has been called both ‘the Elvis of cultural theory’ and ‘the most dangerous philosopher in the West’. On 17 April 2015, Simon Joseph Jones called on him at his home in Ljubljana and, in a three-hour conversation, tried to get a word in edgeways.
As a student of psychoanalysis, you’ll understand why I want to start with your childhood. Can you tell us a little about those years?
Mother, father, both were resolutely atheists. I remember once when I was in my early teens my father caught me reading a Bible – I was buying books already – and he sat me down and tried to convince me how this is all nonsense blah blah. He was terribly afraid that I would be seduced by it. I was shocked – like, if he is really an atheist, why is he so worried? Has he some doubts?
You know, a psychiatrist who has specialised in the psychology of suicide bombers told me that they have enormous doubts and it’s as if by ‘acting out’ they will prove to themselves that they really do believe. But what fascinates me is the opposite: the atheist who [in effect], in his daily life, believes much more than he would be ready to admit. I like that motif that today we are not simply non-believers but our beliefs are materialised in our rituals and so on. You can have beliefs that function socially, because people obey them in practice, though no one is ready to say: ‘I really believe.’ I’m tempted to claim that even in medieval times beliefs were not so direct. Maybe this believing in the first person – I, in myself, believe – is something that early modernity – Protestantism and so on – brought about.
My Jewish friends all tell me the same story, that when they were in their teens they went to their rabbi and said, ‘I have a problem: I don’t really believe in God.’ And they all got the same answer: ‘Why are you bothering me with your inner turmoil? I also don’t believe. My duty is to teach you to follow the rules.’
There is for me something almost beautiful in that. This is maybe what marked me so deeply: in my teens I read a book I quote often, Aldous Huxley’s Grey Eminence,1Grey Eminence: A study in religion and politics (Chatto & Windus, 1941) the story of Father Joseph, who served Cardinal de Richelieu during the Thirty Years War. Politically, he was utterly evil, unprincipled and ruthless, but now comes the surprise: every evening when the day’s dirty work was finished, he engaged in the most beautiful mystical reflections. There is no doubt, he had authentic [experiences], at the level of (if I may be slightly obscene) the ‘big hits’ of Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross. How is this possible? So, from the very beginning I was against this notion of a religion of ‘inner truth’. There is an ethical void at the heart of it.
Sorry, you wanted to say something.
Well, I was –
And, you know – sorry to interrupt you again! – there is a book by a Buddhist monk called Zen at War,2Brian Daizen Victoria, Zen at War (Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd ed 2006) which is one of the most edifying and at the same time terrifying books I have ever read. It describes how the Japanese Zen community supported the war effort in the 1930s and ’40s – and not only supported it but justified it. For example, in the late Thirties D T Suzuki, the great populariser of Zen in the hippy years, tried to convince the Japanese authorities that a minimal Zen training can be of immense help in training soldiers.
God is present, not in our shitty meditations but in how we treat other people. That is what matters: not your inner belief or whatever but what you enact
Let’s say I encounter you on the battlefield: I have a sense of decency, how can I kill you? Suzuki says: Yes, but I feel like this only if I remain in this realm of illusions and I think that you and I are real persons. But if I see that we don’t have selves and reality is just a dance of appearances, it’s no longer a problem: the sword in my hand is simply part of this dance and somehow your body falls on it and it has nothing to do with me.
Isn’t there something terrifying in this, that you can both have a deep, authentic spiritual experience and be a ruthless killing machine? And then [during the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia] I arrived at the formula ‘No ethnic cleansing without poetry’. As I said, it’s difficult for most of us to kill, and so we need a strong poetic, mythic or religious vision to do it, no?
So, the only solution that I see is that of the three ‘religions of the book’, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which is this turn against inner experience. This is how I read the iconoclasm of Judaism. Why should we not paint the image of God? Not simply because God is way beyond our representation but because God is present here, not in our shitty meditations but in how we treat other people. That is what matters: not your inner belief or whatever but what you enact.
