In a moment of disarming candor, no less than Slavoj Zizek has recently admitted the failure of leftist arguments. Reflecting on “how fragile and inconsistent” was the “awakening” of 2011 in Occupy Wallstreet movement and Arab Spring, Zizek laments,
The enthusiasm of the Arab Spring is mired in compromises and religious fundamentalism; Occupy is losing momentum to such an extent that the police cleansing of New York’s Zuccotti Park even seemed like a blessing in disguise. It’s the same story around the world: Nepal’s Maoists seem outmaneuvered by the reactionary royalist forces; Venezuela’s “Bolivarian” experiment is regressing further and further into caudillo-run populism; and even the most hopeful sign, Greece’s anti-austerity movement, has lost energy after the electoral defeat of the leftist Syriza party… For all that crises shatter people out of their complacency and make them question the fundamentals of their lives, the first spontaneous reaction is not revolution but panic, which leads to a return to basics: food and shelter. The core premises of the ruling ideology are not put into doubt. They are even more violently asserted.
Finally he concludes,
The main victim of the ongoing crisis is thus not capitalism, which appears to be evolving into an even more pervasive and pernicious form, but democracy — not to mention the left, whose inability to offer a viable global alternative has again been rendered visible to all. It was the left that was effectively caught with its pants down. It is almost as if this crisis were staged to demonstrate that the only solution to a failure of capitalism is more capitalism.
This of course was something which I’ve long pointed out during the Occupy movement. I agreed that they are right that there is something fundamentally flawed about our systems, about the evils of oppression and inequality, etc. However, I also pointed out that that the world was fallen and intrinsically bound to human evil and oppression is a fact which have been known to Christian theologians for centuries, it is called the doctrine of Original Sin. However unlike the Christians who “are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” as the final victory over the present evils and inequalities, contemporary leftists instead believe that they can foreclose the eschaton today and now, that somehow human action is capable of rooting out fundamental and systematic evils in this world (once again contrary to Christian theology which teaches that *all* human actions, even the noblest and best intentioned, are also bound in sin and are more likely to perpetuate evils than solve them), in short they claim that natural human agency can expiate Original Sin (if they don’t outright deny its existence in the first place!). But then again, we need only learn that in the English speaking worlds the leftists are mostly driven by the Methodists, the preachers of this-worldly perfectionism and sanctification, to understand the source of their (misguided!) confidence.
Their confidence maybe admirable, but their lack of alternatives to the present order rendered their bold assertions vacuous. I have warned then that without a viable alternative, their “actions’ would only make things worse, and that they should have learnt from the French Revolution and history, as Zizek now is learning from the way events have turned out.
At the core of contemporary left lies a fundamental contradiction. If truly humanity is capable of rooting out the fundamental evils of this world, wouldn’t we have already done it? There is a very good reason why Marxist thought emerged out of the Enlightenment and its confidence in the scientific method. Riding upon the successful “progress” of the hard sciences, Marx himself of course had always intended his theories to be respectable “social science”, as predictive and empirically testable as the hard sciences. Thus, Marx and the older Marxists could justify their confidence in human progression and perfectibility in terms of a “growth” of knowledge concerning human and social realities, and that just as in the physical sciences growth in scientific knowledge can lead to technological advancement, likewise growth in the “social sciences” can lead to social and economic progress.
However once contemporary leftists and Marxists have repudiated the “scientific” basis for their thought (not that they had much of a choice once the empirical realities have falsified most of Marx’s predictions), upon what basis do they claim to have to ability to change or improve social reality? Where is the “progression” of human knowledge which enables social progression? Furthermore the entangling of Marxism and postmodernism has produced nothing short of an unholy mess. On the one hand, they use postmodern categories to cry out against “grand narratives”, “essentialism”, and all encompassing systems and unified categories (religious, gender, sexual, capitalist, nationalistic, etc), however against their very own “postmodern” critique they postulate the “grand narratives” of “power and dominance”, “oppression-oppressor” and “class warfare” as all encompassing categories to interpret everything, determined to force empirical reality into their social, political and economic categories. (This of course is merely an echo of Marxism’s older modernistic “scientific” days whereby they can provide an all encompassing social science explanation of everything.)
This is a horrendous muddle. They cannot claim postmodern critiques of essentialism only to fix people into economic or power classes. Thus on the one hand their desire for progress desires desperately to put forward their Neo-Marxist “knowledge” as a “progress” or growth in human understanding that it might serve as the basis for their zeal of changing and “improving” social reality. On the other hand their “postmodernism” has completely cut off their theories from actual empirical reality, rendering it unable to provide any viable alternatives to the present order which they so viciously critique.
What if indeed, postmodernism is truly correct, and that the “grand narratives” of power and dominance and class warfare cannot explain social and economic inequality? What if truly, horrors of horrors, truly in the words of the Wise Preacher, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) What if indeed social inequality, poverty, oppression, etc, are simply irreducible basic facts of this world, resisting all systematic explanation, but occur simply out of chance, a mere accident, or as insurance calls such accidents, “acts of God”? What if truly in the words of the old hymn,
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.
And according to the inscrutinable Will of God not open to human understanding, some are simply poor, others are simply rich, and that there is no human knowledge which can aid in improving the economic or social conditions, but in the words of Christ, “The poor you shall always have with you”, that indeed no human agency can deliver us from the present evil age, save the Appearing of Christ?
Zizek would probably be forced to retire.