Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The divisiveness of universalism: or, how to be intolerant of tolerance

“The way to counteract this re-emerging ultra-politics [of different fundamentalisms] is not more tolerance, more compassion and more multicultural understanding, but the return of the political proper, that is, the reassertion of the dimension of antagonism which, far from denying universality, is cosubstantial with it. That is the key component of the proper leftist stance as opposed to the rightist assertion of one’s particular identity: the equation of Universalism with the militant, divisive position of one engaged in a struggle – true universalists are not those who preach global tolerance of differences and all-encompassing unity, but those who engage in a passionate struggle for the assertion of the Truth which compels them….

“When De Gaulle, for instance, almost alone in England in 1940, launched his call for resistance to the German occupation, he was at the same time presuming to speak on behalf of the universality of France, and, for that very reason, introducing a radical split, a fissure between those who followed him and those who preferred the collaborationist ‘Egyptian fleshpots’…. The crucial point here is that subjectivity and universalism are not only not exclusive, but two sides of the same coin…. In Hegelese, the existence of the true Universal … is that of an endless and incessantly divisive struggle.”

—Slavoj Žižek, “Carl Schmitt in the Age of Post-Politics,” in The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, ed. Chantal Mouffe (London: Verso, 1999), pp. 35-36.

4 Comments:

Anonymous said...

I much prefer this statement as to the principle(s) of a truly universalist asana.

www.ispeace723.org/washtheflags2.html

Also everything has radically changed since Schmitt was alive.
We now live in a quantum world of instantaneous inter-connectedness.

Plus the author of the above essay points out that Global Civilization was effectively destroyed by WW1 and WW2. WW2 finished off what was begun in WW1.

steve martin said...

The fact that we universally disagree is evidenced by the two states of our existence...'preparing for war', and 'at war'.

Shane said...

I just really can't fathom people's obsession with Slavoj Zizek. We'll leave the psychoanalytic witchcraft to one side and just focus on his politics.

Here's what he just said in the quoted passage:

"Tolerance has to have limits."

Why this would count as a 'radical' or interesting claim is utterly opaque to me. Maybe if you're a european leftist this seems like an interesting new direction, but that just begs the question: Why the hell would you be a european leftist in the first place? That's like shooting yourself in the foot and then calling anyone who walks without a limp a fascist. In my view nobody's had a justifiable reason to be a bien-pensant euro-marxist since soviet tanks rolled through Prague.

European political thought has as a major premise that all non-marxists are fascists. (And, in all fairness, in some places in Europe that dichotomy is scarily close to true.) Zizek's version of marxism is appealing if and only if you initially found that dichotomy persuasive because Zizek seems to give you some comforting pieces of good old enlightenment politics like "Truth" and universality and so forth that the bien-pensant euro-marxists thought were implicitly fascist.

But, if that dichotomy is ridiculous in the first place (and it is), then why is Zizek's project interesting at all? You want a non-fascist enlightenment politics with a little side of universalism? Meet John Rawls.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is only unclear because the quote is out of context, but why did he oppose De Gaulle to "the rightist assertion of one's particular identity"? I mean, he says that De Gualle presumed to speak for the "universality of France", but it's not like De Gaulle would have fought on behalf of the universality of Guatemala.

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