Archives for posts with tag: Ideology

The deliberative democracy project, in which politics can be governed by rational decision making and the process of public deliberation can be guaranteed to have reasonable outcomes, makes sense only when conditions of ideal discourse prevail. These conditions, however, imply the removal of power relations from discourse; or in other words, they assume that ideal speech situations exist in which discourse is driven communicatively, rather than strategically; a position which must be rejected. One must understand that language use itself is colonized by power. The goal of greater inclusivity through discourse fails to stand up in the face of the undermining of inclusivity by the use of language. What is at stake in the claim that politics is unnecessarily adversarial is the denial of the central role of conflict in politics and collective identity formation. This is the work the concept of hegemony does, as the point of convergence and collapse between objectivity and power. The hegemony of a depoliticized public discourse, that of ‘third way’ politics is that there are correct answers to be had, which politicians are unwilling to take for whatever reason. This is rubbish, the answers in reality become clear only in retrospect ( argues for a similar point, but without being willing to take the final step the argument entails, perhaps the government is not broken, but the point is that social conflict such as #occupywallstreet shows that the polity is not broken. Such movements are properly agonistic rather than adversarial, they still seek to include other members of the polity, unlike an adversarial movement such as the tea party which seeks to expel members from the polity.) And then only because they are now historically imperative. This concept mirrors Foucault’s description of human history:

Humanity does not gradually progress from combat to combat until it arrives at universal reciprocity, where the rule of law finally replaces warfare; humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination… Rules are empty in themselves, violent and unfinalized; they are impersonal and can be bent to any purpose… [I]nterpretation is the violent or surreptitious appropriation of a system of rules, which in itself has no essential meaning, in order to impose a direction, to bend it to a new will, to force its participation in a different game. (Language, Counter-memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews)

All language, and by extension politics, is warfare by other means.

Without the presence of the Lacanian master signifier, the signifier of symbolic authority founded only on itself, language has no meaning. The introduction of the master signifier to discourse distorts the symbolic field by introducing the intrinsic violence of language, which is generated by clashes over what constitutes appropriate language use, and who can use it, without which the entire symbolic field would evaporate. Similarly, the same violence is perpetrated, for example when some events are deemed worthy of public attention while others are marginalized through a refusal to acknowledge them. However, if the violent, authoritarian, master-signifier were removed from the symbolic field, then the field itself would vanish.

One must acknowledge the existence of power relations and the desire to alter how power is allocated, but perhaps more importantly one must renounce the illusion that we can ever be completely free from power. The complete dissolution of all power is a naive goal, one must instead see that power is constitutive of human relations and what is contingent is how it is used and by whom it is held. Of course protestors at #occupywallstreet will hold different goals, we already understand that every consensus is merely the temporary result of a provisional hegemony, that is, nothing more than a stabilization of power in the moment which can just as easily fracture the next. When establishment groups joined the protest after 2 weeks what effect can be expected? Will this lead to increased resolve, will the strategic rationality of large organizations give power to the movement, or will it undermine the truly radical potential? These mainstream groups joining the protest provide legitimacy but the ability to speak always already represents recourse to systems of power that give one the authority to speak, and to require the other to listen. By gaining legitimacy in this way the movement gives up part of its status as “outside” the order. To this point, many claims are made that the protestors are just children with nothing better to do, or only the unemployed; but isn’t it obvious that those are exactly the people who capitalism has most let down. The future that past generations have been able to count on is not available to today’s youth, and of course the high rate of unemployment is a symptom of the economic situation. If these are not the voices we should hear, the voices of those most affected, then who should we turn to.

The question is if such a political move is capable of building up a broad coalition of support without diluting its message too far. Will’s recent post brilliantly argues that the true meaning of the protest can be read off from its many messages, that is a disillusionment with the capitalist hegemony. One can read the endless interrogations by commenters online about how the protest is unguided and ask how can they not see the common theme, the solution which is already evident in the protest, but such a question comes about only after making the subjective determination as the one’s role. If one has already committed themselves to such a change then the question is obvious, but for one who still holds onto the ideological blinders of the prevailing hegemony how can such a solution ever appear ready-at-hand? Such a solution is already part of the counter-hegemony (that is a new hegemony, not a naive anti-hegemonic stance).

