Chapter 8
Women and Families

Alain Badiou

Translated by Susan Spitzer


At a certain point in the dialogue, when discussing the “guardians,” Socrates had advocated a strictly egalitarian life, along with the abolition of private property. One of the young people had then asked: “But what should be done about women and children?” And Socrates replied: “Friends share everything in common.” Then he went on to another subject.

Much later, Socrates’ listeners still remember that somewhat mysterious answer. And just as he’s about to discuss the bad systems of government, they force Socrates to explain what he meant. This is essentially what’s at stake in Chapter 8.

It was getting darker and darker. Here and there, the oil lamps were describing little circles within which the light was bravely flickering. Socrates was about to go over the four deficient systems of government in the logical and historical order that governs their interrelationship when Polemarchus touched Amantha’s bare shoulder. The stern young woman bridled at first, then understood that he only wanted to get her attention. She leaned in closer to him, and he whispered in her ear:

—Are we going to let him get around the obstacle as though he hadn’t even seen it?
—No, we definitely have to keep him from doing so, Amantha replied.
—Keep who from doing what? said Socrates, turning around.
—You—said Amantha—from treating us like fools.
—Oh, damn! What’ve I done?
—You treat us with an inexcusable lack of seriousness, if you don’t mind my saying so, replied a very irate Amantha. You skip over a question of the utmost importance just so you don’t have to get your feet wet. Do you think you can get off the hook by casually dropping into the conversation that, where women and children are concerned, it’s clear that—let me quote that phrase of yours—“friends share everything in common”?

—But, my dear Amantha, isn’t that true?
—Unless it’s some kind of obscenity, I, as a young woman, have no idea what that sentence even means: what exactly is supposed to be “shared in common”? We’ve been badgering you for ages now to expound your views on sexual difference, procreation, and the upbringing of young children. But every single time you’ve been indirect and evasive.
—She’s right, Polemarchus chimed in. Once, you practically laughed in our faces, and I quote: “I’m like old Tolstoy. When he was asked what he thought about all this, he replied that he wouldn’t say the last word on women until the lid on his coffin was closed!”
—You’re not going to move on to the study of the four non-communist systems of government without first explaining inside out and upside down everything related to sex, Amantha continued with increasing vehemence.
—I have to say, added Glaucon, that I won’t let you sneakily bypass this crucial issue either.
And suddenly even Thrasymachus revived, probably because he’d heard the word “sex,” and spoken by a woman at that:
—You’re really in big trouble now, Socrates, he crowed. Whenever we finally get around to concrete questions, Socrates, as I’ve always said, ducks them.

Pressed from all sides like this, our hero put on a pleading face and said:

