Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Žižek Don't

I first heard about Slavoj Žižek when he was accused of plagiarizing from white nationalist magazine American Renaissance. By 2014, my research interests had moved from monetary & fiscal policy and business cycles to the political economy of fascism.

I hadn't studied much in the way of esoteric Hegelian idealist philosophers masquerading as Lacanian Marxists, but by virtue of my study of fascism, I happened upon his "work." I'm still not sure whether Zizek considers himself a crypto-fascist, but he sure leads the far left into the arms of the far right a whole lot. Anyway, this happened:

Header of Independent article by Slavoj Žižek titled Alt-right Trump supporters and left-wing Bernie Sanders fans should join together to defeat capitalism

Zizek's Fascist Creep

Since plagiarizing from American Renaissance, Zizek has come out in favor of Trump and advocated against punching Nazis. While Žižek's previous positions have advocated a passive acquiescence to fascism, Žižek's latest essay advocates an active collaboration.

The essay itself reads like one of my lazier intro students' papers. There is little in the way of justification for its broad claims. It jumps from topic to topic with reckless abandon. Where it seeks to make a specific but unsupportable claim, it is implied as a rhetorical question.

While I could go point-by-point providing suggestions for improvement as I would for one of my students, I want to focus more on Žižek's objective function as public figure vis-a-vis the far right. Over the past several years, Žižek's rhetorical evolution resembles the process of "fascist creep" described in Alexander Reid Ross's book Against the Fascist Creep. (Read Ross's response to Žižek here.)

Ordinarily, this process is a matter of intellectual aggregates such as the German Patriot Movement and multiparty alliances such as the Italian Pact of Pacification rather than individual intellectual trajectories. There are of course exceptions such as who, as individuals, made such intellectual moves like George Sorel and Benito Mussolini.

Ross describes the fascist creep as a process by which fascists secure social control by establishing uneasy alliances on the basis of single issues and political expediency. For example, in 1932 the Kommunistishe Partei Deutschlands (KPD - German Communist Party) rallied on an accelerationism of "First Hitler, then us!" The Pact of Pacification in 1921 briefly aligned the Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI - Italian Socialist Party) and the Confederazione Generale del Lavoro (CGL - General Confederation of Labor) with the Partito Fascista Rivoluzionario (PFR - Fascist Revolutionary Party) to cease the cycle of violence and reprisal between the groups.

In both cases, such alliances were shortlived. In the former case, KPD membership was treated by the Nazi courts as an act of treason following the Reichstag fire of 1933. In the latter case, Mussolini, who signed the pact, was denounced by his own party which renamed itself the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF - Fascist National Party) and publicly rebuked the pact later that year. By 1925, both the PSI and CGL were banned by the newly sealed Fascist dictatorship.

The various nationalist parties that began sprouting up across Europe around the turn of the 19th century courted disaffected revolutionary leftists and social democrats who came to identify violence as a political end in itself and corporatism as an immediate salve for the excesses and instability of capitalism. Similar ideological movements persisted among socialists prior to the emergence of the USSR.

Contemporary movements operating in the fascist tradition have made similar inroads with the left, from Nouvelle Droite (ND - New Right) Alain de Benoist's publications in New Left journal Telos to Workers World's relationship building with Russian fascists. Additionally, there has been a similar rise of right-wing anarchisms drawing upon the egoist, nihilist, and post-left traditions to inject race theory and esoteric traditionalism into anarchist discourse.

Kind of Weird

Žižek's apology for his plagiarism from American Renaissance was almost as bad as those in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. ("Almost" because sexual assault is way worse than plagiarism, even if it is from a fash mag.) The plagiarism in the first place was strange enough, to be quite honest.

What Žižek ultimately plagiarized was a summary of a book by academic anti-semite Kevin MacDonald from a positive 1999 review by Stanley Hornbeck. American Renaissance is put out by the New Century Foundation, a non-profit think tank founded by Jared Taylor in 1994 with funding from the Pioneer Fund which specializes in giving grants to contemporary eugenics projects. The organization maintains a consistent race determinism though is officially agnostic on the Jewish question. Through his studies in France, Taylor forged relationships with ND theorists Alain de Benoist's think tank GRECE. It is likely through these relationships he decided to have his organization share its name with a publication founded in 1925 by (proto-)fascist Georges Valois called "Le Nouveau Siecle" (The New Century).

