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February 1, 2011 3:24 AM   Subscribe

"The hypocrisy of western liberals is breathtaking: they publicly supported democracy, and now, when the people revolt against the tyrants on behalf of secular freedom and justice, not on behalf of religion, they are all deeply concerned. Why concern, why not joy that freedom is given a chance?" Slavoj Žižek on the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.
posted by klue (118 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
The good thing about standards, is that there are so many of them to choose from.
posted by carter at 3:27 AM on February 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Those are my principles! And if you don't like them, well ... I have others.
- Groucho Marx
posted by BinGregory at 3:30 AM on February 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


The hypocrisy of arguing from strawmen is breathtaking: western liberals publicly opposed the US's support of tyrants like Mubarak, and now, when the people revolt against the tyrants on behalf of secular freedom and justice, not on behalf of religion, they are all deeply overjoyed. Why bother, why not keep on writing about the psycho-cultural differences between French & German toilets you stratospherically nonsensical & pointless tool?
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:35 AM on February 1, 2011 [75 favorites]


I know it's bad form to comment before RTFA but the answer is so simple I can't resist –

IT'S THE ECONOMY ST

– aw forget it
posted by mahershalal at 3:35 AM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


It all depends on which liberals you talk to I suppose.....
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 3:36 AM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm confused.
posted by melt away at 3:47 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyone who believes the West puts democracy before all other values is deluded. Mubarak may be a tyrant but he is our (US) tyrant. He has been our ally in the region, helped bring outward stability. We also have other allies in the region and if we throw this guy under the bus what will happen with those allegiances? This is a difficult situation for Obama. He could really show his brilliance by successfully negotiating these tricky waters. Whether we should be supporting guys like Mubarak in the first place is another whole conversation.
posted by caddis at 3:49 AM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't understand which liberals he's talking about.

From what I can tell, it's been the conservatives all harumphing and talking about how we should just stay out of it (apparently there's not a lot of oil in Egypt) and so on. Those of us with a more liberal bent have all been in a distinctly pro-revolutionary mood.

Maybe his spellchecker substitutes "liberal" when he starts to type "conserv—"
posted by sonascope at 3:54 AM on February 1, 2011 [11 favorites]


Can we at least agree that whenever western nations interfere in the politics of other countries it ends badly? Can't we just leave them to it?
posted by londonmark at 3:55 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


What?! A Slavoj Žižek editorial consisting largely of smugger-than-thou posturing vis-à-vis straw men defined just vaguely enough to prevent any serious engagement with the argument, you say?! THIS IS SO UNPRECEDENTED
posted by No-sword at 4:02 AM on February 1, 2011 [21 favorites]


WHO IS HE TALKING ABOUT
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 4:02 AM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think you have to understand that for Zizek "liberal" refers to "free market liberal democracy" and not "Democrats." In the way he's using the word both Republicans and Democrats, "conservatives" and "liberals," are all liberals. Zizek, in contrast, is a leftist.

I don't think the piece's blanket generalizations read much better even with that in mind, but he's really not intervening in the ongoing dispute between the two major U.S. political parties. From where he's standing we all look alike.
posted by gerryblog at 4:10 AM on February 1, 2011 [37 favorites]


That may be part of the problem, n'est-ce pas?
posted by blucevalo at 4:17 AM on February 1, 2011



I think you have to understand that for Zizek "liberal" refers to "free market liberal democracy" and not "Democrats." In the way he's using the word both Republicans and Democrats, "conservatives" and "liberals," are all liberals.


Western liberals means commies in california, and no amount of facts will convince me otherwise.
posted by dubold at 4:19 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Speak for yourself, theory man.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:23 AM on February 1, 2011


(Ziszek is the poor man's Deleuze.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:25 AM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


The irony is, I just came from a glance through John Cusack's twitter feed; the dude is unquestionably liberal (when he went on Craig Ferguson to promote his film War, Inc. he and Craig ended up in a lengthy conversation about war profiteering and Trotsky, for pity's sake), and he is unquestionably supportive of this turn of events.

Then I come here and read that Western Liberals don't support this, and it gets me very confused -- Slavoj, there's so much support there's a celebrity endorsement, what are you talking about?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:25 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't but help reading Slavoj Žižek's editorials in the voice of Moe Szyslak. It doesn't really improve them.
posted by chavenet at 4:26 AM on February 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


I am a western liberal and I think the protests are great. I think the pluses of a democratic Egypt are greater than the potential for increased tension with Israel and the loss of a US-client state in the region.
posted by Aizkolari at 4:26 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe good liberals should be concerned with stability as well as democracy, freedom, and justice? After all we have the recent examples of Iran's revolution, and the hideous civil war in Algeria in the 1990s. Without stability, you can't get those other nice things.

The lesson of history is that with notable exceptions (USA) the presence of intolerable conditions does not at all mean that a revolution will improve things. In fact, the more civil society has been oppressed and destroyed, the less likely that will be (e.g. Haiti 1804, France 1789, Russia 1917........)

The best route to sustainable democracy is gradual. Like in S. Korea, Taiwan, Ghana, etc.You have to take all the powerful vested interests with you (or you get a civil war). Build up civil society and the components of democracy, like free and trusted press, personal freedoms, independent institutions (or you get only 1 election for the new president for life).
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 4:27 AM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't know where I got the crazy idea that the Muslim Brotherhood was interested in increasing the influence of Islam in the government of Egypt.

I'm a liberal (in the U.S. sense) and I support increasing democratization everywhere in the world and wish my government would too. I also believe in the Jeffersonian wall of separation whether the residents of a particular country are Christian, Muslim, or Hindu. It seems pretty obvious that a more democratic Egypt is going to be a more fundamentalist Islamic Egypt, and that's unambiguously a bad thing as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:37 AM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Seconding gerryblog, I repeat: he's not using liberal in the sense it now carries in American English (in which it covers the left too).
posted by Mocata at 4:43 AM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


People who disagree with Slavoj and spend less than a paragraph explaining why generally don't seem to understand him. Not that he makes it all easy to understand him. The Left has some sort of bizarre fetish for impenetrable godheads.
posted by public at 4:45 AM on February 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


Um, "liberal" in this story does not mean the same thing as it does in Western media. He is not talking about neat GOP/Dem divisions. GW would qualify as liberal. Measure the term against the conservative fundamentalists of the region.
posted by caddis at 4:46 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems pretty obvious that a more democratic Egypt is going to be a more fundamentalist Islamic Egypt, and that's unambiguously a bad thing as far as I'm concerned.
Does it? As I understand it, last time out the Muslim Brotherhood got 20% of the vote in an election 80% of the electorate boycotted, giving an effective 4% support. Subsequent actions seen as collaborating with the Mubarak regime have only eroded that further. Should a democratic secular regime replace the autocrat, I would expect support for Islamism (i.e. the political creed, not the faith) to decline further, as it has risen in large part as a response to authoritarianism.
posted by Abiezer at 4:51 AM on February 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


he's not using liberal in the sense it now carries in American English.

What do you mean Mocata? American English? As American Nancy Pelosi uses the word "liberal" or as American Rush Limbo uses the word "liberal."

Barak H. Obama will do exactly what George W. Bush would have done - support the friendly tyrant.

