Badiou in Essence

In The Communist Hypothesis (242-46), Badiou outlines his ontology:

Let me begin by reminding you of a few of my usual concepts, in a very abstract, simple form.

1 an event

. . . a rupture in the normal order of bodies and languages as it exists for any particular situation. . . or as it appears in any particular world.


an event is not the realization of a possibility that resides within the situation or that is dependent on the transcendental laws of the world. An event is the creation of new possibilities [or, presumably, new laws]. (242)

= the infinitization of possibility (a.k.a. politics — or the real, in Lacan’s terms), or, more plainly, a decision about something undecidable within an existing situation.

[See “The Event in Deleuze” (2006).]

Events indicate that “the existing world is not necessary,” and that therefore “a different world is possible.” They make resistance possible, even in the light of an order seemingly as dominant as late/transnational capitalism . . .

if we accept the inevitability of the unbridled capitalist economy and the parliamentary politics that supports it, then we quite simply cannot see the other possibilities that are inherent in the situation in which we find ourselves. (64)

. . . namely, resistance to the “state” . . .

2 a state (or the state of the situation, a.k.a., the “encyclopaedia”)

. . . the system of constraints that limit the possibility of possibilities.

= the finitude of possibility (a.k.a. history — or the symbolic, in Lacan’s terms)


the State organizes and maintains, often by force, the distinction between what is possible and what isn’t.

(Or, in Ranciere’s terms, the “distribution of the sensible.”)

The possibilities of which our state is comprised include

the capitalist economy, the constitutional form of government, the laws . . . concerning property and inheritance, the army, the police. . . . (243)

3 a truth (or truth procedure)

. . . an ongoing organization, in a given situation (or world), of the consequences of an event.

[See “On the Truth-Process” (2002).]

4 facts

. . . the consequences of the existence of the State.


a truth cannot be made up of pure facts. (244)

5 subjectivity (the body-of-truth)

The non-factual element in a truth is its subjectivity:

a new collective Subject in politics, . . . an organization composed of individual multiples . . . that . . . shares in the creation of a political truth [i.e., an event].

[See “On a Finally Objectless Subject” (2009).]

6 an idea

Badiou thus returns to his subject: the communist Idea . . .

If, for an individual, an Idea is the subjective operation whereby a specific real truth is imaginarily projected into the symbolic movement of a History, wecan say that an Idea presents the truth as if it were a fact.

In other words,

the Idea presents certain facts as symbols of the real of truth. (245)

Thus, it is a

mediation between the real and the symbolic, [which] presents the individual with something that is located between the event and the fact. (246)

In the case of the communist Idea, it might be a regulative concept, an agenda, a utopia, Reason at work.

= possibilities as practicable (a.k.a. ideology — or the imaginary, in Lacan’s terms).

To summarize:

A truth is the political real. History, even as a reservoir of proper names, is a symbolic place. The ideological operation of the Idea of communism is the imaginary projection of the political real into the symbolic fiction of History, including in its guise as a representation of the action of innumerable masses via the One of a proper name. The role of this Idea is to support the individual’s incorporation into the discipline of a truth procedure, to authorize the individual, in his or her own eyes, to go beyond the Statist constraints of mere survival by becoming a part of the body-of-truth, or the subjectivizable body. (252)


Alain Badiou. The Communist Hypothesis. Trans. David Macey and Steve Corcoran. New York: Verso, 2010. (Circonstances 5: L’Hypothèse Communiste. Paris: Nouvelles Editions Lignes, 2009.)

A new program for the Left after the death of neoliberalism. “We know that communism is the right hypothesis. All those who abandon this hypothesis immediately resign themselves to the market economy, to parliamentary democracy—the form of state suited to capitalism—and to the inevitable and ‘natural’ character of the most monstrous inequalities.”

The text is available here outside copyright, with an excellent summary here. It expands an essay written for the New Left Review:

Alain Badiou. “The Communist Hypothesis” (pdf). New Left Review 49 (Jan.-Feb. 2008).


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