Provocative philosophy of violence

By Adam Lebor, April 18, 2008

As bookshop shelves groan under the weight of ghost-written biographies, misery memoirs and celebrity recipes, it is invigorating to find a publisher tackling the great questions of our age. Slavoj Zizek’s latest work Violence (£12.99) is part of Profile’s Big Ideas series. Other volumes tackle democracy, identity and bodies.

Zizek’s thoughtfully provocative book examines violence in a series of essays that ranges from the tinder-box suburbs of Paris, to Abu Ghraib prison, Stalin’s purges, and the Holocaust.

Zizek, who teaches at Birkbeck College, London University, is a Slovenian Marxist philosopher and cultural critic, and the author of more than 40 books. His perspective is clearly shaped by Marxist analyses of capital, capitalism and political power, but his work is anything but dogmatic. Unlike so much of what passes for leftist thinking today, there is no pre-determined posturing. Instead, the reader is treated to an enjoyable and dazzling display of intellectual pyrotechnics.

Zizek is notably sharp on the “new liberal communists” — entrepreneurs like George Soros and Bill Gates and their “court philosophers” such as the American journalist Thomas Friedman, who seek nirvana in a classless techno-utopia, where everyone is free to make money from a decentralised globalisation, while ignoring the social costs. “Fear Thy Neighbour As Thyself,” warns Zizek, although curiously he has little to say about the wars in former Yugoslavia, where neighbours slaughtered each other with gusto.

As for the left’s favourite conflict, between Israel and Palestine, Zizek argues that the Arab world should “stop putting all the blame on Jews as if the Zionist expansion in Palestine is the origin and symbolic stand-in for all Arab misfortunes”. The Arab world, he argues, should start by confronting regimes such as rule Syria and Saudi Arabia, which use Israel’s occupation to legitimise themselves. Indeed.

Last updated: 2:17pm, April 22 2008