Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.
The role of the public intellectual in our society is arguably more important now than ever before. Believing that political issues are too important to be left only to politicians, Slavoj Žižek is considered a global rock star when it comes to philosophical debates.
Whether it’s through the rerelease of his text, In Defense of Lost Causes or his forthcoming work, Lenin 2017, the Slovenian native frames the world as we know it through his Marxist lens.
We’re glad you’ve joined us. A conversation with Slavoj Žižek coming up right now.
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Tavis: I am pleased to welcome Slavoj Žižek back to this program. The public intellectual has been called the most dangerous philosopher in the west, and he’s published more than 50 books in 20 different languages.
He’s rereleasing a number of those texts this year, including the rerelease of his 2008 text, In Defense of Lost Causes and Lenin 2017 later this spring. I am always honored to have on this program the brilliant philosopher, Slavoj Žižek. How are you, sir?
Slavoj Žižek: I am well, but otherwise, I’m in a bad mood. I’m well because I’m very glad to be here with you.
Tavis: [Laugh] Otherwise, you’re in a bad mood, but I’m glad to have you here anyway. I’m going to put you in a further bad mood maybe, I don’t know. I was surprised — and then again, maybe not, knowing how your mind works — to see this from you.
So just before the election of Donald Trump, we are told that you gave an interview to Channel 4 in the U.K. and in that interview, you were asked if you were a U.S. citizen whether or not you would vote for Donald Trump and you said you would.
I’m quoting now from Slate. “The most prominent living Marxist philosopher in the world is rightfully horrified” — your word, horrified — “at Trump. But as a sort of a bright side, he posits that handing him the keys to the Oval Office and the nuclear codes would trigger a big awakening” — your words — “a big awakening in American politics.”
Why do you think that handing Mr. Trump the keys to the nuclear codes, which he now has, would be or is now a big awakening for American politics?
Žižek: Well, I simply think first that Trump, I totally agree with Trump’s diagnosis. Trump is a threat to world peace, maybe to future of humanity on the earth and so on and so on. But I think I’m a pessimist in a much deeper sense.
I think that where we’re all, not just United States, worth moving, we are moving towards a certain end point, problems with refugees, threat of new economic catastrophes, new racisms exploding not just in the United States, Europe is much worse now and so on. And maybe it was a mistake. I’m ready immediately to change my mind.
I just think that we should never forget one thing. Trump is an effect. It’s an effect of all that was wrong with mainstream liberal politics. Trump, his fake populism, is [inaudible] to it. So the way to really fight Trump is not just to fight Trump.
If you just fight Trump, you are doing what in medicine they call, if I get it correctly, symptomatic healing. You can heal illness, but you just take pills to ease the pain. We must cut off the causes of it. And that’s what bothered me, although he may be a Hillary Clinton, a nicer person and so on. But her coalition, her rainbow coalition, let’s call it, was an incredible one.
From Wall Street to Occupy Wall Street, everybody was there and I think she stood for what was wrong with democratic politics. You make all the concessions to politically correct causes and so on and so on, just not to address the key economic question. And that’s what gave birth to Trump.
That’s why, incidentally, I’m also a big fan of Bernie Sanders. One may disagree with this or with that about Bernie Sanders, but you know he did what everyone thought is not possible. He mobilized precisely those disappointed white workers who otherwise voted for Trump. That’s why I think it’s — so, again, sorry. Back to Trump.
My idea is that if Democratic Party remains what it is, this liberal establishment, let’s call it, even if we win over this Trump, there will be another Trump. In Europe, we have the same problem, my God! The key problem today is the disintegration, the impotence, whatever you call it, of this — let’s call it even liberal left center or whatever.
This is the predominant farce today. You know, all the big names from Silicon Valley and so on, they are all very progressive about LGBT and so on, but you don’t touch capitalism and so on. We have to do this. That’s the key to our survival.
I’m not talking any naive [bleep] about communism or whatever. I’m very modest. Just a little bit of a push toward the left in the sense of healthcare, human rights, workers’ rights. If we don’t do this, if we don’t mobilize also ordinary working people and so on, then it doesn’t matter if we get rid of this Trump. Another Trump will come.
Europe is full of Trumps and so on and so on. And I’m pretty desperate here. You know, I really think that we are approaching a catastrophe, again, ecological, social catastrophe, immigrants and so on. Here I am desperate about the mistakes liberal left.
Look at Europe, this politically correct approach of liberal left. Just let’s talk it up. Start to vote immigrants, but let’s change it into a humanitarian issue. Do we Europeans have a card? How to help them instead of addressing the true causes of all this?
Then you get what? The catastrophe that is now Europe. In Germany, in France, in England, I don’t think, but maybe I was wrong. It was not a principal decision, this crazy old [inaudible] logic, always vote for the worst guy because in this way you will help the revolution. No. I thought maybe I’m wrong.
But nonetheless, with all its faults, United States is a great country with many civil institutions and so on and so on, and things are happening. There was a great debate within the Democratic Party. Another thing, things are beginning to happen. For example, an extremely important thing. This revitalization of women in the millions is a political factor. It wasn’t only here…