2021, issue 2
The Enthusiasm of Political Sequences:
Bryan Doniger
In Anthropology of the Name, Sylvain Lazarus warns us against subordinating radical
political thinking to its relationship with extant social reality. When we attribute
thought to historical or social prerequisites which supposedly ‘determine’ it, we deny
that thinking can challenge what already is. By contrast, radical politics contest the
extant and create new social possibilities. For Lazarus, ‘enthusiasm is the disposition
that accompanies transformational politics. This essay distinguishes Lazarus’ ‘enthusiasm’
from Alain Badiou’s ‘delity. I argue, contra most English-speaking interpreters, that
Lazarus’ theory of politics is a) distinct from Badiou’s and b) better suited for thinking
through moments of political resistance.
Keywords Licence
Krisis 41 (2): 19-34.
Sylvain Lazarus, Alain Badiou, Political Emotions,
Communism, Workers’ Inquiry This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 License International License (CC
BY 4.0). © 2021 The author(s).
192021, issue 2
The Enthusiasm of Political Sequences:
Bryan Doniger
In Anthropology of the Name, the French anthropologist Sylvain Lazarus levels a far-reach-
ing critique against the “scientistic” methodologies adopted by many contemporary
historians and political theorists (Lazarus 2015, 78). More specically, Lazarus worries
that social scientists tend to subordinate political thinking to its relationship with our
extant social reality. As he puts it, they demand that thought “hold forth on its requi-
sites” (2015, 52). In other words, social scientists presuppose that thought necessarily has
requisites that determine what it is; they assume that thinking is merely an expression
of a set of pre-given historical or social circumstances that they endeavor to study. But,
for Lazarus, the social scientists’ methodological assumption that thought has requisites
leaves them with a limited ability to adequately study and understand the thinking that
happens during moments of direct contestation against “the existing social and political
order of things” (Lazarus 2016, 113). For example, amidst workers’ strikes and uprisings,
people often refuse to remain beholden to the way in which bosses, policemen, politi-
cians, and capitalists have already dened their social position. During the strike, people
think otherwise. Their relationship with the existing historical and social order is one
of direct challenge and antagonism. The social scientists’ mistake is to wrongly assume
that our thinking in moments of strike, uprising, or revolt remains subordinate to our
current social arrangement.
Lazarus’ method of inquiry, which he opposes to the methodology of social
scientists, is rooted in the thesis that moments of political contestation are also moments
when people think. For him, the word “people” is a “certain indistinct” (Lazarus 2015,
61). The statement ‘people think’ asserts that there is a group that partakes in the act of
thinking, but it doesn’t determine any necessary prerequisites for their thinking. We can
assert that people think, without dening in advance who these people are, how many
they are, what social and historical situations dictate their thinking, and so on.1 People
think is therefore a radically non-conditional statement. Put dierently, “in people’s
thought, the possible is that by which the real is identied” (Lazarus 2019). As I will
go on to show, enthusiasm is Lazarus’ name for the courageous, militant disposition that
helps us identify those contestational political sequences where people think, and where
their thinking leads them to ght on behalf of the possibility of another world. Lazarus
maintains that a moment of enthusiastic politics is also a moment where we can see
how people’s thought opens up a conict with the social order that already exists.
Although interest in Lazarus’ work is quickly growing in the English-speaking
world, most of his essays are not yet widely available in English.2 Thus far, only four
texts by Lazarus have been translated: Anthropology of the Name, “Can Politics be Thought
in Interiority?”, “Worker’s Anthropology and Factory Inquiry”, and “Lenin and the
Party”. Three of these four works were translated in the past seven years. The scarcity of
available resources for understanding Lazarus has led to a problem in the secondary lit-
erature. Namely, most of the interpretations of Lazarus published in English are heavily
202021, issue 2
reliant upon Alain Badiou’s understanding of his project.3 In Metapolitics, Badiou argues
that “Lazarus‘ thought does for politics what Lacan has done for love: he organises its
disjunctive encounter with history” (Badiou 2005, 54). In this passage, and throughout
Metapolitics, Badiou implies that Lazarus’ theory of politics is essentially parallel to his
own (just as Badiou’s thinking on love apparently runs parallel with Lacan). Most of
Lazarus’ English-speaking interpreters have followed Badiou’s lead. They read Lazarus
primarily as a critical interlocutor who helps clarify and bolster Badiou’s views on
politics. Granted, it certainly makes sense to draw at least some parallels between Badiou
and Lazarus. The pair are frequent political collaborators, and they both intend for
their work to throw a “monkey wrench...in the machinery of capital” (Badiou 2012,
xxx).4 Put less metaphorically, both Lazarus’ and Badiou’s political writings contest the
necessity of our current social reality.
However, Badiou’s interpretation of Lazarus fails to note a crucial point of
contention: the pair have very dierent understandings of the ‘aect’ or ‘disposition’
that accompanies a militant commitment to ghting the existing social order. Whereas
Lazarus writes of people’s enthusiasm during political sequences, Badiou instead evokes
the delity of political subjects. Lazarus’ enthusiasm and Badiou’s delity diverge from
one another in two key respects:
Dierence One: Badiou emphasizes that delity is a courageous commitment
to something “absolutely detached” from our current situation (Badiou 2001,
68). Fidelity is the feeling that allows a political subject to rupture with a given
nite situation and to instead live “as an immortal” (Badiou 2009, 505). By con-
trast, Lazarus links enthusiasm not with immortality, but with possibility. When
‘People think’ their thinking isn’t always dened by an essential disinterested-
ness or ‘detachment’ from the extant. To the contrary, political sequences entail
an active, real contestation. Put dierently, moments of enthusiastic politics happen
when people open up a conict with the ruling social order that attests to this
order’s non-necessity: “another subjectivation is possible” (Lazarus 2016, 119).
