The Ethics of Resistance:

Tyranny of the Absolute

About The Ethics of Resistance:

Opening a new debate on ethical reasoning after Kant, Drew Dalton addresses the problem of the absolute in ethical and political thought. Attacking the foundation of European philosophical morality, he critiques the idea that in order for ethical judgement to have any real power, it must attempt to discover and affirm some conception of the absolute good. Without rejecting the essential role the absolute plays within ethical reasoning, Dalton interrogates the assumed value of the absolute.

Dalton brings some of the most influential contemporary philosophical traditions into dialogue with each other: speculative realists like Badiou and Meillassoux; phenomenologists, including Husserl, Heidegger, and Levinas; German Idealists, especially Kant and Schelling; psychoanalysts Freud and Lacan; and finally, post-structuralists, specifically Foucault, Deleuze, and Ranciere. The relevance of these thinkers to concrete socio-political problems is shown through reflections on the Holocaust, suicide bombings, the rise of neo-liberalism and neo-nationalism, as well as rampant consumerism and racism.

This book re-defines ethical reasoning as that which refuses absolutes and resists what Milton's devil in Paradise Lost called the “tyranny of heaven.” Against traditional ethical reasoning, Dalton sees evil not as a moral failure, but as the result of an all too easy assent to the absolute; an assent which can only be countered through active resistance. For Dalton, resistance to the absolute is the sole channel through which the good can be defined.


“Through a sharp reading of the ethics foregrounding most contemporary western thought and philosophy's relationship with the absolute, Dalton finds the point where ethical thought falls into nihilism or, even worse, outright fascism. Dalton goes on to outline an “ethics of resistance” that pulls away from the tyranny of the absolute.” –  Dylan Trigg, FWF Lise Meitner Senior Fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Vienna, Austria.

“Dalton does a great job of writing clearly about very difficult philosophers. This is an important book for anyone interested in the source of fanaticism.” –  Paul Cliteur, Professor of Jurisprudence, Leiden University, The Netherlands.

“A radical re-reading of evil in relation to ethics, which carries with it a powerful argument against the seduction of the absolute; the writing style is forceful and animated without being hyperbolic. This is an original contribution to the field of contemporary continental philosophy.” –  William Watkin, Professor of Contemporary Philosophy and Literature, Brunel University, UK.

“Dalton's bold proposal in this book is that our moral shortcomings--evil itself, to be sure--do not result from the lack of a moral absolute, but precisely from any uncritical allegiance to the absolute. But this is not yet another book that dismisses the absolute as old-fashioned or ineffectual. Siding neither with nihilism, skepticism, nor relativism, it champions resistance to ethical dogmatism as the only ethical means of negotiating with the all-too-real force that the absolute exerts on us as ethical subjects. It is both diagnostic and prescriptive, and it is finely argued, indeed.” - ​Tom Sparrow, Professor of Philosophy, Slippery Rock University.


Table of Contents:




        INTRODUCTION: The Failure of Ethics in the West

                                                                A History of Collaboration

                                                                Ethics Reenvisioned




                       1 - The Trouble with Post-Kantian Ethics: Alain Badiou and Quentin Meillassoux on the                                                 Vicissitudes of Ethical Absolutes

                                                                The Ironic Antinomies of Post-Kantian Ethical and Political Thought

                                                                The Limits of Liberalism

                                                                The Dogmatic Structure of Nationalism

                                                                Alain Badiou and the “Smug Nihilism” of Post-Kantian Ethics

                                                                The Ethics of Fidelity

                                                                Quentin Meillassoux on the Rise of Post-Critical Fanaticism

                                                                Factial Speculation and Radical Contingency

                                                                The Fragility of Meillassoux’s Hope

                                                                The Trouble with Speculative Ethics

                       2 - Phenomenology, Ethics, and the Other: Rediscovering the Possibility of Ethical Absolutes                                     with Husserl, Heidegger, and Levinas

                                                                Phenomenology’s Problem

                                                                Edmund Husserl’s Reduction

                                                                The Radical Foundations of the Phenomenological Revolution

                                                                Emmanuel Levinas and the Possibility of Phenomenological Ethics

                                                                Martin Heidegger and Primal Ontology

                                                                Levinas and the Ethical Primacy of the Other

                                                                Shame and the Other

                                                                Responsibility and Ethical Subjectivity

                                                                Phenomenology and the Absolute


                       3 - The Problem of the Other: Levinas and Schelling on the Reversibility of Ethical Demand

                                                                The Face of the Other as Absolute Phenomena

                                                                The Absolute and the Infinite

                                                                Levinas’s God?

                                                                The Ethical Value of Levinas’s Absolute

                                                                The Ambiguity of the Infinite

                                                                Schelling and the Absolute Reality of Good and Evil

                                                                The Reversibility of Good and Evil in the Absolute

                                                                The Other as Absolute Ground for Good AND Evil


                        INTERLUDE - Sympathy for the Devil: The Tyranny of Heaven

                                                                The Evil of Acquiescence

                                                                Kierkegaard’s Apologetics for Murder

                                                                A Report on the Banality of Evil Revisited

                                                                The Tyranny of Heaven                                                                                                    


                        4 - Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In!  Jacques Lacan and the Ethics of Psychoanalysis

                                                               The Radical Power of Lacan’s Thought

                                                                Unconsciousness Unsettled

                                                                The Alterity of the Other

                                                                Desire for the Other

                                                                The Subversion of the Subject

                                                                The Other / Thing

                                                                The Ethics of Psychoanalysis


                       5 - Carving a Space of Freedom: Michel Foucault and the Ethics of Resistance Michel Foucault                                  and the Exigency of Ethical Resistance

                                                                The Uses of Genealogy

                                                                The Modern Subject – Governmentality, Normalization, and Bio-power

                                                                The Trouble with Modern Subjectivity and the Ethics of Resistance

                                                                Ethics as Care for the Self

                                                                Technologies of Care

                                                                Care for the Self in Relation to the Absolute Other


                       CONCLUSION - The Ethics of Resistance: A Backward-Turning Relation

                                                                Ethics and the Absolute

                                                                A Backward-Turning Relation

                                                                Politics as First Philosophy

                                                                The Political Ends of Anarchy

                                                                The Ethics of Ab-archy