During his debate with David Horowitz on Julian Assange’s new TV show on the RT network, Slavoj Žižek made some remarks which were absolutely reprehensible and indefensible, even for the quite loose standards which one routinely extends to a political humorist. Basically, he came out as an unabashed champion of unipolar US imperialism. Here’s the quote:
Don’t you think that nonetheless… I think… and this is a tragedy… it’s not even a good thing… don’t you think that nonetheless… for me the great failure of Bush presidency was that with his… I wouldn’t even use the word aggressive… fuck… sometimes you need it… not intelligent politics… that he… the result of his decay was that the United States effectively came close to losing the position of universal world power. Under Bush, the United States lost effectively control of Latin America and so on and so on… and I think… and this is not… I don’t say this with some leftist glee ‘oh oh finally we got the United States’… and I think we are entering, I even tend to agree with you, a very dangerous multi-centered world.
As a former student of Slavoj’s, I simply cannot let these remarks stand without comment. As anyone who’s ever tried knows all too well, talking to Slavoj is pointless. As a devout student of Karl Rove, Slavoj is not a conversation partner of even the most inelegant sort, but merely a jukebox of his own pre-generated talking points. Consequently, given that there really is no use trying to talk to Slavoj, I am instead addressing my remarks primarily to others who like myself have had the misfortune of having “studied” with Prof. Slavoj (and perhaps, still retain some small fascination with him, or, at the very least, have not yet realized the extent to which Slavoj really does not have the movement’s best interests at heart). Secondarily, my remarks are directed to any and all persons who have materially supported Slavoj’s career in any way, shape, or form throughout the years (and who, hopefully, will deeply question whether they can justify doing so in the future). Here is my response:
Yes, this idea of imperialism having a distinct and definable center is obviously very seductive in terms of the opportunities it would seem to afford for critical clarity. Indeed, how nice it would be–in a very artificial sense of the niceties of an almost purely conceptual pleasure devoid of any tangible political practice–if we could simply say THIS is THE center and I know that if I stand outside of that center then I am AGAINST what is bad, wrong, evil in the world. There’s really only two problems with this fantasy: 1, to the not entirely insignificant but nevertheless always incomplete extent to which it existed at its zenith, unipolar US imperialism was a phenomenon that produced some of the most absolutely atrocious consequences ever seen in history for the vast majority of people in the world–e.g., global urbanization and deagrarianization leading to the incorporation of nearly every population center into the Western framework of economic “development,” i.e., labor and resource extraction, i.e., transnational feudalism, i.e., slavery by another name. 2, Whether we like it or not, whether we find it convenient or inconvenient for our preexisting theories, the world IS multipolar today–if you want an example look at Syria. Eventually, the US decided that it was on the side of regime change in Syria but Russia and Iran’s push back is what’s keeping the Assad regime together despite US will.
Every indicator we have suggests that for the foreseeable future, the influence of India, China, and Brazil will continue to grow as economic power centers. As these emerging economies eventually overtake the preeminence of those in the Western bloc, they will need to make deeper investments in security and military forces and technologies in order to retain their economic holdings in the face of Western (i.e., largely US) militarism. This fact in turn likely guarantees the continued prominence of Russia’s security-military-industrial complex as the most plausible alternative large scale arms dealer on the scene (it’s possible that in the short term the US will sell bombs to the very countries that hope to use them as a hedge against its power, but it is unlikely that in the long term even the US defense industry is that dumb). As bad and dangerous as all of this indeed is, in addition to it simply being the reality of the world with which we are actually faced in the near future, it has another distinct advantage as an analytic paradigm: it is becoming more and more clear to PEOPLE throughout the world that the problems that they face in their daily lives do NOT stem from some exotic foreign bogeyman or ideology OUT THERE but rather, that THE single greatest obstacle to freedom of life everywhere is the continued presence of ruling elites ANYWHERE. Everyday it becomes increasingly clear even to PEOPLE here in the US that we face a much more clear and present danger in terms of our own EXISTENCE from the corporate-governmental rulers who write the laws and tax codes and break our health care and break our universities and profit off of throwing our black and brown youth into prison (and and and and!) than we do from the PEOPLE of the Middle East (who, the ruling elite wants us to think, are more interested in killing us for our increasingly impoverished way of life than they are in getting a decent life for their OWN families!) or the PEOPLE of Central and South America (who, according to the ruling elites, still want to take our jobs even though the most recent indicators suggest that there are at present more immigrants from those regions LEAVING this country than there are coming in!).
