The night after Donald Trump won a long and ugly US presidential race, Alain Badiou entered a classroom at the University of California, Los Angeles, sat down, placed some notes on the table, and then explained that he had decided not to give his planned lecture, “Concerning Violence.” Instead, the most prominent French philosopher of our day would talk about Trump and what his success revealed about our current political, historical, and economic condition.
The resulting lecture, which ran for just over fifty-five minutes, had this statement at its center:
We can define our moment as the moment of the primitive conviction of liberalism as dominant in the form that private property and the free market compose the unique possible destiny of human beings. And it’s also a definition of a human subject. What is, in this vision, a human subject? A human subject is a beggar, a consumer, an owner, or nothing at all. That is the strict definition today of what is a human being. [italics added]
Badiou told his students on the day after the US presidential election that to be a human in the Trump era was to be “a beggar, a consumer, an owner, or nothing at all.” Does this mean that, under Obama, we were something else? And under Bush II? Were we something other than what we were under Clinton and Bush I? What was the human under Reagan? Jimmy Carter?
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