I have to be honest. I’ve never looked to people like Slavoj Zizek for any genuine leftist analysis. Yeah, his philosophical escapades can make interesting reading once one translates the academic jargon into a rhythmic method that one can extract some meaning from. Once this happens, it seems to me that there aren’t a whole lot of original thoughts inside the covers of those books Left and university presses love to publish. His act, which I’ve caught on YouTube videos a few times, reminded me of Krusty the Clown if he was on the university lecture circuit. Zizek’s popularity seems considerably less than it was twenty years ago, when everywhere a left-leaning reader looked, there seemed to be a new Zizek book for sale. Hell, I even reviewed one. It wasn’t a bad read, but, like I inferred above, it wasn’t particularly eye-opening either.
But, yeah. Zizek has been out of the left-leaning limelight for a while. Maybe this inattention to his ego from the media, his fans and detractors is why he penned a piece attacking pacifists and calling for a stronger NATO in the June 21, 2022 edition of the mainstream liberal publication British publication the Guardian. Yes, like a few others mostly in the US/western European Left, Zizek has decided that the only response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict is full-on support for the Kyiv government, no matter what. Going beyond others on the Left who have voiced similar sentiments, but kept their opposition to NATO/US troops and air involvement intact, Zizek has jumped full on board with the “fight to the last Ukrainian” crowd; the liberals, nazis, church patriarchs and every other segment of the pro-war crowd.
In his column, he lumps Noam Chomsky and Henry Kissinger together, solely because they both support negotiations instead of a wider war. In making this comparison conveniently ignores the differences in each man’s statements on the subject. Of course, that is truly the only approach he can take—by removing context from the equation. After attacking pacifism and its advocates throughout the piece, Zizek makes a claim that only someone with his ego and arrogance would be okay with making, at least seriously. He writes, “Today, one cannot be a leftist if one does not unequivocally stand behind Ukraine.” in other words, Zizek’s test of left moral purity is whether or not they support every and any version of the Kyiv government and its war. In a sentence, Zizek goes from just someone stating his argument against negotiated settlement for an expanded NATO, and against rational alternatives to a long, deadly and potentially wider war to purging a fairly large segment of the international left from the debate. As far as I know, no other leftist who supports Ukraine has dismissed those who don’t from the ranks, such as they are. No other leftist has written out those they disagree with over the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Slavoj Zizek, on the other hand, makes this the core of his argument.
It’s not that I expect more from those who make their living by being (or posing as) philosophers. Long ago, I realized that their words may be pretty, their arguments great, and their public speaking skills entertaining, but when it comes down to it, most of them do not meet the challenge posed by the epitaph on Karl Marx’s grave: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” I’ve always considered Zizek’s works to be a certain kind of interpretation, but as far as changing anything, it has always seemed to me that the only thing he was interested in changing is the numbers in his bank accounts. Still, that is no excuse for this call to not only support Ukraine’s capitalist government over Moscow’s, but to call for a more powerful NATO. Not even the most out-of-touch philosopher in the world cannot understand the reality such a call means if it were acted on.
In the interest of honesty, Zizek discusses a gaffe recently made by George W. Bush where he misspoke, calling the US invasion of Iraq “a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion” when he meant to say Ukraine. In doing so, Zizek makes a comparison between Moscow and Washington, acknowledging their similarities, even bringing up the case of Julian Assange, who exposed Washington’s crimes in Iraq (and elsewhere) and faces extradition to the United States for doing so. Obviously, in a general sense, Moscow’s vision of empire and Washington’s vision of world domination share a similar impetus. However, this equivalency (however tenuous once examined) does not demand the statement Zizek ends his opinion piece with: “…Ukraine fights for global freedom, inclusive of the freedom of Russians themselves.” Sorry, Slavoj, I’ve been hearing claptrap like that since I was in diapers. The only difference is it was said by western politicians, Pentagon generals and Archbishops of the Catholic Church. It still doesn’t ring true.