Why should William Morris enthusiasts concern themselves with the work of French philosopher Alain Badiou, who is eighty years old today? Well, with his more technical philosophical work, such as his magnum opus Being and Event (1988), perhaps they needn’t and shouldn’t; it is the kind of foundational and systematic project that we thought the Derridean moment of French philosophy had done away with for good, and it can be forbiddingly mathematical too into the bargain (yet let us recall that Morris put a lover of mathematics, Bob the weaver, into the early chapters of News from Nowhere).
But with Badiou’s political thinking (which is not, after all, in the end divorced from his philosophy), Morrisians in my view definitely should take a lively interest. For he is the major advocate in our time of what he terms the ‘communist hypothesis’, and if you regard Morris, at his strongest, as a communist thinker – ‘I call myself a Communist, and have no wish to qualify that word by joining any other to it’, he declared in May 1889 – then there is a nominal continuity here which may be worth exploring. Moreover, since Badiou calls for a post-Leninist, non-party communism (whatever this might mean), then there may be more specific parallels with Morris’s own, pre-Leninist, utopian communist thinking that should be looked at. The attempt to revive communist thinking today, in people like Badiou and Slavoj Žižek , may offer an opportunity for making Morris’s work current and suggestive in new ways.
So ‘joyeaux annniversaire’ to Alain Badiou – may he have many more years of pathbreaking thought and active militancy! And if, in the age of Donald Trump, we seem further than ever from the reinvention of communism as a utopian social goal, then we shall need all the intellectual resources that we can draw on to that end, past and present.