Not even Clinton can come back and save the ghost of American exceptionalism this time and we would all still be slaves even if he could! What the hell kind of prize is it that Slavoj is so nostalgic for?! Fuck the rulers! The ONLY tenable politics going forward is one that unites the people’s movements across the globe in a fight against ruling elites EVERYWHERE. All of this is increasingly clear to the PEOPLE but it is not yet so very clear to the people’s supposed advocate PROF. SLAVOJ. At the end of the day, as he has made clear throughout his scholarly career, Slavoj distrusts the people’s ability to understand their own oppression and insofar as he continues with this paternalistic distrust–only he, the father, the master, the teacher truly knows what’s best for you; perhaps if you’d read all of Lacan and Hegel you could understand too, but you’re far too ingrained in ideology to understand Lacan and Hegel anyways because you didn’t grow up under communism like he did–he will REMAIN on the side of the RULERS. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, Slavoj’s profound paternalism and fetishization of the SYMBOLS of AUTHORITARIAN RULE can only come at the EXPENSE of the PEOPLE’S own REAL liberating WORK. The PEOPLE can and must have POWER in and AS their own LIVES rather than WAITING for the appearance of a supposedly benevolent RULER to emerge from a fundamentally VIOLENT and AUTHORITARIAN system of EXPLOITATION and social/psychological control of the sort that SLAVOJ remains deeply nostalgic for!
Of course he longs for the Clinton era! The END OF HISTORY was great business for SLAVOJ—better than it even was for his idol FUKUYAMA! For Slavoj, the end of history meant a unique opportunity. Namely, by making his resistance to capitalism completely and totally SYMBOLIC in the sense of being completely and inherently divorced from any REAL DIRECT ACTION whatsoever, Slavoj sought to guarantee that his very place of AGGRESSIVELY PASSIVE CRITICISM could continue indefinitely—i.e., for as LONG as that very SYSTEM remains! In other words, far from being opposed to CAPITALISM, SLAVOJ is in fact a CAPITALIST PARASITE who is FAR MORE interested in preserving his PAYCHECK that comes from SUBVERTING the PEOPLE’S LIBERATION (through the ALIBI of PASSIVE CRITIQUE) than he is of actually DOING anything at all REAL to oppose THIS GOD FORSAKEN SYSTEM!!! Until SLAVOJ actually RISKS something (e.g., bodily injury at the hands of the corporate kleptocracy’s collections agency [the police] or even something as SIMPLE and OBVIOUS as acknowledging that the BLATANTLY horizontal structure of the PEOPLE’S MOVEMENT arising all throughout the world at present shows that he was ABSOLUTELY COMPLETELY 100% WRONG about the closest thing to a FALSIFIABLE position that he’s ever put forward [namely, that ONLY a vertical TOP-DOWN party system could offer TRUE opposition to neoliberal capitalism]) he will CONTINUE to be MORE of an OBSTACLE to the PEOPLE’S LIBERATION than he is an agent of it.
If I can see past Slavoj’s BULLSHIT now, it’s largely because I’ve gotten out into the STREETS, put my BODY on the line, put my opposition to neoliberal capitalism IN PRACTICE through DIRECT ACTION, and learned directly from the WORDS and DEEDS of the people with whom I FIGHT side by side, many of whom are on the verge of NON-EXISTENCE because of the very REGIME for which Slavoj maintains NOSTALGIA! For those of us who have to LIVE EVERYDAY under Clinton’s legacy—and can’t get jobs or health care or transportation or education or even welfare as a result!—it is HARD to be quite so NOSTALGIC! Rather than ever buying any of Slavoj’s books ever again, I encourage you to spend that money BUYING your LOCAL WINO the poison of his/her choice and DRINK IT WITH HIM/HER and SHUT THE FUCK UP and LISTEN. TRY IT. I predict you will learn FAR MORE about POWER and how to ACTUALLY OPPOSE IT IN PRACTICE than you would from ANYTHING Slavoj might tell you. DOWN WITH THE ACADEMIC 1%!!!
At this point, I am calling for a BOYCOTT of Slavoj (and let’s be clear, there is a difference between a boycott and a blockade). I am not an authoritarian. I am not telling you not to read his books or interviews (obviously, I do in order to keep track of this ignorant motherfucker). I am not telling you not to TALK with him if you get the opportunity (personally, the only two-way conversation that I ever had with him was about the weather; all of the other times I was in his presence he simply SPOKE at me, repeating more or less verbatim some of the routine talking points that he spreads throughout his “books”). What I am saying is quite simple: DON’T GIVE THIS ACADEMIC BUREAUCRAT WHO IS TAKING THE PLACE OF FAR MORE IMPORTANT THINKERS A SINGLE DIME OF YOUR HARD-EARNED MONEY. Yes, including tuition money. Show up to his class if you want to hear a series of lines that you’ve probably already read before (for far cheaper and far more conveniently I might add) but DON’T PAY FOR IT. Believe me, it’s not worth it. Any money that you give this guy is not only money that you DON’T HAVE for food, rent, etc. By giving money to Slavoj, you are directly financing your own academic subordination and the reduction of the academy to a form of utterly inconsequential COMMENTARY. We need intellectuals who RISK their bodies, their careers, and their comfort for the sake of developing the CONCRETE and ACTIONABLE tools of LIBERATION that can only be found by fighting ALONGSIDE (and thereby LEARNING from) actual OPPRESSED PEOPLE. Anything less than that is merely an opiate at best. Really, the case of Slavoj’s authoritarian “intellectual” paternalism is a form of COLLABORATION with the capitalist class! All power to the people!