But what distinguishes Christianity is that, although it is a ‘religion of the book’, it is entered through a person, the ‘Godman’ – I think you have called it somewhere ‘the traumatic encounter with the radical Other’.
The truly dramatic point is in Christianity, and that is why, although I am (I must admit it) an atheist, I think that you can truly be an atheist – and I mean this quite literally – only through Christianity. That’s how I read the death of Christ – here I follow Hegel, who [said]: What dies on the cross is God himself.
I take seriously those words Christ says at the end: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? It’s something really tremendous that happens. G K Chesterton (whom I admire) puts it in a wonderful way: Only in Christianity does God himself, for a moment, become atheist.3Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy (1908): ‘Let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.’
And I think – this is my reading – that this moment of the death of God, when you are totally abandoned and you have only your ‘collectivity’, called the ‘Holy Spirit’, is the authentic moment of freedom. You have this freedom in other religions, but it’s still only in ‘the other world’ – in nirvana and so on. Only in Christianity do you have the ‘Holy Spirit’ in the sense of an egalitarian community which can exist only on this earth.
I am so impressed by those stories in the Bible where Jesus is with his followers and someone tells him, ‘Outside, your family are waiting for you’ and he says: ‘No, this is my family.’ The emancipatory core of Christianity is, for me, that there is an egalitarian community possible already on this earth outside the edifice of social hierarchy. Then, of course, come all the problems: How far can you go? Can you make a whole society along these lines? But this seems, for me, the tremendous achievement of Christianity. Judaism doesn’t dare to do it. Judaism is still, you know, ‘Respect your parents’ and so on. Christianity is not just a belief, it is a certain mental space, spiritual space, or space for ideas, let’s call it. What happens there is, I claim, absolutely unique.
And – a step further – I claim that this is what is really threatened today. This is my sad impression of the United States, that even if the majority is still nominally Christian, their de facto stance is more and more what I call ‘enlightened Buddhist hedonism’, where the call is for ‘authentic living’ and ‘being true to yourself’.
Sorry, can I ask –
Please interrupt me! As you can see, it’s the only way with me…
For many people, an essential element in Christianity is resurrection. Do you have room for that?
I am opposed to Richard Dawkins and Co – even those who are not so aggressive, they simply don’t get how religion works. I want to take things much more seriously
Here, probably, we disagree. OK, with a little irony I will use harsh terms: all the finale of the Bible – Armageddon, the Second Coming – screw it! For me, the key is in the Gospel, when Christ announces, ‘I will die [but] I will come back’ and somebody says: ‘But how will we know?’ And then he says those famous words: ‘When there will be love between two of you, I will be there.’4This may refer to Matthew 18:19f. That’s enough, I claim. The whole point, in my radical reading of resurrection, is that the community which is searching for Christ is already the living body of Christ. It is for idiots to wait [until] he comes as a person again. No! He is here, in [our] love, already.
I know it’s a crazy, idiosyncratic reading but I think that Christianity at its most radical precisely renounces this need for a ‘big Other’. All notion of a ‘big Other’ dies on the cross. What you get [instead] is the ‘Holy Spirit’ – that’s it – without any guarantee, you know, [that] there is a big, old guy up there – or everywhere – who is in control, or (not so primitive) there is some deeper meaning in creation, so don’t worry too much!
My Jewish friends reproach us who are part of the Christian [tradition] by saying that only in Judaism you confront the anxietyprovoking impenetrability of God, but in Christianity you get an easy way out, like ‘Don’t worry, God loves you!’ I think you don’t. I think that when Christ dies, you lose that guarantee – the abyss is even stronger. The message of Christianity is not [that] God loves us; the point is, God is love – which is in us.
And this is such a radical message that even today it is unacceptable. Now we are at the crucial point! In contrast to those postmodern thinkers who try to find in Judaism or some pagan religion some richer experience repressed by Christianity, I think: No, what is repressed by institutional Christianity is its own founding gesture. It is as if Christianity as a religion fights its own excess.
Given that you are an atheist, you talk a lot about God and Christianity. Why is that?
I agree that this is the big question. On the one hand, I am opposed to Richard Dawkins and Co – even those who are not so aggressive, they simply don’t get how religion works, they simply miss their target. On the other hand, I agree that when leftists accept religion, they often do it in this implicitly manipulative, even racist, way: ‘We know there is no God but in places that are a little bit more primitive you need something like religion to mobilise people. It gives people hope,’ whatever. No! I want to take things much more seriously.
If I am a materialist, how can I talk about the experience of a divine dimension without reducing it to a useful illusion? Here, my answer is double. First, Rowan Williams in his book on Dostoevsky,5Dostoevsky: Language, faith and fiction (Continuum, 2008) which I like very much, says something wonderful: that for him the most profound dimension of the religious experience is not this idea of a good ol’ guy God but simply a kind of – let’s call it ‘ontological uneasiness’: you feel that you are not totally of this world, that there is something structurally wrong. And here comes my trick: this does not mean that there is another world, just this sense that we don’t fully belong in this one.
The second dimension is this wonderful notion of counterfactuals. Maybe you’ve heard of my friend [the philosopher] Jean-Pierre Dupuy? He’s almost a genius, I think. He gives this simple example that I love. If I say, ‘If Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet, another person did,’ this is undoubtedly true, because Hamlet exists. But if I say, ‘If Shakespeare [hadn’t] written Hamlet, another person would have,’ this is a much more problematic statement, because it means there was some kind of pressure to write a play like Hamlet.
You know the standard Marxist theory of Napoleon: the logic of [the] French Revolution was that it had to [mutate] into some kind of imperial regime and, without Napoleon, another guy would probably have been picked, contingently, to do the job. But say that Stalin has an accident in ’23, would Stalinism still happen but with another guy? Or does it depend on Stalin’s person?
Even if something didn’t happen, it is still important in what sense it didn’t happen. You can say that God doesn’t exist, but which God doesn’t?
Dupuy provides a wonderful answer: that it happens contingently, but once it happens, it retroactively becomes necessary. Like, when Julius Caesar [reaches the] Rubicon, it isn’t written in the stars [that he will cross it]; but once it happens, it retroactively creates its own necessity. The best example here would be this: you fall in love totally contingently – I don’t know, you [bump into a woman] on the street – but once it happens, you experience it as if for your whole lifetime –
It had been predestined?
Yeah! And now comes the beauty of Dupuy’s argumentation: he tries to prove that this is not simply an afterwards illusion [but] that things in themselves are ontologically open – like, in a way things retroactively become fully what they are. And this brings us back to Christianity. Christ was contingent, but once he is here he is [an] absolute necessity. And another point – now things become crucial! This, I think, is how we should read redemption and so on: we can change the past not factually – of course, what happened happened – but counterfactually. Things don’t only happen but things might have happened, and retroactively you can change the whole tapestry of options.
For example, in Hitchcock’s Vertigo what happens when Madeleine (who we later discover was not really Madeleine) jumps [from the bell tower]? Scottie loses his love, no? OK, but what happens towards the end of the film, when he discovers that this Madeleine never existed, because the woman he was in love with was an impersonator? In this way, the past is, counterfactually only, changed.
Now, from this we can draw another conclusion: that even if something didn’t happen, it is still important in what sense it didn’t happen. For example, you can say that God doesn’t exist, but which God doesn’t? Because counterfactuals, as counterfactuals, exist and socially, symbolically, exert influence. That’s why it is extremely important, even if you are a materialist, to fight counterfactually for what notion of God we have.
I don’t want to [speak] of a lie, because it sounds too denigrating, but God is for me a lie in the sense of something counterfactual that you absolutely need to see the truth. I’ll give you an example. Did you see the Polanski movie The Ghost Writer ? A retired British prime minister, clearly based on Tony Blair, [turns out to have been] trained by the CIA. There was a wonderful review of this film that said: Of course, it’s not true – but if it had been true, it would have explained everything.