EDIT: Another interesting post by Daniel Drezner, at Foreign Policy, which moves in a similar manner to my argument, went up several hours after this post went live, for more check it out.

I have serious doubts about the wisdom of groups like Anonymous. Standing behind the banner of a mass movement, of populism itself, is a cop out. Anonymous has no Cause, except anonymism itself. This can be formulated alternatively as the fight for non-identity, for nothingness, for symbolic death. It is the fight for the pure anti-thesis. The movement has no leader, not even local, distributed ones. It’s hard to see what new program it could put in place, other than a destructive, pseudo-democratic “blind eye,” which, in what is perhaps the greatest irony, recalls the ubiquitous personification of The Market as the ultimate Leader and decider of our fate.

Hegemonizing a universal means standing for a particular cause and asserting it as universally relevant. (See this article by Jacques Rancière on defining the political). The way I think of it, taking to the streets with the message of anonymity is the purest form of being, versus thought, in Lacan’s formulation of the two — “I think where I am not, therefore, I am where I do not think.”

All that is just to say that standing for universality itself is disingenuous. It is a dissimulation of the fact that one stands for nothing in particular, or, rather, just the whole series of all the particular interests involved, instead of some particulars taken to be Universal. Exemplary on this point is a recent Daily Show video in which Michael Moore reduces the Occupy Wall Street movement to a variety of subcultures, sub-interests (or sub-speech-genres, as Rob puts it), not — and of course we should be ashamed for even thinking this! — any one, universal demand. Standing for everything is an excuse to stand for nothing. This is all certainly relevant to the discussion of JJ’s piece on Post-Populism as well, where you’ll find Rob’s point about speech genres in the comments.

History reaches the pinnacle of irony in movements like Anonymous. They are no one, and yet they are everyone; they have no cause, and yet everyone is participating. The properly universal, political, and revolutionary position is the exact opposite: we are everyone, and yet no one; we are nothing but our Cause, and thus we are no person at all (even the leader is driven not by personal interests but by the Cause of the movement); yet we are a Universal movement, and as such we stand for every particular person (rather than every particular cause/interest).

An interesting, and perhaps unnoticed, implication of the shrinking away from any Cause today is that the nature of humility has changed. People shift their skepticism from themselves onto the Cause itself; whereas people used to be skeptical about their own importance in a society in which the highest form of life was to sacrifice for a Cause outside oneself, today we have the opposite, such that people are skeptical about nothing but the Cause. I take this point from Orthodoxy, a book by G. K. Chesterton; a brief series of quotes on this can be found here.

But the greatest insight to draw from anonymist protestors is quite different. I’ll take a page from Badiou’s book. The being-multiple of the situation in the streets (the whole set of possibilities) has reached such a full state of expression that one can easily read off from the situation its key motivation: we see protestors everywhere shouting about their problems with the financial industry and a host of other phenomena that can point to nothing other than capitalism as their source. The simplest way to put this is that capitalism is now THE elephant in the room, except in this case, not everyone sees it.

Contra Moore, Occupy Wall Street is obviously — as even the name indicates! — NOT a fight for nothing in particular. It is a movement to end financial speculation. At its best, it could become a movement to end capitalism itself.

The ultimate challenge to the Anonymous movement as a political movement can be summarized in the simple question, Could we ever elect an anonymist leader?

What does ‘repression’ mean today?

According to traditional Freudian psychoanalysis, repression is the Ego’s denial of the drives of the Id, which then remain latent in the unconscious. Sublimation, on the other hand, is the product of repression; it is what the Ego accomplishes in the act of repression – namely, culture. Here is Žižek’s description, from Metastases of Enjoyment:

In an alienated [i.e., modern] society, the domain of ‘culture’ is founded upon the violent exclusion (‘repression’) of man’s libidinal kernel which then assumes the form of a quasi-‘nature’: ‘second nature’ [i.e., the unconscious] is the petrified evidence of the price paid for ‘cultural progress’, the barbarity [i.e., exclusion/repression] inherent to ‘culture’ itself (11).

