From the provocative to the outrageous to the impenetrable, the latest from the Slovenian gadfly finds a curious sort of hope in a hopeless situation.
Ever since the Chronicle of Higher Education tagged him “the Elvis of cultural theory,” Žižek (Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism, 2015, etc.) has extended his reach well beyond academic circles. He remains even tougher on neoliberalism than he is on authoritarianism, and he takes great delight in counterintuitiveness—and linguistic density. “What I am advocating is not the process of democratic self-purification by means of which we get rid of the dirty water (abuses of democracy) without losing the healthy baby (authentic democracy),” he writes. “The task is rather to trans-value the (democratic) values themselves, to throw out the baby (the democratic form) while keeping in the dirty water (of ‘chaotic’ popular participation, of large-scale ‘authoritarian’ decisions).” Got that? When the author writes that “the 2016 elections were the final defeat of liberal democracy,” he doesn’t seem despondent, because the possibility of great change seems like the healthier response than the return to political business as usual that might have resulted from a Hillary Clinton victory. America lost its big chance, one senses from his writing, when it didn’t embrace the real choices that an election race between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would have represented, with both benefitting from populist rage. He thinks the danger of Trump has been exaggerated, particularly if the alternative is a retreat from radical change. Here he returns with a twist to the baby-bathwater analogy: “Trump is not the dirty water one should throw out to keep safe the healthy baby of US democracy; he is himself the dirty baby who should be thrown out in order to reveal the true dirty water of social relations that sustain the Clinton consensus.” The author rejects conventional wisdom at every turn, occasionally risking nonsense for a higher sense.
“Resolutely atheist” and a “skeptical pessimist,” Žižek does his best to leave no sacred cow ungored.