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How to be evil

Paul Cobley, London Metropolitan University

The problem of evil

Chapter 5 of Badiou’s Ethics deals directly with the problem of evil. As such, it may be the chapter that the contemporary casual reader first turns to, for, as one commentator puts it with mock sensationalism, "Evil is back!" (Santilli 2003: 1; cf. Cox and Whalen 2001). The destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York on 11th September 2001 has indubitably encouraged the population of the West to think more deeply about the nature of the world order. And, as usual, the Anglophone ‘culturati’ has enlisted the rhetoric of a Gallic thinker to critically reveal the ‘reality’ behind contemporary events and mores. Typically, Badiou has refused to shrink from commenting on the most recent of political events: his essay on the ‘war on terrorism’ (2002a), first delivered only weeks after the destruction of the Twin Towers, is admirably measured and it is a pity that it is a contribution (witting or unwitting) to the process that has made modern French philosophy the Manchester United of contemporary humanities. (1) Gallic thought has frequently fitted nicely with certain Anglophone intellectual fashions and it does so here; but it would be wrong to lay the blame solely at Badiou’s door. In the case of his observations on evil in Ethics, what is presented is serious, quasi-systematic and calculated to transcend the easy, superficially novel or received formulations upon which fashion thrives. [Read more].