Dierence Two: when a moment of political resistance ends, Badiou argues that
this indicates a ‘betrayal’ of the subject’s delity (the end of their commitment to
live as an immortal and detach from what already is). Put dierently, the end of a
political sequence is a moment of failure. By contrast, Lazarus writes that even after
politics ends, the site where politics took place can remain “an enthusiastic site”
a site saturated with evidence that thinking happened here (Lazarus, 2015, ix).
My argument is that Lazarus’ distinctive concept of ‘enthusiasm’ both justies and clar-
ies the most unique aspect of his work: his invention of a rigorous methodology for
studying the past sites where politics took place.5 In order to study the thinking that
took place amidst various past political sequences (workers’ movements, revolutions,
and so on), Lazarus proposes that we conduct anthropological inquiries into the places
where politics happened. Lazarus’ inquiry is only possible because political enthusiasm
isn’t characterized by ‘detachment’ from the extent (per Badiou), but rather by real,
active contestation. Put succinctly, Lazarus thinks that politics happens at real sites and
212021, issue 2
that these sites remain saturated with enthusiasm even after a given political sequence has
ended. Thus, if English-speaking readers remain overly beholden to Badiou’s interpre-
tation of Lazarus, we run the risk of ironing over precisely the theoretical divergences
that lead to Lazarus’ commitment to anthropological inquiry (rather than, for instance,
to philosophy).
My paper is divided into three sections. I began by summarizing Lazarus’ theory
of how political sequences work before honing in on Lazarus’ unique method and
eshing out my precise disagreement with Badiou’s interpretation.
Section One discusses the danger of the methodological supposition that
‘People do not think. Lazarus traces out the dangers of this supposition by outlining
the specic problems and paradoxes it has caused for prior theories of Marxism.
Section Two demonstrates that Lazarus’ concept of enthusiasm allows him to
identify moments when radical politics happen without attributing the emergence of
politics to an individual, a vanguard party, or a social class. At its root, enthusiasm is always
people’s enthusiasm, rather than the enthusiasm of some specic, determinate group. Of
course, Lazarus acknowledges that certain groups, (i.e. workers, peasants, armies, and
political organizations) can help nourish political enthusiasm. However, they are never
enthusiasm’s requisite cause. Thus, in Lazarus’ theory of politics, politics does not require
a state, a ‘vanguard party’ or a ‘revolutionary class’; although such groups have helped to
build enthusiasm in specic political sequences.
Section Three summarizes Lazarus’ notion of ‘political investigation’ or ‘inquiry.
It also demonstrates how Lazarus’ concept of investigation puts him at odds with Badiou’s
claim that the end of a political sequence is a moment of failure. Here, and throughout
my paper, my aim is not to oer a systematic critique of Badiou’s work.6 Rather, I
point out a signicant problem with his interpretation of Lazarus. Again, by conating
Lazarus’ theory of politics with his own, Badiou does not give us sucient resources
for understanding why Lazarus studies people’s thought via an anthropological method
of inquiry. A discussion of the theoretical underpinnings of Lazarus’ anthropology will
require us to return to some of Lazarus’ political concepts (for instance, ‘enthusiasm’,
‘the prescription’, ‘saturation, and ‘the site of politics’) and to study these concepts on
their own terms.
Section One: To Refute the Statement “People Do Not Think”
The supposition that “people do not think” (a supposition that, for Lazarus, has deep
roots in the social sciences) is not just cruel or condescending; more dangerously, this
notion denies the possibility that people can wage a real ght against the extant (Lazarus
2015, 54). The scientists and social scientists who maintain that “people do not think”
don’t always state this claim outright. Instead, Lazarus demonstrates that the statement
“people do not think” is implicit in other claims about the determinate conditions
that supposedly make thought possible. For example, we should be wary of claims that
‘scientists think, or that ‘party leaders think, or that ‘workers think, under conditions of
class struggle. These claims aren’t necessarily untrue. However, each of them asserts the
existence of thinking only under certain, predetermined conditions (for instance, the
222021, issue 2
conditions of scientic rationality, or the conditions of political oppression). And yet,
again, if thought is rooted in the specic conditions of our current social reality, then it
can’t open up a conict with this reality without undermining its own basis.
Let’s turn to one example of a situation where social scientists have wrongly
and disastrously tried to subordinate people’s thinking to the social arrangement that
their thinking fought against. As early as 1935, Black American Marxists like W.E.B. Du
Bois were already worried that prevailing social scientic methods produced accounts
of the ght for Black emancipation that rendered Black workers almost entirely agen-
cy-less.7 In Black Reconstruction, Du Bois argued that Black workers won the civil war
via a general strike. For him the strike “was not merely the desire to stop work. It was
a strike on a wide basis against the conditions of work” (Du Bois 1992, 67). In other
words, this strike not only ended slavery but also posited a very dierent economic
and social order. Rather than continuing to work for the prot of slave owners, the
strikers put forth the possibility of a new, “fateful experiment in democracy” (ibid.,
715). They wanted a world where they owned land and cultivated it on their own
terms. This new organization of work, founded on land-ownership for all, could have
led to a worker-centered economy where Black people labor without having the fruits
of their labor taken by bosses or capitalists. But virtually all historians of reconstruction
failed to account for the Black workers’ general strike, even supposedly ‘progressive’
historians like Charles and Mary Beard. Of course, many of these historians operated
under the assumption that Black people were biologically inferior to whites. But many
other historians (including the Beards), justied their racist oversight of Black workers’
power on historical or sociological grounds. They began from the supposition that Black
people were ignorant and weak due to their abject position in the pre-existing social
and economic order.
