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on March 2, 2014
This book will titillate any eschatologically tuned mind. His take on biotech and nuclear threat evoke Stewart Baker's Skating on Stilts (is it really surprising how to people so opposed in their general views agree on something, that by all accounts can be among the greatest achievements as well as causes of ultimate downfall of this civilization?)

Žižek touches on Dupuy's "enlightened catastrophism", a schizophrenic attitude towards reality we have no choice but to adopt despite it being barely compatible with the workings of a healthy mind, if we have any hope of surviving the future cataclysmic events we have been ourselves preparing.

In general Žižek is true to form here. The pieces on "old order" vs "universality", how it is a mistake to blame capitalism for destroying the "old worlds" are priceless. There is a plenty of very disturbing jouissance to go around in this book. It is not entertaining at all. It is truly enjoyable.
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on January 15, 2012
Zizek organizes each chapter along the famous psychological responses to a crisis: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, and depression. In between each chapter is an interlude which applies the current insights to numerous cultural phenomena. This review won't analyze each chapter if only because it is hard to follow Zizek's argument at times: he has some excellent thoughts which he is incapable of extending for more than a few pages. Secondly, I don't understand what he is saying in a lot of places.

Denial

Premise: the global capitalist system* is about to fall because, in good Hegelian fashion, it is predicated on the contradiction(s) of Liberalism. There is a contradiction between market liberalism and political liberalism. The market liberals (e.g., social conservatives) of today want family values, less government, and maintain the traditions of society (at least in America's case). However, we must face the cultural contradiction of capitalism: the progress of capitalism, which necessitates a consumer culture, undermines the values which render capitalism possible (pp. 35-37).

Second contradiction: there is in liberalism a tension between private freedoms and the public mechanisms which control society. This is more obvious in the case of left-wing democrats. They want a society that allows individual freedoms, yet end up encroaching on individual freedoms in the name of tolerance, multiculturalism, etc.

The contradictions of liberalism demonstrate why Hegel was such a brilliant observer of the problems of modernity (even if we demur with his conclusions). Zizek writes,

Traditionally, each form of liberalism necessarily appears as the opposite of the other: liberal multiculturalist advocates of tolerance as a rule resist economic liberalism and try to protect the individual from unencumbered market forces, while market liberals as a rule advocate family values, and so on. We thus get the double paradox of the traditional Rightist supporting the market economy while rejecting the culture and mores that economy engenders, and his counterpoint, the Leftist, resisting the market while enthusiastically supporting the culture it engenders (p. 37).
This is an Hegelian deconstruction of a false ideology at its best: demonstrate something is false by exposing the contradiction upon which it is built. However, like Hegel, Zizek shows that the advocate of liberalism cannot escape his plight because one Liberal cannot fully reject the "other" liberal. I suppose this is what Hegel meant in the "identify of identity and difference."

Of course, I temper my praise somewhat. Most of Zizek's theological conclusions, as well as morality, are suspect elsewhere.

If the First Act demonstrated the failure of capitalism and liberal democracy, Act Three evaluates the problems in the many forms of Marxism. Ultimately, he examines the value-theory debate from many different Hegelian perspectives, offering an interesting take of Substance as that which is already lost but in whose loss reconciliation is possible.
His take on the Hegelian "Substance" as loss-in-giving reminds the Christian reader of the long-neglected doctrine of Kenosis. Following, he offers his own way out of the socialist-capitalist dilemma: a basic income society which gives away everything except the capitalist machine (236). This is interesting, but it doesn't fully get away from the problem of the welfarist playing the system while still getting full benefits. I am not convinced Zizek has gotten away from the standard market rebuttal: you get more of what you subsidize.

Acceptance

Zizek analyzes a lot of moments in the past fifty years that outwardly look like triumphs for socialism and Leftism ('68, the Obama presidency, etc.), but ended up strengthening the liberal-capitalist status quo. Zizek's question in this chapter is how to overthrow the current system in a way that utilizes all of the anger of the "proletariat" without resorting to the violence that is so common to Leftism.

Similar to his critique of social liberalism in the first chapter, he is aware of potential problems in his analysis: does not Leftism negate many (all?) of our freedoms? Zizek mentions Sarah Palin's "death-panel" objections to Obamacare. While I dislike Palin as much as the next person, Zizek mentioned but never answered Palin's challenge: given limited resources (and hyper-incompetency) by the State that will necessarily follow Obamacare, which means that there will be limitations to these benefits, the government then will have to decide. Zizek responds that "formal freedoms" allow the person a lot more time for family by removing the responsibility for health-care. Maybe so, but you still need to answer the question. Leftists might not like this reductio, but they still have to answer it.