So, this is the crucial paradox: the counterfactual is formally a lie, but a lie absolutely immanent to reality. You erase the lie, you lose reality itself. You cannot simply say: There is no God. Like, there is a wonderful story a friend told me. A rabbi is telling a young boy some old story from [the] Talmud and the boy says: ‘It’s wonderful! Did it really happen? Is it true?’ You know what the rabbi says? ‘It didn’t happen, but it’s true.’ It’s not enough to say that God is a useful illusion; he is ontologically necessary. In this sense, we cannot get rid of God.
When Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’, is heaven a useful illusion?
Counterfactual. It’s not illusion. You know what’s the problem with the term ‘illusion’? The opposite of illusion is reality, but this reality is constructed through illusion. My God, even your empiricists knew this. In Jeremy Bentham’s Theory of Fictions, the point is not ‘Our universal concepts are fictions. Open yourselves to reality!’ He knew that if you erase the fictions you lose reality itself. And now comes the beauty. I am not saying: Our reality is just another illusion. I’m not a postmodernist! There is a reality. That’s the paradox. Sometimes, something that exists only counterfactually can deeply determine your entire reality.
So, tell me, which is the God who you don’t believe in?
What interests me tremendously is this idea of a God who is omnipotent but at the same time capricious. In the Book of Job – which (if I may repeat this line) ‘can be counted as the first exercise in the critique of ideology in the entire history of humanity’6From Living in the End Times (Verso, 2010) – his three friends come to him and each of them offers an ideological justification of his suffering – and then comes the beauty: when God arrives, he says: No, this is bullshit!
They were ‘totally orthodox and totally wrong’.
Yes! So, Job asks: ‘OK, but why did I suffer? What does it mean?’ And God goes into that crazy speech: ‘Who are you to ask me this? Where were you when I created those monsters?’7Job 38–41 You know how Chesterton reads this? As God telling Job: ‘You think you are in trouble? Look at the universe! Everything is confusion.’
You know where you find this [idea of God] now? In the Johnny Cash song ‘The Man Comes Around’.8See bit.ly/1gBOnvX. The way the Last Judgement is staged there is almost like what happens in a concentration camp. We are all gathered and God just says: ‘You’re in. You’re out.’ Isn’t predestination the pure idea of God as totally arbitrary? He just throws the dice, whatever, we don’t know.
This insight of Protestantism is crucial theologically, I think. It’s much closer to me than all that Catholic stuff, because it’s less corruptive, you know? The moment you concede that your salvation depends on your good works, we are at the level of bargaining: ‘Should I do this, so I get that?’ and so on. No! If you take seriously the ethical core of Christianity, you cannot make salvation dependent on good works.
But somehow you must, as it were, civilise that crazy God who, because he is omnipotent, is on the edge of being evil, you know? I think this is the great discovery of Protestantism. In Catholicism, God is the high point of an orderly, hierarchic universe. The absolute excess of God, what mystics called the ‘madness’ of God, is lost.
This is the paradox that people don’t get, I think. This is very profound Protestant logic, that God is an absolute tyrant and only through utter humiliation [do] you get the modern notion of free individuality. Luther even says: We are the shit that fell out of God’s anus. And this reduction to nothing is weirdly liberating, you know?
I think this barbarian [element of Protestantism] is the necessary obverse of modern human freedom. In this sense, I am not very fashionable! I debated this once with Rowan Williams and I told him – OK, I was provoking him – ‘When I take power, even you will go to a re-education camp,’ because he has some tenderness towards Eastern Orthodoxy. I am here totally Western European. Eastern Orthodoxy is the worst, because it has this formula which is totally wrong, I think: that God became human so that we can become God.
There are some nice analogies here with Bolshevism – for example, Gorky and Lunacharsky proposed what they called bogograditelk’stvo, ‘the construction of God’: the idea that humanity will gradually divinise itself. No! I think we should stick to Luther, that, you know, the only space for freedom is to be divine shit.
You referred to ‘when you take power’, and you did in fact run for the presidency of Slovenia in 1990. Why did you do that?
