Slavoj Zizek: What does it mean to be a great thinker today?

[Partial transcript from the end of the video is below]

And here I even agree with my friend, although a right-winger – but you can learn from conservative intelligent right-wingers – Peter Sloterdijk, who said the problem today is we don’t have enough alienation. We have … we should break this politically correct, multi-culti stupidity ‘We have to understand the other.’ No. How can we understand the others when they don’t understand themselves, when we don’t understand ourselves. My idea…

Let’s say I live in a building where there are some Persians, some Arabs, some Blacks, some Latinos, whatever you want, some Chinese. I don’t want to understand them. I want to live a respectable life where we respect each other. Friendly, say hello. And I absolutely, not because they are what they are, maybe I can become friendly with some of them. Probably, more preferable than friendly from my own nation – no? But what I am saying is, you know, this idea of just an understanding, coming-together, I think that white [?] … You know what is for me the basic, the beauty of alienation: politeness. Politeness is all about alienation.

What is politeness? Sorry to use my old example. Politeness is I meet you on the street and, this is not real you, but maybe, let’s say for what reason I hate you, but I don’t, and I meet you, and of course before I notice you, I start to curse: ‘Why didn’t you notice … Why didn’t I notice you three second before so that I could cross the …’ But then when I see you, we have to say: ‘Hello, nice to see you. How are you?’ Now listen to the paradox. We both know that I don’t think that it was nice to see you and that I don’t give a shit about how are you. But nonetheless it’s politeness. It’s in a way a sincere lie. The message is much more refined. The message is not I am lying. But the message is that even if I am not in a bad mood and don’t care about you, nonetheless there is a certain fundamental acceptance, benevolence, and so on and so on. It would be … In other words, politeness in the sense of this basic alienation of language – that you don’t say what you mean – it gives you the breathing space. My god.

And here I think, with the help of Freud and Lacan, we should correct Marx. I think that the whole topic of alienation … literally, we need more alienation. Why this hermeneutically imperialist approach ‘We should understand them, we should understand them’? My second dogma here is: the only practical understanding that works is struggle. Not with the enemy, but solidarity in struggle.

I hate another candidate for that Goebbels’ book-burning. You know those, they were popular when I was young, those UNESCO books describing all the world cultures. You know, how beautiful this/that culture – that’s disgusting. My point is that we in our culture have our own conflicts/antagonisms. They have their own conflicts. The only authentic universality is the universality of struggle. To discover that our struggle is part of the same struggle as theirs.


You know, what I hate although sometimes we have to use this term, I hate the left which tries to reinvent itself as democratic socialism, like PD and so on. I’m neither a democrat nor a socialist. Why?

First, socialism – I hate the term – why? Because it means today just ‘No, we are not the bad communists, totalitarians, and so on’. Socialism is something that everybody is ready to accept. Your compatriot, [amazon asin=B001H6MKL8&text=Otto Weininger], put it nicely – and of course I turned it around – when he said ‘Socialism is Aryan, communism is Jewish.’ Yes, I am for communism. In other words, socialism is just a general motto for ‘We shouldn’t be egotist, we should think about …’ Everybody can be a socialist. That’s meaningless. I am for communism. Of course not for the 20th century, but whatever…

Second, democracy – I don’t despise it. It has its mega-authentic moments. But nonetheless, I think that literally, quite literally, democracy is our fetish. Fetish in the sense that strict Freudian sense. You know, Freud says fetish is the last object you see before you see that … woman has no penis, whatever. So in what sense does this work? This castration woman, no penis, would be vaguely ‘social antagonism.’ And I think that democracy functions – how here? The model are the two American films that I really hate and I would put them on that Goebbels’ list: [amazon asin=B002M87VQ4&text=All the President’s Men] and [amazon asin=B001SRP7R0&text=The Pelican Brief]. They appear very critical, Hollywood left – ‘Oh my god, the whole American state is corrupted, you know, even the president is corrupted.’ Why then when you finish watching the film do you feel so good? Because the message is ‘But nonetheless, look’ – now I am talking about [amazon asin=B002M87VQ4&text=All the President’s Men] – ‘we live in such a great society that, you see, two ordinary guys, journalists, can overthrow the mightiest men in the world. Isn’t this a great country?’ You know, this is democracy as a fetish, as a ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, antagonisms, but we have democracy, we can be calm,’ and so on and so on. No, I think that democracy should be safe, of course. But it’s a problem today. Everybody knows, who is honest, that in order to confront what we are facing today – new forms of racism, new forms apartheid, ecology, biogenetics, whatever – existing form of democracy is not strong enough. That’s all I am saying.

[Published by the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen on May 6th 2015. Filmed in Vianna on May 5th 2015.]