The New Century Foundation belongs to a small network of charitable organizations including Richard Spencer's National Policy Institute and Kevin MacDonald's Charles Martel Society as well as a network of minor political parties, publishing houses, and podcasts. The National Policy Institute, like the New Century Foundation, maintains an agnostic position on the Jewish question, allowing that Jews can culturally integrate into society so long as they forsake their cultural Jewishness. The Charles Martel Society, however, maintains an anti-semitic line in their publications The Occidental Observer and The Occidental Quarterly.

The 1999 book review positively appraised Kevin MacDonald's The Culture of Critique the third in a trilogy asserting an evolutionary psychology approach to justifying anti-semitism. Outside of the white nationalist niche in which American Renaissance functions, MacDonald's book is widely rejected as a selective narration of 20th century Jewish scholarship to portray it as intentionally undermining white European cultures and Western civilization. The book is riddled with qualifications throughout in order to imply broad falsities while being technically true.

The passages Žižek lifted were part of a 2006 essay on Derrida's concept of différance. In a written apology, Žižek explained that he did not plagiarize the passages directly, but rather copied them from a colleague who slightly reworded the offending passages in a correspondence. That is, in 2014 when called out by white nationalist Steve Sailer, Žižek readily admitted to plagiarizing, but insisted that such plagiarism was merely one in a chain of plagiarisms for which he cannot be held responsible.

When Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Party primary in 2016, Žižek drew a counter-intuitive argument to wish for the ultimate victory of Donald Trump. In multiple outlets, Žižek argued that a Trump presidency would invoke a massive negative reaction from the reaction upon it inevitable failure and a reckoning for the neoliberalism of the Democratic Party elite. The sole evidence Žižek points to in these arguments is his smug certitude in his own convictions. Upon taking this position, Žižek began to be referenced favorably by various figures in the US far right, including Richard Spencer.

After Richard Spencer was punched twice outside of Donald Trump's poorly attended inauguration, Žižek came out forcefully against antifascist vigilantism. For all his counter-intuitive posturing against neoliberalism, he posited their same line about taking the moral high road in the face of neo-fascists. While these previous positions merely advocated creating space for fascism, his latest advocates active collaboration.

No Alliance With Fascists

I've argued elsewhere why meeting fascists on even terms is suicidal. While my argument in Jewish Currents pertained to interpersonal relationships - something I also discuss in my zine "You Can't Punch Every Nazi" - it applies equally well to building political alliances. Fascists simply do not enter into relationships on even terms. This has been born out by the consistent betrayals of fascist allies throughout history as documented in the Ross book and elsewhere.

Between Žižek's wish for an FBI-orchestrated assassination of Mike Pence in the event of Trump's demise and his assertion that allying with fascists against capitalim is paramount to class struggle, he presents no cogent arguments beyond assertion. His method is what he purports to be comparative literary analysis, but in reality is a sort of stream of consciousness based around occasional references to essays in popular media. He makes no pretense to grounding his arguments in any sort of historical precedent. Nor does he attempt to explain how a movement which is predicated on a fanatical enthusiasm for rigid classes could be an ally in the class struggle.

This is, however, part of his mystique as a scholar. He is often praised for being "idiosyncratic." In a personal conversation, someone once praised his work to me as "mindbending." His detractors criticize him for his tendency to invoke counter-factuals for their own sake. They question his tendency to speak in brash quips imbued with little meaning or justification. This generally captures the tenor of his most recent essay in the Independent.

As I explain in my zine, this is largely the rhetorical style of those espousing fascist ideologies. If you try to engage a fascist rhetorically, good luck trying to get them to stick to any given topic or grounding their opinions in anything beyond their own aspiration and certitude. Objectively, Žižek serves largely the same social function as any run-of-the-mill fascist. The only difference is that he has a built-in left wing audience for which he functions as a pied piper.