Only Jimmy Carter had the balls to stand up for American principles and he is still blamed for "loosing" Iran to the Ayatollahs. Obama is at least clever enough to know he cannot make that same mistake.
posted by three blind mice at 5:02 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad that there are the commenters here to contextualize this because reading that article I thought I was losing my mind.

I don't know how much "joy" Žižek wants to see what he calls liberals show in a situation with an uncertain outcome. Perhaps there are still a few Iraqi Kurds left that can enlighten him to possible consequences of a powerful exterior nation providing moral encouragement to barely-armed civilians without also providing armies for their defense.

What an ass.
posted by vapidave at 5:03 AM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


You folks who just can't possibly imagine who Zizek is talking about here might want to look at, among many other places, this article at ccn.com: U.S. navigates carefully between supporting Mubarak, democratic ideals.

Some highlights:

Egypt's roiling political unrest is causing the United States to fine-tune a foreign policy equation that for 30 years has valued strategic partnership with President Hosni Mubarak over democratic ideals, experts said Monday.
The widespread street demonstrations demanding Mubarak's ouster have so far drawn a measured U.S. response that advocates step-by-step reforms for pro-democracy changes while maintaining stability. Even hawkish conservatives generally opposed to Obama administration policies have backed the U.S. response, citing the overarching need to prevent an unpredictable power vacuum if Mubarak were to be quickly forced out of power.

"We have to balance our ideals and also our strategic interests," former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said Monday on CNN. "That balance might have been too far in one direction and not the other."

Demonstrators in Egypt question why Obama, who championed human rights and democracy in a 2009 speech in Cairo, isn't condemning Mubarak and applying pressure to help bring the changes they seek.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined the administration's stance in separate interviews Sunday with five television networks, saying the "complex, very difficult" situation in Egypt requires careful progress toward a peaceful transition to democracy rather than any sudden or violent change that could undermine the aspirations of the protesters.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Egypt's government should engage in "meaningful negotiations with a broad section of civil society, including opposition groups," and hold "free and fair elections" in September.
The transition called for by Clinton "means change, and what we've advocated from the very beginning is that the way Egypt looks and operates must change," Gibbs told reporters.
At the same time, he said it is not the place of the United States to support or oppose the possible ouster of Mubarak.

To Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the U.S. position amounts to fence-sitting.


Plus you have stuff like this from Biden:

Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel.

And I think that it would be -- I would not refer to him as a dictator...

JIM LEHRER: Does the U.S. have any role to play in this?

JOE BIDEN: I think the role we have to play is continuing to make it clear to us that we think violence is inappropriate on the part of either party -- either of the parties, the government or the protesters.


I'm really surprised at all the "who could he possibly mean?" responses to Zizek. U.S. Democrats, he's talking about all the leaders you just voted for in 2008. They are all sitting on the fence here. Now, I'm a pragmatist, I understand that there is a need for measured responses, and I tend to agree that Obama can't be 100% "Mubarak must go!" as a public response, because if Mubarak doesn't go, we've really messed up diplomatic relationships with Egypt. But I sure see what Zizek is talking about, and I would have thought that you guys would have as well.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:06 AM on February 1, 2011 [43 favorites]


Barak H. Obama will do exactly what George W. Bush would have done - support the friendly tyrant. Only Jimmy Carter had the balls to stand up for American principles

Is this some form of irony? Jimmy Carter is the guy who cut the deal with Egypt in the first place. He's the whole reason we're supporting Mubarak.
posted by Justinian at 5:11 AM on February 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm confused. Did he defend the Taliban overtaking Afganistan?
He appears to be saying that the US should support any and every popular overthrow (though how you can tell it's actually popular and not propped-up is glossed over). This sounds pretty reckless to me.
posted by Gilbert at 5:20 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


So is pragmatism hypocrisy?
posted by Splunge at 5:23 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Only Jimmy Carter had the balls to stand up for American principles

LOL I love Carter but come on, man, read a book.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:25 AM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Only Jimmy Carter had the balls to stand up for American principles and he is still blamed for "loosing" Iran to the Ayatollahs

I don't know whose principles Carter was standing up for when he oversaw the genocide in East Timor but they sure weren't mine.
posted by williampratt at 5:35 AM on February 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


To echo what some others are saying in this thread, he's not talking about "liberal" as it is understood in the US, but rather as it is understood in the phrase "liberal democracies". In that sense, pretty much everyone in the US is a liberal. The fact that the author is not American should have tipped you off to the fact that he might not be using words in a 20th century American idiosyncratic way.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 5:37 AM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, I, for one, would be more convinced if Zizek could summarize his argument by using reductive comparisons to irrelevant Hitchcock films.
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:39 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Um, "liberal" in this story does not mean the same thing as it does in Western media.

I think you might want to substitute "Western" for "US". In the part of the West where I live, the US definition of "liberal" is never, ever used.

Does anyone know the original Mao quote? 天下大乱...?
posted by klue at 5:43 AM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I love Carter but come on, man, read a book.

Is we be talking about the same Carter? James Earl (aka "Jimmy") Carter? The one-term president of the United States between 1976-1980. Brother of the late Billy Carter?

Jimmy Carter made Human Rights a major part of his foreign policy as President (and as ex-President.)

"We can no longer have a policy solely for the industrial nations as the foundation of global stability, but we must respond to the new reality of a politically awakening world." (President Carter, 1977)

Carter's foreign policy cost the United States friendly dictators in the Phillipines (Ferdinand Marcos) and in Iran (Shah Palavi). Yeah, he brokered the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, but this was more than 30 years ago when Mubarak was seen as a reformer.
posted by three blind mice at 6:00 AM on February 1, 2011


In the way he's using the word both Republicans and Democrats, "conservatives" and "liberals," are all liberals.

So, everyone he disagrees with is a liberal? Maybe there's a place for him at Breitbart's.

Yes, I know. I know. He's using "liberal" idiosyncratically.

Anyway, I'll be delighted when secular democracy comes to Egypt. I'll be delighted when secular democracy comes to Iran, too. Until then, I'll tweet harder.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:07 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem for American readers is that "liberal" in the US has been refined to mean "anyone not the exact perfect flavor of FOX/Rush/Beck pre-approved Randian Republican".

Joe Lieberman? Liberal.
Olympia Snowe? Liberal.
Obama? Liberal.
Clinton? Liberal.
Nixon? Liberal.
Mao? Liberal.
Stalin? Liberal.
Hitler? Liberal.
Bin Laden? Liberal.

Absent the toxic obfuscating effect on our political discourse, the versatility of the word would be something to admire.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:10 AM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm glad Gerryblog was here to set the kids straight on what an Eastern bloc philosopher might mean by "Western Liberal Democrat" before things got out of hand. He also quoted Tony Blair which might have helped clarif.... sigh... nevermind.

If the Egyptian demonstrators and revolt in general is truly secular and mostly peaceful (at least on the side of the protesters) it serves as a fine example.

Also, why has it become fashionable to ridicule Zizek? Is this because he no longer has hipster philosopher appeal because he's become somewhat "mainstream"?
posted by hellslinger at 6:23 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


...whenever western nations interfere in the politics of other countries it ends badly?

I could concede that oftentimes when nations interfere in the politics of other countries it ends badly. In all honesty, Western nations do not hold a lock on this behavior, not by a long shot. And sometimes... it doesn't end badly.