Lazarus thinks that a set of problematic methodological assumptions very similar
to the ones that Du Bois wrote against in 1935 (for example, assumptions that ‘people
do not think’ or, more specically, ‘Black workers do not think’) have been endemic
to the work of many past Marxist historians and political thinkers. In “Thinking After
Classism, Lazarus demonstrates that many of the most prominent European revolu-
tionary theorists of the last two centuries oered conceptualizations of thinking in
which thinking is fundamentally rooted in the extant.8 Lazarus goes on to identify two
dierent problematic procedures through which previous Marxists have attempted to
subordinate people’s thinking to the extant social order–determination and operation:
Determination, or, the dialectic of the objective and the subjective, was Marx’s mistake
when it came to conceptualizing the agency of political revolutionaries. Lazarus
claims that this mistake begins “with the Communist Manifesto, published in
1848” (Lazarus 2016, 119). In the Manifesto, and throughout many of his later
texts, Marx argues that revolutionary consciousness is directly determined by
people’s social positioning.9 As Lazarus puts it, Marx often maintains that “the
totality is the means for a nomination of the subjective” (Lazarus 2015, 93). To
rephrase this, Marx attributes the thinking of working people to objective con-
ditions outside of their own subjectivity (for instance, the conditions of their
232021, issue 2
subjugation and exploitation within factories). Workers are revolutionary because
of their social class: “The central operator” that determines their consciousness
“is clearly class” (2015, 80). However, if we accept that class positioning neces-
sarily determines workers’ capacity for revolutionary thought, then we will not
be able to meaningfully come to grips with moments when workers refute their
class positioning. If class subjugation is necessary for revolutionary thinking,
then how can workers problematize their subjugation without undermining
the determinate condition that enables their own thinking? Furthermore, we
cannot deny that workers often contest the extant reality that dominates them.
This contestation doesn’t undermine workers in fact, it can lead to empow-
ering sequences of sustained political action. Thus, Marx’s deterministic view of
class consciousness will not even suce for conceptualizing the revolutionary
agency of the industrial workers whose political aims he intends to bolster.
Although I nd Lazarus’ critique of Marx to be perhaps a bit embryonic, we can none-
theless see the aspects of Marx’s theory of resistance that Lazarus worries about if we
turn, for example, to Marx’s remarks from “The Documents of the First International”
on why workers should strike for an eight-hour working day. The purpose of the
eight-hour legal limit, Marx writes, is to restore “health, “physical energies, and “the
possibility of intellectual development, social intercourse . . . and political action” to
workers (1993, 78-79). Marx thinks that capitalism (or, at least, the capitalist social order
of his own historical period) sows the seeds for its own destruction by concentrating
hundreds of thousands of laborers in industrial cities which can serve as centers for
strategy and resistance. However, when the law enables a normal working day of 15,
12, or even 10 hours, the working classes lack the time and health to fully organize.
Each reduction in the length of the working day is therefore hugely benecial. In his
“Inaugural Address” to the International Workers, Marx writes in praise of the ten-hour
work limit enacted by the Factory Bill of 1847. This bill was the product of “30 years’
struggle” by workers in England. In the decade after its passing, English workers saw
“immense physical, moral, and intellectual benets” (ibid.) By ghting for legal reforms
like the Factory Bill, workers’ associations can shorten working days, which in turn will
bring about a smarter, stronger, and more organized working class. And yet, for Lazarus,
Marx’s problematic claim is that workers’ strength and capacity for revolution is directly
tied to their social circumstances. First, it was apparently necessary for workers to be
proletarianized, so that these workers could arrive at the thought of striking en masse.
Then, it will be necessary for workers’ conditions to somewhat improve, so as to allow
for ‘the possibility of intellectual development. At every step of this process, Marx seems
to be suggesting that the workers’ social class determines how they think.
Operation, or, the dialectic of the subjective and the objective was, in turn, Lenin’s
mistake when it came to identifying the political power of people’s thought.
Lazarus distinguishes operation from determination by claiming that operation
“raises not so much the question of determinations of consciousness as the
issue of the possible eects of consciousness on the order of the real” (Lazarus
2015, 92). In contrast with Marx, Lenin refuses to subordinate thinking by stud-
ying its supposed “determination” within our current social reality. He refutes
242021, issue 2
Marx’s claim that industrial workers are the ‘revolutionary class’ par excellence:
“In contrast to the Marxist thesis that can be stated as ‘Where there are pro-
letarians, there are Communists, Lenin opposed spontaneous consciousness”
(Lazarus 2007, 259). In other words, by shifting from Marx’s class consciousness
to his own concept of ‘spontaneous consciousness, Lenin is able to maintain
that people’s thinking does not depend on deterministic conditions outside
of thought. Thus, according to Lazarus’ interpretation, Lenin’s early writings
open up the possibility that thinking does not need to hold forth on its requi-
sites.10 However, although Lenin’s concept of spontaneous consciousness marks
a signicant step toward arming the thesis that people think, Lenin goes on
to cast doubt upon spontaneous consciousness’ political ecacy. In his view,
spontaneous consciousness cannot truly problematize ‘the order of the real.
