Badiou’s Jurisprudence: The Event of Law and The Law of The Event

Jose Rosales de­scribes a Badiouean jur­is­pru­dence of rup­ture, by way of a con­cep­tion of the event.

Verges 3

Verges 2

Verges 1

In a lec­ture pub­lished in the Cardozo Law Review in 2008, Alain Badiou ar­tic­u­lates his un­der­standing of Being, Event, and Simulacrum in re­la­tion­ship to Logic and Law. With an in­cred­ible power of pre­ci­sion, Badiou re­minds his audi­ence of Aristotle’s three main pil­lars of the pro­cess of thought (Identity, non-​contradiction, and the ex­cluded middle), which he then uses to de­lin­eate the three kinds of neg­a­tion he un­der­stands to be at work: clas­sical, in­tu­ition­istic, and para­con­sistent. With these “three kinds of neg­a­tion,” Badiou aims to un­der­score how Events tran­spire in a world; and what the im­pact of an Event, ac­cording to each kind of neg­a­tion, ac­tu­ally means.

In Classical logic, neg­a­tion obeys Aristotle’s prin­ciples of non-​contradition and the ex­cluded middle. That is to say, the re­la­tion­ship between P and non-​P is that either the former is true, or the latter is true, but not both sim­ul­tan­eously. Additionally, there is no third term avail­able in this truth re­la­tion. All throughout Badiou’s lec­ture, he provides us with ex­amples of such a logic. For Badiou, the most common un­der­standing of how clas­sical logic defines a cer­tain kind of neg­a­tion is seen in the concept of God: “Certainly, God as such per­tains to clas­sical logic: between his ex­ist­ence and his non-​existence, there is no third pos­sib­ility” (Badiou, 2008). Badiou makes it ex­plicit that clas­sical logic per­tains to God, only be­cause the concept of God it­self is an on­to­lo­gical concept. Thus we ar­rive at the first of Badiou’s main themes: Being (which op­er­ates ac­cording to clas­sical logic and it’s spe­cific kind of negation).

In in­tu­ition­istic logic, neg­a­tion obeys the law of non-​contradiction but does not obey the law of the ex­cluded middle. So ac­cording to in­tu­ition­istic logic, the re­la­tion between P and non-​P does not ex­cluded any number of in­ter­me­diary pos­sib­il­ities between those two ex­tremes. Now, in­tu­ition­istic logic, as one might be able to already see, cannot per­tain to be Being qua being (either God ex­ists or does not exist, and it cannot be said that God ex­ists between those two claims). However, Badiou finds in­tu­ition­istic logic useful (“valid”) when it comes to making claims about con­crete worlds. Thus, keeping in mind his audi­ence is a room full of law stu­dents and pro­fessors, he gives an ex­ample through the in­sti­tu­tion of law as to how in­tu­ition­istic logic al­lows us to com­pre­hend the world:

So, if the great field of the law is al­ways a con­crete world, or a con­crete con­struc­tion, its logic is not classic. If we take “law” in its strict legal sense, we know that per­fectly well. If the sen­tence P is “guilty,” and non-​P “in­no­cent,” we have al­ways a great number of in­ter­me­diate values, like “guilty with at­ten­u­ating cir­cum­stances,” or “in­no­cent be­cause cer­tainly guilty, but with in­suf­fi­cient proof,” and so on (Badiou, 2008).

Thirdly, in para­con­sistent logic, neg­a­tion obeys the law of the ex­cluded middle but not the law of non-​contradiction. This is defined by Badiou as “non-​perceptible change at the level of the in­ex­istent.” However, in order to get a better un­der­standing of how para­con­sistent logic fits into the ‘three kinds of neg­a­tion’ Badiou is ar­tic­u­lating, it’s helpful to turn to his own ex­ample which he be­lieves spells this out more clearly. Regarding Events oc­cur­ring in a world, Badiou claims that we have the two­fold task of de­fining the event on­to­lo­gic­ally (abiding by the rules of clas­sical logic) and ex­ist­en­tially (abiding by the rules of in­tu­ition­istic logic):

To be com­plete, we must define first an event at the on­to­lo­gical level: what sort of mul­ti­pli­city is an event? And after that, we must define an event at the phe­nomen­o­lo­gical or ex­ist­en­tial level: how does an event ap­pear in a de­term­inate world? Today, and for you, I sim­plify the matter. I sup­pose that an event is a sudden change of the rules of ap­pearing; a change of the de­grees of ex­ist­ence of a lot of mul­ti­pli­cities which ap­pear in a world…For ex­ample, the polit­ical ex­ist­ence of poor workers in a re­volu­tionary event…The ques­tion for an event is: what is the des­tiny, after the event, of an in­ex­istent of the world? What be­comes of the poor worker after the re­volu­tion? (Badiou, 2008)

In order to ac­count for the nature of an Event in a world, Badiou re­deploys the three kinds of logic in order to trace an Event in its most ef­fective form (clas­sical) to an Event in its least ef­fective form, that is to say as a non-​Event (para­con­sistent). If the most ef­fective Events are those which op­erate under clas­sical logic it is be­cause the Event, as that which in­sti­tutes a dis­rup­tion of the reason or con­ven­tions of a world, brings about the strongest con­trasts between ex­ist­ents and in­ex­ist­ents in a world. As Badiou writes,

The test is that among the con­sequences of this change, we have the max­imal value, the max­imal in­tensity of ex­ist­ence, for an ob­ject which was an in­ex­istent, which ap­peared with the min­imal de­gree of in­tensity. The poor worker, who be­fore the re­volu­tion ap­pears as nothing in the polit­ical field, be­comes the new hero of this field. The ab­stract painting, which was purely dec­or­ative be­fore an artistic re­volu­tion, be­comes an es­sen­tial trend of the his­tory of the arts, and so on. (Badiou, 2008).

