« TGID (Thank God It's Do-Mi-Do Day) | Main | Socialists Do The Darndest Things! »

March 07, 2005


Jane Dark

If it's any comfort at all, I can tell you that Zizek is not in the new 3rd edition of Critical Theory Since Plato -- he was -- and then stuff had to be culled, and Hazard Adams, on rereading the Zizek piece and feeling just the uncertainty that you described, decided that Zizek would have to go. (Sorry, Mr. Zizek, no offense.)

I think the Tholian Web analogy captures it perfectly, and I shall have to show this to Hazard tomorrow; it'll make him laugh.


Actually, Zizek gives a systematic account of problems of liberal democracy in For They Know Not What They Do and Tarrying with the Negative. The problem involves the stain necessary for democracy that renders democracy as an empty place impossible and that is disrupted under capitalism. He also provides a critique of the idea of freedom characteristic of liberal thought in On Belief. The argument involves the way that so-called free choice doesn't determine the actual situation of choice.

Adam Kotsko


On this question, I must defer to Jodi. She has been doing so many blog posts on Zizek and democracy that I would inevitably just end up summarizing what she has put forward. So I recommend going to her blog and clicking the "Zizek" category.

And above all, Enjoy!


"He apparently thinks no form of political liberalism is interesting enough - either in theory or practice - to merit even a qualified defense. Is he just keeping a straight face to try to get a rise?"

John - start with the fact that quite possibly the height of politcal liberalism (at least in the US) came at the height of the power of the Soviet Union (post WWII - late 40s to 70s). Also that the rise of bringing democracy to the rest of the world, has resulted in the destruction of democracy in the US (terrorism, patriot act, etc.).

Our hint of liberal democracy is a very small part of history - a short interlude - that is rapidly disappearing, but what remains is the "stain" that is used to remind of what once was and to keep us entertained.


Wrong episode. Kobayashi Maru.

Ron Mashate

Strong essay. Ironically, I just yesterday read a piece in the Weekly Standard, via The American Scene, by Neoconservative scion Gertrude Himmelfarb, who's reading on Trilling doesn't jibe with your reading--as if that were a surprise. If you have the time, correct my confusion.



I think you wrote a great essay on Zizek and the defects of his thinking.

But I wanted to take exception with one issue you highlight. Near the end of the piece you point to the following:

"Liberalism’s rationalism tends to corrode that which liberalism exists only to serve: liberty. This is plausibly an ineliminable, systemic defect. And these betrayals may be the more pernicious for being concealed beneath the cloak of good liberal purpose. All this is true but, frankly, not news to liberals."

While it may not be news to Trilling and those of his generation, it seems lost to those who call themselves "liberal" or "potmodern" today. The fact that actual freedom is the freedom to challenge the "co-ordinates" of the current paradigm is not something widely recognized currently.

So if Zizek is good for nothing else, he at least raises the question that you think liberals are already asking. And given the plutocratic theocracy that the United States is quickly becoming, this is a good thing.

Keith M Ellis

I am thrilled with that essay, John. It's great. Thanks.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Email John & Belle

  • he.jpgjholbo-at-mac-dot-com
  • she.jpgbbwaring-at-yahoo-dot-com

Google J&B

J&B Archives

Buy Reason and Persuasion!

S&O @ J&B

  • www.flickr.com
    This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called Squid and Owl. Make your own badge here.

Reason and Persuasion Illustrations

  • www.flickr.com

J&B Have A Tipjar

  • Search Now:

  • Buy a couple books, we get a couple bucks.
Blog powered by Typepad

J&B Have A Comment Policy

  • This edited version of our comment policy is effective as of May 10, 2006.

    By publishing a comment to this blog you are granting its proprietors, John Holbo and Belle Waring, the right to republish that comment in any way shape or form they see fit.

    Severable from the above, and to the extent permitted by law, you hereby agree to the following as well: by leaving a comment you grant to the proprietors the right to release ALL your comments to this blog under this Creative Commons license (attribution 2.5). This license allows copying, derivative works, and commercial use.

    Severable from the above, and to the extent permitted by law, you are also granting to this blog's proprietors the right to so release any and all comments you may make to any OTHER blog at any time. This is retroactive. By publishing ANY comment to this blog, you thereby grant to the proprietors of this blog the right to release any of your comments (made to any blog, at any time, past, present or future) under the terms of the above CC license.

    Posting a comment constitutes consent to the following choice of law and choice of venue governing any disputes arising under this licensing arrangement: such disputes shall be adjudicated according to Canadian law and in the courts of Singapore.

    If you do NOT agree to these terms, for pete's sake do NOT leave a comment. It's that simple.

  • Confused by our comment policy?

    We're testing a strong CC license as a form of troll repellant. Does that sound strange? Read this thread. (I know, it's long. Keep scrolling. Further. Further. Ah, there.) So basically, we figure trolls will recognize that selling coffee cups and t-shirts is the best revenge, and will keep away. If we're wrong about that, at least someone can still sell the cups and shirts. (Sigh.)