—What are you up to, my friends? What kind of quibbling are you starting up again, at the darkest edges of collective life? I did actually think I’d cleverly avoided these questions about sex and that you’d therefore settle for my brief references to equality. But now you’re stirring up a hornet’s nest—it’ll take us the next two days to deal with all this!
—So what if it does? said Thrasymachus, who was now completely awake and completely sarcastic. Do you think we’re spending the night in this big villa just to snore away contentedly or listen to platitudes? If sex is on the agenda now, you have to explain your sexual theory to us, period.
—But with this type of subject, said Socrates in self-defense, the discussion always goes on for an inordinate length of time.
—When it comes to sex, dear friend, replied Thrasymachus, who was dead set on sticking it to him, there are no time limits. An entire lifetime wouldn’t be enough to cover the topic adequately, so fascinated is everyone by it. So never mind about us. Just answer our questions for once, expound your doctrine on the education of women, including sex. Don’t act like the uptight philosopher, don’t shy away from the stuff about nudity and fucking. And also tell us how the awful drudgery of babies and toddlers should be handled. You’ll see what our reaction is.
—He’s right, Socrates, Glaucon agreed. Your listeners tonight are educated, open-minded people, prepared to accept the most revolutionary new ideas. Put your suspicions and fears aside.
—You think you’re reassuring me by saying that, but you’re only increasing my anxiety. If I had complete confidence in myself about the real knowledge underlying what I say, your encouraging words would be very welcome. When you’re speaking before a sympathetic, well-versed audience, either you really know a few truths about important matters that are close to your most cherished concerns and then you can speak calmly and confidently, or else you speak without having the least bit of certainty and you formulate more questions than answers, which is my way of doing things, and then you find yourself in a situation that’s not exactly ridiculous—it would be childish to feel that way—but risky and precarious, because not only might you be straying far, very far afield from the truth but you might also be dragging your friends along with you to boot, on issues where that kind of straying comes with a very high price. On account of what you’re trying to force me to say, I kneel trembling before the big Other, the distinguished judge of sexual matters. We’re well aware that, in the Other’s eyes, involuntary manslaughter is a lesser crime than misleading people about what’s noble, good, and just in collective life. But if that crime has nevertheless got to be committed, as you would have me do, it would be better to be dealing with enemies than friends. That’s why pushing me to my limits isn’t a good thing, no, it’s really not.
Glaucon greeted this speech with a loud guffaw:
—My dear Socrates, even if your speech were to exile us from the country of truth we’d acquit you of murder, and, by the same verdict, of fraud. So you can speak without fear of having to drink the fatal hemlock.
Socrates then awed his audience with a lengthy ­silence, his face a frozen, inscrutable mask. At last he ­relaxed and said with a broad smile:
—It’s true that, according to our laws, anyone acquitted of murder regains his innocence completely. So the same will hold for me if you acquit me of fraud, right?
—Of course, Glaucon agreed. You have no further reason for remaining silent.
—Unfortunately! I, the philosophical stage director of male roles, shall now have to deal with the female roles so that the play can be performed…
—And that’s a lot different, isn’t it? said Amantha ironically.
—Not as much as all that, young lady, not as much as all that! After all, our conception of the development of everyone’s leadership abilities has nothing whatsoever to do with sex. On the contrary, it assumes that we attribute to women a basic nature and ways of being that are more or less the same as men’s, even if it means we then have to examine whether this principle can really work.
—Yeah, it has to be examined closely, whined Glaucon.
—Honestly, you’re such an idiot! a furious Amantha protested. Think back to the comparison that was made between the temporary leaders of our communist country and clever, faithful guard-dogs guarding a peaceful flock of ordinary citizens—from which the “guardians” come, of which they’re merely a detachment. Your idea wouldn’t happen to be that the female dogs are only good for bearing puppies and that the protection and leadership duties have to be reserved for the males, would it?
—That’s not what I said, but…
—Well, buddy, if you think women can do the job the same as men can, don’t you have to feed them, train them, and educate them exactly the same as men?
—Socrates, Glaucon pleaded, is that really what you think?
—I have no choice… If we expect women to provide the same services, in terms of the community’s future, as men, we have to give them the same basic education. We based the education of our “guardians,” meaning all our citizens, on literature, music, and physical training, and there’s no reason to change that curriculum just because we’re dealing with women. The same will moreover hold true later on when we talk about higher education, and about mathematics and dialectic in particular. It’ll be to everyone’s benefit!
—And women’ll do military training too?
—Definitely. We hope to put an end, for good, to the monstrosity of those wholesale slaughters called “wars.” But if we’re attacked, we’ll defend ourselves.
—With women at the forefront, said Amantha approvingly.
—That’s what I’ve always said.
—But really! Glaucon persisted. What about modesty, the difference between the sexes, sexual desire? It’s common practice for men to train in the nude, shower together in the locker room and tell really dirty jokes, all that kind of stuff…Can you see beautiful, naked young women in the midst of a bunch of bozos like that? Honestly, can you see that?







© Please respect the fact that this material is copyright. Available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced or used for any other purpose. Available only through EBSCO Publishing, Inc.