Slavoj Žižek is part philosopher, part international phenomenon. And if that seems impossible in this day and age, consider: Žižek, a Slovenian cultural theorist, has published more than 40 books in English, has starred in four films, and even has an academic journal (International Journal of Žižek Studies) dedicated to his work. Renowned for his gymnastic thinking and mastery of counterintuition, Žižek has been called “the most dangerous philosopher in the West” by the New Republic and “one of the world’s best known public intellectuals” by the New York Review of Books.
Out this week, his latest book, Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles With the Neighbors is an urgent and entertaining diagnosis of the ongoing refugee crisis and global terror threat, highlighting the glaring contradictions in our attitudes and actions. True to form, Žižek, an avowed Marxist, takes this fraught historical moment as an opportunity to apply his particular brand of bombastic, unconventional salve. His past positions have chafed liberals and conservatives alike, and this book will be no exception. (See below.) I caught up with Žižek to talk about the limitations of democracy, orphan prophets, and America’s ugly presidential election.Immigrants are ordinary, shitty people like all of us. The point is not to like them. The point is to accept them and try to help them. Click To Tweet
Sammon for Mother Jones: What, specifically, is the biggest problem that the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, and to a lesser extent in North America, has exposed?
Slavoj Žižek: It’s an issue with democracy! When people complain Europe is not transparent—if, right now, you organized elections all across Europe, the first result would be to throw all the immigrants out. Unambiguously. This is the problem! I spoke with some Slovenian representatives in Brussels when they were negotiating to help Greece and immigrants. And they told me they were making deals in closed sessions, but if the debate were to be public, it would have been much worse for Greece and for immigrants, because public opinion in countries like Slovenia and Poland was much more against immigrants and against helping Greece. What shocks me is that the very same people who complain that the democratic process in Europe should be more transparent at the same time want more rights for immigrants.
Sammon: And what does this mean for democracy?
Slavoj Žižek: The state wants to impose basic anti-racist measures, and then local communities controlled by right-wing fundamentalists block that. I am here on the side of the state, which I am ready to endorse up to the crazy end. We have to accept that the people are quite often not right. I believe in democracy but in a very conditional way. There are elections that are a miracle, in the sense that you can see that people were really, authentically, mobilized. For example, in spite of all the compromises that occurred later, the Syriza elections—this was an authentic choice. So miracles do happen, but they are exceptions. Don’t fetishize the people. Don’t mythologize the people, they are not right! Don’t mythologize the immigrants. This is the big motive running through my book.
Sammon: This is one of those positions that won’t be too popular on the left.
Slavoj Žižek: My point is precisely that the ultimate racism is to endorse the immigrant other, but the idealized version of that other. They are ordinary, shitty people like all of us. The point is not to like them. The point is to accept them the way they are and try to help them. That’s why I don’t want to open my heart to the refugees. That’s for liberals to do. Let’s open our purses to them. Give them money! Let’s not get into this emotional blackmail.
[Extract. Appeared in Mother Jones on October 22nd 2016.]Trump is a vulgar opportunist. Cruz is a monster. Do you think Ted Cruz is human? Click To Tweet