This is not an attempt to legitimize bad behaviors, but just an observation.
posted by edgeways at 6:26 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think we need another comment explaining what definition of "liberal" is under discussion. We put the "Meta" in "MetaFilter".
posted by mkb at 6:32 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


When zizek means liberal, he means you, for all values of "you" that are not on the "radical left". And please save your one-liners and clever Sokal-inspired parodies and pay attention:

"The inevitable conclusion to be drawn is that the rise of radical Islamism was always the other side of the disappearance of the secular left in Muslim countries. When Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, 40 years ago, it was a country with a strong secular tradition, including a powerful communist party that took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Where did this secular tradition go?

And it is crucial to read the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt (and Yemen and … maybe, hopefully, even Saudi Arabia) against this background. If the situation is eventually stabilised so that the old regime survives but with some liberal cosmetic surgery, this will generate an insurmountable fundamentalist backlash."

Quoted and emphasized for truth. Yes, Zizek typically plays games and makes pop culture references. Ha ha. But there is none of that here. Save your ad hominems for a day when two million arabs aren't peacefully demonstrating against a Tyrannical government propped up entirely by the US and Israel and simultaneously breaking every fucking stereotype about "the Arab street" that has been promulgated by Republicans and democrats and every mainstream media outlet. How many suicide bombs have gone off in Egypt? Tunisia? It seems the only violence has been perpetrated by the police that WE as a nation supported, and looters, and I'm certain those two groups overlap. Everyone else in Egypt is behaving honorably and courageously. This is Zizek at his best, no psychoanalysis, no clever toying with arguments. Just pointing the finger back at the West and calling "bullshit." Good for him.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:33 AM on February 1, 2011 [49 favorites]


and now, when the people revolt against the tyrants on behalf of secular freedom and justice, not on behalf of religion, they are all deeply concerned. Why concern, why not joy that freedom is given a chance?

Why not both?
posted by electroboy at 6:33 AM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


It seems pretty obvious that a more democratic Egypt is going to be a more fundamentalist Islamic Egypt, and that's unambiguously a bad thing as far as I'm concerned.

Yeah, better a dictatorship that is in line with your desires and interests than a democracy that isn't! Fuck the Egyptian people, if they want democracy then they better prove they deserve it first!


Yes, I know. I know. He's using "liberal" idiosyncratically.

When zizek means liberal, he means you, for all values of "you" that are not on the "radical left".

He's using "liberal" in the way people who spend any amount of time talking about politics outside of the American GOP/Democratic frame uses it. That most Americans use the word in a particular (and frankly stupid) way does not make him the problematic one.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:48 AM on February 1, 2011 [26 favorites]


I'm confused. Did he defend the Taliban overtaking Afganistan?
He appears to be saying that the US should support any and every popular overthrow


No he didn't defend that. His argument has always been that the extreme right is a symptom of a failed Left, i.e. the failure of liberalism to truly engage the Left:

"The difference between liberalism and the radical Left is that, although they refer to the same three elements (liberal center, populist Right, radical Left), they locate them in a radically different topology: for the liberal center, the radical Left and the Right are two forms of the same "totalitarian" excess; while for the Left, the only true alternative is the one between itself and the liberal mainstream, the populist "radical" Right being nothing but the symptom of liberalism's inability to deal with the Leftist threat."
- First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, Verso 2009, p. 75


The fundamentalist position is irrational but also self-aware. Fundamentalism knows that the arguments against it are right, and has no arguments in its favor, but it is also aware of a underlying injustice that no one is addressing, so that fighting for that injustice mutates into an irrational fight over ideology. Pretty much the entire first half of First as Tragedy, Then as Farce is about this.

His point is that you have to address the underlying injustice. The muslim brotherhood was not about islam, it was about equality, justice, liberty and poverty, but their failed revolution meant there was no forum to argue for those. By engaging directly the problem, i.e. dealing with liberty and poverty you will as a side effect disintegrate the fundamentalist right. But to engage these problems, according to Zizek, means engaging global capitalism very directly and very critically.

I don't know that I agree that capitalism is the root of all evil, but I do agree that the political extremes are often symptomatic of an underlying very real and very serious problem.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:58 AM on February 1, 2011 [14 favorites]


Postabagel, I understand that revolutions are a "direct response" to intolerable injustice, but I question whether they are " critical" in the way Zizek seems to expect.

By the way: "the only violence has been perpetrated by the police that WE as a nation supported" Umm, you do know that not everyone on the internet is American.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 7:11 AM on February 1, 2011


That most Americans use the word in a particular (and frankly stupid) way

That's a mighty high horse you got there, pardner. Can I help you climb off it?

Aside from Žižek's point that "rise of radical Islamism was always the other side of the disappearance of the secular left in Muslim countries," which is a true, but not an original or profound observation, the rest of the piece is just "Go, secular Arab democracy!" and "Nya, nya, I support the Arabs more than the rest of you!" I'm wholly sympathetic to the former and perfectly satisfied to indulge him in the latter.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:20 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, to mention the fact that americans use the world liberal incorrectly is now a mighty high horse? Oh man you should hear me think!
posted by CautionToTheWind at 7:24 AM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


So this is the thread that killed my warm feel-good revolution buzz after the big egypt thread.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:34 AM on February 1, 2011


The one thing that bothered me about this essay (which, I think, is still probably right about the "obscenity" of a stable, business-as-usual "transition") is the part that goes:

After Mubarak sent the army against the protesters, the choice became clear: either a cosmetic change in which something changes so that everything stays the same, or a true break.

But the coverage I've seen (e.g.) actually suggests that the army is being welcomed warmly by the protestors ("The people, the army: one hand"), and that the true enemy is the police, who are seen as brutal and corrupt, and whom the army is actually acting as a buffer against. I can't remember where, but I heard a report that described protesters and the army actually collaborating to set up checkpoints around the square in order to keep out weapons... will have to see if I can find that.

So I'm not sure if this is a case of Mubarak's intentions backfiring or Zizek mis-speaking.

Also, Pastabagel, re: the looters and the entrenched regime overlapping, why, that's actually in today's headlines!: Ahead of today’s rally in Egypt, the army arrested a number of government-backed "saboteurs and thugs" trying to infiltrate the protests. Meanwhile, the Mubarak regime is being accused of orchestrating some of the looting that has occurred in recent days in an attempt to stoke fear of instability. Human Rights Watch has revealed evidence tying undercover police officers loyal to Mubarak to acts of violence and looting.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:37 AM on February 1, 2011


americans use the world liberal incorrectly

Ha. Ha. We also think "football" is "soccer!"
posted by octobersurprise at 7:37 AM on February 1, 2011


Umm, you do know that not everyone on the internet is American.

If Pastabagel is American, then his use of "we" is totally correct there.
posted by en forme de poire at 7:40 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can understand being concerned that increased democracy in Egypt might actually lead to a rise in useful idiot fundamentalism that primarily promotes the vested interests of millionaires but suppresses the rights of the common citizen, and, who knows, there may be increased militarism, and explosion of jingoistic nationalism, and economic policies that leech money from the public coffers to support extremely wealthy socially conservative causes and businesses.

After all, we have democracy in America, and it produced George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:40 AM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


As a liberal, my main concern has been that the revolution would be stomped on by the military and the ringleaders hung from gallows like in Iran.
posted by goethean at 7:44 AM on February 1, 2011


Anyone who believes the West puts democracy before all other values is deluded. Mubarak may be a tyrant but he is our (US) tyrant.

