A similar perverted strategy of profiting from the very threat to one’s survival (and from the worst outcome of one’s own reign) is at work in a new type of state socialism which is emerging in North Korea (and up to a point also in Cuba and Venezuela); it combines ruthless Party rule with the wildest capitalism. While state power is firmly entrenched in the ruling Party, the state is no longer able to provide the daily necessities of life, especially food, to the general population, and so it has to tolerate wild local capitalism. In North Korea, there are hundreds of “free” markets where individuals sell home-grown food, commodities smuggled from China, etc. The North Korean state is thus relieved of the burden to take care of ordinary people and can concentrate on new arms and the life of the elite. In an unheard-of cruel irony, the North Korean basic ideological notion of juche (self-reliance) arrives at its truth: not the nation, individuals themselves have to rely on their own forces…

This predominant trend is extremely dangerous because it runs directly against the urgent need to establish a new mode of relating to our environs, a radical politico-economic change called by Peter Sloterdijk “the domestication of the wild animal Culture.” Till now, each culture disciplined/educated its own members and guaranteed civic peace among them in the guise of state power, but the relationship between different cultures and states was permanently under the shadow of potential war, with each state of peace nothing more than a temporary armistice. As Hegel conceptualized it, the entire ethic of a state culminates in the highest act of heroism, the readiness to sacrifice one’s life for one’s nation-state, which means that the wild barbarian relations between states serve as the foundation for the ethical life within a state. Is today’s North Korea with its ruthless pursuit of nuclear weapons and rockets to hit distant targets not the ultimate example of this logic of unconditional nation-state sovereignty? However, the moment we fully accept the fact that we live on Spaceship Earth, the task that urgently imposes itself is that of civilizing civilizations themselves, of imposing universal solidarity and cooperation among all human communities, a task rendered all the more difficult by the ongoing rise of sectarian religious and ethnic “heroic” violence and readiness to sacrifice oneself (and the world) for one’s specific Cause.

Back in the 1960s, the motto of the early ecological movements was “Think globally, act locally!” With his politics of sovereignty echoing the stance of North Korea, Trump promises to do the exact opposite, to turn the US into a glocal power, but, this time, in the sense of: “Act globally, think locally!”

[Appeared in The Philosophical Salon on August 21st 2017.]


Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst, and a senior researcher at the Institute for Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London. He has also been a visiting professor at more than 10 universities around the world. Žižek is the author of many books; his latest are Against the Double Blackmail and Disparities.

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