Open Letter to the Students of Slavoj Žižek

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!

About 11again

Used to be an academic... now I'm a washed up academic. I like cooking, blues music, black writers, and morally compromised people of all persuasions.
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14 Responses to Open Letter to the Students of Slavoj Žižek

  1. Boris Karloff says:

    hahaha. what a bunch of bullshit. I love the part about “I’ve been out on the STREETS and put my BODY on the line.” You’re an idiot, mostly for wasting so much time and energy bothering to refute Slavoj Zizek, as if it mattered. Why don’t you crawl out of your own ass?

  2. 11again says:

    Thank you for your perspective Boris. I agree to a certain extent that one must indeed by wary of political infighting, especially insofar as it makes one lose sight of the violence perpetrated by the “architects” of the present society–if one can indeed call them architects as they seem more intent upon destroying than they do building. That being said, historically speaking, some of the most significant contributions to political thought grew directly from antagonistic conversations concerning such things as, e.g., strategies and tactics, held between participants who appeared to be “on the same side” from an outsider’s perspective. For instance, in writing “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau makes immediately clear that while the abolition of slavery is his chief concern, he is completely uninterested in debating the question of slavery’s validity with those who do not already KNOW that it is wrong. Rather, his sole purpose was to think through the question of what specific strategy and tactics–to be practiced solely by “the choir” if you will–would constitute a truly radical form of DIRECT RESISTANCE to the institution of slavery. From this perspective, the political salesmanship of one’s perspective is to be sorted out only AFTER oneself and one’s allies become unshakably clear about what an example of total practical non-participation in the evil institution in question would actually look like. It is this very radicalism in ideals, and clarity in discernment concerning the appropriateness of specific tactics with respect to the enacting of said ideals, which I find so lacking in Slavoj and which–insofar as Slavoj is influential amongst a group of people whose hearts are, on the whole, already in the right place (that is to say, those who know that neoliberal capitalism must be overturned but who are unclear on just how to do that–I see to be a direct impediment to our movement’s achieving the most meaningful and complete non-participation in neoliberal capitalism possible.

  3. Meulnes says:

    Hmm, so, if Thoreau didn’t contend with those blowhards who wasted their breath on arguing with people not already opposed to slavery, then he would not have written “Civil Disobedience,” a text that has helped good movements. That is, Thoreau didn’t sit around arguing much with those evangelists of abolition, but he did compete with them when it came to guiding activists on how to act. Without the competition, Thoreau maybe would not have written it. In which case, the abolition-evangelists’ position was crucial to Thoreau’s: he framed his position in opposition to theirs.

    In this sense, Zizek’s commentaries are crucial to your position, no?

    Did Thoreau castigate any prominent abolition-evangelist as an enemy of the real movement, distracting people from the real work at hand? Or did he position his readers to pick his way as the most necessary?

  4. 11again says:

    I would not say that Slavoj’s commentaries are crucial to my position re: how to oppose neoliberal capitalism. I’ve been putting my opposition to said institutions in practice without needing to dialogue with him, just as many who put themselves on the line and actually fuck shit up through direct action have no idea who Slavoj is and need not have any idea who Slavoj is cause they’re actually doing shit! That being said, Slavoj’s commentaries are evidently somewhat crucial to my attempt to call out the academic 1% on their inconsequential, phony, opiate-like “politics.” By taking a number of common deficiencies in temperament common to the academic 1% (and, more tragically, those who falsely identify with them) to their extreme, in a way, Slavoj does indeed provide a case of extreme pathology which is useful for identifying those deficiencies in less extreme cases. I’ll give him that.

    As regards Thoreau and how he situated himself with respect to the abolitionist-evangelists, see what you think:

  5. anonymous says:


    I think it’s extremely ironic that you consider yourself to be an intellectual.

  6. 11again says:

    So Slavoj has the right to his opinion because he has access to a media platform but I don’t have that same right because I don’t. Yeah, that’s democratic all right! It seems that you want to accept the neoliberal framework which posits that all values are equal to their monetary value. In those terms, Slavoj does indeed have me beat and I will readily concede that point.

    Moreover, the idea that discussion should be devoid of emotional content is a very pernicious one, which ultimately favors those who benefit from the status quo. People who actually find their lives affected by the things they talk about have a hard time NOT being emotional. That’s not to say that emotionality is by itself any kind of standard for truthful inquiry. Rather, it is to say that holding a discussant’s emotions against himher in an a priori fashion is but an excuse to avoid confronting the very content of which she speaks (which might very well be [but admittedly is not necessarily] important, given that it’s the cause for a real human being’s state of distress)!

  7. brosephicles says:

    It’s hard to distinguish your actual criticisms from your ideological evangelizing. Then it’s hard to distinguish genuine criticisms from that which merely resembles a temper tantrum.
    In the end, nothing was said about Slavoj Zizek other than “I don’t like him” and “you shouldn’t like him, either”.

  8. 11again says:

    I’m saying Slavoj stlll wishes it was the 90s (because that’s the media and political culture with which he’s most comfortable) but the world has moved on as evidenced by the Arab Spring, Occupy, Spain, Quebec, etc. He’d rather mourn the old than try to figure out a way of aiding the new. I apologize if that wasn’t clear enough. I tried my best. Obviously, this is an emotional issue for me. I don’t think that should be grounds for what I have to say not being taken seriously however (see my response to the last comment above).

    • brosephicles says:

      Activism here, activism there, now we’re living in the future, blah, blah, blah. The Banlieue riots were the future, the anti-globalization movement was the future, But now Negri isn’t cool and Occupy and Quebec student strike are now the future. Meanwhile, the memory of authentic radicalism quickly fades from public memory. If Zizek is to be accused of nostalgia, he’s hardly to be blamed. But I digress.