But... he's not. The current US position turns out to be that Mubarak should step down. This even despite Israel's officially stated support for Mubarak.

Almost any other administration--even another prominent Dem like Biden or Clinton would have taken Israel's position unconditionally in Obama's place, in deference to Israeli lobbyists. Don't doubt it for a second.

Wow, to mention the fact that americans use the world liberal incorrectly is now a mighty high horse? Oh man you should hear me think!

I'm with you; I think a huge part of our problem is that our language has been corrupted enough that we've lost many of the crucial conceptual tools we used to have at our disposal for understanding politics. Call that a "high-horse" position if you like, but words--especially words that denote abstractions--matter. A lot.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:47 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


On Žižek's thesis: I'm just not sure his criticisms apply to actual American liberals. It may apply to certain politicians who've branded themselves as liberals, and who are relatively liberal compared to the Washington establishment. But most actual American liberals I know seem to view themselves as standing pretty much shoulder to shoulder with the protesters, figuratively speaking.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:53 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


When Zizek targets "western liberals", he is really targeting western policymakers / leadership.

Understanding "liberal" as a broad marker of political ideals or as a specific American subset of that is irrelevant. Either way unpacks the same when you are looking at it through the lens of the populace's political sympathies.

i.e. American liberals are confused by Zizek's statement because they feel joy and not concern over the revolt. American liberals are still western liberals, so will still be confused when reading the statement with the wider definition in mind.
posted by pokermonk at 7:54 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Colbert expresses Zizek's core point rather well.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 8:00 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


But the coverage I've seen (e.g.) actually suggests that the army is being welcomed warmly by the protestors ("The people, the army: one hand"), and that the true enemy is the police, who are seen as brutal and corrupt, and whom the army is actually acting as a buffer against. I can't remember where, but I heard a report that described protesters and the army actually collaborating to set up checkpoints around the square in order to keep out weapons... will have to see if I can find that.

It's right here. Here's the money quote from a statement by the army:

"Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands and are keen to assume their responsibility in protecting the nation and the citizens, affirms that freedom of expression through peaceful means is guaranteed to everybody." the army statement said."

Remember, there are four groups in Egypt: people, regime, police, army. The army is on the side of the people but not active in the street because the army is still an organ of the state, but this is actually changing before our eyes. The police is the arm of the regime that embodies its capacity for violence (see the blockquoted portion of this comment from the other egypt thread.)

Zizek's problem is that he's mired in the psychoanalytical philosophy which is very useful and insightful under normal circumstances in the West (i.e. why liberal democracies seem to suck but they keep plodding along) but fails utterly in the irruptive or transitional scenarios we are seeing in Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran. In my opinion, Zizek's thinking is insufficiently "Deleuzian" here.

By the way, these events should illustrate how monumentally and catastrophically wrong we got it in Iraq (and Afghanistan after the initial fall of the Taliban). We purged the wrong groups of people, failed to activate the street, completely destroyed the army that would have sided with the people to restore order, created a new army that effectively doubles as the state police/US proxy, and are responsible for creating the conditions of oppression that a future Iraqi street is going to have to cast off.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:02 AM on February 1, 2011 [11 favorites]


To clarify, the army sees its responsibility as defending the nation of Egypt, which is distinct from the regime currently in control of that nation.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:05 AM on February 1, 2011


Fair enough, pokermonk, but I'm a bit of an idealist, so I prefer to view policy makers and leaders we might call liberals who behave illiberally as illiberal, rather than re-normalizing the term "liberal" to smooth over the disconnect. IMO, we need the meanings of terms for certain key abstract concepts to remain as fixed as possible over time, like anchors, to provide coherency to our systems of thought. But I concede the point, since that's only my own perhaps unorthodox view.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:11 AM on February 1, 2011


fourcheesemac: "(Ziszek is the poor man's Deleuze.)"

Don't insult Deleuze like that!
posted by symbioid at 8:11 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the bulk of the army is on the side of the people, the regime and the police are usually at a very great disadvantage, depending on how the police arsenal stacks up against the army's.

The army here seems to be stating pretty plainly, "we're with the people, and we'll be nice about that as long as you cops behave," yes? Am I understanding that right?

I take that as an extremely positive sign, especially if the police are already afraid of the army. Just the open-eyed presence of army troops cooperating with and providing security for the protesters might keep the police dismayed and defused.
posted by zoogleplex at 8:13 AM on February 1, 2011


I think a huge part of our problem is that our language has been corrupted enough that we've lost many of the crucial conceptual tools we used to have at our disposal for understanding politics

You think it's "frankly stupid" that "liberal" should have acquired, over nearly a century of use in a particular way, a different meaning in the US than it has in Europe? Confusing, I'd say; or maybe an unfortunate case of people separated by a common language. "Stupid" or "corrupt" doesn't leap to mind, but maybe I'm wrong. It is possible that Americans (or perhaps I should say "USians") have used "liberal" both stupidly and corruptly for a long time.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is that the army that we, as a nation, supported?
posted by electroboy at 8:22 AM on February 1, 2011


When I say "corrupt" I only mean it in the same sense that a file can be corrupted. And I don't think I used the term "frankly stupid" at all. Think you're mistaking me for someone else.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:25 AM on February 1, 2011


Ok, I'll be the straw man here. I think it is safe to say that few of us in democratic countries think this is a categorically bad thing, and I don't read that this is what Zizek is arguing. He seems confused as to why we're not cheerleading as loud as we can, what are we, anti-Arab racists?

No, Slavoj,I think it's because we have direct experience of how abusable democracy is, especially when it is driven by mobs. Yeah, I hope you guys get rid of the bad guy and I hope no one gets shot. But just be careful you guys don't put another asshole in charge there. Good luck. Oh, and let us know if we can help, but if history is any guide, you're probably better off if we don't insert our agenda anywhere into this.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:28 AM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


just be careful you guys don't put another asshole in charge there
Far more chance of the Western powers having a role in that (the regime is bigger than one man and a different acceptable figurehead we can 'do business with' will be fine and dandy) than the Egyptian people, who are forming street and workplace committees and giving us a lesson in grassroots democracy.
posted by Abiezer at 8:32 AM on February 1, 2011


If it helps, one way to think about the use of "liberal" here in a way that might make sense if you are from the US, is that what you see described in the US as "liberal" describes what the rest of the world generally calls "social democrat" - people who want to moderate capitalism with a state-driven consideration for social justice, with the managing agents of that state decided by some form of mediated democratic process.

However, there is also a large neoliberal contingent in the US - a politics inspired by neoclassical economic theory which usually maintains the democratic framework1 but aims to recast the relationship of the state to the citizen as a transactional one, in which the citizen is a customer, paying for services used, and where possible those services are moved into the private sector, because the private sector is more efficient than the state. That is, the economy should be liberalised, by minimising regulation and keeping money moving from private hands to other private hands.

Theoretically, many neoliberals are socially liberal, in the sense that they don't think the state has any role in making judgements about what people do with their private relationships or their private parts in their private property. However, "liberals" in the US sense are interventionist - they are liberal with the money generated by the private sector, which they want to take in taxation and spend on promoting and protecting minority groups. So, the Tea Party member and the polyamorous Bay Area libertarian with tech stocks can both oppose state intervention in the interests of social justice, although they may be more or less clear about their motives for doing so.

