by Nicolas Veroli

Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil
by Alain Badiou
(Verso) $16.00

The study of good and evil in human conduct--is usually written from the standpoint of the status quo, by those most attached to its continuation. It asks: What rights must we (the state bureaucrats or the economic elite) grant to the citizens? What responsibilities do we (Westerners, whites, men) have toward "minorities"? And so on. In short, ethics generally marks the concessions that the law of Being must make to the clamor of becoming.

Philosopher Alain Badiou's new little book (it's about 100 pages) puts an end to all that. Written as an introduction for French high-school students (who must study philosophy in the 12th grade), Badiou's book makes a clean break with the statist tradition in ethics and proposes, instead, an entirely new perspective. In essence, Badiou asks, "What if, instead of supposing that the existing world is unchangeable, and that the role of ethical behavior is to adapt to this necessary evil as best we can, we were to think of it as the attempt to create a specific good adapted to every specific situation?"

Hence Badiou's book is meant to help us all decide how to be "faithful to the event"--i.e., to persevere in the construction of a good that a specific event in our lives gave us a glimpse of. For Badiou personally, as an intellectual and an activist, that event is clearly the student uprising of May 1968. For us, here in Seattle, it may very well be the anti-WTO protest of 1999. In the dark times we are living through, it is worth remembering the virtue of this kind of fidelity.

The maxim for Badiou's ethics? "Activists of the world, keep going!"

Support The Stranger