Limits of Liberalism I: What is happening to Slavoj Žižek?

Posted on August 1, 2021 at 1:12 PM by Seer Sebastian

9:00 PM: This is not an anti-Žižek article. I merely call on Žižek to remain resolute, i.e., to stay true to his original message.


Slavoj Žižek wearing a facemask. One reads Slavoj Žižek ostensibly because he is a radical, a rogue. One is not supposed to be able to accept his ideas and those of established power at the same time. In other words he is not Jacques Derrida, whose deconstruction of logocentrism for all its scope does not sufficiently contradict the prevailing liberal ideology. That is why we have Žižek, whose τέλος is his rouerie.

Hence the vague feeling of disappointment one contracts from reading Žižek’s writing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, writing that almost betrays a man who is becoming more supportive of the status quo out of fear:

  • First in March 2020 there was his strange, hysterical confession in Critical Inquiry: “These days I sometimes catch myself wishing to get the virus—in this way, at least the debilitating uncertainty would be over.”1

  • Then in May 2020 he published his first Pandemic! book in which he argued that, though we should investigate the epidemic’s social conditions, we must nevertheless accept that the virus itself “hides no deeper meaning”2—a nihilistic conclusion that now seems dismissive of reasonable questions regarding the virus’s origin in Wuhan, e.g., whether it is zoonotic.

  • In a December 2020 RT article he made the bizarre argument, guaranteed to persuade nobody, that contra Agamben we should wear protective masks because “Freud knew well….[t]he face at its most basic is a lie, the ultimate mask, and the analyst only accedes to the abyss of the Other by not seeing its face”3—for this reason (which is no reason) we are supposed to “accept the challenge of post-humanity.”

  • Then earlier this month he argued in Jacobin, in a move seemingly designed to alienate the conservative sensibility, that we should learn to accept “what we perceive as trash or pollution” in our environment and that we need a “strong international body” to enforce regulations of some sort, but which nonetheless is not communist because “market competition should play a role.”4

  • And finally, like icing on the cake of mediocrity, during an interview with Chris Hedges5 two weeks ago, Žižek offered viewers a glowing endorsement of Joe Biden’s presidency, followed by a show of sympathy for #MeToo and a reminder that all along he was just kidding about being a communist and that he’s really just a modest social democrat like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

See for yourself…

…even I proposed this formula of which I am not proud: “Biden is just Trump with a human face.”6 Now I am more skeptical.7 Look what he is doing: trillions for ecology, for greening of Earth; then he made the proposal which was too radical even for Western Europe, to wave the patent, the copyright for vaccines; then…to try to regulate taxes internationally on big corporations. This measure to equalize, standardize, internationally, the tax rate—this is something that radical leftists like Thomas Piketty proposed, and now Biden is playing with it.

Given the bizarre nature of this interview, you’d be excused for thinking that Žižek had not spent the last two decades arguing that the position represented by Thomas Piketty is not radical enough. So what happened? Why is Žižek suddenly acquiescing to proposals he has ostensibly spent decades arguing are insufficient, do not get at the root of the problem? I do not know. But I am not the first to make this observation. In March of this year for example, Evren İnançoğlu wrote the following for Žižekian Analysis:

Lately, more and more Žižek followers have started to express the deficiencies that they see in his work. His texts and talks are being criticized in Žižekian social media groups, in which once his work was shared with great excitement and joy. In a sense, we are experiencing a strange Freudian time, in which Žižek is like a big Daddy who must be killed by his children.8

Indeed.


Now don’t misunderstand me—I am fond of Žižek. And he is still among the best professional thinkers we have today. But at this time he requires a dose of what Heidegger calls Entschlossenheit or resoluteness.

As I noted last month, resoluteness constitutes my loyalty (in German, Treue) to my own self. And as I wrote in March, loyalty is love manifest. Resoluteness is therefore self-love or healthy narcissism. Žižek has lost his healthy narcissism and thus has betrayed himself and his readers.

