, and infinity does not intervene except
inasmuch as the artist portrays infinity in the finite. The political, on
the contrary, is what treats infinity as such under the principle of the
same, or the egalitarian principle. It is its point of departure: the
situation is open, never closed, and its immanent subjective infinite
is the labor of the possible. We could say that the numeration of the
political procedure has the infinite as its first term. For love the first
term is the one; for science, the void; for art, a finite number. Infinity
intervenes in every procedure of truth, but it is in the first

position only in the political because only there is the process itself
the deliberation on the possible (and thus on the infinity of the
3. Finally, what is the relationship of the political to the state of the
situation, more particularly to the State, in the sense of the term
simultaneously ontological and historical?
The state of the situation is the operation which, in the situation,
codifies its parts, its subsets. The state is a sort of metastructure
which has the power to count over all the subsets of the situation.
Every situation admits a state. Every situation is a presentation of
itself, of what composes it, of what belongs to it. But it is also given
as a state of the situation, that is to say as internal configuration of
its parts or subsets, and thus as re-presentation. In particular, the
state of the situation re-presents collective situations since, in these
collective situations, the singularities are not re-presented, but
to L'tre
l'venement (meditation 8). 1
A fundamental given in ontology is that the state of the situation
always exceeds the situation itself. There are always more parts
than elements; the representative multiplicity is of the type always
superior to the presentative multiplicity. This question is in fact that
of power. The power of the State is always superior to that of the
situation. The State, and thus also the economy, which is today the
norm of the State, are characterized by a structural effect of
separation and of excess power in relation to what is simply
presented in the situation.
We could show, mathematically, that this excess is not measurable.
There is no response to the question of knowing how much the
power of the State exceeds the individual, of how much the power of
representation exceeds that of simple presentation. There is
something errant in this excess. The simplest experience of
relationship to the State shows, moreover, that one can relate to it
without ever being able to assign a measure to its power. The
representation of the State through power, in the case of public
power, indicates on the one hand its excess, and on the other the
indeterminacy, or errancy, of this excess.

We all know that the political, when it exists, instigates

manifestations of the power of the State. It is evident in that the
political is collective, and thus universally concerns parts of the
situation, which is the field of existence of the state of the situation.
The political-and it is the only procedure of truth to do it directlyconvokes the power of the State. The ordinary figure of this
convocation is that the political always coincides with repression.
But repression, which is the empirical form of the errant excess of
the State, is not the essential point.
The true characteristic of the political event and of the procedure of
truth which it activates is that a political event fixes the errancy,
assigns a measure to the excess power of the State, fixes the power
of the State. As a consequence, the political event interrupts the
subjective errancy of the power of the State. It constructs the state
of the situation. It gives it shape; it gives shape to its power, it
measures its power.
Empirically this means that when there is a truly political event, the
State shows itself. It shows its excess of power, the repressive
dimension. But it shows also a measure of this excess which in
ordinary times does not let itself be seen because it is essential to
the normal functioning of the State that its power remain without
measure, errant, unassignable. The political event puts an end to all
that by assigning a visible measure to the excessive power of the
The political puts the State at a distance, in the distance of its
measure. The apathy of non-political time is maintained by the
State's not being at a distance, because the measure of its power is
errant. We are captives of its unassignable errancy. The political is
the interruption of this errancy, it is the demonstration of a measure
of State power. It is in this sense that the political is "liberty." The
State is in effect a bondage without measure of the parts of the
situation, a bondage of which the secret is precisely the errancy of
the excess power, its absence of measure. Liberty is here to set a
distance from the State, through the collective fixation of a measure
of excess. And if the excess is measured, it is because the collective
can measure it.

We will call political prescription the post-event calculation of a fixed

measure of the power of the State.
We can then enter into the construction of the numeration of the
political procedure.
Why does every procedure of truth have a numeration? Because
there is a fixing of the relationship of every truth to the diverse
types of multiples that singularize it: the situation, the state of the
situation, the event, and the subjective operation. A number
(including the Cantorian or infinite numbers) expresses this
relationship. Thus there is an abstract scheme of the procedure,
fixed in typical numbers in which one can read the "traversing" of
the multiples which ontologically constitute this procedure.
Let us render to Lacan his due: he is the first to make systematic
use of numeration, if only by assigning the subject to zero as the
space between 1 and 2 (the subject is what chooses between the
primordial signifiers S1 and S2), or the synthetic significance of 3
(the Borromean knot of the real, the symbolic, and the imaginary),
or at the function of the infinite in feminine jouissance.
As for the political, we have said that its first term, tied to the
collective character of the political event, is the infinite of the
situation. It is the simple infinite, the infinite of presentation. This
infinite is determined, the value of its power is fixed.
We have also said that the political necessarily convokes the state of
the situation, and thus a second infinite. This second infinite is in
excess over the first, its power is superior, but in general we cannot
know by how much. The excess is without measure. We can thus say
that the second term of political numeration is a second infinite, that
of the power of the State, and that of this infinite we only know that
it is superior to the first, with a difference that remains
indeterminate. If we call
the infinite fixed cardinality of the
situation and
the cardinality which measures the power of the
State, we do not have, outside of the political, the means to know
other than that:
is superior to . This indeterminate superiority
covers the alienating and repressive nature of the state of the

The political event, in the teeming materiality of a universalized

collective, prescribes measure to the without-measure of the State.
To the errant e it substitutes a fixed measure, almost always still
superior to the power s of the simple presentation, but which no
longer has the alienating and repressive powers of indetermination.
We symbolize the result of the political prescription on the State with
the expression
( ).
The mark
designates the political function. It has (but we will not
enter here in these details) various operative spaces, correlated to
the places of a singular politics ("places" in the sense of Lazarus).
This mark is the trace, in the situation, of the missing political event.
We mean it here in its greatest efficacy: to interrupt the
indetermination of State power.
The three beginning terms of the numeration of the political
procedure, all infinite, are thus:
1. the infinity of the situation, convoked as such by the collective
dimension of the political event, that is to say the supposition of "for
all" of the thought. We note it as ;
2. the infinity of the state of the situation, convoked as repression
and alienation because it is the supposed control of all the
collectives or subsets of the situation. It is an infinite, indeterminate
cardinal number, except that it is always superior to the infinite
power of the situation of which it is the state. We thus write:
> ;
3. the fixation through political prescription, under a collective event
condition, of a measure of State power. By this prescription, one
interrupts the errancy of State excess, and one can thus practice
and calculate in words of militancy a free distance from the political
thought to the State. We write this
( ), and this writing
designates an infinite determined cardinal number.
To illustrate the fundamental operation of the prescription, we can
give some examples. The Bolshevik insurrection of 1917 is the
demonstration of a weak State, damaged by war, in which Tsarism
was par excellence a quasi-sacred indetermination of the excess
power of the State. In a general fashion the political thought of an
insurrectional type is tied to a post-event determination of the

power of the State as being very weak and thus inferior to the power
of the simple collective presentation.
On the other hand, the Maoist choice of the prolonged war and the
encirclement of villages by the countryside prescribes to the State a
still strong measure, elevated by its power, and calculates with
precaution the free distance to this power. It is the reason Mao's
question is still: why does the red power exist in China? Or: how can
the weakest carry on more strongly in the long run? This means that
for Mao,
( ), the prescription as far as the State is concerned,
remains greatly superior to the infinite
of the situation, such that
the political procedure organizes the convocation.
The three beginning components of numeration, the three
, are affected at each political sequence and have
no type of fixed determination except that of their relationships.
Every political event in particular proceeds to its own post-event
prescription under the power of the State: it is, in substance, the
creation, in the wake of the swell of the event, of the political
function .
At the moment that the political procedure exists, up to the point of
the prescription on the State, then, and then only, can the logic of
the same be deployed, that is to say the egalitarian maxim, proper
for every politics of emancipation.
The egalitarian maxim is effectively incompatible with the errancy of
state excess. The matrix of inequality is precisely that the excess
power of the State cannot be measured. Today, for example, all
egalitarian politics are rendered impossible and declared absurd in
the name of a necessity of the liberal economy without measure or
concept. But what characterizes this blind power of unchained
Capital is precisely that at no point is this power measurable or
fixed. What one knows is only that it weighs absolutely on the
subjective destiny of collectives, such as they are. Consequently, in
order that a politics can practice an egalitarian maxim in the
sequence opened by an event, it is absolutely necessary that the
state of the situation be put at a distance by a rigid calculation of its

The inegalitarian conscience is a deaf conscience, captive of an

errancy, captive of a power of which it has no measure. It is what
explains the arrogant and peremptory character of inegalitarian
statements, even if they are evidently inconsistent and abject. It is
that these statements of the contemporary reaction are entirely
supported by the errancy of state excess, that is to say by the
violence deployed entirely by the capitalist anarchy. It is why liberal
statements represent a mix of certitude in regard to the power and
total indecision about what is important for the life of people and the
universal affirmation of collectives.
The egalitarian logic cannot be broached except when the State is
configured, put at a distance, measured. It is the errancy of excess
which obstructs egalitarian logic and not the excess itself. It is not at
all the simple power of the state of the situation which interdicts
egalitarian politics. It is the obscurity and the without-measure in
which this power is enveloped. If the political event authorizes a
clarification, a calculation, a demonstration of this power, then, at
least locally, the egalitarian maxim is practicable.
But what is the cipher of equality, the cipher of what prescribes that
one treat collectively and in political thought each singularity
identically? This cipher is evidently the 1. To count finally as 1 that
which is not even counted is the stake of each true political thought,
of each prescription which convokes the collective as such. The 1 is
the numeration of the same, and to produce the same is what an
emancipatory political procedure is capable of. The 1 deconstructs
every inegalitarian presumption.
To produce the same, to count for each 1 universally, one must work
"locally," in the open space between the political and the State, a
space of which the principle is the measure . It is thus that Maoist
politics can practice an outline of agrarian revolution in the liberated
zones (those which are outside the range of reactionary armies), or
that Bolshevik politics can partially replace certain State operations
in the hands of the Soviets, at least where they are capable of it.
What is working then is again the political function p, applied in the
condition of the prescriptive distance that it has created, but this
time with the ends of producing the same, or of producing the real
under the egalitarian maxim. One thus writes:
, to
designate this reduplication of the political function which, in the

conditions of freedom of thought/open practice

calculation of State power, works to produce equality.



We can thus complete the numeration of the political procedure. It is

composed of three infinites: that of the situation; that,
indeterminate, of the state of the situation; that of the prescription,
which interrupts indetermination and permits the State distance.
And it is achieved by the 1, partially engendered by the political
function in the conditions, themselves issued from this function, of
the distance from the State. The 1 is here the cipher of the same
and of equality.
Numeration is written:

What singularizes the political procedure is that it goes from infinity

to 1. It makes happen as universal truth of the collective the 1 of
equality, through a prescriptive operation on the infinite of the
State, an operation through which it constructs its autonomy, or its
distance, and can effect its maxim.
We should remark that the inverse, as I established it
in Conditions, 2 the amorous procedure which makes truth, not of
the collective, but of difference, or of sexuation, goes from 1 to the
infinite, in the mediation of two. In this sense, and it is an object of
meditation that I leave to the reader, the political is numerically the
inverse of love. Or: love begins where the political ends.
And since the word is today decisive, let's give as conclusion our
own definition of democracy, where its identity may be read in the
political, of which we have already spoken.
Democracy is an adjustment, still singular, of liberty and equality.
But what is the moment of liberty, in the political? It is that of the
distancing (mise distance) from the State, and thus where the
political function p operates as the assigning of a measure of the
errant excess power of the state of the situation. And what is
equality but the operation through which, in the distance thus
created, the political function is applied anew, this time to produce
the 1? The political adjustment of liberty and of equality is thus
nothing but, for a determined political procedure, that of two final
terms of numeration. It is written:
. We can

say we have here the writing of democracy. Our two examples show
that this formula had singular names: "Soviets" at the time of the
Bolshevik revolution, "liberated zones" in the Maoist process. But
democracy had other names in the past. It has some in the present
(for example: "assemblage of collectives of undocumented workers
in the foyers and in the political Organization"). It will have others in
the future.
As rare as it may be, the political, hence democracy, existed, exists,
will exist. And, with it, under its exacting condition, metapolitics:
what a philosophy declares, for the ends of its own effect, as
deserving of the name of "the political." Or yet: what a thought
declares to be a thought, on condition of which it thinks that which is
a thought.
1. Badiou, Alain, L'tre et l'vnement, coll. "L'ordre philosophique," Paris:
2. Badiou, A., Conditions, coll. "L'ordre philosophique," Paris: Seuil, 1992.
translated by BARBARA P. FULKS

This essay - from Abrg de Mtapolitique (Paris: Seuil, 1998) - was

published in lacanian ink 19 (Fall 2001), now out of print. It appears
in Metapolitics,
Alain Badiou's Bibliography
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