Badiou's little book called The True Life (Polity Press, 2017) is worth the read.
It's a compilation of three lectures that were delivered in part, would you believe, in high schools. This little detail in the foreword is not little when understood alongside Badiou's confession that his "aim is to corrupt youth" (2). Where else should corrupting take place but in schools?
Corrupting the youth is the charge that ends with Socrates' execution by drinking poison, which is an end that Badiou will not suffer for pleading guilty to the same charge.
Concerning Socrates' charge, Badiou poses the question: "But what did 'corrupt' mean?" If the usual triad of money, sex, or power are not that for which the youth are corrupted, then what is so scandalous that could end in Socarates' death, and also harbour the kind of potential that entices Badiou to take up the baton?
Something more than money, sex, and power. The philosopher's task is "to show the young that there is something better than all those things: the true life" (7). Here corrupting youth is boiled down to one thing: "To try to ensure that young people don't go down paths already mapped out... that they can create something new, propose a different direction as regards the true life" (8).
But there are two enemies that war within the youth that inhibit this venture. First, this moment, and second, the future. Youth are lost in this moment such that the future is lost. Youth are also lost in a moment so far from now that now is lost. Badiou sums up the temptations that the youth fall for as "either the passion for burning up life or the passion for building it" (11). What do you desire? To burn up a life for passion or build a life for success (17).
Here is the new youth. A life free-er than any other in the history of humankind. Once upon a time the movement from youth to adulthood was scarred with initiation rites. Now there are no such marks. Military service and marriage are no things in particular. When, then, does one become an adult?
Badiou describes how the "cult of youth" has taken over youth and so deferred adulthood, while the same cult takes over the old as they begin to wish they were not. This cult values the young body rather than aged wisdom. To be young is to be blessed and not constrained as it was in the past, as youth waited impatiently back then to be entered into society.
But where their is no initiation, Badiou claims, adulthood becomes a continuation of childhood. The lack of initiation "subjects the young to a sort of endless adolescence," which leads to drifting or disorientation (22). No wonder society simultaneously glorifies and fears youth (25).
Badiou describes the end of tradition's role in shaping what it means to be a youth. This is the real dilemma: learning to deal with it. What is scary, Badiou says, is that "we don't really know what the positive side of this destruction or negation is. We know that it leads unquestionably to a kind of freedom" (28). Yet free from taboos, "It sets no direction for a new idea of the true life" (29).
The philosopher who is keen on corrupting the youth is aware of the danger that is already here. The youth finds him or herself in a "subjective crisis," which Badiou describes as not knowing how to find one's place in this "new world" (30). The abandonment of tradition and the homeless youth is the "veritable tornado taking over humanity" (30).
"That's what the real crisis is," Badiou says.
Who would disagree?