From Žižek's perspective, I think, social-democrat-liberal and free-market-liberal are both "liberal". At the interventionist end of social democracy you start getting into socialism, which in certain discourses in the US seems to be used interchangeably with liberalism as a term, and at the end of neoliberalism you shade into right-wing populism, where the government is taking your money and giving it to blasphemous art galleries and sinful sexual health programmes - that is, where state intervention is both an economic and a moral evil.

tl:dr: For the purposes of the radical left, both Alec Baldwin and Adam Baldwin can be described as liberal.

1 To a greater or lesser degree - Milton Friedman saw Chile as a good example of what you could do with economic liberalisation if you were't messing around trying to organise elections.2.

2 This may not be entirely fair to Milton Friedman, who actually said that the important thing about the Miracle of Chile was that the free market reforms ultimately led to the end of the Chilean Junta and the establishing of a democracy based on free elections. So, if you want a democratic nation, the best thing to do is to start with a country that has democratic elections, get rid of the democratic elections and then bring back democratic elections. I think it might be like the joke about how you make a small fortune in publishing.
posted by DNye at 8:33 AM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Colbert expresses Zizek's core point rather well.

You mean the part where the video says "Sorry the video is not available in your country" to everybody outside of the United States?
posted by srboisvert at 8:34 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that the US wants Mubarak to step down.

John Kerry says Mubarak should step aside.
posted by tragedy at 8:36 AM on February 1, 2011


The best route to sustainable democracy is gradual.

Possibly; but I wouldn't want to be the one standing on the barricades and telling people they aren't getting rid of their dictator gradually enough.
posted by steambadger at 8:41 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Colbert expresses Zizek's core point rather well.

You mean the part where the video says "Sorry the video is not available in your country" to everybody outside of the United States?

Sorry - it works fine in The Netherlands.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 8:43 AM on February 1, 2011


You mean the part where the video says "Sorry the video is not available in your country" to everybody outside of the United States?

So what, is it verboten to link to videos unless they're available worldwide?
posted by marxchivist at 8:51 AM on February 1, 2011


tl:dr: For the purposes of the radical left, both Alec Baldwin and Adam Baldwin can be described as liberal.

Brilliant. They should just replace those political alignment scores with your Alec, Adam*, and Stephen Baldwin ratings. I guess if you're too high to care you're a Daniel.

*yes, I know he's not related.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:04 AM on February 1, 2011


This is really not a strictly Europe vs. America thing - Americans working in foreign policy use "liberal" this way all the time.

I second the recommendation of last night's Colbert Report - the interview with Samer Shehata is excellent, he sets up each of the dumb things people have been saying about Egypt and lets the guy smack each of them down.
posted by naoko at 9:06 AM on February 1, 2011


and now, when the people revolt against the tyrants on behalf of secular freedom and justice, not on behalf of religion, they are all deeply concerned. Why concern, why not joy that freedom is given a chance?

Why not both?
posted by electroboy at


I'm 51 now. 25 years ago, I was 26. Then, I suspect I would've been unreservedly enthusiastic about this eruption of hope 6755 miles from where I'm currently sitting, sipping my morning coffee. Now, let's just say I've learned that ruptures of sudden CHANGE, though sometimes inevitable, don't always go the way you want them to. So yeah, I can both brim over with hope and worry, because something horrible might come of this. I'm not saying mine is the correct position, just a reflection of middle age and its tendency to perhaps put too much store in stability over progress (another of those double-edged swords operating as words).

And yes, as a matter of fact, most of our western "liberal" political leaders and key functionaries are more or less middle-aged.

This one goes out to all youse non-liberal Americans.
posted by philip-random at 9:07 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Brilliant. They should just replace those political alignment scores with your Alec, Adam*, and Stephen Baldwin ratings. I guess if you're too high to care you're a Daniel.

I actually found myself trying to work out whether Stephen Baldwin would seem like a liberal to Slavoj Žižek, Horace Rumpole, and thus whether I could crowbar him in, but had to stop when my ears started bleeding.
posted by DNye at 9:18 AM on February 1, 2011


~sigh~ This is Politics. What you want and what you express are often not in perfect alignment so that you may accomplish what you actually want.

This situation is treated most elegantly, at least initially, in such a manner that Mubarak will see stepping down as doing something noble or at least reasonable and for the good of Egypt. If we force the issue too much it will give Mubarak grounds to defend himself as resisting outside interference. Mubarak didn't last 30 years by not knowing exactly what cards he holds - the trick now is to get him to fold rather than play his hand.

For now, let the Egyptian people apply the bulk of the pressure.
posted by vapidave at 9:20 AM on February 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


It seems to be that defending the position of 'being worried' is dismissing the fact that the US is probably only reserving complete endorsement of the revolt because the Israelis are opposed to it.
posted by hellslinger at 9:36 AM on February 1, 2011


If it helps, one way to think about the use of "liberal" here in a way that might make sense if you are from the US, is that what you see described in the US as "liberal" describes what the rest of the world generally calls "social democrat"

No. Absolutely not. He uses "liberal" the way political philosophers have used the term for most of the twentieth century, the way Francis Fukuyama, darling of the Bush neocons, used it in his essay "The End of History?" Which is like this:

The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.

Quibble with Zizek's points or accuse him of preening or grandstanding or whatever - there are cases to be made there - but by liberal he means secular Western free market democracy, the whole great and good "free world" idea, which we champion rhetorically and use to justify military interventions in places like Bosnia and Afghanistan but shy away from like craven self-interested cowards when it actually appears in its native form, messy and volatile and self-contradictory and exhilirating and huge in potential, in the streets of some city whose people don't speak our languages or worship our gods.

Zizek's point, which is pretty much irrefutable if not wholly original, is that when we talk about democracy and freedom as paramount virtues and the sine qua non of membership in our elite liberal business club, we are completely full of shit. And we are demonstrating that in remarkably stark high relief in our response to the potential liberation of Egypt.

Note the way the US secretary of state and the Canadian dept of foreign affairs and so forth use terms like "orderly" and "peaceful" and "parties involved" to indicate their qualified support. They don't want equal partners with full and singular voices that say things we didn't tell them to say. They want stable little autocracies that do what they are told in exchange for enough creature comforts to not mind the total lack of civil liberties, which along with international trade agreements and high finance and such are the very special drinks in the locked cabinet that only mommy and daddy get to touch.
posted by gompa at 9:38 AM on February 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


To be fair to the Israelis, the last time Egypt's government was overthrown, it didn't go so well for them.

Didn't go so well for the Egyptian military either, but that's neither here nor there.
posted by electroboy at 9:41 AM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be fair to the Israelis, the last time Egypt's government was overthrown, it didn't go so well for them.

I'm assuming this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, electroboy, but just to be clear: this too is paternalistic bullshit. It's nakedly self-interested when Israelis mouth it and plain ole bullshit when anyone else does. By this notion of perpetually looping historical precedent, which I've seen floated a couple other places, there should probably never again have been a free election in Germany.
posted by gompa at 9:52 AM on February 1, 2011


Zizek's point, which is pretty much irrefutable if not wholly original, is that when we talk about democracy and freedom as paramount virtues and the sine qua non of membership in our elite liberal business club, we are completely full of shit.

