The Courage of Hopelessness: A Year of Acting Dangerously

The Courage of Hopelessness: A Year of Acting Dangerously

by Slavoj Zizek

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Overview

In THE COURAGE OF HOPELESSNESS, maverick philosopher Slavoj Zizek returns to explore today's ideological, political and economic battles, and asks whether radical change is possible.

In these troubled times, even the most pessimistic diagnosis of our future ends with an uplifting hint that things might not be as bad as all that, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, argues Slavoj Zizek, it is only when we have admitted to ourselves that our situation is completely hopeless - that the light at the end of the tunnel is in fact the headlight of a train - that fundamental change can be brought about.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

12/11/2017
Philosopher and cultural critic iek (Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors) continues to offer provocative thoughts on how people should deal with a myriad of daunting challenges, but if his goal is to connect with a wide readership, he will be unsuccessful here. He assumes a greater familiarity with subjects such as the Greek economic crisis than many American readers will possess, and frequently employs academic jargon (e.g., “the Hegelian ‘infinite judgment’ ”). Some of his counterintuitive comments are just asserted, without convincing supportive argumentation, such as his peremptory dismissal of concerns that automation will threaten more and more jobs. These negatives are disappointing, as they overshadow the more cogent contrarian positions in the book, as when iek denounces too much activity by progressives as unproductive, and advocates thoughtful self-reflection as a prerequisite for an effective response to the Trump presidency. iek also cautions against the erosion of ideological differences on the left in the name of creating a unified front against Trump. Such clear-cut points, however, are accompanied by tendentious ones, such as suggesting that the murderous Khmer Rouge had the positive goal “to effectively change human nature.” This inconsistent book will not help iek’s often valid insights reach a larger readership beyond the already-devoted following he enjoys. (Feb.)

Kirkus Reviews

2017-11-20
From the provocative to the outrageous to the impenetrable, the latest from the Slovenian gadfly finds a curious sort of hope in a hopeless situation.Ever since the Chronicle of Higher Education tagged him "the Elvis of cultural theory," iek (Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism, 2015, etc.) has extended his reach well beyond academic circles. He remains even tougher on neoliberalism than he is on authoritarianism, and he takes great delight in counterintuitiveness—and linguistic density. "What I am advocating is not the process of democratic self-purification by means of which we get rid of the dirty water (abuses of democracy) without losing the healthy baby (authentic democracy)," he writes. "The task is rather to trans-value the (democratic) values themselves, to throw out the baby (the democratic form) while keeping in the dirty water (of ‘chaotic' popular participation, of large-scale ‘authoritarian' decisions)." Got that? When the author writes that "the 2016 elections were the final defeat of liberal democracy," he doesn't seem despondent, because the possibility of great change seems like the healthier response than the return to political business as usual that might have resulted from a Hillary Clinton victory. America lost its big chance, one senses from his writing, when it didn't embrace the real choices that an election race between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders would have represented, with both benefitting from populist rage. He thinks the danger of Trump has been exaggerated, particularly if the alternative is a retreat from radical change. Here he returns with a twist to the baby-bathwater analogy: "Trump is not the dirty water one should throw out to keep safe the healthy baby of US democracy; he is himself the dirty baby who should be thrown out in order to reveal the true dirty water of social relations that sustain the Clinton consensus." The author rejects conventional wisdom at every turn, occasionally risking nonsense for a higher sense."Resolutely atheist" and a "skeptical pessimist," iek does his best to leave no sacred cow ungored.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612197074
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Publication date: 02/06/2018
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,037,925
File size: 626 KB

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The Courage of Hopelessness
Introduction:
V for Vendetta, Part 2

In a wonderful comment on Italo Svevo’s novel Zeno’s Conscience, Alenka Zupančič deploys a systematic matrix of the relations between repetition and ending.1 The basic version is the false reference to the freedom of choice where (if we take the case of smoking) my awareness that I can stop smoking any time I want guarantees that I will never actually do it – the possibility of stopping smoking is what blocks the actual change; it allows me to accept our continuous smoking without bad conscience, so that the end of smoking is constantly present as the very source of its continuation. (As Zupančič perspicaciously notes, we should just imagine a situation in which the subject is under the sway of the following order: you can smoke or not, but once you start to smoke you have no choice, you are not allowed to end. Far fewer people would choose to smoke under this condition.) When I can no longer tolerate the hypocrisy of this endless excuse, the next step consists in an immanent reversal of this stance: I decide to smoke and I proclaim this to be the last cigarette in my life, so I enjoy smoking it with a special surplus provided by the awareness that this is my last cigarette…and I do this again and again, endlessly repeating the end, the last cigarette. The problem with this solution is that it only works (i.e., the surplus-enjoyment is only generated) if, each time that I proclaim this to be my last cigarette, I sincerely believe it is my last cigarette, so this strategy also breaks down. In Svevo’s novel, the next step is that the subject’s analyst (who, till now, has tried to convince Zeno that smoking is dangerous for his physical and mental health) changes his strategy and claims that Zeno should smoke as much as he wants since health is not really a problem – the only pathological feature is Zeno’s obsession with smoking, his passion to stop doing it.

