In the history of Marxism, the reference to psychoanalysis played a precise strategic role: psychoanalysis was expected to “close the gap” by explaining why, despite the presence of “objective” conditions for the revolutionary transformation, individuals willingly persisted in their enslavement to the ruling ideology (i.e., why they desired their subordination and even found a perverse satisfaction in it). Why did the masses prefer the Fascist temptation to the Communist revolution in the 1930s? Why did they let themselves be lured into dull satisfaction by the Sirens of the late-capitalist “society of consumption” in the 1960s? In short, psychoanalysis functioned as an ambiguous (necessary but dangerous) pharmakon invoked in order to supplement the inherent insufficiency of the Marxist theoretic edifice.
Today, however, with the apparent demise of Marxism, the entire situation has changed: the emerging post-Marxist “radical” political philosophy as a rule insists that psychoanalysis cannot provide access to the specific dimension of the political; useful as it is in clarifying the libidinal foundation of a multitude of “regressive” phenomena (from ethnic violence to the “apolitical” passivity of the postmodern subject), psychoanalysis cannot account for the miraculous emergence of an egalitarian democratic enthusiasm-of an unconditional demand for what Etienne Balibar called egaliberte. For that reason, the political use of psychoanalysis has always wound up in a justification of failure, in an explanation of why things had to go wrong.
The author who has provided the ultimate formulation of this critique of psychoanalysis is Alain Badiou. He deserves special attention insofar as his “post-Marxism” has nothing whatsoever to do with the fashionable deconstructionist dismissal of the alleged Marxist “essentialism”; on the contrary, he is unique in radically rejecting the deconstructionist doxa as a new form of pseudo-thought, as a contemporary version of sophism. Since Badiou is not yet well-known in Anglo-American academia, the basic outlines of his philosophy will be rehearsed here prior to offering a Lacanian response to his depiction of the limits of psychoanalysis.