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For Žižek, liberals are more or less satisfied with the status quo and against the radical act.[1]

Like Hegel's "Beautiful Soul", liberals wring their hands over the current state of affairs while in fact benefiting under it and passively promoting it.

In practice, liberals are not different from conservatives. Žižek has stated that he has more respect for conservatives, who at least radically contest capitalism and call for new universals, even if they are the wrong ones.[2]


Judith Butler has noted that the positions Žižek espouses would, in the USA, be associated with the Right.[3] Laclau condemns Žižek as totalitarian, or else as confused.[4]

Žižek, as a self-identified "old-fashioned dialectical materialist", condemns the political apathy and moral self-righteousnes of modern Western academics.[5]

Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?

Žižek argues that 'totalitarianism' is an ideological notion 'firmly located within the liberal-democratic horizon' which "actively prevents us from thinking."[6] "Totalitarian" is less a political description than a slogan, a rallying call inviting us to condemn whatever it qualifies. For Žižek, liberalism is itself totalitarian in its enthusaism for deconstructing binaries such as sexual difference, and its refusal to recognize the crucial importance of class antagonism.[7]

Liberal Freedom

What is the 'freedom' of which liberalism baosts when distancing itself from 'totalitarianism'?[8] Doesn't liberalism deprive us of rights in the name of 'freedom of choice'? When we lose security of employment, it admonishes us to enjoy a 'portfolio career' in whcih we can 'choose' a succession of different jobs; whenthe public health service is inadequate, it entitles the poor to 'choose' acorss a whole range of expensive private options which they could never afford. By pretending that such choices lie within our own discretion, liberal regimes disguise the constraints to which we are effectively subject.

Moreover, liberalism as such denies the represive force of our subjection to the symbolic in the first place: "So the paradox is that 'liberal' subjects are in a way those least free: they change the very opinion/pereption of themsleves, accepting what was imposed on them as originating in their 'nature' - they are no longer even aware of their subordination."[9]

Leninist Freedom

Lenin had the merit of underlining how any freedom is freedom for a particualr group to do a particular thing; that is, that freedom is always located within the context of political struggle. Real freedom of choice comes when we don't select froma pre-given menu of options, but determine the options themselves. TO do so, we need to find a way out of the forced choice with which the political status quo presents us. Žižek argues that Lenin is a better guide than liberalism to how this can be achieved, since all his efforts were geared to holding open the revolutioanry choice.[10]

Leninist Act

Lenin did not believe in fitting the act to the circumstances, but in using it to change them.[11]. Such an act cannot be effected without "the terrorism that characterizes every authentic ethical stance."[12] A return to authoritarian rule may actually be desirable, since at times, Žižek asserts, "one does need a Leader in order to be able to 'do the impossible. THe authentic Leader is literally the One who enables me actually to loose myself - subordination to him is the highest act of freedom."[13]

Perversion and Literalism

Žižek repeatedly advocates adhering to the letter of the law as a means of exposing it as "non-all". The law as such is lacking; what makes it effective is the hidden support of fantasy and the traumatic violence which that fantasy transmits/disguises.

Žižek denounces perversion as a "model of false subversive radicalization that fits the existing power constellation perfectly.[14] Contrary to popualar belief, perversion is not a means of acces to the radical fredom of the unconscious, but a form of fixation on fantasy. The unconscious is not a set of contents, but an absence, filled out by the substane of fantasy, the objet a as surplus enjoyment. Thus by his resolve to act our certain fantasies, the pervert maintains, and confers fixity upon the obscene support of law. Even though he may appear transgressive, he confirsms the way the law is currently constitued.


An exaggerated legalism, by contrast, in its literalism, forces a gap between law and fantasy, and thereby reveals the insubstantiality of the law onc eit is deprived of its fantasmatic support.

Cynicism and Freedom

Cynicism is one of Žižek's most consistent targets throughout his writing. The reason why he opposes it is that (like perversion) cynicism poses as subversive, whereas in fact it reinforces ideology, since its imagianry distance from it is something ideology has already taken into account. Indeed, irony and detachment, the belief in an independent, authentic position outside ideology, are examples of ideology at its most insidious. In contrast to this, ZIzek exhorts us to a freedom that does consist in inner disttance from ideology. The discovery that the symbolic order is 'non all', the possibility of 'trasversing the fantasy', and committing the 'act' are all expressions of this freedom which demand that the subject distance him or her self from the law.

The cynic "know very well what he is doing, but he is doing it."[15] This formula reflects a willingness to go along with the way the world is, despite inner ironic distance from it; or the radical political agent, however, it expresses a resolve to change hte way the world is, no matter at what personal code.

The cynical split is performed within the symbolic, whereas freedom involves "traversing the fantasy." Thus cynicism belongs "within the pleasure principle," freedom beyond it. Indeed, it is the psace occupied by fantasy, the sense of it as an inner core, whcih creates the idstance "traversed" by the free subject in its momentary plunge into the real. Cynicism is only a false or pseudo freedom from ideological constraint, whereas genuine political freedom can only be attained through subjective destitution.


The space of political universality is one of ideological struggle. For a hegemoonic group to establish itself at the expense of others, it needs to colonize this speace in its own interests. The political universal sis thus usually the exact opposite of what one might tkae it to be: not an abstraction from a set of particualrs, but the manifestation of the express interests of a particualr group. Even something apparently excluded from the symbolic register can be the support of a universal. "The dimension of universality is always sustained by fixation on some particular point."[16]

The universal is not abstracted from existing particulars,. Žižek dismisses universals adduced in the interests of identity politics, but approves those brought forward in the name of those he recognizes as genuinely economically exploited and politically excluded.

The Act


  1. Contingency 127-8
  2. Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? 242-4
  3. Contingency 278
  4. Contingency 289
  5. Did Somebody Say 216
  6. Tot 3
  7. TOt 237-43
  8. On Belief 112-22
  9. On Belief 120
  10. On Belief 122
  11. DId SOmebody Say 114
  12. Did 91
  13. Did 247
  14. Ticklish USbject 251
  15. Did 14
  16. Plague 104