But because the key characteristic of both repression and sublimation is the Ego’s diverting its attention away from the immediate satisfaction of a drive, it is impossible to distinguish “in a theoretically relevant way between the repression of a drive and its sublimation” (11); the distinction is always arbitrary.

Žižek explains the consequences of this fact for psychoanalytic practice and hence for ideological critique:

[E]very sublimation (every psychic act that does not aim at the immediate satisfaction of a drive) is necessarily affected by the stigma of pathological, or at least pathogenic, repression. There is thus a radical and constitutive indecision which pertains to the fundamental intention of psychoanalytic theory and practice: it is split between the ‘liberating’ gesture of setting free repressed libidinal potential and the ‘resigned conservatism’ of accepting repression as the necessary price of the progress of civilization (12).

But because Freud thought that this ‘standard’ form of the Ego’s splitting by the Id and Superego – where the Superego (social pressure) condemns the Id (drives) – was an anthropological constant, he could not predict, says Žižek, the

paradoxical condition actualized in our century: that of the ‘repressive desublimation’, characteristic of ‘post-liberal’ societies in which ‘the triumphant archaic urges, the victory of the Id over the Ego, live in harmony with the triumph of the society over the individual’* (Metastases, 16; Žižek citing Adorno, “Zum Verhältnis,” p. 133).

That is, Žižek’s wager is that we live in a society in which Id and Superego coincide, breaking the traditional model of psychoanalytic theory:

In post-liberal societies […] the agency of social repression no longer acts in the guise of an internalized Law or Prohibition that requires renunciation and self-control; instead, it assumes the form of a hypnotic agency that imposes the attitude of ‘yielding to temptation’ – that is to say, its injunction amounts to a command: ‘Enjoy yourself!’. Such an idiotic enjoyment is dictated by the social environment which includes the Anglo-Saxon psychoanalyst whose main goal is to render the patient capable of ‘normal’, ‘healthy’ pleasures.

Society requires us to fall asleep, into a hypnotic trance, usually under the guise of just the opposite command: ‘The Nazi battle cry of “Germany awake,” hides its very opposite.’ Adorno interprets the formation of the ‘masses’ in the same sense of this ‘regression’ of the Ego towards automatic and compulsive behavior (Metastases, 17; Žižek citing Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda,” in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, London: Routledge, 1991, p. 132).

The superego (culture, society) represses non-Id enjoyment; sublimation becomes repression: one is told that one must enjoy to one’s full capacity. Indeed, frequently there is the explicit injunction to directly express the (would-be) Id, to fully actualize one’s wildest fantasies and most urgent impulses, since the alternative would be a ‘repressive’ existence unacceptable to society.

I’ll end with one of Žižek’s anecdotes that illustrates the way this repression of non-enjoyment works. The following is from First as Tragedy, Then as Farce:

On the information sheet in a New York hotel, I recently read: ‘Dear guest! To guarantee that you will fully enjoy your stay with us, this hotel is totally smoke-free. For any infringement of this regulation, you will be charged $200.’ The beauty of this formulation, taken literally, is that you are to be punished for refusing to fully enjoy your stay (58).

*A note on the accuracy of society’s self-conscious gesture of admitting its mission to “liberate” the subject from the superego: crucially, once the subject is “liberated” from repression, the Id (drives) are no longer unconscious… as such, they are no longer drives. Thus what society posits as the “liberated drives” are actually pseudo-natural human constructs; they are merely the sublimation of the actual drives, i.e., the unconscious, which can’t ever be put into social circulation but rather takes the form of the unarticulated “symptom” that the analyst (ideological critic) must uncover.

Disclaimer: This posted ended up being much more technical than I had originally envisioned. If the Lacanian discouses are interesting to you I suggest Bruce Fink’s book The Lacanian Subject.

Amy Goodman opened Democracy Now!’s discussion (panel begins around the 24 minute mark) with Julian Assange and Slavoj Žižek by stating “Information is power.” And, if one is willing to grant this truism, then the media’s ability to create and disseminate knowledge in hegemonic contexts (as though there could be a non-hegemonic context) is an obvious point of interest.

So, what is Hegemony? Hegemony, as defined by Chantal Mouffe is the point at which objectivity and power collapse into one. Exactly the point where ideology is so powerful that what is true is defined by power relations. (Social) Power defines what is true, or what can be understood. Žižek, in the discussion with Goodman and Assange, asks, what did we learn from WikiLeaks’ release of collateral murder? The answer is that we learned nothing from the release, but rather that we learned a truth in context, that is, we experienced a truth in a new way. The context is what is relevant, rather than knowing intellectually that terrible things happen during war, but the video acts counter-hegemonically by insisting upon the truth in a new, visceral, way. Truth is mediated by ideology through hegemony. Truth in new contexts has the ability to make us see things differently. Facts are presented in new ways, they are re-presented to us in ways which undermine the current hegemony. Žižek illustrates the importance of the forum of information and the power of ideological hegemony by saying “We may all know that the emperor is naked, but the moment somebody publicly says the emperor is naked: everything changes.” The simple act of saying publicly that the emperor is naked is counter-hegemonic in its challenge to hegemony by insisting on its set of norms and assumptions (its own hegemony). John Cook’s analysis of a memo (A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News) written by Roger Ailes for the Nixon white house shows how a supposedly neutral arbiter of information, the media, is perhaps the tool par excellence of hegemony. The article indicates just how deeply, in this case, political power and information, or knowledge, were linked.

I would like to illustrate how the Lacanian discourses can be employed to understand various roles of counter-hegemony technically before returning to the Assange, Goodman, Žižek discussion to see their applications.. Lacan accounts for four discourses in his work: the master’s discourse, the university discourse, the analyst’s discourse and the hysteric’s discourse. The master signifier (the signifier of symbolic authority founded only on itself), the Barred Subject (the subject in/of language), the objet a and Knowledge rotate through 4 positions in the matheme of the discourses. The master signifier is represented by S1, the Barred Subject by $, the objet a by a and Knowledge by S2. The general form of each discourse is:


truth       product/loss

That is, the truth underwrites the agent which addresses or interrogates the other. The other produces some object as what is lost from it, that is alienated, placed outside of itself. Thus, the four discourses can be symbolized by the following mathemes:

Master’s Discourse University Discourse Analyst’s Discourse Hysteric’s Discourse


$       a


S1    $


S2   S1


a    S2

In the master’s discourse, which the revolutionary adopts, the master signifier hides the truth of its lack while interrogating the knowledge. This is the traditional understanding of the master slave dialectic in which the master forces the slave to work, which leads to the slaves generation of knowledge. The master signifier is in the driving seat of agency in the master’s discourse. The product of the slave, and that which is lost by him or her, is thus a

In the university discourse knowledge becomes the agent. Knowledge here hides the fact that it is ultimately grounded only on the master signifier and not some universal reason. The reasons exist only after the hegemonic choice signified by the master signifier. Knowledge interrogates surplus value and attempts to rationalize it. The subject-who-knows, in interrogating the surplus value creates the subject-who-does-not-know, the barred subject, $.

In the analysts’ discourse the agent, in this case the analyst, (perhaps the philosopher, or political scientist) plays the role of desire as such. Desire questions the barred subject about the split which divides him or her. The analyst presses on the subject at the points where the split between conscious and unconscious shows. In this way, the analyst makes the patient associate, or bring-into-language, and the product of that association is a new master signifier. The analyst brings the master signifier into a relationship with other signifiers and founds it in language, dialectizes it. This gives rise to a new master signifier. The breaking of one master signifier in analysis always creates another. The master signifier is the product of analysis.

Finally the hysteric’s discourse emerges, by which the barred subject demands that the new master signifier prove itself – that is – prove that it can produce something useful, that it can generate knowledge which will make the world understandable or representable. Once the master signifier has succeeded in rendering the world understandable by no basis but itself, the matheme once again rotates back to the master’s discourse

Returning to the panel, the public announcement Žižek references in which the emperor is called out for being naked is the discourse of the critic, it is the Lacanian analyst’s discourse which must precede the revolutionary’s master discourse. One must note while watching how Žižek repeatedly assigns to Assange the role of the authoritarian master. Assange represents the master discourse, setting out a new master signifier by which we must organize our understanding of the world while Žižek himself is the critical analyst’s discourse which presses the listener to make associations (the Iraq war and the war in Serbia, for example) which will distill a new master signifier. Assange discusses how members of the mainstream media, having interrogated the work of WikiLeaks “have themselves become educated and radicalized.” This is the university discourse. Knowledge, or information interrogates the surplus of the work of WikiLeaks and creates the subject-who-does-not-know, that is the barred subject. A new master signifier has already begun to work for them. Assange claims that this is an “ideological penetration of the truth into all these mainstream media organizations” but what is important to see is that this should not be made with reference to some capital ‘T’ Truth, but instead a penetration of a hegemonic truth, that is, the new master signifier.

The master’s discourse of the revolutionary thus adopts the move suggested by Žižek’s writings through which leftists must make the Leninist move to acknowledge that in their attempts to alter the social order they are using power. They must recognize the master signifier in their actions, while for reformers the master signifier must be hidden behind the facade of reason. In order to successfully affect change the revolutionary adopts the true discourse of the hegemon, that of power, while the reformer instead struggles with the form of rationality which is created by the hegemon only after the fact to justify its own will. The reformer questions from the position that rationality can solve problems, unlike the critic who questions the barred subject at the point of its division. The revolutionary adopts the master’s discourse, the reformer adopts the university discourse and the theorist or critic adopts the analyst’s discourse: put another way, the revolutionary speaks from power, the reformer from knowledge and the critic from the desiring Other, the position which we never fully understand (What does ‘It’ – the Other – want from us?). The position of the hysteric then comes to be the position of the “apolitical” citizen. The subject who just wants things to work.

Today I read an article Zizek wrote in February, 2010, titled “Against Human Rights,” on, a political blog.

He starts by saying that advocates of human rights generally position their appeals against three enemies: (1) fundamentalist essentialism (2) oppression or the denial of “free choice,” and (3) violence and excessive state/military power.

Zizek’s main point throughout the article is that each of these enemies are crudely generalized by liberal-democratic societies such that in each case, the problems are uncritically assumed, and, by and large, they rely on mythic representations of “the other,” fixation-points that function to shore up the West’s own liberal-democratic ideology. In short, every society has to posit an “other” outside itself in order to maintain its own ground; it has to set up artificial obstacles in order to justify its own efforts, whether those efforts are evil/ exploitative/ colonialist or the well-intentioned pursuit of “human rights.” The point of his critical analysis is to uncover the point at which this ideology loses its ground, where it misconceives its own notion.

Zizek does a great job explaining the limitations of liberal-democratic ideology, which I’ll go into below. But first, I have to say that, as usual, he risks alienating those he actually wants to join. His point is definitely not that we shouldn’t seek to end the atrocities happening all over the globe; he’s not saying that the pursuit of a just society is misguided or a lost cause. On the contrary, he just wants to shift the way we understand human rights; he wants to politicize these issues, to make them the subject of political debate and not of a “humanitarian” cause. On his account, the motivation to pursue “human rights” is itself based on skewed liberal ideology, and the insistence on human rights actually commits the very crimes it ostensibly opposes:

(1) It relies on an essentialist notion of what it means to be human; it “humanizes” or naturalizes political crimes at the cost of ignoring that underlying political logic: human rights violations are made a humanitarian concern, not an economic/political one; the important part, we are told, is the physical/personal violence to the “individual” (and not the violence of political systems):

