Theorizing Political Practice (II): On Why the “Democracy to Come” Is Not the Perfection of Liberal Ideology, and May Be Its Cure

(Half way through writing this, I got my hands on Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding.  I was able to incorporate insights from pp.114-123 into this post, but beyond what I have been able to garner from those pages, I have very little sense of Critchley’s argument as such.  Any misrepresentations of his position are simply the result of my ignorance.  On the whole these are a series of reflections spawned by Žižek’s reflections on Critchley’s book.  Nonetheless, I want to be sure to acknowledge my debts.)

As I was saying, before being so oddly interrupted by such a pertinent event: since the form of Milbank’s position requires the content of Žižek’s, and vice versa, the encounter of one with the other signals the terminus of a dialectic.  Each is proven true only in tandem with the other, and that demonstration is likewise their negation.  This is nothing more than a point about the impotence of any revolutionary politics developed out of an Idealist metaphysics (including dialectical materialism), which seeks to achieve a concrete, material realization of an abstract universal (cf. Critchley, 119.)  The prior discussion of Milbank and Žižek is simply illustrative of this more fundamental point.  It is fair, I believe, to claim that the very appearance of these two thinkers signals the apotheosis of Idealist metaphysics inasmuch as each respectively is the concrete, material realization of its dual transcendental and materialist trajectories.    

I suggested at the end of the previous post that this fact signaled a return to Kant – though under erasure – inasmuch as the fundamental rejection of limit functions to constitute socialism as a regulative ideal.  Critchley is keen to note that the concept of “communism” is fundamentally tainted by the Idealist notion of species-being; and, I am here developing his impulse to suggest that, when viewed in light of the mutually assured destruction of the Milbankian and Žižekian positions, their invocations of “socialism” function as a regulative ideal inasmuch as the purpose of “socialism” or “proletarian dictatoriship,” as they invoke the terms, appears to be to ensure that thought itself always remains properly proportionate to itself in its self-representation (Critchley, 118.)  In doing so, the gesture rather ingeniously conceals, beneath that very thought of that proportion, the fact that the concrete actualization of the concept is impossible. 

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Theorizing Political Practice (I): On the Conditions of Possibility for An Anglo-Slovenian, Theologico-Materialist Syndicate of Socialist Praxis

Word has it that Žižek and Milbank are friends – writing a book together, even. I thought of this while reading the opening paragraph of Žižek’s most recent article:

One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructible. Marx compared it to a vampire, and one of the salient points of comparison now appears to be that vampires always rise up again after being stabbed to death. Even Mao’s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return.

The paragraph is nothing unusual. It is the standard prestige of the Žižekian magic trick: first, we have to see the common household politico-economic assumption clearly before he deftly rolls it through his Hegelio-Lacanian fingers, and transforms it into…a common household politico-economic assumption…decked out in a sweet new “$ ◊ α” t-shirt…with weapons! But, beyond this, there was something in the way he admits here that “even Mao’s attempt…ended up” with the “triumphant return” of capitalism that brought Milbank to mind. That is, it specifically brought to mind Milbank’s argument that Žižek’s ontology is inadequate to genuine socialism – revolution, maybe, but not socialism. And, justified or not, I read the subsequent salvo against Critchley with an eye toward gleaning some inkling as to how Žižek might formulate his response. In the process, I formulated a couple of my own observations about the intersection of their work, and a rather unexpected conclusion concerning the “democracy to come” crowd (part II.)

First, it seems to me that Žižek’s work is integral to Milbank’s in one very important respect. It is said that, during his recent appearance at Birkbeck, Milbank expressed his fundamental agreement with the Führerprinzip. Now, this should not have been unexpected, nor is it particularly indebted to Žižek. After all, as this, and the very existence of this, should demonstrate sufficiently, recourse to a leadership principle is simply the conclusion of any argument that begins with “Alasdair McIntyre.” But, it is the genuinely Leftist patina of that affirmation as it issues from Milbank (as opposed to the pompous, Chesterbellocian paranoia it could have become) that distinguishes him even from many of his allies. And this, I cannot help but believe, is due in large measure to the vision of proletarian dictatorship Žižek has been able to articulate via his engagement with Schmitt – a vision that effectively supplies Milbank with the proper concept of the political he needs to compliment his ecclesio-trinitarian ontology of hierarchical anarchy.

Second, there is a very important sense in which Milbank is integral, not so much to the content, but to the fact that Žižek says what he does. Milbank epitomizes everything that captivates Žižek about Fundamentalists, but with none of the perversities. In this way, being allied with Milbank essentially forces his audience to make the necessary passage through the Christian moment, to wrestle with what is worth fighting for there. Milbank is Žižek – the believer. There is a fundamental, theoretical rationale for this: Milbank is the prestige in the dialectical magic act Žižek is making regarding Christianity – the clearest presentation of common household Christianity acting für sich, the subversive kernel of which he wants to present to you an und für sich.

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