Slavoj Zizek’s engagement with theologians like radical orthodoxist John Milbank continues to perplex me a little bit, but having heard him speak a few days ago with death-of-God theologian Thomas Altizer at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Montreal left me reassured me that Zizek is far from the wildest (and zaniest) mind out there. Altizer’s voice thundered through the Palais des Congres conference room as he corralled Hegel and William Blake into a kind of ecstatic rave-up on Satan and the self-annihilation of God. I’m not familiar enough with Altizer’s thinking to judge it, but it sounded a little to me like taking two parts X (in this case, Hegel), one part Y (Blake), and sprinkling in some N and M (Nietzsche and Jung?) just to see what will come of it (something, I think, about spirit’s immanence in the world through the self-annihilation of God via Christ). [sentence deleted out of respect]*
But Zizek’s big argument was the same as ever: that the relativists, postmodernists, multiculturalists, holists, pagans, buddhists, relationalists, Deleuzians, and even deconstructive theologians like John Caputo (addressed directly) are all wrong, and are really just propping up the illusory Big Other instead of releasing us into the revolutionary moment, and that what we need instead is a Leninist revolutionary force to bring about, I guess, an egalitarian utopia on Earth.
I like watching Zizek perform and enjoy his post-Yugoslav sense of humor, and I think his big Lacanian thought is a very good one to have around — on ecological matters no less than on others (though there’s an incoherent desperation in his writing on ecology that makes me glad Tim Morton is around to tell us more clearly what Zizek would like to say). But I can’t help wondering if there’s a kind of continuity — not of ideas, but of sensibility — developing between his (and Alain Badiou’s) ultra-Left neo-Orthodoxy and other orthodoxies, like the Radical Orthodoxy of Milbank and of Philip Blond, spiritual gurus for some of the “red Tories” among David Cameron’s soon-to-be-ruling Conservatives in the UK, and maybe even the Radical Traditionalists that have influenced the European New Right (including the neo-‘Pagans’ among them such as Russia’s Aleksandr Dugin and France’s Alain de Benoist). I haven’t read Zizek’s/Milbank’s Monstrosity of Christ (being, quite honestly, a little afraid of it), only reviews of it; but it does seem to me that all of these neo-orthodoxies are fervently anti-liberal, both in liberalism’s economic (neoliberal) and its cultural variants, and are either sour on democracy, or at least merely utilitarian in their approach to it.
Of course they disagree on what should replace liberalism — Christian solidarity, Leninist Communism, ethno-nationalism, or something else — which makes them incompatible on the most obvious level. But isn’t the shared sensibility — which seems to me to be an overheated desire for something more direct, more clean and pure, and more abstract, than mere, messy democracy — a little troubling, or at least analytically interesting? I know this accusation goes against Zizek’s own love of messiness, but there’s a creeping aggression in his tone that has been rubbing me the wrong way. (In his review of the Zizek/Milbank book, Caputo, who is more my style, fixes his gaze exactly on this weird, and epistemological, aggressiveness in both thinkers.)
Thinking out loud here. . . Could it be that the left-right political axis is losing its salience and being replaced by something new — not quite the ‘authoritarian-libertarian’ axis that anarchists/libertarians on the left and right like to talk about, since that doesn’t cover enough of what I’m getting at, but something more like ‘liberalism-solidarism‘, where ‘liberalism‘ is more atomistic and individualist, but also process oriented, and therefore more committed to democratic practice and dialogue, while ‘solidarism‘ is collectivist, decisionist and ‘Event’-oriented (in Badiou’s terms), and epistemologically authoritarian, though not necessarily politically authoritarian? (I mean something a little broader than von Mises’ definition of solidarism, based on the early 20th century French example. And note that I’m avoiding the word ‘fascism’ since it’s both too loaded and too limited; but it would certainly fit at one end of the ‘solidarism’ umbrella.)
On the — unproven, but hopefully intellectually productive — hypothesis that sensibilities can begin to merge even when ideologies differ, could we see some sort of convergence of radical orthodoxies or ‘solidarisms’ developing internationally in the near future? What might be the terms of such a convergence?
For instance, I think that a certain subset of ecological politics could easily find itself on the solidarism side of the axis, to the extent that it bases its claims on a substantive account of what ‘nature’ is and what it demands of us (see my posts on Teddy Goldsmith and Derrick Jensen). The blending of eco-solidarism with other solidarisms (as we’ve already seen in some of the European New Right) is then only a matter of time.
And as for Islam, while the more fundamentalist mullahs of Iran and elsewhere clearly fall on the solidarism side but show little interest in ideological dialogue with the non-Muslim world, might the Tariq Ramadans and Fethullah Gulens (the “most influential intellectual alive“), who are more dialogical and moderate, serve as a Muslim advance-guard for an emerging cross-confessional solidarist convergence? Gulen’s followers may seem too liberal and capitalist for that — the Protestants of the Muslim world — but isn’t Chinese communo-capitalism a form of solidarism, too (or am I starting to lose the distinction between solidarism and authoritarianism here)?
Would the process of such a dialogue, by the very fact of its being a dialogue, render their positions more plural and open? If such a shift were developing — a growing dialogue among ideologically divergent but commonly anti-liberal solidarisms — how could we inject a Jamesian/Connollian ‘ethos of pluralization‘ into the discussion, not so much to slow down their convergence as to radically open up the terms on which it might be occurring?
Maybe this difference is the one that one finds in rival accounts of the Paris Commune: there are those, like Marx, who thought the Communards failed in forming the revolutionary kernel that could have stormed the barricades and taken over Versailles when they had the momentum, instead of forming parliamentary committees, engaging in debate, and respecting the process of change; and then there are those who think the means should justify the ends, and that a failed good revolution is better than a successful sham (like the Soviet Union’s). Whatever he means by it, Zizek’s “egalitarian terror” — his concluding offering in “Nature and its discontents” and In Defense of Lost Causes — is hardly the way I would want to bring about an ecological revolution.
*I had originally made a comment here about Zizek’s mannerisms, but I’ve decided that it is irrelevant to the substance of what he says. It’s true that Zizek himself has commented about Lacan’s mannerisms, and that psychoanalysis lends itself to this kind of analysis of one’s gestures, bodily movements, etc., but that’s also the point at which psychoanalysis becomes a bit of a caricature of itself, and I’m not sure that it’s very helpful to go there when one is interested in dialogue rather than mere critique…