Enfant terrible of the Western Left, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has made a career of provoking liberals and leftists at every conceivable turn. He revels in his role as ‘radical’ court jester, diagnosing the trappings of ideology at every nook and corner, while saying everything and nothing simultaneously.
More recently, the refugee crisis has given him a prime opportunity to tackle a pet peeve of his: multiculturalism and liberal democracy’s facetious accommodation with it. An earlier interview with Channel 4 this year, and his articles published in London Review of Books and In These Times elicited castigation and repudiation for its latent eurocentric undertones, if not outright conservative conclusions. Naturally, his pronouncements on the failure of multiculturalism — supplemented by a critique of political correctness — appeared to seamlessly dovetail with the prevailing rhetoric surrounding refugees in Fortress Europe that is reinforced by an increasingly emboldened and virulent populist Right.
His latest flirtation with reactionary politics came in answering the question of who he would vote for in the US election:
There was no obligatory mention of Stalin, nor any Kung Fu Panda references. Suggested instead was why the Left shouldn’t fear Trump, only because he can #accelerate the contradictions of a stagnating neoliberal centre, with his presidency acting as a political reset button over the establishment inertia represented by Clinton. It is implied that this would somehow be structurally favourable to progressives since new spaces of contestation open up in the process. Oh, and there is a quasi-guarantee thrown in for good measure that Trump would not seriously introduce fascism. Even though he oozes it in gestational form, we are to believe this is a risk worth taking.
I somehow doubt this is a deliberate provocation, even though it wouldn’t be out of character for Žižek. It would be too easy to say that this line of reasoning smacks of another privileged white male perched in his ivory tower, immune to whatever material consequences his contrarian musings emit. However, Žižek’s myopia is much more analytically debilitating: the element of power is conspicuously absent from his outlook. Power, as Michel Foucault saw it, is neither good or bad in and of itself, and can be marshalled for productive purposes. Politics is power-laden and which party wields the productive capacity of power allows it to produce just or unjust outcomes.
What is ignored is the fact that whenever there has been a Democrat in power, the American Left has been able to dedicate much more energy towards pushing favourable legislation, and building stronger social movements and organizational capacities. When the Republicans are in power, the centre of political gravity inevitably tilts rightward, and all resources of the Democratic Party are funnelled towards regaining the levers of power. Shorn of extending political power, whatever hard-fought advances under eight years of Obama would then be in jeopardy, and the floodgates open to forces which would look to reverse them from day one. As Arun Gupta has argued, it is not hard to envision a Trump presidency using the full powers of the federal government to crack down on protests, attack immigrants, trade unions, and women’s rights, outlaw #BlackLivesMatter, and damage climate reforms. All the while White supremacists and other ghastly forces of reaction are welcomed into his administration.
So is Žižek’s Trumpian endorsement merely #dialectics or simply more evidence that too much Hegel leads to preliminary brain rot? I’d (glibly) go with the latter.