“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”― Aldous Huxley, "Brave New World"
Excerpt from a BS Interview w/Slavoj Zizek in February 2002
BS: We've seen over the last few years the growth of a broad anti-capitalist — or as we say in the U.S., anti-corporate or anti-globalization — movement, a lot of it organized according to anarchist principles. Do you think these demonstrations are a sign of any left revival, a new movement?
Zizek: Mixed. Not in the sense of being partly good and partly bad but because the situation is undecided — maybe even undecidable. What will come out of the Seattle movement is the terrain of the struggle. I think it is PRECISELY NOW — after the attack on the World Trade Center — that the "Seattle" task will regain its full urgency! After a period of enthusiasm for retaliation, there will be a new (ideological) depression, and THAT point will be our chance!!!
BS: Much of this will depend on progressives' ability to get the word out.
Zizek: I'm well aware of the big media's censorship here. For example, even in the European big media, which are supposed to be more open, you will never see a detailed examination of the movement's agenda. You get some ominous things. There is something dark about it. According to the normal rules of the liberal game, you would expect some of these people to be invited on some TV talk shows, confronted with their adversaries, placed in a vigorous polemic, but no. Their agenda is ignored. Usually they're mocked as advocating some old-fashioned left-wing politics or some particularism, like saving local conditions against globalism. My conclusion is that the big powers must be at least in some kind of a panic. This is a good sign.
BS: But lots of the movement has no explicit agenda to offer. Why is the elite in such a panic?
Zizek: It's not like these are some kind of old-fashioned left-wing idiots, or some kind of local traditionalists. I am well aware that Seattle etc. is still a movement finding its shape, but I think it has potential. (Even though) there is no explicit agenda, there is nonetheless an outlook reproaching this globalization for being too exclusionary, not a true globalization but only a capitalist globalization.
BS: At the same time this movement was growing, there was a string of electoral victories for the right — Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia in Italy, Jorg Haider's Freedom Party in Austria, our own Bush. What do you make of these?
Zizek: They're not to be underestimated. I'll put it in my old-fashioned Stalinist terms: there are two deviations to be avoided here, left and right. The right-wing deviation is to fully endorse their liberal opponents, to say, "OK, we have our problems with Gore or Blair but they're basically our guys, and we should support them against the true right." We should also avoid the opposite mistake, which is that they're all the same. It doesn't really matter if it's Gore or Bush. From this position it's only one step to the position that says, "so it's even better we have Bush, because then we see the true enemy."
We should steer the right middle course: while maintaining our critical distance towards the moderate left, one shouldn't be afraid when certain issues are at stake, to support them. What is at stake is the following: it looked in the 1990s that after the disintegration of socialism, the Third Way left represents the universal interests of capital as such, to put it in the old Marxist way, and the right-wing parties represent only particular interests. In the U.S., the Republicans target certain types of rich people, and even certain parts of the lower classes — flirting with the Moral Majority, for example. The problem is that right-wing politicians such as Haider are playing the global game. Not only do we have a Third Way left; we now have a Third Way right too, which tries to combine unrestrained global capitalism with a more conservative cultural politics.
Here is where I see the long-term danger of these right wingers. I think that sooner or later the existing power structure will be forced more and more to directly violate its own formal democratic rules. For example, in Europe, the tendency behind all these movements like Holocaust revisionism and so on, is an attempt to dismantle the post-World War II ideological consensus around anti-fascism, with a social solidarity built around the welfare state. It's an open question as to what will replace it.
[*Ed Note: Such as the new emergency powers granted the U.S. government for domestic surveillance purposes following the WTC/Pentagon attacks, which suspend habeas corpus rights for immigrants, allow security services to monitor your telecommunications activities, and review your student and bank records without permission from a judge]
BS: What about the transition from Clinton to Bush? What's significant about this from your point of view?
Zizek: The sad thing is that Clinton left behind him a devastated, disoriented Democratic Party. There are people who say that his departure leaves some room for a resurgence of the party's left wing, but that will be difficult. The true problem of Clinton is his legacy; there is none. He didn't survive as a movement, in the sense that he left a long-term imprint. He was just an opportunist and now he's simply out. He didn't emerge as a figure like Thatcher or Reagan who left a certain legacy. OK, you can say that he left a legacy of compromise or triangulation, but the big failure is at this ideological level. He didn't leave behind a platform with which the moderate liberals could identify.