Cohen on Žižek’s Iraq

Via Normblog, Joshua Cohen (of the University of London, not of MIT) reviews Slavoj Žižek’s Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, in Democratiya.

Žižek seeks consciously to distinguish the tone and logic of his broadside against the Iraq war from those of his counterparts in the mainstream anti-war movement. In one of his more telling footnotes, he confesses to a ‘fundamental sympathy’ with Christopher Hitchens, despite their very different stances on Iraq and the war on terror: ‘I infinitely prefer him to standard liberal-leftist anti-American ‘pacifism’. Hitchens is an adversary worth reading – in contrast to many critics of the war on Iraq, who are much better ignored’ (p.182).

It may be helpful to consider this passing doff of the hat towards Hitchens in the light of Žižek’s previous comments on the cardinal virtue of Leninism in his 2001 book On Belief: ‘a Leninist, like a Conservative, is authentic in the sense of fully assuming the consequences of his choice, i.e. of being fully aware of what it actually means to take power and to exert it’ (p.4). Žižek’s withering contempt for the anti-war movement is directed against the contrived and (as Lenin would have it) infantile ‘purity’ of its politics, the stance of Hegel’s ‘Beautiful Soul’. Thus, where Hitchens recognises that any authentic political judgment will bloody one’s hands, the anti-war movement is enslaved to the fantasy of its own political innocence. Such a fantasy harbours more than a little unacknowledged violence of its own.

This insistence on Leninist responsibility (again, I can’t help inserting a note of parenthetic petit-bourgeois anxiety here – is Leninism really the most apt name for this responsibly self-implicating politics?) helps make sense of one of the apparent contradictions in Žižek’s political writings, namely that he seems simultaneously more uncompromisingly radical and more pragmatic than the liberal-left he prefers to ignore.