But all this should not be so surprising given that liberalism is fundamentally opposed to love and therefore to loyalty, resoluteness, and solidarity. There is after all no such thing as “liberal solidarity” because liberalism is based on a particular metaphysics of the self, a metaphysics of the individual that begins in the 14th century with Franciscan friar William of Ockham, who developed the doctrine that only individuals exist and that universals are mere abstractions. This is the historico-metaphysical ground of what I call philophobia or (insofar as love is taken as absolute value) absolute nihilism.

Now if Žižek were a true Hegelian he would know this, because Hegel’s philosophy contains a powerful critique of the metaphysics of liberalism, notably in §258 of the Philosophy of Right. Here Hegel attributes Ockham’s error to Rousseau and Fichte, and properly identifies the politicization of this erroneous metaphysics as the precipitating factor of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. Hegel writes:

Rousseau put forward the will as the principle of the state…[but he] considered the will only in the determinate form of the individual will (as Fichte subsequently also did) and regarded the universal will not as the will’s rationality in and for itself, but only as the common element arising out of this individual will as a conscious will. The union of individuals within the state thus becomes a contract, which is accordingly based on their arbitrary will and opinions, and on their express consent given at their own discretion; and the further consequences which follow from this…destroy the divine element which has being in and for itself and its absolute authority and majesty.9

Hegel’s lesson for us here is that if the state is limited to the security of the individual will (e.g. property rights), as opposed to the objective will (i.e. the state’s own will, the universal will in and for itself) then it is absolutely in error, for the state’s primary interest ought to be the preservation of the spirit of Earth, Gaia, Weltgeist, etc., the soul of the world that alone is the true subject of history and the beneficiary, as it were, of environmental law and human rights.

Of course, if the good of the Weltgeist is increased, then so is the good of its individual instantiations (i.e. you and me), albeit only secondarily to Earth and its organic processes, which take place so far beyond what is generally accessible to individual cognition that the elevation of the latter to absolute principle, to ἀρχή, can only be considered the absolute metaphysical scandal.

In sum, we can see that Žižek is plainly fleeing, in his metaphysico-existential cowardliness (or however Heidegger would put it) from the radical conclusions of the Hegelian critique of empirico-liberal metaphysics. Liberal capitalism is a veritable Reign of Terror on a global scale, desiccating organic community and natural life (which are manifestations of the world’s love for itself, the narcissism of the Weltgeist) wherever they exist, wherever they shine.

So what does one do instead of reading Žižek? One can listen to Bill Evans’s excellent 1974 album Symbiosis. Or one can read this blog, which is as strange as it is true, and which offers reflections that are more resolutely Hegelian than those of the nascent giant of Ljubljana.

References

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Fredrich. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Edited by Allen W. Wood, Translated by H. B Nisbet, Revised ed. edition, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

İnançoğlu, Evren. “Traversing žižek?” Žižekian Analysis, Mar. 2021, https://zizekanalysis.wordpress.com/2021/03/05/traversing-zizek-evren-inancoglu/.

RT America. On Contact: Pandemic 2. July 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RV2iQMa13M&t=1078s.

Žižek, Slavoj. “Is Barbarism with a Human Face Our Fate?” Critical Inquiry, vol. 47, no. S2, Jan. 2021, pp. S4–S8, https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/711424.

---. Pandemic!: COVID-19 Shakes the World. 1st edition, Polity, 2020.

---. “There Will Be No Return to Normality After Covid. We Are Entering a Post-Human Era & Will Have to Invent a New Way of Life.” RT International, Dec. 2020, https://www.rt.com/op-ed/508940-normality-covid-pandemic-return/.


  1. Žižek (“Is Barbarism with a Human Face Our Fate?”)↩︎

  2. Žižek (Pandemic!) 14↩︎

  3. Žižek (“There Will Be No Return to Normality After Covid”)↩︎

  4. Žižek (Last Exit to Socialism)↩︎

  5. RT America↩︎

  6. This “formula”, which is still true, Žižek promoted in Jacobin as recently as December 2020.↩︎

  7. Doesn’t he mean less skeptical?↩︎

  8. İnançoğlu↩︎

  9. Hegel 277↩︎