So what should be brought to an end is not smoking but the very attempt to smoke. Predictably (for anyone with analytic experience), the effect of this change is catastrophic: instead of finally feeling relieved and able to smoke (or not) without guilt, Zeno is totally perturbed and desperate. He smokes like crazy and nonetheless feels totally guilty, without getting any narcissistic satisfaction from this guilt. In despair, he breaks down. Whatever he does turns out to be wrong: neither prohibitions nor permissiveness work, there is no way out, no pleasurable compromise; and, since smoking has been the focus of his life, even smoking loses its sense, there is no point in it. So, in total despair – not as a great decision – he stops smoking…The way out thus emerges unexpectedly when Zeno accepts the total hopelessness of his predicament. And this same matrix should also be applied to the prospect of radical change. The predominant attitude among academic ‘radical Leftists’ is still the one that, back in 1937, George Orwell described apropos class difference:


We all rail against class-distinctions, but very few people seriously want to abolish them. Here you come upon the important fact that every revolutionary opinion draws part of its strength from a secret conviction that nothing can be changed.2

Orwell’s point is that radicals invoke the need for revolutionary change as a kind of superstitious token that should achieve the opposite, i.e. prevent the change from really occurring – like today’s academic Leftist who criticizes capitalist cultural imperialism but is in reality horrified at the idea that his field of study might really become redundant. The stance is here the same as that of the smoker convinced that he can stop smoking if he chooses to do so: the possibility of change is evoked to guarantee that it will not be acted upon. Then we get an entire panoply of strategies that amount to the same thing, up to ‘accelerationism’ (capitalism will collapse through its overdevelopment, so let’s engage in it to the end…).It is only when we despair and don’t know any more what to do that change can be enacted – we have to go through this zero point of hopelessness. In short, we have to enact in politics a reversal similar to the one enacted in ‘Der Leiermann’, the song that concludes Schubert’s Winterreise. It appears to describe the utter despair of the abandoned lover who finally loses all hope, even the very ability to mourn and to despair, and conjures the man on the street playing his hurdy-gurdy. However, as many commentators have noticed, this last song can also be read as a sign of forthcoming redemption: while all the other songs in the cycle present the hero’s inward brooding, here, for the first time, the hero turns outwards and establishes a minimal contact, an emphatic identification, with another human being, although this identification is with another desperate loser who has lost even his ability to mourn and is reduced to performing blind mechanical gestures. Two years before his death, when it became clear that there would be no all-European revolution, and knowing that the idea of building socialism in one country was nonsense, Lenin reached this point when he wrote:


What if the complete hopelessness of the situation, by stimulating the efforts of the workers and peasants tenfold, offered us the opportunity to create the fundamental requisites of civilization in a different way from that of the West European countries?3

The basic ideological operation of Stalin was precisely to turn around Lenin’s reading of the situation: he presented the Soviet Union’s isolation as a unique chance to build socialism in one country. In that historical situation, Stalin’s formula was one of hope. However, the next decade made evident the price paid for the attempt to live up to this hope: purges, mass starvation, etc. The lesson of twentieth-century communism is that we have to gather the strength to fully assume the hopelessness. Giorgio Agamben said in an interview that ‘thought is the courage of hopelessness’ – an insight which is especially pertinent for our historical moment, when even the most pessimistic diagnosis as a rule finishes with an uplifting hint at some version of the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The true courage is not to imagine an alternative, but to accept the consequences of the fact that there is no clearly discernible alternative: the dream of an alternative is a sign of theoretical cowardice, functioning as a fetish that prevents us from thinking through to the end the deadlock of our predicament. In short, the true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is probably the headlight of another train approaching us from the opposite direction.