The question is: what kind of politicization do those who intervene on behalf of human rights set in motion against the powers they oppose? Do they stand for a different formulation of justice, or do they stand in opposition to collective justice projects? For example, it is clear that the us-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, legitimized in terms of ending the suffering of the Iraqi people, was not only motivated by hard-headed politico-economic interests but also relied on a determinate idea of the political and economic conditions under which ‘freedom’ was to be delivered to the Iraqi people: liberal-democratic capitalism, insertion into the global market economy, etc. The purely humanitarian, anti-political politics of merely preventing suffering thus amounts to an implicit prohibition on elaborating a positive collective project of socio-political transformation.

At an even more general level, we might problematize the opposition between the universal (pre-political) human rights possessed by every human being ‘as such’ and the specific political rights of a citizen, or member of a particular political community. In this sense, Balibar argues for the ‘reversal of the historical and theoretical relationship between “man” and “citizen”’ that proceeds by ‘explaining how man is made by citizenship and not citizenship by man.’ Balibar alludes here to Arendt’s insight on the condition of refugees:

The conception of human rights based upon the assumed existence of a human being as such broke down at the very moment when those who professed to believe in it were for the first time confronted with people who had indeed lost all other qualities and specific relationships except that they were still human.
This line, of course, leads straight to Agamben’s notion of homo sacer as a human being reduced to ‘bare life’. In a properly Hegelian dialectics of universal and particular, it is precisely when a human being is deprived of the particular socio-political identity that accounts for his determinate citizenship that—in one and the same move—he ceases to be recognized or treated as human. Paradoxically, I am deprived of human rights at the very moment at which I am reduced to a human being ‘in general’, and thus become the ideal bearer of those ‘universal human rights’ which belong to me independently of my profession, sex, citizenship, religion, ethnic identity, etc.

(2) The advocates of universal human rights insist so adamantly on “free choice” (a misguided idea if there ever was one), that they demand the subject choose to see itself as a free individual, a concept which is itself a crude, misunderstanding of the Enlightenment idea of autonomy; humanitarian ideology forces you to choose free choice, but this very choice is already a substantial ideological notion. For example, when Muslim women choose to wear the veil, even if it’s the result of “free choice,” i.e., even if it’s not taken to be caused by a fundamentalist/religious demand, the woman still has to identify herself with the veil, she has to accept the demand to choose a false sociosymbolic self-identification, i.e., she can’t just be left alone; on the other hand, even for the woman who chooses not to wear the veil at all, she’s still labeled, categorized as someone who rejects “fundamentalist” culture, and now enters a no less repressive ideological matrix, that of the demand to be sexually “liberated,” to be provocative, permiscuous, etc.:

What of the basic right to the pursuit of pleasure? Today’s politics is ever more concerned with ways of soliciting or controlling jouissance. The opposition between the liberal-tolerant West and fundamentalist Islam is most often condensed as that between, on the one side, a woman’s right to free sexuality, including the freedom to display or expose herself and to provoke or disturb men; and, on the other side, desperate male attempts to suppress or control this threat. (The Taliban forbade metal-tipped heels for women, as the tapping sounds coming from beneath an all-concealing burka might have an overpowering erotic appeal.)

Both sides, of course, mystify their position ideologically and morally. For the West, women’s right to expose themselves provocatively to male desire is legitimized as their right to enjoy their bodies as they please. For Islam, the control of female sexuality is legitimized as the defence of women’s dignity against their being reduced to objects of male exploitation. So when the French state prohibits Muslim girls from wearing the veil in school, one can claim that they are thus enabled to dispose of their bodies as they wish. But one can also argue that the true traumatic point for critics of Muslim ‘fundamentalism’ was that there were women who did not participate in the game of making their bodies available for sexual seduction, or for the social exchange and circulation involved in this. In one way or another, all the other issues—gay marriage and adoption, abortion, divorce—relate to this. What the two poles share is a strict disciplinary approach, differently directed: ‘fundamentalists’ regulate female self-presentation to forestall sexual provocation; pc feminist liberals impose a no-less-severe regulation of behaviour aimed at containing forms of harassment.

