At Dissent, Alan Johnson worries that two revered intellectual theorists, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek, are increasingly sounding—it’s hard to be polite about this—old school authoritarian:
I propose to write a series of posts on what I will call the “new authoritarian Marxism” of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek. I think their ideas are a theoretical disaster and I find their popularity on campuses across Europe and North America to be deeply depressing. . . . God is now the Idea of Communism, his Sword is the Party, and the Party can use Terror in pursuit of Truth and Good. Liberal democracy, of course, is Iniquity and it must be “bound with thongs and chains.”
Ah, haven’t we run this reel before?
Johnson takes issue with recent statements like this one by Žižek:
Revolutionary politics is not a matter of opinions but of the truth on behalf of which one often is compelled to disregard the “opinion of the majority” and to impose the revolutionary will against it.
And here are three zingers from Badiou:
It is necessary to examine, in a detailed way, the contemporary theory of Evil, the ideology of human rights, the concept of democracy. It is necessary to show that nothing there leads in the direction of the real emancipation of humanity. It is necessary to reconstruct rights, in everyday life as in politics, of Truth and of the Good. (…) Terror is a political tool that has been in use as long as human societies have existed. It should therefore be judged as a political tool, and not submitted to infantilizing moral judgment. (…) As for the love of the Other, or, worse, the “recognition of the Other,” these are nothing but Christian confections.
I confess to often being dazzled by Žižek’s cultural criticisms, and I’ll continue to read him. But I also find it comforting to see someone on the Left calling him and Badiou out for playing, not just with illiberalism, but with what amounts, ultimately, to totalitarianism.
In fact, my only question for Johnson is this: why didn’t you call Badiou and Žižek’s politics, not authoritarian Marxism, but totalitarian Marxism?