The larger point is that Zizek makes a distinction between formal freedoms and actual freedoms: formal freedom is the freedom to choose within a set of coordinates while actual freedom is freedom on the more normal sense of the word (358). Zizek wants to negate the latter. We have freedom to choose between various sets of government-sponsored solutions. He does have a response to Palin: Obamacare can work because look at Scandinavia. Here's why that is an inappropriate analogy: Scandinavian countries have good diets, a highly-literate populace, a homogenous population, a largely unified population (see Augustine, City of God, Book 19.4) and a strong work-force--qualities that are severely lacking in America!

Will it Work?

Will Zizek's appeal to embrace a modified form of Communism that seeks to utilizes the passions of the Left without the violence of the Left? True, Occupy Wall-Street has since taken place, but the police and security have had little trouble dealing with it. The answer which Zizek today might shy from: no, it will not work on its own by natural forces (Stalin had the same conclusion about Western Europe never embracing communism by free choice, hence his planned invasion of Germany, though Hitler beat him to the punch). It does not seem like Zizek's Leftism can be accomplished without violence. At this point, obviously, I am in full disagreement with Zizek.

Conclusion

The book is quite interesting and we should welcome is penetrating analysis of liberalism and capitalism. The book does suffer from a wandering argument and the conclusion either doesn't go far enough or it goes too far.
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on September 18, 2011
[...]

Working myself on a book on "Global Rulership" which is morally and cognitively qualified to take charge of humanity as a whole, as required in view of the approaching techno-social Second Axial Age, I read this book with much expectations - all the more so as I found earlier books by the author very stimulation, even if not always convincing. All the greater was my disappointment.

I was willing to swallow the neo-scholastic debates about what was said and intended by the young and mature Marx, Badiou and other "authorities" with whom Zizek often engaged in quasi-Talmudic debates, though I would have preferred the author presenting his view in more straightforward a way. If he had done so he surely would have noted himself, intelligent as he is, that vague hopes pinned on slum-dwellers and "radical emancipator struggle" are not a way to cope with the "Apocalypse at the Gates." Furthermore, he might have recognized that Marx and his co-thinkers, however brilliant in many ways and honorable in their ultimate ethical postulates, did not foresee the present rupture in the history of humanity with its unprecedented ability to annihilate itself, or create a new post-human species, or thrive in pluralistic ways.

Marx emphasized the critical importance of modes of production and the resulting emergence and role of the proletariat. Being a careful empiric thinker, he surely would radically rewrite his main theses if he were alive today, so as to take into account the radical shifts in the nature of "capital" and production and the dissipation of the proletariat - while maintaining his moral commitment to a more just world.

This is a task calling for an original and iconoclastic neo-philosopher such as Zizek, leading hopefully to innovative ideas how to cope with the emerging fateful predicaments of humanity -- rather than remaining in the cave of obsolete slogans.

Thus, it may well be that prevention of devastating use of humanity's increasing self-destruct abilities requires a kind of Global Leviathan lead by a new elite of "revolutionary" leaders, based on an enlightened global "avant-garde" reflecting and activating a novel global civil society. This governance would inhibit development and prevent utilization of dangerous technologies, with all the required nietzschean revaluation of values, including post-liberal norms.

Zizek might have made a significant contribution to consideration of such "taboo" but essential ideas and options, however, he fails to do so. This is a great pity.

I cannot avoid adding a comment on a point which is rather marginal, but illustrates rush judgments lacking adequate grounding. On page 34 Zizek gives a completely misplaced compliment to Moshe Dayan as if he recognized the pure power-based nature of Zionism without moral justification, relying on a de-contextualized quotation. This is a total error, Dayan (or Ben-Gurion, as indeed all founders of Zionism and Israel) never dreamed to adopt such a position. Furthermore, it contradicts the correct diagnosis of Zionism in the same book, on page 149, as an ideological movement.

