Slavoj Žižek’s ‘European Manifesto’ in Le Monde: “I’m betting on the emancipatory legacy of Europe”

Philosopher Slavoj Žižek (Photo: Luka Cjuha)

The Paris daily Le Monde publishes ‘My European Manifesto’ by Slavoj Žižek, in which the Slovenian philosopher defends Europe, its Enlightenment and modernity, which – as he points out – provide the best tools for understanding the problems of the present.

The text begins with the famous beginning of Marx’s Communist Manifesto: “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of Communism. All the Powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcize this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police spies. . .” He changes it as follows: “A monster walks around Europe, the monster of Eurocentrism.” He goes on to change it: “All the forces of old Europe and the new world order have joined the Holy Alliance to persecute this monster: Boris Johnson and Putin, Salvini and Orban, anti-racist immigration advocates and adherents of traditional European values, Latin American progressives and Arab conservatives, West Bank Zionists and Chinese communist patriots.

But each of these sees Europe in their own way. Johnson sees the Brussels bureaucracy as a superstate that impedes sovereignty and impedes the free movement of British capital, while the part of Labor that was in favor of Brexit believes that the Brussels bureaucracy serves international capital to the detriment of workers. The Latin American left sees Europocentrism as white colonialism. For radical Zionists, Europe is too sympathetic to the Palestinians, and for some Arabs, the European emphasis on the fight against anti-Semitism is a concession to Zionism. Salvini and Orban see Europe as a multicultural community that threatens authentic European traditional values ​​and opens its doors wide to migrants from other cultures, while migrants see Europe as a stronghold of white racism that prevents their full integration into society.

Europe during the pandemic

During the pandemic, European individualism became to blame for the high number of infected and dead, there are fewer of them in Asia because there is supposed to be more sense of the common good there. The EU is inefficient, unable to organize rapid vaccinations and is falling into vaccination nationalism. Europe also favors its people to the detriment of poor third world countries. Žižek sees the slowness of vaccination in Europe as the price he pays for the fair distribution of vaccines between member states.

Proponents of Europe also see it differently, some as an effective entity of world capitalism, others as a space for freedom and the defense of human rights, and conservatives as a link between national identities.

But in Europe, it is difficult to distinguish between negative and positive moments. It is difficult to reject Europe as the cradle of colonialism, modern slavery and racism in order to affirm a Europe of human rights and openness to others. Just as it is difficult to distinguish wine that allows for relaxed socializing from wine that causes domestic violence, alcoholism, and job loss.

Right-wing populists are Europe’s internal enemy

Žižek believes that despite its complex heritage, the word Europe can mobilize the struggle for emancipation and that today, when Europe is in decline and is being attacked from all sides, we must identify with it and defend it. For the target of the attacks is its extraordinary emancipatory force, as nothing can compare to a Europe of secular modernity, the Enlightenment, human rights and freedoms, solidarity and social justice, feminism. We must defend the word Europe not only because it has more good than bad associated with it, but above all because Europe’s heritage provides the best tools for analyzing the current problems in Europe. Even those who slander Europe use concepts derived from Europe’s heritage without knowing it.

The obvious threat to this emancipatory force no doubt comes from within, from this new right-wing populism that seeks to destroy this emancipatory heritage and for whom only Europe can exist as a union of nations that each retains its own unique identity.

“Vive la France”, “Viva Italia”, “Long live Germany”. Everything but Europe. But this vision is about completely new “definitions on our political cartography”. Žižek cites the example of Donald Trump, who said for the current vice-president Kamala Harris: “She is a communist. She is not just a socialist. She wants to open the borders so that murderers and rapists can enter our country.” Žižek asks himself here, since when have open borders been a feature of communism?

In any case, for Trump, as for Orban, there are no more center-left liberals, only populist nationalists and communists. Žižek, however, believes that Trump and Orban are right to some extent, because in order to solve the positive thing in a liberal democracy, it is necessary to go more to the Left. There are too many weak points of liberal capitalism and liberal democracy. The point here is that Europe’s Enlightenment heritage, with all that is positive in classical liberal democracy, can only be defended, preserved and developed further by breaking away from old Europe, from classical liberalism. Žižek cites here the English poet T. S. Eliot, who as a devout Christian says that sometimes it is possible to preserve a living faith only through schism or heresy. As today’s example of this heretical development of Europe’s liberal heritage as opposed to liberal orthodoxy, Žižek cites Biden’s government’s commitment to minimally taxing multinationals at the global level. According to Žižek, today you can remain a true European only by striving to act on a global scale: to help India, to fight global warming, to organize global public health…


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