In a new book, Against the Double Blackmail, in response to Europe’s refugee crisis, philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues that the left must shed its liberal taboos in favour of global, class solidarity.
At a Guardian Live event, Gary Younge sat down with Žižek to discuss the immigration crisis, the response of the liberal left, and the future for Europe.
[Appeared in The Guardian on April 19th 2016.]
What happens to democracy when the majority is inclined to vote for racist and sexist laws?
Depending on who you ask, Slavoj Žižek is either a darling of the international left; “the most dangerous philosopher in the west”; or, in some quarters, a cryptofascist buffoon, whose outspoken – although frequently ironic – stances against political correctness are singled out in particular as a grave threat to the cause, by those ready to disavow him on his own side of politics.
That he is one of the most influential and indeed popular public intellectuals in the world seems more or less beyond doubt, though few self-declared Leninists could ever expect to draw sold-out crowds to their public appearances, as was the case at last week’s Guardian Live event at London’s Emmanuel Centre.
But Žižek is not just any self-declared Leninist: the Slovenian philosopher not only incorporates the intellectual rigours of Hegelian dialectics and Lacanian psychoanalysis into his wideranging critique of global capitalism, but also deploys an arsenal of dirty jokes and cultural references high and low to leaven the subject with sometimes outrageous humour – arguably rendering the critique all the more effective.
His new book, Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours, seeks to address the existential dilemmas that have beset Europe since the financial crisis.
“Many people complain about the so-called democratic deficit in Europe: I want to problematise it,” said Žižek, who used his opening address to point out that a more democratic Europe – his shorthand for one in which the views of the majority of the public were always adhered to – would not necessarily be a better one, and took the hardening of public attitudes in Europe towards refugees in recent months as his example.
“We encounter here the old problem: what happens to democracy when the majority is inclined to vote for racist and sexist laws? I am not afraid to draw the conclusion that emancipatory politics should not be bound a priori by formal democratic procedures; people quite often do not know what they want, or do not want what they know, or they simply want the wrong thing.”
Perhaps inevitably, it was not long before Žižek turned, in his discussion with the Guardian columnist Gary Younge, from rightwing populism in Europe to rightwing populism in the US, and its unavoidable, totemic figure: Donald Trump.
[Partial transcript appeared in The Guardian on April 28th 2016.]