This contradictory understanding of Zionism and Israel leads to a much more consequential mistake, namely support of the so-called "one state solution." In doing so, Zizek completely ignores the determination of the vast majority of Israeli Jews to resist such a "solution" by whatever means that may be necessary, because it would destroy the very raison d'être of Israel (see chapter 13 in my 2011 book Israeli Statecraft: National Security Challenges and Responses. The fact that Zizek claims to base his view on the thoughts of a single person (footnote 14, page 149) indicated recklessness, it being the moral duty of a serious thinker to study issues carefully within multiple perspectives before expressing an opinion - as Zizek indeed does in most of his many writings, as is clear whether one agrees with him or not.

To return to my main point: This book has a title which promises reflection on a fateful human predicament and most other books by Zizek justify the hope that the reflection would be serious and original, even if constrained within the Procrustean bed of Marxist scholastics. This promise is not kept. Hence my disappointment, as I was eager to learn Zizek's views on what matters most for the future of humanity. I hope he will make up for this disappointment in his future writings.

Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
msdror@mscc.huji.ac.il
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on March 28, 2014
I think of this as one of his more accessible books. He presents his arguments without getting excessively bogged down in academic terminology, and his frequent references to popular culture make the book infinitely readable. That being said, those who are familiar with The Sublime Object of Ideology or The Plague of Fantasies or any of his other major works should ignore this one at their own peril.
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on December 12, 2011
Good book, but will require some time to read; Zizek's writing is extremely dense. Well-worth the amount of time put in, though.
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on September 28, 2011
The review title speaks all about the book, and not just the book, but the author itself, his attitude towards the up-to-date problems that we are preoccupied, but yet somehow inert to see and accept.
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on June 16, 2012
While sporadic in argument and full of the normal Lacan-Hegel/Hegel-Lacan dialectical twists, this is one of the more interesting of Zizek's less scholarly polemics. While more nuanced than his prior polemics such as "In Defense of Lost Causes" and not as rigorous (or as menacing) as his current tome on Hegel, his sections of the denial in the liberal utopian "present" seem particularly horrowing as Obama's first tenure comes to a disappointing end, and the European Dream seems to be coming to a halt that stems from a mixture of German sado-monetarism, North European financialization, and lack of productive capacity in Southern Europe, his reading of the tendency to valorize the "other" seems like a necessary but more entertaining pulling from the themes of Badiou's "Metapolitics." Yet his pessimistic tone in "acceptance" seems to lead to some what his problems with Occupy may have been, but also indicate why he may not have been able to foresee either.

The looming caveat here is the lingering "non-style" and "non-argument" of Zizek, a kind of discursiveness and aphorism through joke that resembles Nietzsche or H.L. Mencken as much as a Hegelian Marxist or a Left Lacanian theorist. Furthermore, the structure of this polemic as an "opera" actually causes a fugue, where the arguments make sense in the context of Zizek's corpus, but if one started here, it would be very easy to draw the wrong conclusions. The overlay of "denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance" seems to create a unity that often seemed to be lacking in the actual arguments, many of which anyone familiar with Zizek's (quite humorous and often excellent) speeches would be recognize immediately.

Yet the reminder that many leftists who fear Zizek's conclusions don't want to here: Liberal modernity and the current degeneration of capitalism aren't likely to end in a bang, or a whimper, or in a crash, but a prolonged violent drowning. His call to return to a modified communism, one that has flipped Marx on its head and returned to (German) Idealism with sounder political economy, may be more precarious than it seems. This book doesn't crash into the iceberg, but it doesn't get you to shore either: That's part of Zizek's call, it's time to start rowing. What remains unclear if Zizek has more of an answer here than any of us deck chairs on this titanic.
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on November 17, 2014
Slavoj is interesting philosopher.
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on February 9, 2013
Thinking as an attempt to distinguish thing one from thing two can reach a point of Lacan making thing one the possible and thing two the impossible but there it is. Thing one as self-commodification in a captive market in which everybody needs to function like thing two's in a system with thong underwear and an Oval Office trying to find new ins and outs for the president's cigar is what the political system can make public as grotesquely as Italy and ecological disasters in 2010 are described in the end of the book.

Billions of people in sacred meadows which have been flooded like I'll see you out front with a ten foot pole contingencies as the leading means of social interaction merely deprive what we don't know of any form of spying which fails to make itself an enemy of whatever exists. If you don't get noticed, you must be trying to avoid trouble.
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on April 8, 2013
Zizek's does not understand history. It was the collapse of khazar empire in the 11th century that a large number of khazars migrated into central Europe, then western Europe. Also his constant use of the loaded term "stalinist" makes him sound stupid. Zizek is really more of a cultural critic/comedian than a serious philosopher.
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