Slavoj Zizek: McCain is Bush with lipstick

The true message to American voters from the Republican Party, says Zizek, is: “you have the right not to understand. We will sell you this rhetoric about populist revolt and fighting Washington, but really you know we have the backroom boys like Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and so on, who will take care of things, and it’s better you don’t know about that stuff.”

Zizek, in this interview with Open Source Radio‘s Christopher Lydon, is insightful and entertaining as always.

One of the points Zizek touches on repeatedly is the “totally new” phenomenon of authoritarian capitalism, citing both China and some tendencies in Russia under Putin’s leadership. Contrary to his point that September 11th symbolized the fundamental incorrectness of Francis Fukuyama’s argument in The End of History and the Last Man, it is rather the possibility of authoritarian capitalism that threatens the liberal-democratic-capitalism hegemony. September 11th is completely interpretable from within Fukuyama’s narrative of the direction of history, and in the next fifty years the true test of this narrative will come, as Fukuyama himself suggested it would, from the potentially viable option of non-democratic capitalism.

Slavoj Zizek web 2.0

Some thoughtful and entertaining musings from everyone’s favourite neo-Leninist:

Zizek’s reivew of Simon Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding appeared in the February 2008 issue of Harper’s, and in the current, May 2008 issue we are treated to Critchley’s response. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read Critchley’s book.)

While I agree with Critchley on the unfortunate fact of Zizek’s tendency towards “rhetorical posturing” and his absurd authoritarianism, I think Critchley writes Zizek off too quickly, and that there are in fact decent points in Zizek’s review that merit argument and discussion.

For one, I have to disagree with Critchley’s definition of politics as “the invention of interstitial distance”, and it is in fact statements such as this that lead people to mis-read Critchley as a postmodernist. In fact, Zizek sounds remarkably (and somewhat surprisingly) reasonable when he queries:

If the state is here to stay, if it is impossible to abolish it (or capitalism), why retreat from it? Why not act with(in) the state? Why not accept the basic premise of the Third Way?

I don’t think we need to interpret “accepting the Third Way” as endorsing Chavez-style authoritarianism. What it means for politics and political philosophy is that the “beautiful soul” model that Zizek accuses Critchley of promoting (whether this accusation is fair I cannot say, not having read Critchley’s book) is not enough, and that left-wing politics must get its hands dirty and act “with(in) the state”–without, of course, meaning that violent revolution is the answer.

Here, I side with, I think, Critchley, Hannah Arendt, Gandhi, and an English truism when I say that violence only begets more violence. For more on violence, politics, and “starting with a blank slate”, see Naomi Klein: