Bensaïd likewise finds much to praise in the unsettling and elusive optimism that inspires Derrida’s Spectres of Marx (1993). Again broadly in keeping with Benjamin’s conception of things, Derrida differentiates messianic experience from (abstract, resigned, deferential) utopianism, and associates the former with a concrete, optimistic and immediate effort to disrupt the status quo in the name of justice. Though not themselves revolutionary in Bensaïd’s sense of the word, Derrida’s “spectres” haunt the prevailing order of things and may allow the spirit of communism to inspire steps towards future revolution. Derrida’s aversion to presence and the present, however, his reluctance to embrace what he describes as Marx’s version of “onto-theology,” coupled with his own aversion to organised communism and his belief that class conflict is essentially a thing of the past, seem to combine to consign the revolutionary project to a sort of permanent uncertainty and indecision.
The opposite problem, in a sense, undermines Badiou’s post-Maoist revival of the category of the subject. Bensaïd is understandably sympathetic to Badiou’s engaged and militant conception of politics, but believes that it fails to pay sufficient attention to matters of historical continuity and political organisation. Badiou is overly dependent on an abrupt if not “miraculous” conception of transformative events as the primary source of political and philosophical inspiration, and his conception of the subject involves little more than the repetition of Pascal’s wager. His conception of politics undertaken at a principled distance from history and the state, his affirmation of a “politics without party,” threatens to deprive organised politics of its material force.