To help my party. It was a very modest party, not even very leftist, called Liberal Democratic. We were nonetheless dissidents, and our fear was that Slovenia would [end up with] just two political blocs: the old Communists, who were, up to a point, genuinely popular, and the (mostly conservative) nationalists. So, the point was to establish, like, a third way! And for almost 20 years it worked and we did avoid those dangerous dynamics that happened in Croatia and Serbia.
Why did you subsequently move from a hands-dirty kind of politics to being almost entirely a theorist? I know you don’t enjoy teaching –
I hate it, actively.
If things go on the way they are going, we are approaching some end point which may be not universal catastrophe but some very sad new authoritarian society
– but the way you reference popular culture means you can communicate with people outside the ivory tower. Is there something you are trying to achieve, or is it just that a philosopher must find ways to communicate or what’s the point in having ideas?
There are two levels here. The first is my terror of jargon. I always say: the idiot I am trying to explain things to is not my public, it’s myself. I have terrible memories from my youth when philosophers just exchanged jargon and people didn’t understand what they meant.
The other level is that, very traditionally, I do feel a kind of public responsibility of an intellectual – at least to raise the right questions. People ask me: ‘What should we do today, politically, ecologically?’ Fuck it! What do I know? I don’t have answers. The important thing is to ask the right questions, because the way ideology works today, I think, is precisely at the level of how we perceive a problem. Ideology is at its most dangerous when it deals with a real problem but there is a mystification in the way it describes it.
For example: sexism, racism and so on. We tend today automatically to [consider these in terms of] tolerance and harassment, and I find both problematic. Of course there is harassment, but isn’t there in this also something of a fear of your neighbour? If I may put it this way, this is today’s predominant anti-Christian attitude. The Christian attitude is ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ but this delivers a message to the neighbour: ‘If you come too close to me, you harass me.’ It’s part of, I think, our narcissistic self-perception.
This is why I am also opposed to [giving to] charity, because, I think, its true purpose is precisely to keep the suffering neighbour at a distance.
With ecology, it’s the same. What I especially hate is this, again, pseudo-superego personalisation of ecology. Like, instead of systemic changes, you are personally terrorised: Did you recycle all your newspapers and all your Coke cans and so on? It becomes your problem, and of course you are [made to feel] always guilty – but at the same time, if you recycle everything, ‘Oh, I did my duty. It’s not my problem’ and so on.
How do you think things are going to develop?
I’m a Hegelian optimist. For Hegel, the French Revolution went wrong but he nonetheless wanted to retain its legacy, so there is no return to the ancien régime. And I think: Isn’t our problem today similar? Communism was a fiasco, but the problems are still here which generated it. Look at ecology – the market is not enough. For example, the Japanese government [has admitted] that two, three days after the explosion at Fukushima they thought for one or two days that they would have to evacuate the entire Tokyo area. Like, 30 million people or whatever! Sorry, it’s not the market that you need for that but total, almost military, organisation. And I am not now preaching a return to some sort of Stalinist regime; I am just saying that, to avoid that, we really need to find a new logic of large collective decisions.
If things go on the way they are going, we are – this is my still Marxist belief – approaching some end point which may be not universal catastrophe but some very sad new authoritarian society, where we will keep most of our personal freedoms – gay rights, abortion, whatever you want – even, up to a point, freedom of expression – but key decisions are made elsewhere, in a global process that is more and more impenetrable, untouchable – it’s just capitalism. This is what worries me.
Capitalism less and less needs democracy, and we are so deeply into this depoliticised society where we enjoy our freedoms but politics is left to experts. In some countries it is only the Christian conservatives who are truly engaged and, if the left doesn’t answer this, what I fear is a society where the opposition is between a technocratic centre and the Christian (but in the bad sense) fundamentalists, whatever. And, admit it, we are moving towards that, in France, in Scandinavia and [other] countries. In England, maybe not?
It is vain to wait for a big revolutionary moment. We have just to start modestly here and there and pick out those strategic points that will trigger the process of change
So, I am not a Marxist determinist. I think that, if anything, the [trajectory] of history is…
Yes! Although we still have relatively good lives, in the long term things are going downwards, I’m afraid.
What can we do? Maybe we will not do anything. If we do nothing, it will turn really bad – but I am more than aware of all the problems. For me, the big trauma is Stalinism still. Fascism was a relatively simple thing: there were bad guys who decided they wanted to do bad [things] and when they took power they did them. But Communism, whatever you say, was at the beginning an emancipatory explosion, though it turned into a total nightmare. We still don’t have a good theory of why.
So, what [is the alternative]? At one point, it looked [to be a] social democratic welfare state, but with globalisation and so on that is over. What my friend [Yanis] Varoufakis, [then] the Greek finance minister, is proposing to the Brussels bureaucracy and Germany is something that 40, 50 years ago would have been a very moderate social democracy, but now [if you propose it] you are decried as a lunatic and so on. This makes me really sad. What the Greeks are demanding is modest. They are arguing very rationally.
You have been very critical of those, such as the French economist Thomas Piketty, who have argued that the system is essentially OK if only we can get people to pay more tax or whatever. You point out that we are no more likely to get people to pay more tax than we are to have a revolution and rebuild the whole system.
Ah, I like this argument. As the Trotskyite Marxist [cultural critic] Alberto Pascano says, maybe modest reformism is our ultimate utopia, you know? Piketty is well aware that capitalism is global, which means that one country [can’t afford to raise taxes on its own]; but if we were in a position to raise taxes globally, it would mean we would already have won, because we would have a worldwide government with full authority. So, his idea is: we will win when we[’ve] already won!
Here I would say another thing, which I like to emphasise when people accuse me of being pro-violence and so on. People associate violence with change [and so they say] we shouldn’t change things, but the problem is the violence which is needed, more and more, just to keep things the way they are. When people say, ‘Isn’t revolution risky?’, I tell them: Look at [the Democratic Republic of] Congo! Nine years ago, a cover story in Time magazine reported that in the last eight years over four million people [had] died unnatural deaths and so on. I met the editor-in-chief at the time and he told me he [had expected a] big outcry but they got a couple of letters, that’s all. My God! Nobody cares. Why? Congo is [a failed state] but it is fully integrated into the world market and the local warlords provide [the rare minerals needed] for our computers or whatever.9See eg bit.ly/1wqlloG.
This is why – this was a heavy provocation! – I said that the problem with Hitler was that he wasn’t violent enough. Hitler – here, I’m a classical Marxist – killed millions to keep things basically the way they were. He was a coward: he was afraid to risk real change. Gandhi was more violent than Hitler, in the sense that he didn’t kill anyone but he brought the British Empire down.
What can our readers who believe in the emancipatory logic of Christianity do?
I will give you a very modest proposal of how to be – let’s say ‘reformist-revolutionary’. I don’t like pseudo-radical leftists who say, ‘Don’t get your hands dirty by participating!’ and sit and wait for the big event. I think what gives me hope is precisely what I told you about Syriza and so on. This is how we should proceed.
We need to rehabilitate what is worth saving in our European legacy: Christianity, democracy, whatever. Let’s not behave as if we have to be ashamed of it, because what is replacing it is something terrifying
For example, let me tell you something which may surprise you. It’s so easy to be disappointed by Barack Obama. Some of my stupid leftist friends, if you listen to them – what did they fucking expect? That Obama would introduce communism? OK, he did many things wrong, but some things are important that he didn’t do. He didn’t attack Iran or Syria, for example.
The universal health care he fought for is a moderate success. Now, the point is this: universal health care is not something revolutionary – Canada has it, most of Europe – but obviously in the United States it is. We saw that Obama was dragged to the Supreme Court, he was attacked [on the basis that] ‘he doesn’t really love America’ and all that. OK, but isn’t this a model of how you should [proceed]? You pick a very rational, modest demand and you trigger a process of rethinking.
