Zizek the fascist

Reportedly this article is yet more evidence that Zizek is a fascist. (Indeed, my favorable view of Zizek has led certain internet personages to propose that I myself long for fascist authoritarianism.) In reality, though, it fits perfectly with my account of his strategy of over-identification.

If you think that an appeal to the necessity of strong leadership is inherently fascist, then I don’t know what to say. That view strikes me as the pinnacle of liberalism, not leftism — life as an endless committee meeting, tabling issue after issue until such a time as consensus emerges. And meanwhile we’re ruled over by a machine that is destroying everything, even the conditions for its own existence.

36 thoughts on “Zizek the fascist

  1. So much depends on what “strong leadership” means here, though, that the issue almost can’t help but be a confused one. The reference to Hugo Chavez is a telling one, and one that reminds me of an old favorite notion among the anarchists I tend to work with (I know, I know, anarchism isn’t cool because localism): self-subverting authority. When Graeber talks about this, for instance, the privileged form is of course the teacher: the very act of teaching (formally, if never completely) erases the basis upon which the authority relation is predicated. The localist/ideological reading of this, I think, leads back to death-by-committee, but only because of what the ideological reading disavows; that this abdication is only possible as a result of the strength of the initial authority *and* as a result of its continued operation. Additionally, to take the teacher-student relationship as paradigmatic, we remember that a good teacher never stops being a student herself; if she’s any good, she’s a moving target in relation to which the student always remains on some level a student. I’d argue that there’s a big formal difference here between self-subverting authority as simply identical with rightist authority (fascism) but also with ideological committee-ism.

  2. Zizek isn’t a fascist; he’s a monarchist! I can’t find the quote, but Mencius Moldbug said somewhere that his vision of governance is one where it functions as a utility: the water comes out of the tap and nobody outside the water company has to worry about it. And the talk of a historically significant Master wiping away the lie-encrusted tentacles of the old regime makes me think that he’s been reading someone who read Carlyle. (Certainly not Carlyle himself. Carlyle isn’t Hitler, but the holy Geiger counter says he’s too high in millihitlers to be read without gloves and a visor. Besides, if he’d read Carlyle, he’d be saying ‘hero’.)

  3. Just to be clear, this is the Mencius Moldbug who couldn’t write an article about why white supremacists are wrong without sucking up to them, right?

  4. Zizek is no more a fascist than Thatcher was fascist; what Thatcher embodied was ‘the sovereign in action’ who in her opposition to collectivism could in no way be termed a fascist. What she embodied was a conservative radicalism that was authoritarian yet anti-‘The Establishment’. Central to Thatcher were two issues she opposed- the collectivist power of the trade unions and the existence of communism as a political system.Yet she was also of that generation who, having lived through the war, was inherently opposed to fascism and in fact any form of collectivism. This is not an apologia for Thatcher but a request that she needs to be understood properly. It is concerning how ‘intellectuals’ throw around terms such a ‘fascist’ without thinking- which is itself is more the sign of a collectivist ideology of manichean sloganing.
    My reading is that what Zizek is really calling for is ‘the sovereign in action’ of the left…

  5. Would you be able to compare/contrast this with the recent paternalism conversations surrounding Jamie Smith? I’m not suggesting you’re at all saying the same thing, I’m just looking for further clarity. Thanks!

  6. Just to be clear, this is the Mencius Moldbug who couldn’t write an article about why white supremacists are wrong without sucking up to them, right?
    If by sucking up to them you mean calling them the most hopelessly, incurably ineffective movement in existence, a “romantic and fictitious idealization”, and another wing of the same disastrously wrongheaded and destructive school of thought that produced everything else that he opposes, yes.

  7. “On all these sites, you’ll find thoughtful, well-written commentary that will expand your mind. I’m not sure all these writers would accept the white-nationalist label – this is just my own description.”

    “So we see that, at present, in the real world of 2007, there is no coherent moral or practical reason to shun white nationalism.”

    “You could not be a white nationalist because you believed that the problems white nationalists worry about are not serious or important.

    This is just a hoot.”

    Nope, can’t see any sucking up here, you’re right.

  8. “The large majority – me included – wants to be passive and rely on an efficient state apparatus to guarantee the smooth running of the entire social edifice, so that I can pursue my work in peace.” This sounds like a plea for a technocracy of the left – if we only had an enlightened elite everything would be fine and I could go off and do my own thing in peace.

  9. Isn’t communism ultimately technocracy of the left? Once the class struggle is overcome, the state loses its political nature and all major problems become technical. This is straight out of the Manifesto.

  10. Perhaps you are correct. But this would seem to partially explain why actually existing communism failed. Also, if your reading of Zizek is correct, and he is merely using a strategy of over-identification, than perhaps his plea for a “Thatcher of the left” is only an analytic tool. But does it really explain anything? I ask this as someone sympathetic to the view that the left needs strong leadership.

  11. I don’t think it probably “explains” anything. It’s just a way to introduce left-wing ideas into the discourse using whatever leverage is provided by the center-right ideological consensus. I literally think the only point of this piece is to claim that spontaneous mass movements will never be enough and to suggest that it would be great if a left-wing leader stuck to his or her guns like Thatcher did.

  12. Just a quick thought Adam – you say “Once the class struggle is overcome, the state loses its political nature and all major problems become technical.” Marx did envision this but it could just as easily have been said by a contemporary neoliberal.

  13. The problem with neoliberalism is that the conditions for post-politics have not yet been met — and so their gesture to be beyond politics is actually a particularly forceful political claim (per Schmitt).

