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Liberalism and Marxism

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  • Jim
    All, Having read another hundred or so pages of Slavoj Zizek s In Defense of Lost Causes , I am trying to evaluate Zizek s objections to liberal democracy ,
    Message 1 of 42 , Aug 29 3:04 PM

      Having read another hundred or so pages of Slavoj Zizek's "In Defense of Lost Causes", I am trying to evaluate Zizek's objections to "liberal democracy", and his preference for "radical-secular emancipatory politics".

      Consider this sentence as typical:

      "The first task of emancipatory politics is ... to distinguish between "false" and "true" points, "false" and "true" choices, that is, to bring back the third element whose obliteration sustains the false choice – as, today, the false choice between "liberal democracy or Islamo-facism" is sustained by the occlusion of radical-secular emancipatory politics." (pp. 385-6)

      Or, again:

      "And do we not encounter the same negative passion also in politically correct multicultural liberalism? Is its inquisitorial pursuit of the traces of racism and sexism in the details of personal behaviour not in itself indicative of the passion of resentment? Fundamentalism's passion is a false one, while anemic liberal tolerance relies on a disavowed perverse passion. The distinction between fundamentalism and liberalism is sustained by a shared underlying feature: they are both permeated by the negative passion of resentment." (p. 333)

      I am struggling to find what Zizek finds so objectionable in the doctrine of liberalism. Consider these characterisations of liberalism:

      "Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but most liberals support such fundamental ideas as constitutions, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights, free trade, secularism, and the market economy."

      "Through all these strands and traditions, scholars have identified the following major common facets of liberal thought: believing in equality and individual liberty, supporting private property and individual rights, supporting the idea of limited constitutional government, and recognizing the importance of related values such as pluralism, toleration, autonomy, and consent." (Both quotes from Wikipedia)

      I, myself, when wanting to characterize liberalism go back to two Enlightenment quotations: one from Kant, the other from Mill.

      "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end." (Second Formulation of the Categorical Imperative)

      "The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. … That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. ... The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns him, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." (On Liberty, pp. 68-9, Penguin Books 1974)

      I, myself, don't find resentment in the quotations from Kant and Mill, nor in the positive evaluations of liberty and equality.

      I suspect Zizek follows other Marxists in thinking that the principles of liberal democracy are inextricably linked to the economics of capitalism. However if we take Mill's notion of "harming others" to include exploiting others, then I would argue that Mill's liberalism is incompatible with exploitative capitalism.

      Zizek is famously against multiculturalism – however my own view is that if one is against multiculturalism one is a racist. Perhaps Zizek is happy to be characterized as racist as well as sexist, but I am not so sure what is so "emancipatory" about a racist mob attacking human beings of an ethnic background they don't like.

      I share Zizek's dislike of capitalism, but my own view is that a non-violent liberal revolution could overthrow capitalism, and usher in a true democracy where multiculturalism flourishes under an authoritative state where racism and sexism are not tolerated. Such an authoritative state could bring in an economic equality through very high levels of taxation.

      Zizek argues that capitalism can only be overcome with violence, however there are many examples from history of non-violent revolution.

      Gandhi and his followers drove the British out of India through non-violent direct action. Many communist regimes were overthrown in 1989 through the non-violent protests of the mass of society. Rosa Parks initiated a revolution in American culture with a non-violent action.

      In the UK a non-violent liberal revolution could conceivably come about if a pacifist, anti-capitalist political party such as The Green Party came to power in a free and fair democratic election. No doubt if such an eventuality came about, Zizek would be still calling from the sidelines for the overthrow of liberal democracy by "radical equalitarian violence".

    • Josie
      Jim, You overlook the advantages of your parliamentary system. With our two-party, winner takes all elections, different platforms and perspectives are
      Message 42 of 42 , Sep 15, 2011

        You overlook the advantages of your parliamentary system. With our two-party, winner takes all elections, different platforms and perspectives are obliterated from public discourse by the exigencies of running for office. I suspect you have less gridlock. With only two choices, we're forced to expect policies we despise and equal opposition to those we embrace. This is how idiotic candidate are elected by idiotic voters with idiotic results, to use Bill's parlance.


        --- In existlist@yahoogroups.com, "Jim" <jjimstuart1@...> wrote:

        Even in your own country, the electorate has had the opportunity to vote for an anti-capitalist presidential candidate such as Ralph Nader in recent years.
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