November 18, 2016
Slavoj Žižek and Hari Kunzru talk Trump and refugees at the Brooklyn Public Library
by Melville House
I’m simply a pessimist. [Coordinated European state action in favor of refugees] will not happen, which means, maybe, that it’s the end of Europe the way we know it. The only conclusion that I take from this… is that I reject what I call very ironically the “Brexit-Trump leftists” in Europe — those who think: the European Union is an organ of international capital, forget it, we should all do our own Brexit/Grexit, we should establish stronger nation states, which will be able in their sovereignty to preserve more of the welfare state, and so on… I totally disagree with this. Listen: when some leftists in Britain were for Brexit as a chance for a new social democracy, I told them: Are they crazy? A friend provided me with a list of all the big conflicts in the last twenty, thirty years between the British government and the European Union. Sorry, with this terrifying European beureacrcy, sorry, but almost in all the cases, I’m for Europe. For example, twenty years ago, a little bit less, when Blair was president, around that time, the European Union wanted to impose in all Europe these basic, minimum welfare state provisions, like the maximum of hours you work per work, the minimum of holidays, free time, that you get per year, even some ecological standards. The British government rejected them all, claiming they limit their competitivity, and so on and so on. So I claim Brexit not only will not enhance British Sovereignty, it simply means we want to sell ourselves to global capitalism totally directly, even without this moderate as it is protection.
—Britain is going to turn into the Caymans with worse weather.
The most wonderful definition that I’ve heard.
That is renowned Slovenian philosopher, “Elvis of cultural theory,” and Melville House author Slavoj Žižek, speaking this past Tuesday at the Brooklyn Public Library with British novelist Hari Kunzru. The subject of their discussion was Žižek’s latest book, Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors, which addresses the refugee crisis currently engulfing Europe.
The conversation, which is worth making some popcorn, taking a deep breath, and watching all of, covers a huge intellectual terrain, including the crises of nationalism currently encircling the globe, the uprising in Ferguson, and the symbolic meaning of… unclaimed reserved seating at book events.
It also afforded Žižek the opportunity to address the latest development in his storied career as an ace provocateur: his controversial endorsement of Donald Trump. Here’s how his response begins:
I totally allow for the possibility that I am wrong. But I nonetheless think that, first, this absolute liberal [fear] of Trump is part of this liberal blackmail: “We are the only chance.” No, the election was screwed up the moment Hillary got rid of Bernie Sanders. And it was a catastrophic, mega-catastrophic mistake to think that she has to move more to the center. What she didn’t take into account was that a very strong percentage of Trump votes, as far as I can judge, were people who were genuinely sustained by some kind of an abstract, of course, not directly leftist, but nonetheless anti-establishment rage, so that Hillary’s politics enabled them to sustain the vision that the only anti-establishment candidate is Trump. And also many centrist voters were disappointed. I think that if Hillary were to take the risk to move a little bit more to the left, then she would have had much greater chances to get even some of the Trump votes.
You can watch the entire conversation right here: