I think the term “global” has by now been misused, overused, and even abused, and I see how the term becomes slippery and imprecise. An...


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I think the term “global” has by now been misused, overused, and even abused, and I see how the term becomes slippery and imprecise. And because of its imprecision, it tends to be hospitable—if not hostile—to all kinds of appropriations and interpretations. Indeed, everyone wants to be global; transnational corporations want to be global; the US wants to be global, and so on. Indeed, what has already come to be known as “globalization” has already prompted the production and circulation of the term “global.” And the global as a term, as an orientation, as an adjective, and as a noun has had various appeals for imperialists and anti-imperialists alike.

On a somewhat different register: the term “global” has various disciplinary and interdisciplinary resonances and inflections. For instance, we have the “global field” in mathematics, “global serializibility” in data management; “global symmetry” in quantum field theory; “global variable” in computer programming, and so on. Then in the field of traditional political philosophy—to which Alain Badiou’s “metapolitics” remains firmly opposed—we have what they call “global governance,” somewhat akin to the UN mode of “globality.” And, further, there is this term “globalism.” And what’s globalism?

In his book called _Globalism, Nationalism, Tribalism: Bringing Theory Back In_, the Australian cultural critic Paul James defines globalism “at least in its more specific use ... as the dominant ideology and subjectivity associated with different historically-dominant formations of global extension." He adds: "definition thus implies that there were pre-modern or traditional forms of globalism and globalization long before the driving force of capitalism sought to colonize every corner of the globe, for example, going back to the Roman Empire in the second century CE, and perhaps to the Greeks of the fifth-century BCE.” And in his book _The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World_, the Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul reckoned globalism as coterminous with neoliberalism and neoliberal globalization. He argued that, far from being an inevitable force, globalization is already breaking up into contradictory pieces and that citizens are reasserting their national interests in both positive and destructive ways.

Given all this then, can the global be thought? I’m raising this question in the shadow of Badiou’s old but famous question “Can politics be thought?” In order to address this question, one may turn to Badiou who speaks of the international and the universal. In fact, he talks more about the universal than about the global.

In a significant 2005 interview in the _Ashley Global Review_, Badiou was asked this question: “You said that the majority of the people in the world have nothing, in the sense that they all have is their discipline, and this discipline is the potential for collective political action. Could you talk about, first of all, the anti-globalization movement and then what you see as the role of those activists in the affluent West who express solidarity with the challenges that people are facing directly?” Badiou answers this question as a philosopher and as a political activist—an answer that is both instructive and suggestive on more levels than one. And here’s Badiou’s answer—one that begins by finding relationships: “The question is to find the relationship between the anti-globalization movement and the large masses of people in the South because politics is today, by necessity, an international one.” Mark how Badiou’s accent falls acutely on the word “international”—a term that the Marxist-Leninist tradition has characteristically privileged.

But Badiou—one who emphasizes taking steps further in his _Manifesto for Philosophy_—adds: “We cannot really have a hope only in one nation, in one space, because capitalism is the complete movement of globalization and so the organization of something like a new way in politics will certainly be at the international level. But, it is the same question, finally, in a smaller space. In France, it is certainly a necessity if you’ve to do some real politics, to organize, for example, a relation between some revolutionary intellectuals and some workers without papers. Without something like that, there is no possibility of new experimentation in the social field.”

Mark the way in which Badiou—using the term “international” explicitly here—politicizes the very notion of the international, and it’s important to note that among the 4 conditions of philosophy such as science, art, politics, and love—it’s politics that continues to constitute Badiou’s most persistent and even most passionate concern. So by politicizing the idea of the international, Badiou, of course, runs counter to the postmodern, apolitical, liberal idea of “cosmopolitanism.” And Badiou’s suggestion surrounding the relation between revolutionary intellectuals—not just intellectuals in the ordinary sense, but “revolutionary intellectuals, as Badiou puts it”—and workers is crucial. It’s this relation that is also critical to a new politics and to the international as such.

But Badiou doesn’t stop there. I can’t help quoting Badiou at some length here: “In the great scale it’s the same thing because you’ve to organize a relation between intellectual protestation, intellectual revolt against globalization, and the situation of poor people and weak people in the South. In any case, to find a new way, we have to create new relations between that are separated in fact. A student in the Western world and a peasant in Africa are very separated. They are not in the same world. That sort of division is fundamental for the development of capitalism itself. The question of discipline is also the question of unity, but what sort of unity? In the old time, it was certainly the unity between some intellectuals, a fraction of the intellectuals and the workers. During one century and much more, that was the case. What is the question today? In the international field we have to find something new which is a relation with the large masses of people in the South. And so for some time, the question will be: What’s the new form of internationalism? Affirmative internationalism, new organization, not only protestation against globalization, but affirmation of a common political will. There’s practically nothing. We are in the very beginning of the question.”

