POLITICS JANUARY 7, 2009
The philosopher responds to our book reviewer's critiques.
I am grateful to Mr. Kirsch for the time and effort he put into running over so many of my books in order to find incriminating passages that would support his thesis on my anti-Semitic Fascism-Communism. Perhaps, however, it would have been better for him to stick to just one or two books and read them with a simple unprejudiced attention – in this way, he would have been able to avoid many unfortunate misreadings, like the one apropos Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, where Mr. Kirsch writes:
Zizek's dialectic allows him to have it all: the jihadis are not really motivated by religion, as they say they are; they are actually casualties of global capitalism, and thus “objectively” on the left. “The only way to conceive of what happened on September 11,” he writes, “is to locate it in the context of the antagonisms of global capitalism.”
Well … first, in my Violence, I claim that jihadis are really motivated neither by religion nor by a Leftist sense of justice, but by resentment, which in no way puts them on the Left, neither “objectively” nor “subjectively.” I simply never wrote that Islamic fundamentalists are in any sense on the Left—the whole point of my writing on this topic is that the “antagonism” between liberal tolerance and ethnic or religious fundamentalism is inherent to the universe of global capitalism: in their very opposition, they are the two faces of the same system. The true Left starts with the insight into this complicity. A good example of how religious fundamentalism is to be located “in the context of the antagonisms of global capitalism” is Afghanistan. Today, when Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, 30 years ago, it was a country with strong secular tradition, up to a strong Communist party which first took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Afghanistan became fundamentalist when it was drawn into global politics (first through the Soviet intervention).
Back to Mr. Kirsch, often it is enough to continue my quote and the meaning (opposite to the one imputed to me) becomes clear. Mr. Kirsch quotes my passage “crazy, tasteless even, as it may sound, the problem with Hitler was that he was not violent enough, that his violence was not 'essential' enough”—but is this really a call for even more killing than Hitler afforded? Here is how my text goes on: “Nazism was not radical enough, it did not dare to disturb the basic structure of the modern capitalist social space (which is why it had to invent and focus on destroying an external enemy, Jews). This is why one should oppose the fascination with Hitler according to which Hitler was, of course, a bad guy, responsible for the death of millions—but he definitely had balls, he pursued with iron will what he wanted. … This point is not only ethically repulsive, but simply wrong: no, Hitler did not ‘have the balls’ to really change things; he did not really act, all his actions were fundamentally reactions, i.e., he acted so that nothing would really change, he stages a big spectacle of Revolution so that the capitalist order could survive.”
In this precise sense of violence, Gandhi was more violent than Hitler: Gandhi’s movement effectively endeavored to interrupt the basic functioning of the British colonial state. Mr. Kirsch’s reasoning culminates towards the end of his text, where he “demonstrates” that I advocate the annihilation of Jews (with some minor exceptions, true):
For in In Defense of Lost Causes, again paraphrasing Badiou, Zizek writes: “To put it succinctly, the only true solution to the 'Jewish question' is the 'final solution' (their annihilation), because Jews ... are the ultimate obstacle to the 'final solution' of History itself, to the overcoming of divisions in all-encompassing unity and flexibility.” I hasten to add that Zizek dissents from Badiou's vision to this extent: he believes that Jews “resisting identification with the State of Israel,” “the Jews of the Jews themselves," the "worthy successors to Spinoza,” deserve to be exempted on account of their “fidelity to the Messianic impulse.”
I must confess this paragraph took me by surprise even after reading most of Mr. Kirsch’s text! First, as it should be clear to a minimally attentive reader, in the quoted passage about “final solution,” I do not paraphrase Badiou or his “vision”—what I do is provide a résumé of how the French Zionist critics perceive contemporary Europe. For them, the European Union is at its very core an anti-Semitic project, a continuation of Hitler’s work with other (“democratic”) means, as it is clear from the very title of Jean-Claude Milner’s book, The Criminal Tendencies of the Democratic Europe. It is thus a pure manipulation to read my praise of the “universalist” Jews as an argument for exempting them from annihilation: all I do in the passage from which Mr. Kirsch has torn out a couple of words ("fidelity to the Messianic impulse,” etc.) is to point out the debt of political and theoretical universalism (of what Kant praised as the “public use of reason”) to the Jewish experience, claiming that the conflict between the defenders of and skeptics about the State of Israel is inherent to the Jewish identity. I hope that, at this point, the reader saw why any meaningful debate between Mr. Kirsch and me is impossible: before even approaching the true issues, one would have to spend pages ands pages just stating what my position is against Mr. Kirsch’s all-pervasive manipulations and falsifications. So let the reader judge who is “despicable” in this affair—and, to conclude in a lighter vein, here is how Mr. Kirsch explains my delusions about Jews:
It is at such a moment that one realizes that for Zizek, born and raised in a city that the Holocaust left almost without Jews (today the official Jewish Community of Slovenia estimates there are four hundred to six hundred Jews in the whole country), Jews are a mere abstraction, objects of fantasy and speculation, that can be forced to play any number of roles in his psychic economy.
First, it wasn’t the Holocaust which left Ljubljana, the Slovene capital, almost without Jews: Jews were expelled from Slovene territory back in 1516, by the order of the mighty Habsburg Emperor Maximilian in Vienna, endorsing the demand of local estates (who saw the opportunity to be thus rid of their debts following the model of the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492). After that fateful year, there were never more than a few hundred Jews in Slovenia. Second, Jews are to me in no way an “object of fantasy and speculation”: they are the majority of my friends and theoretical collaborators. I was pleasantly reminded of this fact in the last weeks, when all of them (plus many Jews unknown to me) contacted me, expressing their full solidarity against Mr. Kirsch’s ridiculous accusations. A proof, if one is needed, that, as Mr. Kirsch wrote, the U.S. is basically a decent country—in contrast to people like Mr. Kirsch who obviously think there are not enough real anti-Semites in our world, so we should multiply their number by imagining non-existing ones.
Slavoj Zizek is a philosopher whose books include In Defense of Lost Causes and Violence.