‘Always keep an eye on Québec,’ Alain Badiou advises.
François Gauvin: What do you think of the student conflict in Québec?
Alain Badiou: What I find interesting first of all is the scale and determination of the phenomenon. Basically, what is happening in your country is a sudden and widespread resistance to a global phenomenon, which is trying to apply the business model to every kind of human activity. Like a business, the university is supposed to become self-financing, whereas historically it was built up according to quite different rules. The conflict obviously took the particular and very localized form of a fight against the planned rise in university fees, which then spread to an opposition to the government’s handling of the crisis. But it is clear that at the core of the uprising is a subjectivity in revolt against the idea that business should be the paradigm for everything. And this point of resistance is now mobilizing a large-scale debate which concerns us all, and the outcome of which is not predictable.
F.G.: Would you make a comparison with the student revolt of May 1968, when you were a Maoist leader calling for revolution?
A.B.: Yes, in terms of its ways of acting, its style, its inventiveness. That is the first reminder of May 68, the first great echo of an active, joyful subjectivity that does not shy away from conflict when this is needed. Even if it is dividing Québec society. It was just the same in 1968. The students attracted sympathy, but as we saw in the June 1968 legislative elections, which were won by the party of General de Gaulle, French society was completely divided.
F.G.: Your involvement with Québec goes back to that time.
A.B.: Yes. Very soon after May 1968, I went to Montréal as a human rights observer for the trial of Pierre Vallières and Charles Gagnon of the Front de liberation du Québec (FLQ). That was my first real contact, my first immersion in Québec’s singular society, which made a strong impression on me.
F.G.: Subsequently, you devoted a whole chapter of your masterwork Logics of Worlds to Québec. Did Québec act as a stimulant for your conception of the world?
A.B.: In the book’s overall argument, I took Québec first of all as a particular example. But you’re right to speak of a stimulant. The history of Québec sums up several features of world history in recent centuries: a long-standing European colonization, the exceptional presence of two world powers, the English and the French, etc. There is no equivalent to this anywhere else. And that created a society, a subjectivity, which combined terms that are not normally combined. So it really is for me what I call a ‘world’. The history of Québec is marked by phenomena that are at the same time irreducibly particular and yet have an innovatory universal character. That is still the case today. I would say: always keep an eye on Québec.
F.G.: You say that Québec is a world in the process of becoming [‘devenir-monde’]. But what does a world mean for you?
A.B.: In a very general sense, a world is a regime of relations of identities and differences. In order to say what is particular about this world, to simplify, if you take a human world there have to be identities – national, linguistic, the common consciousness of belonging to this world, etc. – and differences. In the case of Québec, of course, the French language is an element of identity, but it is so necessarily in relation to the omnipresent Anglophony and the fact that there have been and still are Amerindians who do not immediately have this identity, and so on. From this point of view, Québec has an absolutely singular history. I speak of it as a world in the making [‘faire-monde’] that is still open. As I’m not sure that Québec really has resolved the problem of the world that it is in the process of becoming. The present episode of revolt is part of this, of the Québecois making-world, and its interest for everyone.
F.G.: But isn’t every society a world in the making? France, for example.
A.B.: Identities here are more frozen. It’s a country in latent crisis, a former planetary great power, with a particular universality, which does not know what to do with its lost greatness. From this point of view, France is at least as much a world being unmade as a world being made. My proposition is that we have to put an end to France.
A.B.: I’ve thought for a long time that France should merge with Germany. I’m very happy, moreover, that other people, such as Michel Serres, now share my opinion. There is no future for France alone. The European combination is teetering, as we’ve seen with Greece, and everyone understands that France and Germany form the hard core of Europe. A merger would make it possible to stand up to the other economic great powers, which neither France nor Germany, nor Europe, is capable of doing today. The French and German economies are already intertwined, so let’s have this hard core realized politically! That could be in the form of a federal state, as is already the case with Germany.
F.G.: And with Canada… But the independentists hope that the demonstrations of solidarity aroused by the crises will help their cause. Is this the start of a new history?
A.B.: I certainly don’t know enough about the internal situation of Québec to say so. But I have a certain distrust of the independentists. In the last twenty or thirty years, we have witnessed the break-up of national entities, sometimes their fragmentation. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Somalia, Congo… You have to be very vigilant as to the real meaning of state disintegrations. They are negative phenomena of contemporary history, often responsible for tragic human situations. Well, you’re going to say: ‘But Québec isn’t like that!’
F.G.: You’re taking the words out of my mouth…
A.B.: I don’t spontaneously support a succession by Québec, without really powerful arguments. I am not sure that the path of the Québec world in the making absolutely needs a state separatism. I believe it is possible to negotiate consistent federalisms, and that this is a better formula.