“Beyond the fiction of reality, there is the reality of the fiction.”
— Slavoj Žižek
Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian cultural theorist and philosopher who has become known worldwide for his bold opinions, controversial theories, and spin on mainstream leftist thought.
Žižek has worked as a university professor across Europe and the United States, and even ran for President of Slovenia in its 1990 election, narrowly losing.
There’s no doubt that Žižek has had a major influence on culture and politics and has become a kind of philosopher superstar, but his actual main beliefs are not widely understood.
Here are Žižek’s top 10 key ideas.
The 10 key ideas of Slavoj Žižek
1) Žižek believes that the left is losing
While many right-leaning commentators in the West see a resurgent left in the growth of the welfare state and ascendance of political correctness and “woke” politics, Žižek sees the opposite.
In Žižek’s view, most of today’s institutional left is just play-acting.
He doesn’t believe they’re serious about stopping capitalism, and he doesn’t believe they’re serious about challenging the power structures and ideologies that underpin the modern, developed world.
Basically, Žižek sees the modern leftist as a poser who wants to take a photo of their Antifa protest with their new iPhone while saying how bad capitalism is and getting “likes” from their genderfluid friends.
According to Žižek the resurgent nationalist right doesn’t have similar reservations and is now playing to win.
In his review of Žižek’s 2020 book Pandemic! Covid-19 Shakes the World, Professor Geoffrey Boucher explains how Žižek sees the world.
“There follows a scathing analysis of the Left’s timid tinkering, based on its underlying acceptance of the world capitalist system, which stands in stark contrast to the Right’s bold reactionary vision of identitarian neo-fascism, based on its complete rejection of the international legal order.”
2) Žižek believes that most people are boring idiots
Part of what has made Žižek famous is that he doesn’t mince words.
Similar to actual revolutionaries such as Che Guevara, Žižek believes that identity politics and things like the LGBT movement are actually bourgeois affectations that distract – and actively undermine – class consciousness and class struggle.
For that reason, he detests performative First World activism and emotional, word-policing style leftism.
In fact, he considers it to be actively undermining the “real” left.
Žižek spells this out in an excellent interview with Decca Aitkenhead. He said:
“In what sense are we engaged? It’s a false engagement. Paradoxically, we do these things to avoid really doing things. It makes you feel good. You recycle, you send £5 a month to some Somali orphan, and you did your duty.
“Liberals always say about totalitarians that they like humanity, as such, but they have no empathy for concrete people, no? OK, that fits me perfectly. Humanity? Yes, it’s OK – some great talks, some great arts. Concrete people? No, 99% are boring idiots.”
As Aitkenhead writes:
“In essence, he argues that nothing is ever what it appears, and contradiction is encoded in almost everything. Most of what we think of as radical or subversive – or even simply ethical – doesn’t actually change anything.”
3) Žižek considers himself a “faithful Christian” even though he is an atheist
Žižek considers himself to be a Christian atheist. Although many would call this a contradiction, he believes in his own version of Christianity.
According to Žižek, the death of Jesus Christ was really about reconciling with our abandonment from the concept of God and about leaving behind that system.
Basically, Žižek believes only people who have truly, deeply given up on the idea of a God who cares for and watches over us can come close to experiencing the profundity of divinity and truth.
But he also believes that many atheists are shallow idiots.
As you may have noticed: with Žižek nothing is ever simple and other people are often called idiots.
Although he believes the standard idea of a God is untrue, Žižek also believes that most people who reject the idea of God are taking the easy way out and aren’t grappling with the deeper aspects of what theism and divinity mean.
“In Žižek’s view, the community of the Spirit is made up of those forsaken by God, who possess only their divine abandonment as what is common to their collectivity…
“Žižek himself occupies a strangely solitary space, one in which there is neither belief nor its rigid refusal, neither God nor God’s absolute absence. For Žižek, there can be no home for him within a Church.”
4) Žižek believes we are all ideological beings
Marx considered ideology to be “false consciousness” and simply one of the ways in which people can be tied down and lose sight of their class interests.
Žižek disagrees. He considers human beings to be inherently ideological.
