The New Authoritarian Marxism: A Terrorist Theory of the State

The New Authoritarian Marxism: A Terrorist Theory of the State

Alan Johnson: The New Authoritarian Marxism (Part 1)

I propose to write a series of posts on what I will call the “new authoritarian Marxism” of Alain Badiou and Slavoj ?i?ek. I think their ideas are a theoretical disaster and I find their popularity on campuses across Europe and North America to be deeply depressing. In this first post I claim that at the theoretical core of the new authoritarian Marxism is a terrorist theory of the state based on totalitarian notions of (always capitalized) Truth and Good.

Here is the leading philosopher of the new authoritarian Marxism, Alain Badiou:

My personal position is the following: It is necessary to examine, in a detailed way, the contemporary theory of Evil, the ideology of human rights, the concept of democracy. It is necessary to show that nothing there leads in the direction of the real emancipation of humanity. It is necessary to reconstruct rights, in everyday life as in politics, of Truth and of the Good. (…) Terror is a political tool that has been in use as long as human societies have existed. It should therefore be judged as a political tool, and not submitted to infantilizing moral judgment. (…) As for the love of the Other, or, worse, the “recognition of the Other,” these are nothing but Christian confections. There is never “the Other” as such. There are projects of thought, or of actions, on the basis of which we distinguish between those who are friends, those who are enemies, and those who can be considered neutral.

Slavoj ?i?ek is another new authoritarian Marxist who thinks Truth and Good not only trump democracy but legitimize Terror. In an interview with the journal Historical Materialism, he could not have been clearer:

Revolutionary politics is not a matter of opinions but of the truth on behalf of which one often is compelled to disregard the “opinion of the majority” and to impose the revolutionary will against it.

This mutual attraction between “Truth” and terror was discussed by the Italian democratic political philosopher Norberto Bobbio. Here are some remarks about the “terrorist” conception of the state taken from his essay “Marx and the Classics” (in the book Which Socialism?).

The concept of the “terrorist state” is expressed with exemplary clarity in a passage on Isidore of Seville, which reads: ?Among nations princes and kings are appointed so that they may use terror to force their peoples to turn away from evil and so make them submit to the rule of laws and live honorably.? After the decline of scholastic philosophy, which had taken up the Aristotelian tradition of seeing the purpose of the state as the common good, the terrorist theory was exhumed by Martin Luther with a vehemence matched only by those of a later age who elaborated political doctrines to justify the state?s use of terrorism. In the famous letter to the Christian princes on secular authority (1523) we find passages such as this one:

God has imposed on the peoples of the earth, apart from the reign of God, another dominion, and has placed them under the sword so that they cannot indulge in iniquity even if they would like to, or if they do, it is not without fear nor with serenity and joy; just as a wild and ferocious beast is bound with thongs and chains so that it cannot bite or attack as its instincts dictates, even if it would wish to do so.

The new authoritarian Marxists, I think, are updating (vehemently, for sure) this “Lutheran” or “terrorist” theory of the state. God is now the Idea of Communism, his Sword is the Party, and the Party can use Terror in pursuit of Truth and Good. Liberal democracy, of course, is Iniquity and it must be “bound with thongs and chains.”

I will try to analyze the new authoritarian Marxism in the months ahead.

(Image: Alain Badiou / Creative Commons 2006)