Political thought and the postmodern subject

Žižek argues that the state is a system of regulatory institutions that shape our behavior. Its power is purely symbolic and has no normative force outside of collective behavior. In this way, the term the law signifies society's basic principles, which enable interaction by prohibiting certain acts.

Political decisions for Žižek have become depoliticized and accepted as natural conclusions. For example, controversial policy decisions (such as reductions in social welfare spending) are presented as apparently "objective" necessities. Although governments make claims about increased citizen participation and democracy, the important decisions are still made in the interests of capital. The two-party system dominant in the United States and elsewhere produces a similar illusion. Žižek says that it is still necessary to engage in particular conflicts—such as labor disputes—but the trick is to relate these individual events to the larger struggle. Particular demands, if executed well, might serve asmetaphorical condensation for the system and its injustices. The real political conflict for Žižek is between an ordered structure of society and those without a place in it.

In stark contrast to the intellectual tenets of the European "universalist Left" in general, and those Jürgen Habermas defined as postnational, in particular, Žižek spares no efforts in his clear and unequivocal defense of the pro-sovereignty and pro-independence processes opened in Europe.

Žižek argues that the postmodern subject is cynical toward official institutions, yet at the same time believes in conspiracies. When we lost our shared belief in a single power, we constructed another of the Other in order to escape the unbearable freedom that we faced. For Žižek, it is not enough to merely know that you are being lied to, particularly when continuing to live a normal life under capitalism. Although one may possess a self-awareness, Žižek argues, just because one understands what one is doing does not mean that one is doing the right thing.

Žižek has said that he considers religion not an enemy but rather one of the fields of struggle. In a 2006 New York Times op-ed he made the argument for atheism, arguing that religious fundamentalists are, in a way, no different from "godless Stalinist Communists." He argued that both value divine will and salvation over moral or ethical action.

© Georgina Rowlands, all rights reserved