Not long ago, Slavoj Žižek was the darling of the art house left. His excessive pessimism and mastery in conveying simple, if counterintuitive, observations in the similarly opaque parlance of the Lacanian and Hegelian traditions elevated his status to the very apex of the bohemian radical milieu (in an atmosphere where form often exceeds substance, such is hardly surprising). Žižek’s charmingly misanthropic and eccentric personality, in addition to his vulgar sense of humor—ever observable in his public lectures—also broadened his appeal to less academic audiences, atypical for someone from his intellectual background and significantly contributing to his fringe celebrity.
But the Slovenian philosopher’s reputation has suffered a precipitous decline, transitioning from relatively famous to infamous in a matter of months. Predictably, the source of discontent centers on the least objectionable aspect of his work, to wit, his cogent—albeit limited—critiques of political correctness and unrestrained immigration.
To summarize the controversy, over the last year, Žižek has criticized the effectiveness of speech censorship in fostering multiculturalism and questioned the wisdom of the lenient immigration policies a number of EU countries have adopted in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, both of which are tantamount to heresy on the New Left. With intimate knowledge of the utter hysteria this coterie has the capacity to exhibit, Žižek sought to forestall hostile reactions by repeatedly qualifying his statements and reassuring his audiences that he unequivocally shares their cosmopolitan values, thus emphasizing that his is merely a tactical dispute. But the old man critically underestimated the extent of their dogmatism. Anecdotes of non-white activists who concur with his assessment of political correctness, and cautioning that the New Left’s wholesale endorsement of lax immigration policies is, in point of fact, bolstering far-right parties across Europe, weren’t nearly adequate enough to prevent Žižek’s detractors from labeling him a “racist” and a “fascist.” (Suffice it to say, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the more assumptions one professes to share in common with these characters, the more viciously they assail, should one diverge from their specific conclusions.)
This rabid and concerted offensive against Žižek reached a new height at the closing plenary of the Left Forum on the 22nd of May, where he delivered a lecture entitled “Rage, Rebellion, Organizing New Power: A Hegelian Triad.” Amy Goodman provided a particularly nauseating self-righteous introduction, which consisted of the usual left-liberal ritual celebration of all things ethnic and fringe, presumably so organizers could establish distance between the Left Forum and Žižek’s controversial positions. Before the talk began, however, a handout was circulated among attendees, laced with unpopular quotes by Žižek and distorted synopses of his stances, in order to poison the well, as it were. What followed was a series of attempted interruptions engaged in by a segment of the audience, obviously undertaken in an effort to deplatform the man. Fortunately Žižek managed to successfully complete the lecture despite the shrieks and jeers wailed by these hypersensitive fanatics, but given the contemporary left-liberal reactionary opposition to freedom of speech and association, I suspect it won’t be long before this maniacal mob succeeds in either eliminating his ability to deliver public lectures altogether or in intimidating him to the point he can only salvage his career via self-censorship.
To be clear, I’ve long been of the opinion that Žižek deserves to be challenged on a number of fronts. Inter alia, his unjustifiable rejection of value theory and historical materialism, unsubstantiated dismissal of libertarian communist economic models, and elitist Lacanian perspective on “ideology,” all seriously call into question Žižek’s Marxist and, indeed, communist bona fides, as far as I’m concerned. The proper terrain to conduct this campaign, however, is in the written word, formal debate, and/or organized speeches. Succumbing to the strategy the right pioneered, i.e. speech censorship, will do precisely nothing to actually demolish those views. As blasphemous as it will sound to many, I will even go so far as to contend that the no platform policy was never a sensible tactic. Incorrect and dangerous ideas are not extinguished by fiat, they are vanquished only by superior ideas; hence, in the eyes of the public, those who attempt to censor speech appear to require force out of sheer intellectual ineptitude.
In an environment as irrational and toxic as the radical so-called ‘left’ has become in Western Europe and North America, perhaps Žižek can take solace in the fact that virtually every heterosexual Caucasian male is, at some point, suspected of harboring racist, sexist, and fascistic sympathies. I will surely be, once my own papers on immigration, intersectionality, and the national question are complete. So be it.