In his 1989 book the Sublime Object of Ideology, Žižek argues that the work of Emmanuel Kant, Jacques Lacan and Karl Marx combine to explain what’s really going on psychologically with the ideological systems that control and manage us.
Doing a deep dive of Lacanian psychoanalysis, Freudian psychology and the ideologies that drive our power systems, Žižek emphasizes his belief that “sublime objects of ideology” such as money aren’t just ideological constructions, they’re ideological realities that shape our daily life and values.
“Sublime objects of ideologies adjust the very parameters in which ideology can operate from. And more importantly, the parameters in which you can communicate and the parameters in which you live within.”
Those who set the ideologies that tap into our inbuilt need for ideology have the power and control its flow.
As for when we try to reject one ideology, Žižek believes this inevitably leads indirectly or directly to other ideologies.
“The complete rejection of one ideology ultimately turns itself into another form of ideology. Because ideological modes of viewing the world is completely baked into our consciousness.”
5) He believes capitalism is bad
As you may have gathered from the article thus far, Žižek believes capitalism is bad.
Building on his belief in the German Idealism of Georg Hegel and others as well as his Marxist leanings, Žižek consistently seeks to discredit, mock and disprove capitalist theory.
His main argument is that capitalism is not natural and is not inevitable.
In fact, according to Žižek, capitalism is itself merely an abstract ideological construct that’s been forced onto us and bred into our cultural DNA through repetition and artificially enforced parameters.
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In other words, capitalism and a commodity-based market economy seem natural to us because it’s the pond we were raised in from the start.
We’re all fish in a stocked pond thinking we’re free while being jerked around by capitalist interests and fake leftists, in other words.
If you didn’t already guess, Žižek believes that this makes most of us naive idiots.
6) Žižek believes that being right often leads to being hated
Žižek considers the truth to be unpopular.
Far from thinking that his style is what rubs some people the wrong way, Žižek instead argues that it’s the fact that he doesn’t fit an easy label.
Sure he’s on the left, but he also hates most leftists and proudly supported former President Donald Trump in the 2016 US election.
Sure he’s against capitalism, but he also considers most communism to be tiring garbage.
Sure he likes when people are nice, but he also sometimes admits to being part “Stalinist” or saying outrageous things that seem supportive of Hitler.
He’s been accused of being an anti-Semite and overly pro-Jewish. His work just can’t seem to be satisfactorily pigeonholed by anyone. And it pisses them off.
Mike Bulajewski’s excellent interview with Žižek for Jstor Daily gets deep into this. Žižek said:
“You remember, maybe you caught an echo of the ridiculous exchange I had a few months ago with Jordan Peterson. You know what I find so comical there? On the one hand, politically correct, transgender, #MeToo people attacked me for being — I don’t know — anti-politically correct, anti-gay basically, even a Trump supporter, alt-right guy or whatever.
“But the large majority of partisans of Jordan Peterson who reacted to my two short texts attacked me as a pure example of deconstructionism, cultural Marxism, and so on…
“I follow here Jean-Paul Sartre, who said that if, for the same text, you are attacked by both sides, it’s usually one of the few reliable signs that you are in the right.”
7) Žižek strongly opposes political correctness and the “woke” left
Speaking in a recent segment about his opposition to political correctness, Žižek claims that the growing trend of political correctness is simply the postmodern form of disguised authoritarianism.
Žižek’s basic argument is that political correctness is just a passive-aggressive way to internalize authority and hierarchy systems on people below you.
He considers it worse than “traditional authoritarianism” that gives orders and doesn’t care how you feel, because political correctness demands that you also feel – or pretend to feel – a certain way.
As he says, we need a bit of impropriety and “offensiveness” sometimes to establish real contact and authenticity.
“We need this to establish a real contact. This is what is lacking for me in political correctness. And then you end up in madness like it’s not a joke.
“I checked with my Australian friend. You know what happened in Perth, the west coast Australian city? It’s not a joke. The opera house there prohibited staging of Carmen. Opera Carman, you know why?
“Because the first act takes place in front of a tobacco factory. I’m not kidding, I’m not kidding. I’m just saying that there is something so fake about political correctness.”