Put dierently, Lenin maintains that spontaneous consciousness only becomes
capable of resisting our social order once it is organized into a party. For him,
“there is no politics that is not organizational, and the word party denotes this”
(2007, 255). Thinking is spontaneous, but political thinking is organized.
Lazarus’ objection to Lenins ‘operational’ thinking is that the organized
consciousness of the party just like the consciousness of Marx’s industrial
workers – is necessarily determined via social positioning. If we wish to attain
a count of who does and doesn’t qualify for organized consciousness, we will
have to resort to an assessment of the conditions that dene thinking in our
current social order. Who has had the chance to develop organized consciousness
through the proper ‘political education’? Who is equipped to lead political movements,
and who is not well-positioned for this task? Questions like these end up smuggling
back in the very same demand that thought hold forth on its requisites.
In summary, the problem with both “determination” and “operation” is that both
attempt to directly map “intellectuality onto an exterior reality” (Lazarus 2015, 78). To
subordinate “intellectuality” to the reality that supposedly determines it is the crux of
what Lazarus calls “the pair ideology/science” (Lazarus, 2019). The ideology/science
pairing presents us with a false dichotomy that severely inhibits our political thinking.
Either we are scientists who dene thinking in terms of already-existing reality, or else
we have succumbed to ‘ideology, understood here as an irrational ight of fancy away
from the real. However, if we assume that our thinking is undenable except via what
already is, then we are forced into accepting that the desire for social transformation
stands at odds with thinking.
Rather than resigning ourselves to the procedures of determination and opera-
tion, we should instead ask, “Is there room for a real that pertains to a non-objectal and
non-nominalist thought?” (Lazarus 2015, 63). If naming a revolutionary social class (as
Marx does) or a political party (as Lenin does) is both “objectal” and “nominalist, do
we have any other options for identifying “real” moments of political contestation? This
question leads Lazarus to invent a procedure for naming and understanding political
opposition that stands completely at odds with the “denitions” employed by Marx,
Lenin, and other social scientists. There are “two approaches to words:” the denitional
252021, issue 2
approach, and “the other, where there isn’t polysemy but opposition of prescriptions
(Lazarus, 2019). In section two, I argue a) that political prescriptions, rather than deni-
tions, are Lazarus’ object of study that is, his tool for naming and understanding the
new possibilities opened up by political opposition and b) that “enthusiasm” is the
disposition that accompanies our successful deployment of prescriptions.
Because political sequences cannot be identied by a requisite condition that explains
their existence (i.e. party organization or class consciousness), Lazarus proposes an alter-
native method for identifying politics: we know that politics is taking place when we
encounter “an enthusiastic site” (Lazarus 2015, ix).11 In “Can Politics Be Thought In
Interiority?”, Lazarus argues that Mao Zedong’s unique insight into politics was that
we can identify political transformations without relying upon operation or determination.
Rather than naming a revolutionary class or a vanguard party, Mao wrote that revolution
in China was identiable via widespread “enthusiasm for socialism”:
this strictly Maoist category...makes history disappear... Enthusiasm for social-
ism is not (only) that of a “radiant future, but a singular theory of development
(here, a term that is in no way economic), registered from now on in the
forms taken by the army: not only military force, but practicing the work of
the masses, which is obligatory…. The most general principle which interests
us, having to do with development, is the following: “the new is created in the
struggle against the old. (Lazarus 2016, 124).
In this passage, Lazarus counterposes “enthusiasm for socialism” with “history. History
is a “theory of development” in which any conceivable “radiant future” must depend
upon the old. Mao, by contrast, puts forth a theory of development via contestation,
where “the new is created in the struggle against the old. Put dierently, enthusiastic
moments are times when we oppose what already is with “what could be” (Lazarus
2019).12 Because Maoism is characterized by this struggle, Lazarus describes Maoist
politics as a “dialectical” sequence of politics (Lazarus 2016, 119). On Lazarus’ terms,
“enthusiasm for socialism” is the name for a mode of politics where people challenge
the extant and, in so doing, hypothesize that “another subjectivation is possible” (2016,
119). Furthermore, enthusiasm (understood as a Maoist category) reverses the Leninist
understanding of a vanguard party that leads the masses’ revolution and dictates their
politics. The army does not politicize the masses; rather it carries out work on their
behalf: “The army practices the work of the masses, it nourishes enthusiasm for social-
ism” (2016, 125). This is why Lazarus goes on to describe the dialectical mode of poli-
tics as a “people’s war” (2016, 126-127). Enthusiasm predates the army: it is people who
are enthusiastic, and the people’s army simply nourishes this enthusiasm. Thus, a close
reading of Lazarus’ discussion of Maoism in “Can Politics be Thought in Interiority?”
reveals two claims not only about the nature of “enthusiasm for socialism, but also
about the nature of enthusiasm, more generally:
Claim One: Enthusiasm is always enthusiasm for possibility – it emerges in mo -
ments when the possible struggles against the extant. Put dierently, enthusiasm
262021, issue 2
is linked with prescriptions, rather than denitions.
Claim Two: Enthusiasm is always the enthusiasm of people. Determinate groups
(i.e. armies, classes, and parties) can sometimes “nourish” enthusiasm, but they
are never enthusiasm’s sole source.13
To expand on these claims, enthusiasm is nourished via prescriptions precisely because
prescriptions allow people to challenge the existing social order on behalf of possibility
(Lazarus 2015, 7). Whereas denitions rely on what already is, prescriptions identify
real possibilities for challenging what is in favor of what could be. As Lazarus puts it,
prescriptions name the possibility of “a real other than the objectal, one that could be
constituted through inquiry, forming a new eld of knowledge and not a scientic
system” (Lazarus 2015, 62). Prescriptions don’t ‘get us away’ from the real. Rather, they
allow us to challenge one “order of the real” and evoke another possible subjectivation
“a new eld of knowledge. In “Worker’s Anthropology, Lazarus turns to an analysis
of the French auto worker strikes of the early 1980s in order to provide an example
of how political prescriptions can help us enthusiastically oppose the denitions that
are circulated by bosses, politicians, journalists, policemen, and other functionaries
of the ruling order.14 Lazarus describes the early ‘80s as a time of massive layos in
the French auto industry. Amidst these layos, workers at various factories rose up to
dispute both the “amount of severance pay” that they were receiving and “the logic
of its calculation” (Lazarus 2019). The workers knew that the “calculation” of their
severance package was problematic: bosses and government ocials insisted that many
of the individuals working in the factory were not workers, but ‘foreigners. By using
terms like “Shi’ite” and “immigrant” to describe the people laboring in the factories,
the bosses and politicians “made the gure of the worker completely disappear” (ibid.).
This reduced the number of workers who were eligible for severance package. On
Lazarus’ terms, the bosses and politicians used the words ‘worker’ and ‘foreigner’ in a
denitional manner. These names purported merely to describe extant social reality. Their
usage legitimated the decision-making processes of the current ruling order – namely,
the bosses’ approach to counting workers. The workers struck back against their bosses
with a radically dierent naming procedure: It is the worker who counts the worker, it is not
the boss, severance for all (ibid.). In other words, the bosses’ approach to counting workers
is an illegitimate procedure, and so we must oppose it. “Severance for all” is a call for
material improvements in the lives of workers, but it is also a hypothesis concerning the
possibility of a dierent social order, one where “it is the worker who counts the worker.
By deploying enthusiastic prescriptions, the workers’ aim is not to replace their
bosses as the ones who exclude and include particular individuals from the denition
of ‘worker. The workers’ account of who does and doesn’t count as a worker is inten-
tionally broad and indeterminate: “severance for all. As Lazarus puts it, an enthusiastic
prescription is less like “a demand, and more like “a thesis, a principle” (Lazarus 2019).
The workers, in issuing their prescription, do not demand to be the ones who deter-
mine who does and does not count as a worker (otherwise, they would need to issue
specic, denitional criteria for what a worker is). Instead, the workers’ prescriptions are
aimed at disputing the legitimacy of the “worker/boss” relation: the workers challenge
272021, issue 2
the process whereby the status and value of the workers is counted by an external group
of bosses. In order to carry out this dispute, they oer the “thesis” of another “order
of the real” one where workers can refuse to be counted and valued by an external
If denitions subordinate thinking to “an exterior reality, prescriptions com-
pletely reverse the relationship between the real and thought: thought acts upon the
real, and not vice versa. As Lazarus puts it:
In the discursive [viz. denitional] process, the real, understood starting from
what is, is unique. In our process of an anthropology of thought, the possible
opens a conict of prescriptions (there are many possibles) and every prescrip-
tion supports a distinct order of the real (Lazarus 2019).
Denitions subjugate the singularity of people’s thought – they make it seem as though
a multiplicity of thoughts can be explained via a single, unimpeachable reality. By
contrast, prescriptions only work in moments when thought is singular and irreducible,
and when it opens up a multitude of dierent possible realities. Thus, enthusiastic pre-
scriptions are both political and oppositional, insofar as they refuse to conate “the real”
with whatever current social order supposedly ‘governs’ our thinking.
My claim is that Lazarus’ notions of ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘the prescription’ break
with Badiou’s seemingly similar notion of delity to a greater extent than Badiou’s
interpretation of Lazarus acknowledges. Indeed, Badiou fails to note the distinctive
character of the ‘enthusiastic prescriptions’ that Lazarus views as necessary for politics.
On the one hand, Badiou uses the concept of ‘enthusiasm’ in some of his more recent
work on politics, and one could argue that he inherits this concept from Lazarus. For
example, in both Logic of Worlds and Métaphysique du bonheur réel, Badiou writes that
political subjects who maintain delity are rewarded with a feeling of enthusiasm (See
Badiou 2015, 40 and 2009, 76). However, on the other hand, these descriptions make
it sound like enthusiasm is simply one component of the experience of what Badiou
calls ‘political delity, as though these political dispositions are entirely commensurable
with one another.
Badiou denes delity thusly: delity...amounts to a sustained investigation of
the situation, under the imperative of the event itself; it is an imminent and continuing
break” (Badiou 2001, 67). The ‘event itself, for Badiou, is a “hazardous” brief moment
where something ashes before our eyes that allows us to distance ourselves from the
situation in which we nd ourselves (2001, 67). The political subject has a continuing
delity to this event, even once it has vanished; just as a delitous Christian harbors a
continuous commitment to a God beyond this world, so too the delitous subject tries
to distance itself from its “ephemeral” situation (2001, 70). Put dierently, because the
event breaks with a given social situation, the delitous subject must become essentially
“disinterested” in this situation (2001, 69). Our disinterestedness in the situation, paired
with our spirited commitment to the hazardous event, allows us to punch “a ‘hole’ in
knowledges” and produce “new knowledges” (2001, 70).
Badiou mistakenly conates Lazarus’ idea that politics happens via political
enthusiasm with his own notion of politics via delity. We can see this mistake clearly
282021, issue 2
in a passage from Metapolitics where Badiou claims that Lazarus statement ‘people think
is intended to ascribe to people’s political thinking a certain ‘immortality’ or ‘eternity.
[People’s thought, as dened by Lazarus] is thinkable, as a precarious singularity
restricted by dates… and as indierent to time. To think a singularity does
indeed determine it, in the words of Thucydides, in the guise of an ‚eternal
acquisition‘ (Badiou 2005, 38).
Here, Badiou acknowledges that people’s thought is situated within time. After all, peo-
ple’s thought is “a precarious singularity restricted by dates”we can accurately speak
of people’s thinking during Maoism, or people’s thinking amidst the autostikes. However,
Badiou tries to argue that people’s thought is, in a far more important sense, also “indif-
ferent to time. Remember: Badiou thinks that the delitous subject no longer desires
to live within their nite, ephemeral, social situation. This is what Badiou means when
he writes that the delitous subject lives “as an immortal” (Badiou 2009, 505). Under
Badiou’s interpretation of Lazarus, when people think, their delitous thinking is indif-
ferent to time. Because something matters more to people than the ruling social order,
they can challenge the legitimacy of this order, even if this puts their prior way of life
at risk. Badiou argues that Lazarus’ statement ‘people think’ is simply another way of
theorizing the immortality of the political subject.
In order to conate Lazarus’ theory of politics with his own, Badiou makes
two strong interpretative claims about Lazarus’ statement that people think. The rst of
these claims is true, but I argue that the second one is clearly false:
Badiou’s First Claim: Badiou correctly claims that “at the heart of [Lazarus’]
thought one nds a de-temporalization of the possible. Put dierently, to assert
that people think is to claim that thought is sometimes in excess of temporaliza-
tion we can’t necessarily understand thinking by reducing it to the time when
it took place. If possibilities could always be identied via time, then the real
possibilities opened up by people’s thinking would be restricted to the deter-
mination of their time period. Badiou is absolutely correct that this is precisely
the form of ‘determination’ that Lazarus’ theory of politics tries to avoid.
Badiou’s Second Claim: However, Badiou subsequently claims that, because
people’s thinking can’t necessarily be reduced to the time when it took place, this
means that people’s thought is necessarily indierent to time: “to think singu-
larity does indeed determine it...in the guise of an eternal acquisition” (Badiou
2005, 38, emphasis mine). In Badiou’s interpretation of Lazarus, people can
only think if they are disinterested in their temporalized social situation, and
interested in something entirely outside of time. This interpretation would
unify Lazarus’ enthusiastic people with Badiou’s subject both ‘people’ and
the delitous subject strive to live as an immortal. However, this second claim
must be a misunderstanding of Lazarus, because it demands that we place a
requisite condition on people’s thought (namely, thought must be eternal, and
not temporal).
292021, issue 2
In summary, Badiou’s rst claim is true, for people’s thought is not necessarily temporal.
However, Badiou’s second claim is false, for people’s thought is also not necessarily eternal.
Again, what is truly unique about Lazarus’ theory of politics is his rigorous refusal to
name a requisite condition for thinking. Badiou’s interpretation of Lazarus misses this
essential point.
We can see the distinction between Badiou’s delity and Lazarus’ enthusiasm
even more clearly if we try to actually apply the concept of delity to the enthusiastic
factory strikes that Lazarus studies in “Worker’s Anthropology. The striking factory
workers do not seem to be acting as a delitous subject. When these workers opposed
their bosses, they were clearly very concerned with their own material interests within
the immediate social order (‘severance for all’). Of course, the workers’ interest was not
limited to questions about the “amount of severance pay and the logic of its calculation.
Again, their strike also poses fundamental challenges to the “boss/worker relation in this
kind of situation” (Lazarus 2019). But to deny that these workers are quite directly and
importantly concerned with improving their well-being within their immediate social
situation would be absurd.
If delity is characterized by a “disinterested interest, the factory workers’
enthusiasm is by contrast a form of dual interestedness (Badiou 2001, 49). As Lazarus puts
it, “prescription, while not excluding that it can be factualized, materialized, or put to
work, identies itself essentially as an intellectuality, that is to say, as a thesis” (Lazarus
2019). When we are enthusiastic, our interest is always double. We are interested in
contesting material reality, but we are also interested in how this contestation helps us
arm the thesis of another possible subjectivation. Thus, enthusiasm does not allow us
to subordinate people’s thinking to either temporal phenomena or to the eternal. This
means that, on Lazarus’ terms, it is not wrong to describe enthusiasm as ‘enthusiasm for
socialism, ‘enthusiasm for severance, or ‘enthusiasm for the army’. These phrases each
describe dierent procedures through which enthusiastic prescriptions are “factualized,
materialized, or put to work. As Lazarus goes on to write, “A mode in interiority can
be identied (we can know its nature) by looking for what thought has been opened
up in the world” (Lazarus 2016, 112). As I will elaborate in Section Three, we can nd
evidence of the thought that “has been opened up in the world” by looking to the
particular sites where past political sequences happened.
Lazarus’ notions of ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘the prescription’ give him the conceptual resources
to consistently identify and understand past moments of political opposition. Put dier-
ently, these concepts justify and clarify his decision to create a rigorous methodology for
studying political sequences. Lazarus has a number of dierent names for the method
that he develops: “anthropology of the name, “inquiry, and “political investigation” are
three of the most common ones (Lazarus 2019). I want to conclude by underscoring
that Lazarus’ conception of inquiry is one of the most unique and crucial dimensions of
his project.15 In the “Preface to the English Edition” of Anthropology of the Name, Lazarus
writes that he intends to nourish enthusiasm “about thought when it is possible to say
302021, issue 2
how it is at work when it is at work” (Lazarus 2015, 9). The inquirer’s primary task is to
identify sites where political contestation took place, and to show how thought was “at
work” in these sites. By identifying these places, the inquirer herself becomes a gure
of contestation. She opposes herself to those historians and social scientists who, when
they maintain that ‘People do not think, make thought itself disappear. As Lazarus puts
it, “deciding as to the existence of the word – thus forbidding its disappearance, subjec-
tivating it as what permits a transformation in consciousness of those who pronounce
it – is exactly what I mean by people think (Lazarus 2016, 111). The inquirer, who does
not live amidst a political sequence, may not be in a position to eect a transforma-
tion in consciousness. Nonetheless, by returning to sites where politics happened, the
inquirer forbids the “disappearance” of the prescriptions that took place at that site.
Political Sequences
Inquiry is an anthropological procedure (rather than a philosophical one) because it
studies a given political sequence by returning to the real sites where politics happened.
Sites are necessary for politics because “thought is a relation of the real” (Lazarus 2015,
53). If thought were not at work in some actual site, then it would not be capable of
supporting the real possibility of a what can be that stands opposed to a what already is. For
instance, factory strikes are eective because “there is circulation followed by evacuation
of the word ‘worker’ if it is not paired with the category of the factory” (2015, 153)
Here, Lazarus does not mean to suggest that the factory dictates the workers’ think-
ing, but rather that the workers use the factory as a site of opposition. The workers
make the factory into a place where they can problematize the state’s “circulation” and
“evacuation” of the word “worker. When she studies the factory, the inquirer opposes
the subordination of thought to the real by identifying the specic location where a
“singular thought” had real eects on the world (Lazarus 2019).
In studying a site of politics, the inquirer arms the possible by locating evi-
dence of what Lazarus calls “saturation” (Lazarus 2015, ix). The word ‘saturated’ has a
double meaning: it means both ‘to be used up’ and ‘to leave behind evidence. During
a political sequence, a site becomes saturated with new, real, possibilities for what can
be (i.e. socialism, severance for all, the prospect that “it is the workers who count the
workers, and so on). Once this sequence of politics ends, the particular objects and
names that were at play in this sequence can become “worn out or saturated. A ‘worn
out’ word is one that is no longer adequate for forcefully pushing back against the exist-
ing social and political order of things. Put dierently, past prescriptions like ‘socialism’
and ‘severance for all’ are not always useful for future political sequences. Nonetheless,
when we inquire into how thinking happened in past political sequences, this proves that
people’s thought is capable of refuting the domination of bosses and politicians, and
thereby transforming a given social order.
Lazarus contrasts the task of the inquirer with the task of the social scientist
and historian. Historians and scientists attempt to dene the requisites that supposedly
determine a moment of political contestation, and to explain why this contestation
ultimately failed. For instance, “the prevailing explanations for the collapse of socialism
have commanded the establishment of a revivied and purged historicism” (Lazarus
312021, issue 2
2015, 175). Lazarus, who wrote Anthropology of the Name in the years following the col-
lapse of the Soviet Union, knows all too well that historicism thrives in moments when
resistance to capitalism is lethargic and depressed. In such moments, the ruling order’s
dominion over thinking begins to seem inevitable, and so the conclusion of histori-
cism (namely, that thought cannot challenge the extant) starts to sound like common
sense. By contrast, inquiry is an ongoing refutation of the historicist/scientic paradigm:
“There are...unnamable names. The anthropology of the name maintains that the only
possible enterprise of naming consists in the naming of the sites of the name and the
identication of the category” (2015, 166). When people think, they assert that they
are “unnamable, refuting the authority of any boss, politician, or party who attempts
to dene or count their existence (Lazarus 2019). For this reason, people’s thought
is doubly endangered. First it is endangered by the naming procedures of politicians,
bosses, and state authorities. Then, it is challenged again by the social historians and
scientists who revive the “enterprise of naming. Rather than stage yet another siege
upon the “unnamable, Lazarus’ inquirer returns to the site where political contestation
took place, and asks “what does thought think when it thinks?” (Lazarus 2015, x). The
inquirer’s task is therefore to resuscitate enthusiasm – identifying our past, present, and
future capacity to refute the necessity of what already is.
Put dierently, the inquirer reverses the historian’s description of the rela-
tionship between thought and the real. Politics has sites, but the sites themselves are
determined by people’s thinking, and not vice versa. The most we can say about the
relationship between the worker and the factory is that, “At the factory is the worker”
(Lazarus 2015, 154). The factory doesn’t determine the worker; it is instead one of the
places where the worker’s thought and action can potentially take place. Lazarus argues
that this reversal is essential for “postclassist” political analysis (Lazarus, 2019). A classist
analysis would attempt to dene workers’ thinking by way of their ‘real’ or ‘material’
social position. For example, because the Paris auto factory strikers’ demands were
“factualized, materialized, and “put to work” as the demands of auto workers, we could
easily conclude that ‘Here People did not think, only workers thought. This would pave the
way for an interpretation of the strikes in which we would name a particular radical
or revolutionary social group, and explain the conditions that led to their resistance.
However, Lazarus would point out that once a site becomes a political site, we can no
longer make sense of people’s intellectuality by studying their social position. Although
the workers are still subjugated by their bosses, they begin to insist that The boss does not
determine me, for another subjectivation is possible.
In conclusion, Lazarus’ rigorous conceptualization of “political investigation”
enables us to understand past political struggles against the dominant social order
without reducing them to a long series of failures. Here again, contrasting Lazarus with
Badiou proves useful. In Badiou’s analysis of politics, the end of delity is necessarily
a moment of failure: “to fail to live up to a delity is Evil in the sense of betrayal,
betrayal in oneself of the immortal that you are. By contrast, Lazarus’ “Preface to the
English Edition” introduces Anthropology of the Name as a project that intends to nourish
322021, issue 2
“‘People’ is an indistinct. Nothing is prejudged
(this is what makes it ‘indistinct’), except their
existence (and this is what makes the term certain)”
(Lazarus 2015, x).
Recently, an international group of Marxist
scholars whose work is increasingly influenced by
Lazarus organized the first American conference
dedicated to studying his work. See Haider, Marasco,
Neocosmos, Tutt, Tupinambá 2020.
To name a few examples, see Neocosmos 2016,
Wamba-dia-Wamba 1993 and 1994, Corcoran 2015,
Harper 2016, and Bosteels 2018. For one attempt to
disentangle Lazarus and Badiou’s thinking on time,
see Calcagno 2007.
Lazarus and Badiou together formed a
post-Leninist, post-Maoist political group called
“Organisation Politique. For a short history of this
organization, see McLaverty-Robinson 2015.
One interpreter who has tried to center
Lazarus’ methodology in his reading of Anthropology
of the Name is Asad Haider. See Haider, 2018.
Indeed, my engagement with Badiou in this
paper is relatively narrow. I focus on his formulation
of fidelity in Ethics, and I supplement this reading
with passages from Logic of Worlds, Metapolitics,
and Plato’s Republic that either directly engage with
Lazarus or help further develop Badiou’s notion of
This example is far from random. Lazarus has
been particularly well-received outside of France
by Marxists who study past sequences of resistance
against racism and colonization. See Neocosmos
2016, Wamba-dia-Wamba 1993 and 1994, and
Haider 2019.
To offer one example, Lazarus is particularly
critical of previous Marxist thinkers who view
worker’s thinking as a simple reaction to pre-existing
external historical conditions like ‘the economy’ or
‘class struggle.
“From the standpoint of an investigation of
forms of thought, the dialectic of the objective and
the subjective is a direct mapping of intellectuality
onto an exterior reality” (Lazarus 2015, 78).
Lazarus attributes Lenin’s refutation of Marxist
determinism to his early works – and most especially
to What is to be Done? See Lazarus 2007, 255.
To rephrase this claim as a conditional syllogism:
‘If there is enthusiasm, then politics happened here.
Although Lazarus adopts Mao’s notion of
enthusiasm, he also argues that Mao’s distinction
between ‘new’ and ‘old’ is less helpful for identifying
modes of politics than his own opposition of the
extant and the possible: “But it is not a matter
here of a problematic position that, through the
new and the rupture, would reintroduce revolt or
social upheaval, even revolution. If this were so, we
would find ourselves facing a new attempt at the
historicization of forms of thought, by opposing
two forms: one which would reflect on the same
and the law in historical processes – it is what
would maintain, regarding the phenomena that it
studies, the said history as a longue durée; and the
other which would maintain that it is the history
of ruptures, transformations, mutation, revolutions
that are situated at the heart of the order of things”
(Lazarus 2019).
What I would readily call the site of the book named Anthropology of the Name is
an enthusiastic site. Enthusiastic about what? For one thing, about the fact that
a new conception of politics can be opposed to the end of the great period that
extends from the Russian Revolution to today (Lazarus 2015, ix).
If the task of politics is to contest the extant itself, then the task of inquiry is to oppose
the scientic and historical paradigm of our time. This opposition requires a “new con-
ception of politics, and therefore a dierent approach to studying the sites where pol-
itics once took place, a dierent way of identifying the political sequences of “the great
period that extends from the Russian Revolution to today. By naming ‘enthusiasm for
possibility’ as the disposition that allows us to identify politics, and by “conguring the
real through prescriptions and possibles, Lazarus poses a signicant challenge to the
persistent, violent demand that thought hold forth on its requisites. We, in turn, would
be naive to neglect the tremendous possibility nourished by such an endeavor.
332021, issue 2
13 14
These two claims regarding enthusiasm
do create necessary conditions for enthusiasm’s
existence. Enthusiasm, unlike people’s thought,
does hold forth on its requisites. More specifically,
people’s thought is required for the creation of
‘an enthusiastic site. To put this as a conditional
syllogism: it is true that “If there is enthusiasm,
then there is people’s thought. However, it is not
true that “If there is people’s thought, then there
is enthusiasm. If the first statement were false,
enthusiasm would not be helpful for identifying
moments when people think. If the second
statement were true, enthusiasm would become a
requisite for people’s thoughts. Lazarus thinks that
enthusiasm can help us identify particular moments
where people think, but he wants to avoid using
enthusiasm to give a full account of what does and
doesn’t count as people’s thinking.
For a more extensive treatment of Lazarus’
discussion of the French auto worker strikes, see
Haider 2018.
Of course, Lazarus is not the first one to give
inquiry or “worker’s inquiry” a vital role in radical
political struggles (see Haider and Mohandesi, 2013,
and Hoffman 2019). What is unique about Lazarus
is his understanding of the inquirer as a figure who
asserts that another world is possible, and who
radically contests the historians and social scientists
of her time on behalf of this possibility.
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Badiou, Alain. 2015. Métaphysique du bonheur réel,
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Badiou, Alain. 2005 [1998]. Metapolitics. Translated by
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