Thursday, December 17, 2009

new guard old order?

A dialog/interview with Alain Finkielkraut and Alain Badiou, (h/t Goldhammer).

This dialog is not especially substantial, but it does allow me to form an opinion about Finkielkraut. A negative opinion. His strongest objections to Badiou are, first, the smearing of Sarkozy with Pétain and, second, making ‘the enemy’ a central political category, and therefore, according to Finkielkraut, doing away with the concept of legitimate opposition, paving the way for totalitarianism. I am sympathetic with the first. Badiou is, sometimes, guilty of a certain rhetorical brinksmanship in associating Sarko and others with the great and obvious moment of French racism. On the other hand, he’s got a story about how this works, would even claim that it isn’t a rhetorical connection at all, but a conceptual one. What’s more, certainly Finkielkraut is absolutely as guilty of the same rhetorical strategy, this time with the obvious evil of totalitarianism. The second point, that of conceiving politics as struggle against an enemy, bears some thinking about. I’d want to go back and look at what Badiou says. But I think the two are talking entirely past one another. Badiou is talking about the political situation, whereas Finkielkraut is talking about parliamentary politics.

Badiou’s accusation that Finkielkraut is essentially providing a gentile intellectual cover to anti-Muslim racism—comparable to gentile anti-Semitisms of the past—is a strong one. Not knowing particularly well Finkielkraut’s public persona and statements, I can’t be much of a judge. But I am not impressed that the one specific stand Finkielkraut prides himself on taking in the name of abstract justice during this interview is in defense of Roman Polanski. It’s almost as though, according to Finkielkraut, Polanski is a latter-day Dreyfus, and the radical leftists are too blinded by his class to come to his defense in the name of universal justice. Ridiculous.

The dialog is profoundly depressing. It reduces to Finkielkraut accusing Badiou of being a crypto-Stalinist (or, totalitarian), and Badiou accusing Finkielkraut of being a crypto-Nazi (or, racist ideologue). The question becomes who is more likely to one day be held responsible for justifying putting people in camps of one kind or another. It is evidence that, despite the conscious efforts of both these intellectuals to escape the paradigms of 20th century politics, they are, at least when boxed together, totally unable to do so.

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