(3) Advocates of universal human rights often wish to justify military action against their (imaginary) enemies; the same content, the same excessive force that previously held the meaning of totalitarian/repressive power has come to signify, through a purely formal (ideological) gesture, an enlightened pursuit of human dignity:

War is acceptable insofar as it seeks to bring about peace, or democracy, or the conditions for distributing humanitarian aid. And does the same not hold even more for democracy and human rights themselves? Human rights are ok if they are ‘rethought’ to include torture and a permanent emergency state. Democracy is ok if it is cleansed of its populist excesses and limited to those mature enough to practise it.

Thus, one of Zizek’s more provocative points is that we, in the West, are much closer in our ideological practices to our “others.” Every “cause” is underwritten by a basic logic regulating jouissance (excess enjoyment). The crucial problem with our insistence on international human rights, on issues of the other, is that this insistence denies the horrific flaws of our own social systems, the violence done to “free choice” here at home.

This is perhaps the underlying motif of all so-called fundamentalisms—the endeavour to contain (what they perceive as) the excessive ‘narcissistic hedonism’ of contemporary secular culture with a call to reintroduce the spirit of sacrifice. A psychoanalytic perspective immediately enables us to see why such an endeavour goes wrong. The very gesture of casting away enjoyment—‘Enough of decadent self-indulgence! Renounce and purify!’—produces a surplus-enjoyment of its own. Do not all ‘totalitarian’ universes which demand of their subjects a violent (self-)sacrifice to the cause exude the bad smell of a fascination with a lethal-obscene jouissance? Conversely, a life oriented towards the pursuit of pleasure will entail the harsh discipline of a ‘healthy lifestyle’—jogging, dieting, mental relaxation—if it is to be enjoyed to the maximum. The superego injunction to enjoy oneself is immanently intertwined with the logic of sacrifice. The two form a vicious cycle, each extreme supporting the other. The choice is never simply between doing one’s duty or striving for pleasure and satisfaction. This elementary choice is always redoubled by a further one, between elevating one’s striving for pleasure into one’s supreme duty, and doing one’s duty not for duty’s sake but for the gratification it brings. In the first case, pleasures are my duty, and the ‘pathological’ striving for pleasure is located in the formal space of duty. In the second case, duty is my pleasure, and doing my duty is located in the formal space of ‘pathological’ satisfactions.

In his final paragraph, Zizek outlines the key paradox of the notion of human rights: the very moment we stop talking about universal rights — rights that are something more than politics — politics itself degenerates, it turns into the negotiation of particular (social-welfare/economic) interests, effectively loses any political significance; thus politics proper, the struggle over competing articulations of the notions of justice, community, citizenship, etc., cannot happen without a universalizing gesture, which Zizek wants to shift toward a repeated insistence on the universal human capacity to deny association, to assert one’s existence as that which lacks any essential identification. What Zizek is advocating is a return to universal human rights in developed nations, to the universality of human thought, which allows human beings to participate in political communities as “no-thing,” as simply more than any particular identification; the human power against every ideology is this radical denial of association, the repeated refusal of one’s complete belonging in any coercive symbolic community, a refusal which must necessarily continue if the subject is to cope, because one is always, ineluctably, stuck in ideology:

Far from being pre-political, ‘universal human rights’ designate the precise space of politicization proper; what they amount to is the right to universality as such—the right of a political agent to assert its radical non-coincidence with itself (in its particular identity), to posit itself as the ‘supernumerary’, the one with no proper place in the social edifice; and thus as an agent of universality of the social itself. The paradox is therefore a very precise one, and symmetrical to the paradox of universal human rights as the rights of those reduced to inhumanity. At the very moment when we try to conceive the political rights of citizens without reference to a universal ‘meta-political’ human rights, we lose politics itself; that is to say, we reduce politics to a ‘post-political’ play of negotiation of particular interests.