This is, for me, the art. In every country, you pick the right thing – for example, in India, which prides itself on being the greatest democracy and so on, there is still the system of castes. Try that! It’s not in itself revolutionary, but it triggers the process. You know I am a critic of multiculturalism, but in Turkey it means justice for Armenians, for Kurds – it’s revolutionary. Or in Europe, what Syriza is doing.
Now, I come to my final paradox. The highest art is to [set] the market against itself. Some years ago, I saw on CNN a report on Mali which explained that they grow really good cotton and it’s one-third the price of American cotton. So, why can’t they succeed? Because the United States gives more money to its cotton farmers in financial support than the entire state budget of Mali. So Mali’s minister of finance said: ‘We don’t need any help. Just respect your own market rules and don’t cheat! You tell us “no state intervention”. You do [the same] and our troubles are over!’
You know, that is the problem today with global capitalism: it’s not austerity, it’s that they don’t follow the rules they impose on others. So, this is bad – but at the same time it gives us hope, I think. This is, if you ask me, the way to proceed: it is vain to wait for a big revolutionary moment, we have just to start modestly here and there and pick out those strategic points that will trigger the process of change.
Otherwise, I really am a pessimist. If Greece fails…
By the sound of it, you are ‘a pessimist of the intellect, an optimist of the will’.
Yeah, yeah! OK, I agree. Or I will put it like this: I am a Communist (as I like to say) by default.
And I think that – people start to shout at me when I say this – we need to rehabilitate what is worth saving in our European legacy: Christianity, democracy, whatever. Let’s not behave as if we have to be ashamed of it, we are always the guilty guys. I really think that the left today, with this false multiculturalism and permanent self-hatred, is playing a very dangerous game, because what is replacing that legacy is something terrifying.
This edit was originally published in the August 2015 issue of Third Way.
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|⇑1||Grey Eminence: A study in religion and politics (Chatto & Windus, 1941)|
|⇑2||Brian Daizen Victoria, Zen at War (Rowman & Littlefield, 2nd ed 2006)|
|⇑3||Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy (1908): ‘Let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.’|
|⇑4||This may refer to Matthew 18:19f.|
|⇑5||Dostoevsky: Language, faith and fiction (Continuum, 2008)|
|⇑6||From Living in the End Times (Verso, 2010)|
|⇑9||See eg bit.ly/1wqlloG.|
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Slavoj Žižek was born in Ljubljana, in what was then Yugoslavia, in 1949, and attended Bežigrad High School. He studied philosophy and sociology at Ljubljana University, but in 1973 was denied a post as assistant researcher after his master’s thesis on French structuralism was judged to be ‘non-Marxist’.
After doing national service in the army, he was unemployed until 1977, when he was given a clerical job at the Central Committee of Slovenia’s Communist Party. He completed his doctorate on German Idealism at Ljubljana in 1981, and then studied psychoanalysis at the University of Paris VIII, gaining his second doctorate in 1985.
Returning to Slovenia in the late Eighties, he wrote a column for the left-liberal weekly Mladina and co-founded the Liberal Democratic Party. In 1990, in the country’s first free elections, he ran for a seat on its four-member collective presidency, losing narrowly.
His first book had been published in 1972, but he achieved international recognition in 1989 with his first in English, The Sublime Object of Ideology. It was followed by (among many others) Tarrying with the Negative (1993), Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002), Organs without Bodies (2003), The Parallax View (2006), In Defense of Lost Causes (2008), First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2009), Living in the End Times (2010), Less than Nothing and The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (both 2012) and Event, Žižek’s Jokes, The Most Sublime Hysteric, Absolute Recoil and Trouble in Paradise (all 2014).
He has written and presented two documentaries, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006) and The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012).
He has taught in Paris and across the United States. He is currently international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at London University, Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University and a senior researcher at Ljubljana’s Institute for Social Sciences. He is the president of the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis.
His work was chronicled in a 2005 documentary entitled Žižek!. The International Journal of Žižek Studies was founded in 2007.
He has married three times, most recently in 2013, and has two sons.
Up-to-date as at 1 May 2015