This approaching train has lately assumed many forms. In the last few years, troubles in our global-capitalist paradise have exploded at four levels, with four figures of the enemy: the renewed fundamentalist-terrorist threat (the declaration of war against ISIS, Boko Haram…); geo-political tensions with and between non-European new powers (China and especially Russia); the rise of new radical emancipatory movements in Europe (Greece and Spain, for the time being); the flow of refugees crossing the Wall that separates ‘Us’ from ‘Them’, thereby ‘posing a threat to our way of life’. It is crucial to see these threats in their interconnection – not in the sense that they are the four faces of the same enemy, but in the sense that they express aspects of the same immanent ‘contradiction’ of global capitalism. Although fundamentalism and the flow of refugees appear as the most threatening of the four (is ISIS not a brutal denial of our civilized values?), the tensions with Russia pose a much more serious danger to peace in Europe, while movements like Syriza prior to its capitulation undermine from within global capitalism in its neo-liberal version. But there should be no misunderstanding here: Western powers can easily co-exist with fundamentalist regimes; while in the case of Putin, the problem is how to contain Russia in geo-political terms (recall that his rise is the result of the catastrophic Yeltsin years marked by corruption, the years when Western economic advisors helped to humiliate Russia and to bring it to ruin). So although the US formally declared war on ISIS, and although there is constant talk about the threat of a war with Russia, the true danger are the moderate and ‘gentle’ new emancipatory movements from Syriza in Greece to the followers of Bernie Sanders in the US, and their putative radicalization. Because of this misperception of radical politics, we live in times of pseudo-conflicts: in the UK, Brexit ‘yes’ or ‘no’, in Turkey the military or Erdogan, in Eastern Europe, new Baltic-Polish-Ukrainian fundamentalists or Putin, in France, burkini or bared breasts, in Syria, Assad or Daesh…In all these cases, although one might slightly prefer one side to the other, the ultimate stance should be one of indifference, best rendered by Stalin who, when asked in the late 1920s which deviation is worse, the Right one or the Leftist one, snapped back: ‘They are both worse!’ Is there still the potential for true change beneath these pseudo-struggles? There is, since the function of these pseudo-struggles is precisely to block the explosion of the true ones.

Rage, rebellion and a new power offer a kind of dialectical triad of the revolutionary process. First, there is chaotic rage: people are dissatisfied and show it in a more or less violent way, but without any clear goal or organization. When this rage gets organized, we get a rebellion with minimal organization and a more-or-less clear awareness of who the enemy is and what is to be changed. Finally, if rebellion succeeds, the new power confronts the immense task of organizing the new society. (Remember the anecdote about the exchange between Lenin and Trotsky just prior to the October Revolution. Lenin said: ‘What will happen with us if we fail?’ Trotsky replied: ‘And what will happen if we succeed?’) The problem is that we almost never get this triad in its logical progression: chaotic rage gets diluted or turns into a Rightist populism; rebellion succeeds but loses steam and gets compromised in multiple ways. This is why rage occurs not only at the beginning but also at the end, the outcome of failed emancipatory projects. Recall, in the US, protests like those in Ferguson in August 2014, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer. Were they not today’s exemplary cases of what Walter Benjamin called ‘divine violence’? They are not part of a long-term strategy – as Benjamin put it, they are means without ends. Does not the same hold not only for other protests that followed Ferguson, like the Baltimore riots in April 2015, but also for the French suburban riots of autumn 2005, when we saw thousands of cars burning and a major outburst of public violence? In these protests, what strikes the eye is the total absence of any positive utopian prospect among the protesters: if May ‘68 was a revolt led primarily by students and workers with a utopian vision, the 2005 revolts in suburban Paris were outbursts among ghettoized immigrant communities with no pretence to a collective vision. If the oft-repeated commonplace that we live in a post-ideological era has any sense, it is here. The fact that there was no programme in the burning Paris suburbs is thus itself a fact to be interpreted. It tells us a great deal about our ideologico-political predicament. What kind of universe is it that we inhabit, which celebrates itself as a society of choice but in which the only option available to the enforced democratic consensus is a blind acting out?