      Your criticism of Zizek seems to be that he is not an authentic challenger of the powers that be. Fair enough, maybe he is not. How am I to know? You’re the one levying the accusation, the burden of proof is on you. However, throughout your work I merely find a repeated rhetoric of “peoples liberation” and “direct action” repeated over and over and over ad nauseum. No real analysis, no substantial criticism, just a slew of insults.

      So forgive me if I’m not particularly impressed.

      • 11again says:

        So in the piece above I fail to provide a definitive account of the world-historical significance of the global social movement that I believe that Zizek is missing out on. That’s almost certainly true. It would indeed be a nice thing to have such an account. I’ll try my best to work on it in the future!

        The funny thing about the future is that it’s built out of the past (no, this is not a particularly original observation; but in this case I don’t believe the lack of originality makes the proposition any less true or useful). Nevertheless, we can notice certain overall patterns which give particular eras a certain flavor. These breaks between periods are never absolute, just as the events which may be grouped under a given period have their own distinct (and possibly contradictory) qualities. I think all of the events which you mention paved the way for the events of 2011-2012 in important ways. Moreover, I certainly don’t feel that we have now ARRIVED at the future in any definitive sense. The future is a direction. These events point toward that direction. I think the events of the future will be much, much more interesting and more radical than anything that’s happened so far. Ultimately, however, I think that there is much much more to social movements than events. Often, it is the everyday work that goes on behind the scenes that is much more important to human sociality than the overt historical happenings that are far easier to track. It’s talking to your neighbors, people on the street. It’s planting gardens. It’s work (which, for most Americans today, means the service industry; but we can’t and shouldn’t be so American-centric as to wrongly think that the world economy has reached a state of mechanization so advanced that the servicization of labor is something that can happen for the entirety of the world’s populations). It’s driving around in cars and taking the bus and walking down the street. It’s going to the bar and getting drunk. It’s family life and the blogosophere and the conversations that kids have in school and adults have by the water-cooler. It’s every interaction that we have over the course of a day. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the future. Sure, this future will of necessity manifest itself in events, but these are but the tip of the iceberg for who we actually are and the processes through which we are becoming ourselves.

        If I were to attempt to name the distinct quality–or perhaps, again, flavor is a better word–of the future toward which we are heading (and, yes, I acknowledge my own genealogical role in this future–i.e., by describing this future, I certainly hope to be bringing the flavor of my description more fully into actuality, hastening its arrival, etc.; why else would I bother?) I would call it: autonomy. To me this flavor is the direction being pointed to by the events which you mention and the events of 2011-2012 in particular. From this analysis, we can expect more events of a similar flavor to follow over the years to come. That being said, as I argue above, no social movement can or should be reducible to its events. And this is perhaps even more true of movements flavored by autonomy! I acknowledge that I owe a more systematic account of the nature of this flavor that I am calling autonomy. That will have to wait as for now I’m a bit exhausted–in a really good way. Thank you so much for your challenging comments!

  9. Joe says:

    Haha, you just got hit by the classic case of overidentification – by identitifying with the ruling ideology, one can reveal its underside, its fantasy.

    “What if, on the contrary, the dominant attitude of the contemporary “postideological” universe is precisely the cynical distance toward public values? What if this distance, far from posing any threat to the system, designates the supreme form of conformism, since the normal function of the system requires cynical distance? In this sense the strategy of Laibach appears in a new light: it “frustrates” the system (the ruling ideology) precisely insofar as it is not its ironic imitation, but over-identification with it – by bringing to light the obscene superego underside of the system, over-identification suspends its efficiency. (In order to clarify the way this baring, this public staging of the obscene fantasmatic kernel of an ideological edifice, suspends its normal functioning…”

    Zizek is, of course, an enemy of imperialism:

    “With the “war on terror”, the invisible threat causes the incessant actualization, not of the threat itself, but, of the measures against the threat. The nuclear strike had to remain the threat of a strike, while the threat of the terrorist strike triggers the endless series of preemptive strikes against potential terrorists. We are thus passing from the logic of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) to a logic in which ONE SOLE MADMAN runs the entire show and is allowed to enact its paranoia. The power that presents itself as always being under threat, living in mortal danger, and thus merely defending itself …The paradoxical result of this spectralization of the enemy is an unexpected reflexive reversal. In this world without a clearly identified enemy, it is the United States, the protector against the threat, that is emerging as the main enemy-much like in Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient-Express, where, since the entire group of suspects is the murderer, the victim himself.

    • 11again says:

      It seems to me that there is no possible way of reconciling the second quotation that you post in which Zizek comes out against unipolar US power with the one that I took such strong issue with above in which he is nostalgic for that very power. The two positions are simply contradictory. So then the question becomes: what changed? Peculiarly, it would seem that Slavoj is disappointed now that the US no longer has the power which he previously (correctly) criticized it for wielding so callously. I suspect the reason for this change of tune is, as I say, nostalgia. Slavoj misses the great bogeyman because it made his job easy–too easy in fact–and he’d rather mourn that loss than he would get started with the serious work of fostering a people’s movement from the ground up. Evidently, such a cause is not spectacular enough. Slavoj cannot imagine himself as anything other than a spectacular critic and as the spectacle deflates, he loses his coordinates. Criticizing the spectacle only takes you so far. The opposite of the spectacle is participation, and in his blatant authoritarianism, it seems that’s not a flow Slavoj can keep up with. I still hold out hope for him. But I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

  10. Jimothy says:

    Terrible article. Word of advice: don’t take yourself so seriously. Intellectually, you’re mediocre.

    • 11again says:

      So the article was terrible, but I, on the other hand am mediocre. Evidently, you must feel that I have potential that I failed to realize on this occasion! Thank you for the compliment and the advice.

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