If Zizek is dangerous in any way, it is the slim possibility that some radicals may take his ideas and run with them. That’s what Zizek appears to pine for. Thankfully, no serious takers have emerged . . . yet.
In any case, no leftist/communist ideologue in the world today is as future-fixated and utopia-obsessed as old Slavoj. He takes nothing off the table when it comes to “the times to come” and enthusiastically justifies practically anything and everything that could help foment and usher in a new communist revolution, as this little thought-horror from his In Defense of Lost Causes demonstrates:
There is, however, a limit to Stalinism: not that it is too immoral, but that it is secretly too moral, still relying on a figure of the big Other. As we have seen, in what is arguably the most intelligent legitimization of Stalinist terror, Merleu-Ponty’s Humanism and Terror from 1946, the terror is justified as a kind of wager on the future, almost in the mode of the theology of Pascal who enjoins us to make a bet on God: if the final result of today’s horror will be the bright Communist future, then this outcome will retroactively redeem the terrible things a revolutionary has to do today.
Pascal and communism? A false analogy par excellence. Comparing two mutually exclusive sets of metaphysical assumptions to justify the mode of only one of these sets represents a level of mental gymnastics to which only people like Zizek and Merleu-Ponty can rise. It barely warrants mentioning that the metaphysical assumptions of communism are entirely this-worldly, while Pascal’s wager focuses on the other-worldly. Comparing these two visions of the future is as deceptive as it is absurd.
Stephen Vizinczey warned his readers that people who obsess about the future do not care about you. I will flesh out this saying by adding this-worldly before future. Anyone who insists you obsess about some this-worldly future instantly reveals that he doesn’t care about you. At all.
Zizek spends the rest of the Stalinism Revisited chapter of In Defense of Lost Causes detailing how Stalin’s biggest problem was the burden of the big Other. Stalin, Zizek claims, was troubled by things like ensuring that brutal actions, purges, and liquidations would remain redeemable in the eyes of the big Other.
Put more simply, Zizek argues that Stalin was too hung up on the end justifying the means. Zizek’s solution? The means don’t need justifying if the end is truly good.
I suppose the Nazis could employ the same line of thinking to justify their own particular set of horrors. Not so fast, Zizek lisps while pointing to what he describes as the thin but crucial difference between Nazis and communism:
Let us take Stalinism at its most brutal: the dekulakization of the early 1930s. Stalin’s slogan was that “kulaks as a class should be liquidated” – what does this mean? It can mean many things – from taking away their property (land), to forcibly removing them to other areas (say, from Ukraine to Siberia), or simply going into a gulag – but it did not mean simply kill them all. The goal was to liquidate them as a class, not as individuals.
Even when the rural population was deliberately starved (millions of dead in Ukraine, again), the goal was not to kill them all, but to break their backbone, to brutally crush their resistance, to show them who was master. The difference – minimal, but crucial – persists here with regard to the Nazi de-Judaization, where the ultimate goal effectively was to annihilate them as individuals, to make them disappear as a race.
Zizek cites Marcuse, who claimed that the difference between the Stalinist-gulag and the Nazi annihilation camp was, at that historical moment, the difference between civilization and barbarism, with the former being civilized and the latter being barbaric.
I’m sure the kids who starved to death in the Ukraine in the 1930s would have been relieved to know they had been targeted as a class and not as individuals. They also would have been grateful to discover that their annihilation qualified as civilized rather than barbaric.
What can you do with Zizek's thought-horrors?
Absolutely nothing. Be grateful for his cushy prof jobs, speaking tours, and all the rest of it.
And let the dead bury the dead with their this-worldly-future obsessions.