A book called In Defense of Lost Causes sounds right up my alley – I’ve certainly been involved with enough of those. The author is the Left superstar philosopher Slavoj Zizek and here he is in full flight. The Giant of Ljubljana is the king of the paradox – the intellectual enfant terrible who makes us think the unthinkable.
But he is more than that: a writer of great wit who can draw with equal ease on classical philosophy and on popular culture. In Defense he makes the case that we humans are facing a final catastrophe (mostly environmental but also social) that we cannot avoid. We need to abandon all our easy scientific assumptions and our superficial common sense in a radical rupture with a historical process that is leading us over the edge. To do this, Zizek marshals a re-examination of radical history, turning present conclusions against themselves to validate the goal if not the methods of Left terror in the past. But this is no simple-minded authoritarianism, as Zizek holds no illusions about the nature of Stalinism and its antecedents.
Still, I must admit to not being entirely convinced. Too much here of the pendulum swing-back to the bad old days. Too easy a belief in the emancipatory state, the cleansing and purifying terror from above, even the glorification of informers. Drastic conditions call for drastic measures, Zizek would have us believe. No problem, but which measures? As Lenin said somewhere about revolution, ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’. But every time you break eggs you don’t get an omelette. Look what happened to the Soviet Union. Still this is a challenging and interesting (if not always easy) read to stimulate necessary thought.