Žižek, refugees and European authority

Reflecting on what has come to be called the current “refugee crisis” – the allegedly Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek has come up with a remarkably right-wing statement namely that

“We must abandon the notion that it is inherently racist or proto-fascist for host populations to talk of protecting their ‘way of life’.”

Such understanding for White identity politics may surprise those who present him as the star of the radical left – but they are perfectly in tune with the perversion of Marxism from a critique of the political economy (to which Žižek himself pays lip service) into a psychological critique of alienation – as I argue here

That migration is a genuinely bad thing seems to something the political Right and Left can agree. For the Right it is mainly that it is harmful to the country in which migrants settle, for the Left it is harmful for migrants themselves and also for the country from which they migrate. Both sides overlook that migration is also an expression of the human capacity of imagination and spirit of discovery.

Žižek here actually moved to the right as he shamelessly adopts Tory (or worse) arguments (see Kenan Malik’s tweet and refutation of such arguments on his blog) – such as the above quoted, but also more “sensible” ones such as this here:

‘Refugees should be assured of their safety, but it should also be made clear to them that they must accept the destination allocated to them by European authorities, and that they will have to respect the laws and social norms of European states: no tolerance of religious, sexist or ethnic violence; no right to impose on others one’s own religion or way of life; respect for every individual’s freedom to abandon his or her communal customs, etc.’

Why does this need to be stated? A (typical) case of obvious truths stated in bad faith mixed with debatable assumptions that are hoped to gain plausibility from their proximity to obvious truths. It is the nature of laws that they must be obeyed and will be enforced, and count on it: they will be more forcefully enforced on non-nationals and non-Whites in general. Less obvious, of course, is the notion that it should be self-evident that people should settle where European authorities tell them to. Nobody’s telling Slavoj Žižek where to settle – but I guess quod licet Iovi non licet bovi .. What Žižek does here is to suggest that the tendency to break the rules will be greater in refugees than in those who talk of “protecting their way of life”. He also seems to forget that respect for individual freedom for many is one of the main reasons to head to countries where they think it exists. Of course it’s obvious that, as Žižek states, Islamist fascism cannot be tolerated just like (again, as Žižek states) White fascism must not be tolerated. But in this case it’s all just rhetoric, since populist talk about protection of indigenous ways of life has already been identified as legitimate. (Also note how Žižek slips in a  non-defined “social norms” for refugees to abide to in addition to “laws” – privileging cultural patterns of those already here over those of the newly arrived, no matter whether they collide with codified liberalism or not. Like David Cameron, Theresa May and their “British values” Žižek deliberately uses an elastic term to denote what actually is just the law of the land.)

Where Žižek is right, at least, is in the emphasis that refugees are not just driven by a will to mere survival, but for a better life (if not for themselves then at least for their children). That is an uncomfortable truth for an ideology that identified alienation (or variations thereof) as the key issue: capitalism inspires dreams of a better future (as I argue in my aforementioned short polemic on migration – and without much reference to migration also here). But instead of understanding such dreams, such fictitious Norways, as part of the dialectic that may drive capitalism beyond itself and into what Marx envisaged as the realisation of individual freedom in communism, Žižek does the opposite: he sees communism as the solution for the refugee crisis, as in communism everyone stays where they are

“there is a need for radical economic change which would abolish the conditions that create refugees. Without a transformation in the workings of global capitalism, non-European refugees will soon be joined by migrants from Greece and other countries within the Union. When I was young, such an organised attempt at regulation was called communism. Maybe we should reinvent it. Maybe this is, in the long term, the only solution.”

NB: he calls this “communism” – but redefines it as a “transformation in the workings of global capitalism”. That, indeed, requires a “reinvention” of “communism”. Or just a reversion to that old-style Communism of the closed borders (and a “solidarity” that meant immigrant workers were tolerated in defined and insulated spaces as an economic resource to be sent back after a couple of years – as in the case of the Vietnamese Vertragsarbeiter in Honnecker’s GDR)

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