On Slavoj Žižek’s In Defense of Lost Causes

Zizekweb James Trimarco reviews the book in The Brooklyn Rail:

Revolutionary leaders like Lenin and Mao, if they could return today, would find a political left transformed beyond their recognition. While they believed in the absolute truth of their ideas, or at least wrote as if they did, most modern leftists see truth as partly contingent on one’s point of view. Where the old leaders saw the hierarchical political party as the best tool for transforming society, most modern leftists prefer decentralized forms of organizing, in which power flows from the bottom up. And where the old leaders imagined an uprising that would sweep capitalism from the face of the earth, modern leftists often believe it capable of incorporating every type of resistance. They advise their followers to bend it to their needs, to wait for the catastrophe that might cause its collapse, to build small spaces of resistance in which a semi-autonomous life is possible.

Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian philosopher and author of more than fifty books, has harsh words for this approach in his new book, In Defense of Lost Causes. He calls it “a worthless sophistic exercise, a pseudo-theorization of the lowest opportunist survivalist fears,” and urges leftists to look beyond the old legacy’s “totalitarianism” to see what might still be valuable there. Žižek has been arguing this point for decades, and the failure of the anti-war movement has put new wind in his sails. Still, it’s not going to be easy to convince the people he calls “postmodern leftists” (a pejorative term nearly all of them would object to, as Simon Critchley recently did in Harper’s magazine) that there is anything of use to them in the legacies of Stalin and Mao, let alone Hitler.

Is this book really going to defend such characters? Yes and no.