So, yes, the question here is one of creating new relations—ones that will lead to an affirmation of a common political will against, say, capitalism under which we all live. I should point out here that Badiou is urging us to re-invent Marxism itself in the interest of the absolute emancipation of humanity in its entirety, although it’s true that Badiou’s own kind of “Marxism” eschews the Hegelian notion of the “Whole” and historical materialism and the Marxian critique of political economy as such. Whether Badiou is a Marxist or not is another issue, something into which I cannot go now owing to time constraints, but it is also true that Badiou himself thinks he is one. Also, by now we’ve all kinds of debates surrounding Badiou’s Marxism.

But let me return to the question of internationalism.

So what is the new form of internationalism? This is a crucial question, for we cannot do anything really effective against capitalism without addressing this question—the question of—to use Badiou’s words again—“a complete transformation of the world?” I do not have a straightforward answer to these questions; nor does even Badiou provide a straightforward answer! Badiou himself suggests that sometimes raising an important question is more important than providing an immediate answer, while finding an answer here is a matter of ideological struggle or even what I wish to call “philosophical struggle” surrounding what Badiou calls “truth,” in this instance “political truth.” As Badiou would say in the manner of Mao: “Cast away illusions, prepare to struggle.”

Now let me turn to the question of the universal. In fact, Badiou already provided eight theses on the universal. I’ll present them one by one.. Number One: “Thought is the proper medium of the universal.” Number Two: “Every universal is singular, or is a singularity.” Number Three: “Every universal originates in an event, and the event is intransitive to the particularity of the situation. Number Four: “A universal initially presents itself as a decision about an undecidable.” Number Five: “The universal has an implicative structure.” Number Six: “The universal is univocal.” Number Seven: “Every universal situations remains incompletable or open.” Number Eight: “Universal is nothing other than the faithful construction of an infinite generic multiple.”

I argue that the first thesis provided by Badiou is the most crucial one, one that lays the foundations for his subsequent theses. So let me dwell on the first thesis to see what Badiou is up to. As far as thought is the proper medium of the universal, Badiou suggests that thought for him means the subject itself. But then Badiou adds something more to it: that thought means the subject insofar as it is constituted through a process that is transversal relative to the totality of available forms of knowledge. In this regard, Badiou quotes Lacan by asserting that it’s the subject insofar as it constitutes a hole in knowledge.

Badiou doesn’t stop there. Let me quote Badiou again: “That the thought is the proper medium of the universal means that nothing exists as universal if it takes the form of the object or of objective legality.” Thus, according to Badiou, the universal is not just a given residing within the horizon of what’s called history, but the universal is produced via the event that opens up truths constituting the subject. As Badiou puts it, “the universal can be produced only through the production or reproduction of a trajectory of thought, and this trajectory constitutes or reconstitutes a subjective disposition.”

That being said, Badiou moves onto the question of the thought as what he calls the “subject-thought” and maintains, “ That/ thought, as subject-thought, is constituted through a process/ means that the universal is in no way the result of a transcendental constitution, which would presuppose a constituting subject.” It’s here that Badiou, his certain Hegelianism notwithstanding, parts company with Hegel himself.

Mark what Hegel says: “[...] reflection is always seeking for something fixed and permanent, definite itselfand governing the particulars. This universal which cannot be apprehended by the senses counts as the true and essential….In thus characterizing the universal, we become aware of its antithesis to something else. This something else is the merely immediate, outward and individual, as opposed to the mediate, inward, and universal. The universal doesn’t exist externally to the outward eye as the universal. The kind as kind cannot be perceived: the laws of the celestial motions are not written on the sky. The universal is neither seen nor heard, its existence is only for the mind.”

Well, I guess Badiou would agree with Hegel insofar as the universal cannot be seen and heard and that it doesn’t exist externally, but he’ll certainly part company with Hegel when he maintains that the universal "is only for the mind.” For Badiou is very concerned with the subject, while asserting: “the opening up of the possibility of a universal is the precondition for there being a subject-thought at the local level. The subject is invariably summoned as thought at a specific point of that procedure through which the universal is constituted. The universal is at once what determines its own points as subject-thoughts and the virtual recollection of those points. Thus, the central dialectic at work in the universal is that of the local, as subject, and the global, as infinite procedure. This dialectic is constitutive of thought.” Thus, Badiou theorizes the relationship between the local and the global and the universal here.


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