8) Žižek doesn’t get along with other prominent leftists like Noam Chomsky
Žižek is popular among many on the left and non-mainstream right, especially for his bizarre personal behavior and antics and the way he sometimes insults leading orthodoxies of today’s political and social climate in the West.
But he’s not always well-liked among his own intellectual peers.
One example is an influential scholar and author Noam Chomsky.
Chomsky has famously called Žižek’s work and theories “extreme posturing” and says that people like Žižek are not to be taken seriously.
Part of the reason is that Chomsky believes Zizek bases his key beliefs on thinkers such as Lacan, who Chomsky considers to be mistaken about many core issues. Chomsky also believes applying the theories of people like Lacan to cultural and political theory is bizarre and unhelpful.
“Noam Chomsky, who has had a bit of a spat with Žižek in the past, held Lacan to be a ‘charlatan’ and you can imagine what he thinks of a theory that relies heavily on his psychoanalytic theories to work.
“Žižek’s work, in general, is often accused of being muddled, unclear, and occasionally mistaken when he tries to take ideas from other fields into philosophy.”
9) Žižek believes our modern idea of love is evil
Žižek believes that our modern conception of loving someone or something is evil.
This comes from his belief that the universe and life itself is – at its most basic level – a giant mistake.
“What we call creation is a kind of a cosmic imbalance, a cosmic catastrophe, that things exist by mistake.
“I was always disgusted with this notion of “I love the world” universal love. I don’t like the world…
“Basically, I’m somewhere in between ‘I hate the world’ or ‘I’m indifferent towards it.’ But the whole of reality, it’s just it. It’s stupid. It is out there. I don’t care about it.
“Love, for me, is an extremely violent act. Love is not ‘I love you all.’ Love means I pick out something, and it’s, again, this structure of imbalance. Even if this something is just a small detail… a fragile individual person… I say ‘I love you more than anything else.’ In this quite formal sense, love is evil.”
10) Žižek wants to get people’s attention
Even if you consider Žižek to be a troll or a performance artist, there’s no doubt that he’s serious about getting people’s attention.
He’s admitted to hating his students, hating most people and sympathizing with dictators.
What could you say that would be more offensive to most enlightened people in today’s world?
Žižek clearly does not mind rubbing people the wrong way if that’s what it takes to get their attention.
And it’s certainly gotten their attention!
In a world of stale academics and ponderous old farts, this crazed Slovenian has shown the power of personality.
This has really rubbed many on the left in the wrong way, but it’s also gotten him a hell of a lot of press.
“I believe that his discursiveness is a perfect match for an age in which our attention spans are growing ever shorter (thanks, in part, to our increasing use of social media);
“And I suspect that the (astoundingly) repetitive nature of his writing simply isn’t a problem, and may even be beneficial, in a broader intellectual culture in which people only seldom read books.”
Are Zizek’s beliefs popular?
Žižek’s beliefs are at least somewhat popular, otherwise, this article wouldn’t be about him.
But the truth of the matter is that it’s not necessarily his ideas which are popular as much as it’s Žižek himself who is popular.
Frankly, many people find this nutty professor enormously entertaining.
One can see in Žižek the figure of a tragic clown, speaking hard truths and controversial statements that rouse people out of their complacency and moral satisfaction. In fact he doesn’t even hold back from his own fans, often admitting they annoy the hell out of him.
“’After the talk there will just be a small reception’ – I know this is hell. This means all the frustrated idiots, who are not able to ask you a question at the end of the talk, come to you and, usually, they start: ‘Professor Žižek, I know you must be tired, but …’ Well, fuck you. If you know that I am tired, why are you asking me?’”
In a world of conformity and walking on eggshells, many find Žižek to be a breath of fresh air.
He’s become almost a worldwide philosopher superstar since the 2008 financial meltdown and in some ways is the left’s “Jordan Peterson” figure.
As Britannica notes, part of popularity is not from appreciation of his work, but from his frequently ribald humor and politically incorrect statements.
“Žižek’s use of humour, including frequent jokes about life under Stalinist bureaucratic socialism and about consumer culture, may help to explain his popularity even among readers who are unfamiliar with contemporary European cultural theory.”