Thursday, September 27, 2018

There is no Slovenia

Slavoj Zizek is a well-known left-wing intellectual and philosopher from the small Balkan nation of Slovenia. Zizek shocked the left during the recent European migrant crisis by taking positions which at least strongly implied an anti-immigration position. Some activists even protested Zizek when he spoke at a left forum in New York City two years ago. This is Zizek's book-length exposition on the crisis, “Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours”. Much of it is standard leftist fare, including calls for “class struggle” and “Communism”, and the author never explicitly opposes immigration. Indeed, in the last chapter, he actually says the opposite: that a large amount of refugees from Syria and other conflict areas *should* be allowed to settle in Europe (but only under military supervision, whatever that means – what happened to the “class struggle”?).

However, a large part of the book consists of anti-immigration dog whistles. Thus, Zizek argues that the refugees are serving the interests of globalism, that they are frequently criminal and violent, that they aren't the vanguard of the anti-capitalist struggle since they aren't poor and destitute enough, etc. Instead, they want to live at the expense of the welfare state without working. He also argues that the poor in general are disgusting, that poverty is like a virulent disease, and that it's better to avoid the company of such people. At one point, he ironically condemns the anti-immigration Hungarians for being too Asiatic (the ancient Magyars may have been a Turkic tribe), thereby implying that defense of Europe against Asia may indeed be a good thing.

Zizek frequently contradicts himself. Thus, on the one hand, he argues that the refugees refuse to integrate in Western society, that they are patriarchal, homophobic, etc. On the other hand, he argues that the West is evil, that no universal values exist anyway, and that the refugees are in fact too pro-Western, and should be repudiated for that reason! He tries to connect the dots by appeals to postmodernist philosophy, according to which no universality exists, and for that very reason, love of Neighbor is just sentimental moralism and impossible. This becomes the foundation for excluding refugees (or perhaps including them, but only under military supervision and strong assimilationist pressure).

Zizek accepts the right-wing populist stance he pretends to attack by arguing that refugees are particularly prone to violence, rape, trafficking and nihilistic terror. He tries to hide behind quoting others, including reports in the mainstream media about refugees defecating on the streets, and so on. His view of refugee violence is frequently just as contradictory as his other pronouncements. In his text on Robespierre (reviewed by me elsewhere), he supports terror and “divine violence”. Here, he condemns it, while also being morbidly fascinating by refugee violence, especially against women, seeing it as some kind of “carnival of the oppressed”…

Perhaps Zizek has to “speak esoterically” to avoid being persecuted for hate speech by the German or UK authorities? However, if he really believes that immigrants should be either expelled or forcibly assimilated, he should say so – and publish his books in Trump's America, where such things are protected by the famed First Amendment. Perhaps he simply likes playing the part of gadfly and provocateur? Of course, another possibility is that Zizek is genuinely confused. I get the impression that he longs for the good old days of the Cold War, or at least the 1990's, when politics were easier and the left-right divide more obvious. The sudden influx of millions of migrants, none of whom give a damn about Communism or class struggle, have disoriented him.

This doesn't mean that “Against the Double Blackmail” is uninteresting. Zizek's most intriguing point is that the left has turned towards “identity politics” and “post-colonial” relativism at exactly the same point as capitalism have become “colored” and compatible with non-Western forms of civilization (for instance in China). Thus, the seemingly super-anti-capitalist stance of the left is really an adaptation to the needs of globalized capital! The emerging left-neoliberal alliance hasn't escaped my attention either.

Overall, however, this book sounds like the confused meanderings of a profligate intellectual sitting and drinking at some café in Paris, while the rest of the city is burning. (Or does he *really* live in Slovenia?) Zizek should do us all a favor and come out as he really is. Only
then can a real (exoteric) conversation begin.

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