    I see the left-wing embrace of Schmitt as helpful insofar as it helps us to see the necessity of politics in the present situation, but I think the ultimate left-wing hope is for an overcoming of politics, a “last battle,” as it were. The problem I see in some left-wing appropriations of Schmitt and ideas of “the political” is that it seems to consign us to endless political struggle for its own sake — which is, in my view, finally a right-wing ideal of “authenticity,” etc. And that’s why I’m uncomfortable with the direction Mike Grimshaw’s comment takes, for example.

  14. Is it not in fact the case that the problem with Zizek’s invocation of leadership is that it is not fascist enough? Or, rather, the idea that Zizek is some kind of dangerous authoritarian is silly, because his idea of leadership is so underspecified. I’ve never seen him write about what a specifically left-wing form of leadership would look like, or, even more importantly, where a left-wing leader is going to come from, how we might find or promote such a leader. The term “leader” seems to function as a purely formal category, devoid of any content. Which I guess is appropriately Lacanian, but it doesn’t seem like a very useful contribution to actual questions about how the left could organize; actually, it looks a lot like a way of avoiding those questions.

  15. I don’t know enough Zizek to know whether he’s a “fascist” (“right-Hegelian”?) or Stalinist/Marxist/Leninist (“left-Hegelian”?). But haven’t we learned from the 20th century holocausts and atrocities perpetrated by both extremes (…Auschwitz and the Gulag…) not to buy into either “communism” or “fascism”? And after reading Zizek’s introduction to Sophie Wahnich’s “Defense of Terror” (which sez that terrorist violence by “the oppressed” is always justified because the violence of “the exploiters” is worse!) and his latest article on Hegel (“Shitting Out Absolute Knowledge”…) I really have no interest in reading more Zizek, just to find out which extreme he belongs to. I just wonder why The European Grad School and American theology students would want to form an anti-personality cult around somebody who’s obviously a crass boorish slob and an agent provocateur of the worst type…

  16. Zizek elsewhere makes it very clear that for him this politics of the Master is definitely not the ultimate horizon. This article is in line, even though Zizek is often critical of him, with something like Marcuse’s “Repressive Tolerance.” Since the default ideological assumptions are so stacked against the Left, we should not hesitate to utilize certain illiberal strategies merely in order to set up the minimal conditions for more substantive radical change. And Zizek is definitely not a vulgar traditional Marxist who thinks that Communism equals the abolition of the political in some technocratic utopia, I don’t know what Kotsko’s been smoking.

  17. In all seriousness, though, you’re right — Zizek believes conflict is irreducible, so even in the best-case scenario where we achieve “full communism,” there would inevitably some other conflict calling for political struggle. Maybe I’m just a more vulgar Marxist than he is.

  18. My comment was not toward some right-wing ideal of ‘authenticity’ but rather that zizek and thatcher are both- as identified with right and left’- misunderstood if we use the label fascist for either. Authenciticity can also be very much a left-wing ideal- it depends on what is being considered and decided ‘authentic’. The left’s appropriation of Schmitt is problematic as the Telos debate reminded us.The failure of the left was a failure regarding its understanding of Marxism as a state to be progressed toward not a state that was – or had been achieved. The overcomming of conflict is, a type of theological ideal- to be inauguarted by God. In political theology the sovereign- who takes the place of god- is the one who has the possibilty of overcomming conflict. The trouble with any sovereign is in fact the belief that they can act as if they are God- and in the name of the overcomming and the exception act in ways that actually only ever prolong political struggle for – as adam notes- its own sake.

  19. Where my worry came in was with the notion that Zizek wanted a “sovereign” — because to me, a sovereign always implies something that exists ultimately for its own sake. But since I didn’t think you probably intended it that way, I didn’t go so far as to actually disagree…

  20. I actually think Zizek seeks to de-throne the sovereign- by providing an on-going series of counter-exceptions to those claimed by the sovereign- in effect- the anti-exception that undercuts the exception

  21. “Only a Sociopath can Save us” Zizek Signs from the future…….
    [and elsewhere]
    “…the joy of the schemer… and the single-mindedness of the enforcer with the creativity, persuasiveness, and unsentimental outlook of the climber.”
    Hello Adam, This is the first time for me to comment. I do read the blog from time to time.
    I think of how a Sociopathic Leader enters into my thinking of this article and there has been a suggestion that Zizek’s Sociopath Is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s philosophy
    The Sociopath – a call for an Ubermensch.
    comments like the following:
    ” Critics of Nietzsche’s philosophy have always contended that his Übermensch would really be a sociopath who just looks out for number one”
    Did Nietzsche’s Ubermensch enter into your thoughts when writing the book and if not what do you think of this comparison or connection?

  22. Thank you Adam for this thoughtful reply!
    I did think this myself and I’ll take the omission of the Ubermensch in your response that your Sociopath & Zizek’s is not Nietzsche’s Ubermensch.

    My interest is mainly initiated from critical comments, which I’ve been reading recently about Zizek’s tendency to dismiss Nietzsche but these critics making claims that Zizek’s Sociopath is so much like a Nietzschean Ubermensch.
    I should imagine you can guess where this kind of criticism often leads to!.

    I sense a Sociopathic suspiciousness (Academic even) in your reply, where that’s situated I do not know.
    It’s my first comment on your blog and will be my last no doubt.
    Nevertheless, an interesting response from you.

  23. Thanks Adam, your Sociopath (& Zizek’s) interestingly seems to create a sensitivity with many people & unsettles their thinking. I have come across lots of antagonism in my own theoretical playfulness concerning the Sociopath.
    Even the creator! :)

  24. No hostility on my part — just momentary confusion. So there are people out there claiming that Zizek’s embrace of my sociopath idea is yet more evidence he’s a fascist (and presumably so am I)? That’s… completely stupid.

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