Any my point is no one is born with "liberal" genetic material. So the term only applies to people and actions that are consistent with the basic ideals of liberalism. Maintaining the stability of oppressive power structures is inherently illiberal behavior; supporting autocratic and brutal dictators is by definition illiberal. So whatever else they may be, these leaders are not actually liberals--or at least, they aren't acting liberally in this regard. It's like when the lit critics all suddenly realized history actually wasn't going to come to a stop after the WWII era, and doggedly began applying the term "Post-Modern" to cultural developments following what they had previously called the "Modern" era instead of doing the more sensible thing and coming up with a better, less culturally myopic term for Modernism.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:00 AM on February 1, 2011


"...to people and actions that so long as they are (and remain) consistent with the basic ideals of liberalism"
posted by saulgoodman at 10:08 AM on February 1, 2011


Liberalism = individual freedom. Zizek is against it - it's as simple as that.

He doesn't care that liberal societies sometimes do hideous things. Even if they didn't he would still fundamentally oppose them because he thinks liberalism itself is hideous. He doesn't want a better, nicer, or more consistent liberalism, but the end of it. He is not an honest friend to liberals, from whom we can learn our mistakes and how to fix them. Nor is he really suitable as the pet subversive we can keep around to show off our tolerance, because he's an anti-Semitic, homo-phobic Revolutionary who believes in the divinity of violence. Why are we listening to him? What can we possibly learn from this evil eloquent little shit.

See e.g. this TNR piece The Deadly Jester

And the whole premise of Violence, as of Žižek's recent work in general, is that resistance to the liberal-democratic order is so urgent that it justifies any degree of violence. "Everything is to be endorsed here," he writes in Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, "up to and including religious 'fanaticism.'"
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 11:30 AM on February 1, 2011


Gompa: Why on Earth did you just quote me saying:

If it helps, one way to think about the use of "liberal" here in a way that might make sense if you are from the US, is that what you see described in the US as "liberal" describes what the rest of the world generally calls "social democrat"

And then respond as if I had said:

If it helps, one way to think about the use of "liberal" here in a way that might make sense if you are from the US, is that what you see described here by Slavoj Žižek as "liberal" describes what the rest of the world generally calls "social democrat"

I wouldn't mind, but then you clearly didn't even take the time misread the rest of what I wrote, since you go on to explain essentially what I then said - that the way in which SZ is using "liberal" describes anyone advancing the cause of a free-market economy with more or less limited state oversight from elected officials. Did your misreading of the first paragraph make you so angry that you couldn't bring yourself to read the rest? Only there's quite a good joke in there about the Baldwin political scale...
posted by DNye at 11:37 AM on February 1, 2011


(the time to misread, obvs)
posted by DNye at 11:37 AM on February 1, 2011


> On Žižek's thesis: I'm just not sure his criticisms apply to actual American liberals. It may apply to
> certain politicians who've branded themselves as liberals, and who are relatively liberal compared to
> the Washington establishment. But most actual American liberals I know seem to view themselves as
> standing pretty much shoulder to shoulder with the protesters, figuratively speaking.
> posted by saulgoodman at 10:53 AM on February 1 [1 favorite +] [!]

Just for comparison, the New Republic, a U.S. publication that uses "liberal" in the U.S. sense (referring to the left end of the midstream, i.e. folks who want to regulate capitalism somewhat more than it now is rather than put an end to it, and being itself of that party) is saying pretty much the same thing Zizek (and saulgoodman) are.

What is not unclear, however, is that the Obama administration, and American liberals more generally, have been caught intellectually unprepared for this crisis. The administration’s predicament, it must be said, is strategically complicated: since Mubarak may fall, it cannot afford to alienate the protestors, but since the protestors may fail, it cannot afford to alienate Mubarak. Our officials have been improvising, not altogether brilliantly. Joe Biden fatuously declared that “I would not refer to [Mubarak] as a dictator.” Robert Gibbs said that “this is not about taking sides.” Hillary Clinton, who used to speak warmly of Mubarak as “family,” has called for “restraint” and “reform” and “dialogue,” and warned that a crackdown could affect American aid to Egypt—as if anything but a crackdown is to be expected from Mubarak.


It's hard to imagine anyone, leftish like saul or rightish like me, actually achieving a high position in government (anybody's government) while still saying "Can we please just do what's right and fuck any other consideration?" Which is probably why the only two available alternatives seem to be government by the wishy-washy, or by Evil Overlords.
posted by jfuller at 11:40 AM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't mind, but then you clearly didn't even take the time misread the rest of what I wrote, since you go on to explain essentially what I then said

DNye, you're right, I didn't read your whole post carefully - it was just the most proximate one in a series of posts that appeared to be suggesting that Zizek's use of the term liberal was somehow categorically different from the way it is used in the US. Which is true if you're talking just about how Fox News uses the term but not if you look at the way even hardcore PNAC Bushites use the term in their more academic circles.

So yeah, my apologies if it seemed like I was furiously outraged at your post; meant no offense, just wanted to be strenuous in the clarification, if you will. I'd spent the morning listening in exasperation as the usually reliable CBC Radio show The Current as it gave over most of half an hour to hemming and hawing over how democracy might not translate properly into Arabic, featuring astute commentary from random passersby on the streets of Jerusalem and various Israeli government officials. All of which was delivered in that reasonable, anxious, urging-caution tone we reserve for those we assume to be outside our decent, trustworthy liberal tradition. And for, you know, hyperactive toddlers.

But I still think you're contributing to the misinterpretation even here . . .

the way in which SZ is using "liberal" describes anyone advancing the cause of a free-market economy with more or less limited state oversight from elected officials

. . . because as I said, this is not some sleight-of-hand elision Zizek pulled out of his ass to prop up his Marxist dismissal of the whole project of Western capitalism or something - this is the way the term liberal is used even by neocon intellectual darlings like Fukuyama. That's my main point.

Or, to build on your (yes, well-played) Baldwin line, it's not just pomo Marxist polemicists but even the party hacks endorsed by neocon Jesus freaks like Stephen Baldwin who mean everything from Alec to Adam when they say "liberal."
posted by gompa at 12:18 PM on February 1, 2011


I'm assuming this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, electroboy, but just to be clear: this too is paternalistic bullshit.

I'm not so sure what's paternalist about it, but of course it's self interested. The Israelis would be fools not to worry about the new Egyptian regime. It's easy for us to be all "rah rah protestors" when we're several thousand miles away, not so much when you share a border with a country that attempted to invade you within the lifetime of many of your citizens.

there should probably never again have been a free election in Germany.

There wasn't a free election for several years after WW2 ended, and the German army was disbanded until NATO needed a counterweight for the Soviets in Europe. Even then, France was still pissed about it. What's your point?
posted by electroboy at 12:49 PM on February 1, 2011


Not so much that you were furiously outraged Gompa - just that you had not read it.

However, no harm done. If the point you were aim to make is that the term "liberal" is often used as one might in "liberal democracies", to describe Western and Northern European and North American democracies, fair enough.

The issue at issue here, however, was that a number of people here on MetaFilter were unable to reconcile their understanding of the word liberal (left-leaning progressive Democrat, antithetical to "conservative", John Cusack) with with SZ was saying about "liberals" - for example, here, here and here. These were people whose use of the term "liberal" is categorically different from Žižek's, but who are not to the best of my knowledge employed by Fox News, and who were becoming confused as a result. Your strenuous clarification addressed a point that was not being made regarding whether or not SZ was the only person who used the term "liberal" thus, which I agree he is not.
posted by DNye at 12:53 PM on February 1, 2011


There wasn't a free election for several years after WW2 ended, and the German army was disbanded until NATO needed a counterweight for the Soviets in Europe. Even then, France was still pissed about it. What's your point?

That the avowedly secular protest movement toppling Egypt's authoritarian regime today bears about as much resemblance to the Nasser regime (and about as much responsibility for its actions) as the election of Helmet Kohl did to the collapse of the Weimar Republic. And that casting a wary eye on said protest movement by allusion to Nasser says more about the biases of the wary eye than it does about the nature of the protest movement.
posted by gompa at 1:04 PM on February 1, 2011


(In fact, I might go so far as to suggest that the shift of the meaning of "liberal" in the demotic speech of the US has more to do with Karl Hess than with Rupert Murdoch: in order to create a clear distinction from the figure of the liberal elite, free market enthusiasts who would previously have been identified as classical liberals started to identify as fiscal conservatives or libertarians, and to reserve the term "liberal" for their political opponents. The idea of the liberal elite is certainly in play by the time Hess wrote "The Death of Politics", although I don't know of its first usage offhand. It's a rhetorical construction, but one with deep and largely American roots. When "liberal" is employed in this sense (left-leaning, progressive, interventionist) in the United Kingdom, certainly, it is by the far right, uncritically importing the language of the more eloquent American right.

However, this may be a derail. I'm not sure whether this is a thread about Egypt or about political philosophy.)
posted by DNye at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2011


about as much resemblance to the Nasser regime (and about as much responsibility for its actions) as the election of Helmet Kohl...

Hey, you were the one that made the terrible Germany analogy.
posted by electroboy at 1:20 PM on February 1, 2011


The clarifications about what Zizek means by liberal are correct, but I think the symptomatic displays we see here, of people throwing themselves in the line of fire, are also strangely appropriate. American social democrats have surprised me – the negative reactions to Wikileaks; the desperation to prove to the Right that they aren’t socialists; many progressive bloggers declaring that the passing of health care reform marked the end of their social democratic ambitions; the enthusiasm for integrating the developing world into global capitalism; college education – improving capitalist productivity – as a panacea for poverty; and the celebration of “choice” as the ultimate political dream. Social democrats may not be liberals in the sense that their policy proposals are different, but the objective consequence of their politics is more liberalism. This allows them to objectively accept and benefit from the status quo while escaping from moral culpability – they would vote for a strong social democrat if only it weren’t for the tea party, or corporate lobbying or whatever. Zizek and others point out the failures of liberalism and social democracy, and this provokes howls of rage and accusations of moral superiority and trying to be more radical than thou – as if it’s completely out of bounds to ask about the real consequences of your political beliefs. This wounded reaction betrays the narcissism of converting concerns about global human suffering into the cultivation authentic personal feelings and adopting certain subjective positions, politics as a journey of self-discovery.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:41 PM on February 1, 2011 [8 favorites]


From the TNR article:

There is a name for the politics that glorifies risk, decision, and will; that yearns for the hero, the master, and the leader; that prefers death and the infinite to democracy and the pragmatic; that finds the only true freedom in the terror of violence. Its name is not communism. Its name is fascism, and in his most recent work Žižek has inarguably revealed himself as some sort of fascist. He admits as much in Violence, where he quotes the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk on the "re-emerging Left-Fascist whispering at the borders of academia"—"where, I guess, I belong." There is no need to guess.

Huh. WHELP LOOKS LIKE IT'S THAT TIME AGAIN.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:09 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm outraged - outraged - that Zizek hasn't adopted a definition of 'liberal' that has only recently come in to fashion in a single nation! I mean, if American pundits decide a word means something else now, the world has a responsibility to go along with it! And if America doesn't understand things, it's the world's responsibility to explain them to us over and over again in simple terms! HOW ELSE WOULD WE BE ABLE TO PRETEND TO LISTEN?
posted by regicide is good for you at 2:16 PM on February 1, 2011


But, uh, yeah, Zizek's probably basically insane, for better or worse
posted by regicide is good for you at 2:18 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


AlsoMike: What, it's not vain or narcissistic (kind of absurd to call anyone on the other side of a discussion from a guy who writes like Zizek narcissistic, if you ask me, though I actually kind of like Zizek) to make the kinds of sweeping categorical claims Zizek does about people who in fact often don't share the same views as the political leader's he should be singling out--who are themselves by and large only pretenders. I agree that a lot of Democratic leaders are wrong in some of the ways he describes. But to my mind, Zizek mistakes the current form of what we culturally identify as Western liberalism for the thing itself. It doesn't really matter anyway, except that I think it further confuses an already confused issue (which from what I've read about Zizek is probably by design). Doesn't he know that practically nobody in power in the US identifies as "liberal" anymore anyway? Even among Democrats? Hell, even I don't care for the term for myself. It's meaning is too muddled to be useful anymore. I'm a leftist. I want to see a powerful new labor movement. I've never been especially critical of Wikileaks, nor have I ever championed Global Capitalism. But Zizek still gets it wrong, IMO. Personal freedom and self-determination are things I value for everyone. To me, that's liberalism. Zizek just sounds like a crypto-stalinist to me.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:24 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, unable to calm a week of unrest and unprecedented protest against his government, announced Tuesday night that he would not seek reelection, but indicated he would remain in power "for the next few months."

"I tell you in all sincerity that I did not intend to seek reelection," Mubarak said in a national address on state television. "But I am keen to end my presidency in a manner that will enable whoever succeeds me to take over the country in a stable climate."


(Watching the news) The Egyptians are not mollified.

Al Jazeera English: Live Stream.
posted by vapidave at 2:37 PM on February 1, 2011


Analogies aside, Netanyahu seems to be cautiously supportive of the protests, although only if the result of the protest is a quote-unquote free and democratic Egypt (or at least not one run by an anti-Israeli Islamic government, even if elected). I guess there may be a medium-term expectation of the Egyptian military maintaining broad secularism and broad continuity in balance with an elected and intermittently more or less secular civil government.

Link

So, what happens now? Mubarak steps down, Suleiman leads a military-backed government of national stability and promises multi-candidate elections in September? Maybe a seat at the table for ElBaradei? Will that be enough? Can Mubarak really hold on until September? He has good relationships with the military, for obvious reasons, but eight months is a really long time...
posted by DNye at 2:49 PM on February 1, 2011


The New Arab Revolts: An Interview with Vijay Prashad Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His most recent book, The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, won the Muzaffar Ahmad Book Prize for 2009...

The Arab revolt that we now witness is something akin to a "1968" for the Arab World. Sixty per cent of the Arab population is under 30 (70 per cent in Egypt). Their slogans are about dignity and employment. The resource curse brought wealth to a small population of their societies, but little economic development. Social development came to some parts of the Arab world: Tunisia's literacy rate is 75 per cent, Egypt's is just over 70 per cent, Libya almost 90 per cent. The educated lower-middle-class and middle-class youth have not been able to find jobs. The concatenation of humiliations revolts these young people: no job, no respect from an authoritarian state, and then to top it off the general malaise of being a second-class citizen on the world stage - second to the US-Israel and so on - was overwhelming. The chants on the streets are about this combination of dignity, justice and jobs. [...]