Thus, for Badiou, the Event which is most ef­fective in dis­rupting the con­ven­tions and ra­tionale of a world is that which can re­duce the world into a duality between min­imal in­tensity, or in­ex­ist­ence, and max­imal in­tensity. “And that sort of world, with only two de­grees of in­tensity, is al­ways clas­sical. We shall say in this case that the change is a true event, simply, if the con­text is clear, an Event” (Badiou, 2008). Now, the Event which ac­cords to in­tu­ition­istic logic is the second pos­sib­ility of an Event’s oc­cur­rence in the world. This type of Event in­sti­tutes neither max­imal nor min­imal change, but rather in­ter­me­diate changes in the world. “The poor worker ap­pears in the polit­ical field, but it is not at all a new hero of the field. The ab­stract fig­ures can be used in painting, but they are not really im­portant. In this case, the lo­gical frame­work of the event, and of its con­sequences, is clearly in­tu­ition­istic. There is no ob­lig­a­tion for the event to be of max­imal in­tensity” (Badiou, 2008). This type of Event, which in­sti­tutes changes in a world that do not cause fun­da­mental breaks, shifts, or novel ways of doing art, politics, or sci­ence, abide by the prin­ciple of non-​contradiction but not by the law of the ex­cluded middle – hence, it’s in­tu­ition­istic lo­gical nature.

Finally, we ar­rive at the Event which cor­res­ponds to para­con­sistent logic. This kind of event is char­ac­ter­ized as the in­de­cid­ab­ility between event and non-​event. “Yes, some­thing hap­pens, but, from the point of view of the world, everything is identical. So we have event and non-​event sim­ul­tan­eously. And there are no new values between af­firm­a­tion and neg­a­tion, be­cause the world is ex­actly the same. The prin­ciple of ex­cluded middle is true, the prin­ciple of con­tra­dic­tion is false; so we have a para­con­sistent logic. We say then that we have a false event, or a simu­lacrum“ (Badiou, 2008, my em­phasis). Thus, for Badiou, true change only oc­curs in a world when the Event al­ters or in­ter­feres with the rules which govern a world – hence why he still claims that change oc­curs when Events abide by clas­sical and in­tu­ition­istic logic (the former being a rad­ical change, the latter being re­formist). It is be­cause of this that Badiou ends his lec­ture with this state­ment: “The lesson is that, when the world is in­tu­ition­istic, a true change must be clas­sical, and a false change para­con­sistent” (Badiou, 2008).

“No Dialogue Is Possible”

Perhaps one of Alain Badiou’s strongest al­lies in his ar­tic­u­la­tion of the Event is an ana­chron­istic one. Jacques Vergès, a French-​Vietnamese lawyer, was made famous by his de­fense of Djamila Bouhired, Algerian na­tion­alist and fighter in the National Liberation Army in Algeria in the late 50′s. Using what he termed the ‘rup­ture de­fense,’ Vergès claimed that the French State had no grounds to try Bouhired due to its his­tory of co­lo­nial vi­ol­ence against the Alergian people. Thus, in­stead of de­fending Bouhired in terms of the French legal system, Vergès ap­proached the trial from the ‘out­side.’ As he stated in an in­ter­view with Der Spiegel,

The other French at­tor­neys who had taken over the de­fense in Algiers tried to begin a dia­logue with the mil­itary judges there. The judges saw the FLN as a crim­inal group. But the Algerian de­fend­ants saw their at­tacks as a ne­ces­sary act of res­ist­ance. In other words, there was no con­sensus over the prin­ciples that were to be ap­plied in reaching a ver­dict. For me, it meant that I had to shift the events to out­side the courtroom and win over public opinion for the de­fend­ants.1

This lack of con­sensus marks the para­con­sistent nature of the trial: it is both the case that Bouhired was guilty and in­no­cent; guilty from the point of view of the State and in­no­cent from the point of view of the FLN. It is this con­front­a­tion of view­points that Vergès brought to the fore­front of the trial. As Emilios Christodoulidis writes, “the de­fense of ‘rup­ture’ aims at a con­front­a­tion with the system that is rep­res­ented by the prosecution’s case. In its con­front­a­tion with the law of the State, its main aim is to de­rail the pro­cess all the time both using and con­testing it…” (Christodoulidis, 2008). Or as Vergès him­self writes “rup­ture tra­verses the whole struc­ture of the trial. Facts as well as cir­cum­stances of the ac­tion pass onto a sec­ondary plane; in the fore­front sud­denly ap­pears the brutal con­test­a­tion with the order of the state” (Christodoulidis, 2008). Ultimately, the strategy of rup­ture aims at a con­front­a­tion between de­fense and pro­sec­u­tion that, “ex­cludes all com­promise” (Christodoulidis, 2008).

It is here that we ar­rive at the clas­sical logic that un­der­pins Vergès ap­proach: in de­fending Bouhired through the con­test­a­tion of the le­git­imacy of the French legal system, by put­ting their judg­ment of Bouhired into con­trast with France’s his­tory of co­lo­ni­alism, and their use of tor­ture on Algerian’s des­pite the State’s ac­know­ledg­ment of the rights of the sub­jects of French colonies, Vergès dis­rupts the State’s le­git­imacy by pos­iting its ac­tual il­le­git­imacy. That is to say, either France is guilty of on­going co­lo­nial vi­ol­ence and thus re­vokes its le­git­imacy as a sup­posed, neutral, ju­di­cial third party; or France is not guilty of on­going co­lo­nial vi­ol­ence and re­tains its au­thority, with no third pos­sib­ility. The rup­ture de­fense, then, is an Event in the clas­sical sense.

This de­fense which con­sti­tutes a rup­ture, is only a rup­ture (or an Event), since it achieves a cri­tique which con­tests and posits “new rules of ap­pearing”; since for Badiou, “an event is a sudden change of the rules of ap­pearing; a change of the de­grees of ex­ist­ence of a lot of mul­ti­pli­cities which ap­pear in a world” (Badiou, 2008). As seen above, Vergès led a de­fense of Bouhired not on the terms ar­tic­u­lated by the court, but on the grounds of the prin­ciples which defined the le­git­imacy of the court it­self. That is to say, what Vergès sought was a new set of ‘rules of ap­pearing.’ Instead of ter­ror­ists, Bouhired was part of the res­ist­ance against co­lo­ni­alism; in­stead of a crim­inal, Bouhired was a re­volu­tionary; in­stead of a mur­derer, she ex­ecuted a traitor. And here we can see Vergès, and Badiou after him as an ar­tic­u­la­tion of Fanon’s de­co­lo­nial prin­ciple that “chal­len­ging the co­lo­nial world is not a ra­tional con­front­a­tion of view­points. It is not a dis­course on the uni­versal” (Fanon, 2005).

By es­tab­lishing the in­com­men­sur­ab­ility between the lives of col­on­ized peoples and the legal struc­ture of the French state, Vergès showed how the tac­tics of the FLN “could no longer be ra­tion­ally con­tained within the con­text of the op­er­a­tions of the French mu­ni­cipal system of justice,” once France was seen for what it was: “a fa­cil­it­ator of the co­lo­nial bru­tality against an emer­gent people no longer sub­sum­able to ‘le peuple’ (Christodoulidis, 2008). Thus, Fanon’s ar­gu­ment about race and class re­la­tions in col­on­ized Algeria takes on a new meaning: not only is one rich be­cause one is white, and white be­cause one is rich; within the French system of justice, one is just be­cause one is white, and white be­cause one is just. Within this logic of co­lo­ni­alism, there is no cat­egory by which the Algerian res­istor can be re­cog­nized by ex­cept by the no­tions of an ir­ra­tional ‘an­imal,’ a ‘ter­rorist,’ and a ‘criminal.’

Jose Rosales is a doc­toral stu­dent in philo­sophy at SUNY, Stony Brook. His re­search in­terests in­clude Spinoza, Nietzsche, poststructuralism, postcolonialism, de­co­lo­nial theory, and philo­sophies of the Event.

Show 1 foot­note

  1. http://​www​.spiegel​.de/​i​n​t​e​r​n​a​t​i​o​n​a​l​/​w​o​r​l​d​/​i​n​t​e​r​v​i​e​w​-​w​i​t​h​-​n​o​t​o​r​i​o​u​s​-​l​a​w​y​e​r​-​j​a​c​q​u​e​s​-​v​e​r​g​e​s​-​t​h​e​r​e​-​i​s​-​n​o​-​s​u​c​h​-​t​h​i​n​g​-​a​s​-​a​b​s​o​l​u​t​e​-​e​v​i​l​-​a​-​5​9​1​943 – 2.html

  2 comments for “Badiou’s Jurisprudence: The Event of Law and The Law of The Event

  1. Caleb
    15 January 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Fascinating work! A musing: I wonder if there is a con­cili­atory role to be played by the in­tu­itionist logic as the en­dgame for a sharply defined logic of a strategy of rup­ture.… thinking about the TRC in South Africa, for ex­ample, where a new logic is needed to define truth, once the rup­ture has already occurred.

  2. marco van heugten
    24 January 2014 at 10:28 am

    hello & tnx. un­for­tu­nately fanon and memmi f.i. are not on the cof­feetable.. maybe we should stop ‘thinking as we know it’ at all, es­pe­cially ‘within and about’ ‘the col­on­ized mind’.. a form of col­on­izing it­self.. and that too would be stupid if not im­possible. so, go on.. ? :)

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