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Roger Scruton Identifes Žižek as "Clown Prince of the Revolution"

On September 29, 2016, Roger Scruton wrote a piece critiquing Slavoj Žižek on The City Journal. After discussion on his historical anecdotes, he sometimes brutally attacked Žižek. He even mention Žižek as the 'Clown Prince'. Here is the excerpts from the piece:



During the 1960s and 1970s, the consensus in Western academic and intellectual institutions was very much on the left. Writers like Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu shot to eminence by attacking the civilization they dismissed as “bourgeois.” The critical-theory writings of Jürgen Habermas achieved a dominant place in the curriculum in the social sciences, despite their stupefying tediousness. The rewriting of national history as a tale of “class struggle,” undertaken by Eric Hobsbawm in Britain and Howard Zinn in the United States, became a near-orthodoxy not only in university history departments but also in high schools. For us dissidents, it was a dispiriting time, and there was scarcely a morning when I did not wake up during those years, asking myself whether my teaching at the University of London was the right choice of career. Then came the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, and I allowed myself to hope.




For a while, it looked as though an apology might be forthcoming from those who had devoted their intellectual and political efforts to whitewashing the crimes of the Soviet Union or praising the “people’s republics” of China and Vietnam. But the moment proved short-lived. Within a decade, the Left establishment was back in the driver’s seat, with Zinn and Noam Chomsky renewing their intemperate denunciations of America, the European Left regrouped against “neoliberalism” (the new name for the free economy) as though this had been the trouble all along, Habermas and Ronald Dworkin collecting prestigious prizes for their barely readable defenses of ruling leftist platitudes, and the veteran Marxist Hobsbawm rewarded for a lifetime of unswerving loyalty to the Soviet Union by his appointment as “Companion of Honour” to the Queen.
True, the enemy was no longer described as before: the Marxist template did not easily fit the new conditions, and it seemed a trifle foolish to champion the cause of the working class, when its last members were joining the ranks of the unemployable or the self-employed. But one thing remained unchanged in the wake of Communism’s collapse: the conviction that it was unacceptable to be on the “right.” You might have doubts about certain leftist doctrines or policies; you might entertain the thought that this or that leftist thinker or politician had made “mistakes.” But that was as far as self-criticism could go; by contrast, merely to entertain a right-wing thought was to place yourself in the devil’s camp.

Thus, within a couple of years, the Manichaean vision of modern politics, as a fight to the death between the good Left and the evil Right, returned to its dominant position. Assuring the world that they had never really been taken in by Communist propaganda, leftist thinkers renewed their attacks on Western civilization and its “neoliberal” economics as the principal threat to humanity in a globalized world. The term “right-wing” has remained as much a term of abuse today as it was before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and leftist attitudes have adapted themselves to the new conditions with little moderation of their oppositional zeal.
There has, however, been one important change. A new kind of leftist thinker has emerged—one who clothes his revolutionary zeal in a layer of irony, half-dismissing his own impractical idealism as though speaking through the face paint of a clown. If you set out to study in a humanities department at an American university, it won’t be long before you come across the name of Slavoj Žižek, the philosopher who grew up in the comparatively mild regime of Communist Yugoslavia, qualified as a “dissident” during the declining years of Communism in his native Slovenia, but is now making waves as a radical critic of the West, though one whose tongue is always in his cheek.

It is proof of the Yugoslav regime’s leniency that Žižek was able to spend time in Paris during the early 1980s. There, he came across the psychoanalyst Jacques-Alain Miller, whose seminar he attended and who also became Žižek’s analyst. Miller is the son-in-law of Jacques Lacan, the unscrupulous power-maniac whom Raymond Tallis has described as “the shrink from Hell,” and it is an unfortunate price to pay for the endeavor to understand Žižek that you have to engage with Lacan, too.
Lacan’s collected Écrits, published in 1966, were one of the sources drawn upon by the student revolutionaries in May 1968. Thirty-four volumes of his seminars followed, published by his disciples and subsequently translated into English, or at least into a language that resembles English as closely as the original resembles French. The influence of these seminars is one of the deep mysteries of modern intellectual life. Their garbled regurgitation of theories that Lacan neither explored nor understood is, for sheer intellectual effrontery, without parallel in recent literature. Unexplained technicalities, excerpted from set theory, particle physics, linguistics, topology, and whatever else might seem to confer power on the wizard who conjures with them, are used to prove such spectacular theorems as that the erectile penis in bourgeois conditions is equal to the square root of minus one or that you do not (until worked on by Lacan) “ex-sist.”

Another Lacanian concept—that of the big Other—is crucial to understanding Žižek. Following the famous lectures on Hegel by Alexandre Kojève, delivered at the Institut des Hautes Études before World War II and attended by everybody who was anybody in the Parisian literary world (Lacan included), the idea of the Other became a fixture in French philosophical writing. The great and subtle argument of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, to the effect that we attain self-consciousness and freedom through the recognition of the Other, has been recycled again and again by those who attended Kojève’s lectures. You find it in Jean-Paul Sartre, Emmanuel Levinas, and Georges Bataille. And you find it, horribly garbled, in Lacan.




For Lacan, the big Other (capital A for Autre) is the challenge presented to the self by the not-self. This big Other haunts the perceived world with the thought of a dominating and controlling power—a power that we both seek and flee from. There is also the little other (lowercase a for autre), who is not really distinct from the self but is the thing seen in the mirror during that stage of development that Lacan calls the “mirror stage,” when the infant supposedly catches sight of himself in the glass and says “Aha!” That is the point of recognition, when the infant first encounters the “object = a,” which, in some way that I find impossible to decipher, indicates both desire and its absence.
The mirror stage provides the infant with an illusory (and brief) idea of the self, as an all-powerful other in the world of others. But this self is soon to be crushed by the big Other, a character based on the good-breast/bad-breast, good-cop/bad-cop scenario invented by psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. In the course of expounding the tragic aftermath of this encounter, Lacan comes up with astounding aperçus, often repeated without explanation by his disciples, as though they have changed the course of intellectual history. One in particular is constantly repeated: “there is no sexual relation,” an interesting observation from a serial seducer, from whom no women, not even his own analysands, were safe.
In addition, Lacan is credited with the view that the subject does not exist beyond the mirror stage until brought into being by an act of “subjectivization.” You become a self-conscious subject by taking possession of your world and incorporating its otherness into your self. In this way, you begin to “ex-sist”—to exist outwardly, in a community of others........(more)