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Q&A: Democratic Capitalism ‘In Crisis,’ Says Philosopher Slavoj Zizek 

  • RFE/RL's Georgian Service

Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek has long been considered one of the most influential leftist intellectuals alive today. Foreign Policy magazine ranked him among the top 100 global thinkers in 2012. His fiery rhetoric and forthright Hegelian Marxism have also attracted controversy, prompting some to call him “the most dangerous philosopher in the West.” He recently published a book on the migrant crisis and Europe’s current existential dilemmas, titled Against The Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror, And Other Troubles With The Neighbors.

In an interview in his native Ljubljana last month with Red Zone, a program produced jointly by RFE/RL’s Georgian Service and Georgian public television, Zizek outlined his views about the current ideological state of left-leaning parties in the West, the connection between democracy and the market economy, and the refugee crisis that saw more than 1 million people arrive in Europe last year.

Here are selected excerpts from the interview:

On the perceived failure of the Western political left to offer an alternative solution to economic and political crises

Slavoj Zizek: This is the great failure of the left today, even when capitalism obviously is more and more in some kind of a crisis. I mean, I remember [that] all the time, when I was young, when welfare state capitalism -- at least in Western Europe and the United States -- was functioning relatively well, the left was saying, you know, wait a minute, there will be crises, we should just, like Lenin in Switzerland, wait and prepare.

OK, then there was a crisis. And what happened? Nothing. The left was not able to offer not even a minimal serious proposal.

On what Zizek describes as an emerging authoritarian alternative to a market economy based on democratic political values

Zizek: Democratic capitalism is in crisis and we are slowly approaching an alternative -- what is poetically called "capitalism with Asian values," which has nothing to do with Asia but is a more authoritarian one. And again, it's not just China or Singapore -- it's Russia, it's Turkey. Even in places where democracy is still formally alive, it's becoming more and more irrelevant as we see with this TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership -- a proposed trade agreement between the European Union and the United States) and other commercial agreements, which are incredibly important. They set the frame for what governments can do, but without any democratic consultation -- they're half-secret, and so on.

On the situation with migrants and refugees, and the role of countries in the Middle East


Zizek: Wait a minute -- there are, just beneath the crisis region, south of Syria and Iraq, [countries like] Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, [the United Arab] Emirates... Extremely rich Arab countries, [and] they simply don't accept any refugees, although they are mostly [Muslim] Sunnis, religiously speaking the same language and so on. So it is as if Europe nonetheless accepted millions of them, and now we are guilty for not accepting even more of them. There is a certain -- totally catastrophic -- game going on here.

On the European left’s response to the migrant crisis

Zizek: Big capital is always politically correct, open, multicultural, and so on. And what I'm fighting for is...of course, I don't in any way support racism and so on, but obviously, this work of just attacking ordinary people, [calling them] racists and so on, this obviously is extremely counterproductive. Leftists who play this game, they're doing it for its extremely narcissistic economy. They want to feel well, you know, oh my God... [they are saying] I'm the only pure one, look, the countries falling apart into madness, but I am...No. What did you do? You are part of this madness and so on.

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