From an interview with philosopher Slavoj Žižek
Comment:Maybe today is not the time to try to change the world but instead to step back, precisely to think. What we need today is a materialist reversal of Marx back to Hegel. Hegel is in a subtle way much more materialist than Marx.
... When Hegel says a certain historical order can only be understood when its time is almost over, do you really think Hegel was such an idiot that he didn’t know the same must hold for his [book] Philosophy of Right? He doesn’t paint a system of how our society should look. He paints a situation whose time had passed and he knew it. Our situation is much more like Hegel’s than Marx’s.
Marx still believed in some kind of minimal teleology, that we are at the crucial point where there is a chance, if not necessity, of proletarian revolution or universal redemption, while Hegel perceived his situation as a post-revolutionary one. Take the French Revolution; in some sense it has gone wrong, but Hegel is here to repossess it. The whole problem of his thought is not to say that the French Revolution was bullshit, but how, in spite of catastrophic outcomes, to keep its legacy alive.
And I think our situation is the same; 20th century attempts at radical emancipation have failed. We have to abandon the Marxist metaphor that we are riding the train of history. Marxists like to say that even if times are dark, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And ironically I like to say “yes, it is, but it is the light of another train coming.” So that’s our situation and Hegel knew it. It’s open; we cannot make any plans.
Q But the light could be anything – it doesn’t have to be another train. Couldn’t it really be the light at the end of the tunnel?
Yes, but that’s why the beginning is to get rid of false hopes. Even the left today, mostly left-wing Fukuyama-ists, basically think liberal democracy and some type of capitalism are the only game in town, so they say let’s just make it better – more solidarity, healthcare, gay marriages etc.
My answer to Fukuyama is okay let’s say you are right, capitalism won. Isn’t the irony today that the most efficient managers of global capitalism are the communists who are still in power? I think we have to finally accept that the way we did things in the 20th century is over.
Q: Could there be a problem with our using these labels? When you say things like “capitalism is driven forward by communists in power”, what exactly do you mean by capitalism? It takes many forms. And the communists who drive capitalism, of course aren’t really communists, although they might still call themselves that.
[Comment: Žižek doesn't seem to say what he means by "capitalism". Instead he uses it, as many do, as a short-hand for the current version of socio-economic organization. Thinking from an economics perspective I say that some form of capitalism existed in Buddha's day, it existed to some degree in the old USSR, and almost certainly will in the future ... in some form.]
Well, in what sense am I still a communist? In a very limited sense. Aren’t we today witnessing a great irony? Whatever remains of the left is not able to offer an actual feasible global alternative. I remember when there was Occupy Wall Street, I was with them in New York and I kept asking them a stupid question: “What do you want?” And nobody gave me an answer. I think precisely because they don’t know what they want. The left takes escape into moralism, the excesses of political correctness and so on.
And here is the problem: on the one hand we have these protests which don’t have a clear aim and on the other hand don’t we get clear signs all around, that capitalism, at least as we know it, is approaching an end?
Look at ecology; it’s obvious that although capitalism can do something through taxes and regulation it’s not enough. Look at the fictional capital and people trading fictional capital. Then there is the problem of refugees. If you ask me, capitalism is falling apart. When there is a big catastrophe you need larger actions. Look at biogenetics; our brains can be wired directly to our PCs. This will change the very definition of what a human being is.
And here we have the very first sad consequence, as I always warned; the ideal country today is a country that is fully integrated into a global market but at the same time ideologically ethnocentric, focused on its own culture. Even Trump is doing this. That’s why Trump gets on well with dictators. China, India, Putin are playing this game. We are approaching a new world where a global market will coexist with a lack of universally accepted emancipatory rules. This is very sad, but to go back to your question: why communism? Because I think all the problems I enumerated are ultimately the problems of what Marx called ‘commons’. This means some shared substance, which shouldn’t be privatised and left to the market. Ecology is the problem of our natural substance, to what extent we can manipulate it. Intellectual property is also a problem of commons, so is biogenetics. In this sense, as I put it once ironically, communism is not the solution but the name of the problem today.
We will have to find the solution at that level: of how to deal with commons outside of market relations. My friend Peter Sloterdijk – in his book What Happened in the Twentieth Century? – also comes to the same conclusion: the era of nation state, where the highest ethical value of ‘are you ready to sacrifice yourself for your country?’ is over. We need larger transnational forms of coordination; it’s the only way to deal with biogenetics for example.
Though a good Marxist I am not altogether against capitalism, because it is the most dynamic system in the history of humanity. But I am totally opposed to relying on local indigenous traditions to fight global capitalism. No! We have to fight it on its own terms with a new universal global vision. My point is that we have to go through capitalism, but at the same time we have to move on, not because I am a utopian and want more, but it is clear that capitalism is approaching a crisis in the sense that the problems it encounters today from ecology and so on. Here I am a pessimist in the sense that capitalism will not be able to resolve them in its own terms.
I find it irrational that people fear globalisation because it will cause unemployment. I say no, this is the best chance we will ever have! Nobody says: “Perfect! We can work less!” No, the automatic assumption is that it is a catastrophe.
Žižek says "Here I am a pessimist in the sense that capitalism will not be able to resolve them in its own terms." That is the point I really wished he said more about what he means by capitalism. As I see it capitalism is only a partial description of a society. Like Buddhism, capitalism interacts with, and is interpreted and impacted by, culture and society. Capitalism exists inside a more encompassing structure of society, culture, government, ethical systems such as Buddhism, etc. So when Žižek speaks of "a new universal global vision" I think of that as a new structure that will encompass the economic relations including capitalism.
"Know what you want", have a "universal global vision" (Žižek) translates well into " know and personally practice a encompassing structure that works for you and the world" (me). I think that, in turn, is one decent way to summarize the dharma.
But dropping the image of capitalism and for-profit corporations as inhuman in their essence does not mean taking a Pollyannaish position toward either of these things. Instead, a more unified view of economics and society recognizes that commercial life is an arena of human interaction much like any other.
-- Julie A. Nelson, Professor of Economics and dharma teacher
https://julieanelson.com/2016/04/09/rea ... -economics