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Zizek on the Election

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Finally got around to reading Zizek’s In These Times piece from the morning after…  There are some gems in there:

First, his redefinition of "democracy" as not su much a formalization of the "power of, by, and for the people" but rather a system centered first and foremost on "formal legalism – the unconditional adherence to a set of formal rules that guarantee society’s antagonisms are fully absorbed into the political arena." Here is the passage in full:

My next reflection concerns the basic paradox of democracy as revealed in The History of the VKP(b)—the
Stalinist bible. Stalin (who ghost-wrote the book) describes the vote
at a party congress in the late ’20s: “With a large majority, the
delegates unanimously approved the resolution proposed by the Central
Committee.” If the vote was unanimous, where then did the minority
disappear? Far from betraying some perverse “totalitarian” twist, this
paradox is built into the very structure of democracy. Democracy is
based on a short-circuit between the majority and the “All.” In it, the
winner takes all and the majority counts as All, obtaining all the
power, even if this majority is merely a couple hundred votes among
millions.

“Democracy” is not merely the “power of, by and for the people.” It
is not enough to claim that in a democracy the majority’s will and
interests (the two do not automatically coincide) determine state
decisions. Today, democracy is above all about formal legalism—the
unconditional adherence to a set of formal rules that guarantee
society’s antagonisms are fully absorbed into the political arena.
“Democracy” means that whatever electoral manipulation takes place all
politicians will unconditionally respect the results. In this sense,
the 2000 U.S. presidential election was effectively “democratic”: In
spite of obvious electoral manipulations and the patent meaninglessness
of the fact that several hundred votes in Florida decided who would be
president of the entire nation, the Democratic candidate accepted his
defeat. In the weeks of uncertainty after the election, Bill Clinton
made an appropriate acerbic comment: “The American people have spoken;
we just don’t know what they said.” This comment should be taken more
seriously than it was meant. To this day, we still don’t know what they
said—perhaps because there was no “message” behind the result at all.

And then there is a brilliant application of Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s infamous distinction between "authoritarian" and "totalitarian" regimes in her Commentary essay of 1979 to the war in Iraq:

However, the main advantage involves international politics. If Kerry
had won, it would have forced liberals to face the consequences of the
Iraq war, allowing the Bush camp to blame Democrats for the results of
their own catastrophic decisions. In her famous 1979 Commentary
essay, “Dictators and Double Standards,” Jeanne Kirkpatrick elaborated
on the distinction between “authoritarian” and “totalitarian” regimes
in order to justify the U.S. policy of collaborating with Rightist
dictators, while actively subverting Communist regimes. Authoritarian
dictators are pragmatic rulers concerned with power and wealth and
indifferent towards ideological issues, even if they pay lip service to
some big cause. In contrast, totalitarian leaders are selfless,
ideology driven fanatics who put everything at stake for their ideals.
So while one can deal with authoritarian rulers who react rationally
and predictably to material and military threats, totalitarian leaders
are more dangerous and must be directly confronted. The irony is that
this distinction encapsulates perfectly what went wrong with the U.S.
occupation of Iraq. Saddam was a corrupt authoritarian dictator
striving for power and guided by brutal pragmatic considerations (which
led him to collaborate with the United States throughout the ’80s). But
in removing him, the U.S. intervention has led to the creation of a
“fundamentalist” opposition that precludes any pragmatic compromises.

Written by adswithoutproducts

November 22, 2004 at 1:14 am

Posted in Politics

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