The Muslim Brotherhood is on the streets. It has set its own ideology to mute. That is very clear. Its spokesperson Gamel Nasser has said that they are only a small part of the protests, and that the protest is about Egypt not Islam. This is very clever. It is similar to what the mullahs said in Iran during the protests of 1978 and 1979. They waited in the wings for the "multitude" to overthrow the Shah, and then they descended. Would the MB do that? If one says this is simply the people's revolt and not that of any organised force, it's, of course, true. But it is inadequate. The 'people' can be mobilised, can act; but can the 'people' govern without mediation, without some structure. This is where the structured elements come into play. If there is no alternative that forms, then the Muslim Brotherhood will take power. That the Muslim Brotherhood wants to stand behind El-Baradei means they don't want to immediately antagonise the US. That will come later.[...]

Don't underestimate the repression. In Egypt, the 2006 budget for internal security was $1.5 billion. There are 1.5 million police officers, four times more than army personnel. I am told that there is now about 1 police officer per 37 people. This is extreme. The subvention that comes from the US of $1.3 billion helps fund this monstrosity.

The high point of the Egyptian working class was in 1977. This was the bread uprising. It was trounced. Sadat then went to the IMF with a cat's smile. He inaugurated the infitah. He covered the books by three means: the infitah allowed for some export-oriented production, the religious cover (al-rais al-mou'min) allowed him to try and undercut the Brotherhood, and seek some funds from the Saudis, and the bursary from the US for the deal he cut with Israel. This provided the means to enhance the security apparatus and further crush the workers' movements.

posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 3:15 PM on February 1, 2011


The lesson of history is that with notable exceptions (USA) the presence of intolerable conditions does not at all mean that a revolution will improve things. In fact, the more civil society has been oppressed and destroyed, the less likely that will be (e.g. Haiti 1804, France 1789, Russia 1917........)

I strongly disagree that the French revolution didn't improve things in France. It devolved into Terror (with the historical meaning) and later into the Empire while a fair deal of art was destroyed in churches and palaces, yes. However, it offered political freedoms to citizens, produced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, shook up the political order of Europe and provided inspiration for all the revolutions that followed and for a wealth of literary art. Not to mention that the Napoleonic campaigns in effect ridiculed the divine right of kings as a nobody with no lineage triumphed across Europe and later kings of France were measured against him and found lacking. Besides, France almost conquered Europe, which might not seem a noble aim nowadays, but was judged differently back then and was a direct effect of other European powers trying to overthrow the new order in France.

So, yeah, the French revolution was quite successful.

And while you wouldn't want to live in the USSR after the first years, I think it's hard to refute that the social state in Europe is partly owed to an effort to provide a better quality of life in Western democracies in order to fight off the Red Scare.
posted by ersatz at 4:04 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


> So, yeah, the French revolution was quite successful.

...in the same sense that the Black Plague was successful, leading as it did to considerable empowerment for the workers who managed to be left alive afterwards. Still, given the choice I'd take a long walk on the beach over experiencing either.
posted by jfuller at 5:33 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll be delighted when secular democracy comes to Egypt. I'll be delighted when secular democracy comes to Iran, too.

Hell I'll be delighted when secular democracy shows up anywhere. I'd like to actually see it once before I die, not just listen to self-serving cynical lip-service. As we all just slide closer and closer to Mubarak-land.
posted by Twang at 7:43 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


And while you wouldn't want to live in the USSR after the first years, I think it's hard to refute that the social state in Europe is partly owed to an effort to provide a better quality of life in Western democracies in order to fight off the Red Scare.

The only way you'd rather have Nicholas than Lenin is if you expect that you'd be wealthy. We can shit-talk the USSR all day long- and I'll cheerfully join in on that- but it was certainly an improvement from the monarchist nightmare that was pre-Soviet Russia.


Also I'm eternally baffled at people who attack the Terror. What was the new government supposed to do, wait around for the aristocracy to raise an army to overthrow the new government? If you're not going to defend the revolution, you may as well not even have one.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:35 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems that once violence becomes great enough in scale it becomes Great, Necessary, Good in the minds of fools. People's lives become mere statistics in a corporate restructuring plan. These revolutionaries are just being efficient.

We should try the same techniques for our health, pension, ethnic minority integration, and democratic opposition problems.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 5:25 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Empty words without significance .
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:38 AM on February 2, 2011


A new FPP: Why Mubarak is Out.
posted by ericb at 7:16 AM on February 2, 2011


Also I'm eternally baffled at people who attack the Terror. What was the new government supposed to do, wait around for the aristocracy to raise an army to overthrow the new government? If you're not going to defend the revolution, you may as well not even have one.

My vastly incomplete read of the history of the Soviet Revolution posits that had Trotsky emerged as the leader after Lenin's death, things would have been more or less successful and humane, and we'd be telling a vastly different story of the 20th Century. Instead, we got a paranoid, vindictive, sadistic gentleman by the name of Jo Stalin.

Sometimes history sucks.
posted by philip-random at 9:19 AM on February 2, 2011


Nah, Trotsky was still a giant asshole, just ask the victims of Krondstadt.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:22 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well I did say "vastly incomplete".
posted by philip-random at 9:40 AM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


What is becoming more apparent to the gray masses is how the world is played, that "the economy" is nothing more than extreme game theory. that support of regimes is only made out of material gain, not humanistic principles, the need to put the third world under by a just piledriver once more.
I could go on and on. but i'll let john robb and umair haque rant on instead.
posted by xcasex at 12:23 PM on February 2, 2011


So what, is it verboten to link to videos unless they're available worldwide?

You don't see the funny of a Colbert Clip in a thread about American ambivalence to other country's attempt to push for freedom and liberty being restricted due to copyright?
posted by srboisvert at 1:59 PM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now this, I think, may be an example of the kind of "liberal" hypocrisy (in its US form) that Zizek may be talking about (putting aside my stated doubts about how he uses the term). On explaining her opposition to a proposed senate resolution calling on Mubarak to move quickly to implement democratic reforms a year ago:
Feinstein [a 'liberal' Dem], head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had concerns about the resolution's effect on the U.S. relationship with the Mubarak government and worried that it would jeopardize U.S.-Egyptian cooperation on a range of sensitive national security issues.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:39 AM on February 3, 2011


> So, yeah, the French revolution was quite successful.

jfuller:...in the same sense that the Black Plague was successful, leading as it did to considerable empowerment for the workers who managed to be left alive afterwards. Still, given the choice I'd take a long walk on the beach over experiencing either.

Given the choice, yes. At the time you were given famine in France, 10% tithing to the Church, rising debt and a widening discrepancy between the economic and political power of the third class.

Philosopher's Beard:It seems that once violence becomes great enough in scale it becomes Great, Necessary, Good in the minds of fools. People's lives become mere statistics in a corporate restructuring plan. These revolutionaries are just being efficient.


Keep in mind that violence always precedes revolutions. It's usually lack of representation and civic rights, extensive rent-seeking and economic policy by fiat and, at times, wars. Additionally, the status quo is supported by the state's illegitimate monopoly on violence and often has foreign support (in case of both the French and the Soviet revolution). Violence is never great or good, but sometimes it is necessary. "Necessary" violence has often been gratuitous, but forswearing violence sets one to be exploited by others who don't (most famously). Shades of gray, as always.
posted by ersatz at 2:14 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


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