17 February 2010

Book chapter: Žižek against democracy

Jodi Dean's book "Žižek's Politics” (Routledge, August 2006) includes a chapter on "Democratic Fundamentalism" (pp. 95-133):


That chapter seems to be largely identical to an article titled "Zizek against Democracy" Dean published in the journal "Law, Culture, and the Humanities" a year earlier (1 [2], June 2005: pp. 154-77):


From the abstract: "This article takes up [the Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst] Slavoj Zizek's critical interrogation of democracy, defending Zizek's position as an alternative left politics, indeed, as that position most attuned to the loss of the political today. Whereas liberal and pragmatic approaches to politics and political theory accept the diminishment of political aspirations as realistic accommodation to the complexities of late capitalist societies as well as preferable to the dangers of totalitarianism accompanying Marxist and revolutionary theories, Zizek's psychoanalytic philosophy confronts directly the trap involved in acquiescence to a diminished political field, that is to say, to a political field constituted through the exclusion of the economy: within the ideological matrix of liberal democracy, any move against nationalism, fundamentalism, or ethnic violence ends up reinforcing Capital and guaranteeing democracy's failure. Arguing that formal democracy is irrevocably and necessarily 'stained' by a particular content that conditions and limits its universalizability, he challenges his readers to relinquish our attachment to democracy. I argue that critical Left theory should take up this challenge."

Some excerpts (from the book): "[D]emocracy is the form our attachment to Capital takes; it is the way we organize our enjoyment. He writes, 'what prevents the radical question of "capitalism" itself is precisely belief in the democratic form of the struggle against capitalism.' Faithful to democracy, we eschew the demanding task of politicizing the economy and envisioning a different political order. Some theorists think Žižek's position here is mere posturing. [...] [Ernesto] Laclau implies that Žižek's antidemocratic stance is something new. Attention to Žižek's writing shows, to the contrary, that a skepticism toward democracy has long been a crucial component of his project. [...]

"In a number of his early books published in English, Žižek voices a sense of betrayal at the bait and switch occurring in Eastern Europe when they 'went for' democracy and got capitalism and nationalism instead [...], what Žižek calls a 'scoundrel time' when capitalism appears as democracy and democracy as and through capitalism. [...] In subsequent work, Žižek names the limit to current thinking 'democratic fundamentalism'. [...] [D]emocracy binds our thinking – anything that is not democratic is necessarily horrible, totalitarian, and unacceptable to any rational person. [...] Are we destined to fetishize democracy [...]?"

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including full table of contents):


While I haven't been able to access the 2005 journal article, yet another version of this text is available from Dean's blog (I don't know/didn't check, however, to what extent the text may or may not be identical with that published in either the journal or the book):


I couldn't shake the feeling that Dean is a whole lot more anti-democratic than Žižek, and Žižek's writings merely serve her as a prop to expound her own ideas. But, then, that's how Žižek works too.

Jodi Dean is Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Erasmus Professor of the Humanities in the Faculty of Philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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