Here is how Goran Therborn succinctly characterizes our predicament: ‘Never before have the possibilities of a good world for the human species as a whole been greater. At the same time, the gap between human potential and the existing conditions of humankind in its totality has probably never been wider.’4 Why this gap? In his Idea of Socialism,5 Axel Honneth begins with the great paradox of today’s situation: there is a growing dissatisfaction with global capitalism that often explodes in rage, but it is less and less possible to articulate this rage into a new Leftist political project. If the growing rage gets articulated into a programme, it is predominantly in the guise of a Rightist populism. When we wonder about the enigmatic rise of Muslim fundamentalism, should we not also wonder about the no less enigmatic rise of religious-nationalist fundamentalism in countries like Poland, Hungary and Croatia? In the last decades, Poland was one of the few definitive European success stories: after the fall of socialism, the per capita product more than doubled, and for the last couple of years, the moderate liberal-centrist government of Donald Tusk ruled – and then, almost out of nowhere, without any great corruption scandals as in Hungary, the extreme Right took over, and there is now a widespread movement to prohibit abortion even in the limit-cases of the mortal danger to the mother’s health, rape, and deformity of the foetus. What is going on here?

The case of Poland is also important for another reason: it provides a strong empirical rebuttal to the predominant Left-liberal dismissal of authoritarian populism as a contradictory politics that is doomed to fail. While this is in principle true – in the long term, we are all dead, as J. M. Keynes put it – there can be many surprises in the (not so) short term:


The conventional view of what awaits the US (and possibly France and the Netherlands) in 2017 is an erratic ruler who enacts contradictory policies that primarily benefit the rich. The poor will lose, because populists have no hope of restoring manufacturing jobs, despite their promises. And massive inflows of migrants and refugees will continue, because populists have no plan to address the problem’s root causes. In the end, populist governments, incapable of effective rule, will crumble and their leaders will either face impeachment or fail to win re-election. But the liberals were wrong. PiS (Law and Justice, the ruling Rightist-populist party) has transformed itself from an ideological nullity into a party that has managed to introduce shocking changes with record speed and efficiency[…]it has enacted the largest social transfers in Poland’s contemporary history. Parents receive a 500 zloty ($120) monthly benefit for every child after their first, or for all children in poorer families (the average net monthly income is about 2,900 zloty, though more than two-thirds of Poles earn less). As a result, the poverty rate has declined by 20–40%, and by 70–90% among children. The list goes on: in 2016, the government introduced free medication for people over the age of 75. The minimum wage now exceeds what trade unions had sought. The retirement age has been reduced from 67 for both men and women to 60 for women and 65 for men. The government also plans tax relief for low-income taxpayers.6

PiS does what Marine le Pen also promises to do in France: a combination of anti-austerity measures – social transfers that no Leftist party dares to consider – plus the promise of order and security that asserts national identity and promises to deal with the immigrant threat. Who can beat this combination, which directly addresses the two big worries of ordinary people? We can discern at the horizon a weirdly perverted situation in which the official ‘Left’ is enforcing the austerity politics (while advocating multicultural rights and so on), while the populist Right is pursuing anti-austerity measures to help the poor (while pursuing the xenophobic nationalist agenda) – the latest figure of what Hegel described as die verkehrte Welt, ‘the topsy-turvy world’.

And what if Trump moves in the same direction? What if his project of moderate protectionism and large public works, combined with anti-immigrant security measures and a new perverted peace with Russia, somehow works? The French language uses the so-called ne explétif after certain verbs and conjunctions; it is also called ‘nonnegative ne’ because it has no negative value in itself – ‘it is used in situations where the main clause has a negative (either negative-bad or negative-negated) meaning, such as expressions of fear, warning, doubt, and negation.’7 For example: Elle a peur qu’il ne soit malade (‘She’s afraid that he is sick’). Lacan noted how this superfluous negation renders perfectly the gap that separates our true unconscious desire from our conscious wish: when a wife ids afraid that her husband is sick, she may well worry that he is not sick (desiring him to be sick). And could we not say exactly the same about the Left liberals horrified by Trump? Ils ont peur qu’il ne soit une catastrophe. What they really fear is that he will not be a catastrophe.

So let’s jump to the other extreme, the construction of a new power. When, a day after winning the referendum against EU pressure and saying ‘no’ to austerity politics, the Syriza government fully surrendered to that pressure, this breathtaking reversal stands for the ultimate ‘infinite judgement’ (coincidence of the opposites) of contemporary Leftist politics in power: there was no gradual mediation between the two extremes, no slow sliding into a compromise, but a direct and brutal reversal – immediately after a resolute ‘no’ to the politics of austerity, Syriza became its faithful executor. We have to accept this paradox at its purest, not downplay it through references to particular circumstances (fear, or even outright corruption of the Syriza leadership, etc.). We are dealing with a properly Hegelian dialectical reversal, where the highest ethical stance becomes a no less principled subservience.

In the final scene of the film V for Vendetta (2006), thousands of unarmed Londoners wearing Guy Fawkes masks march towards Parliament; without orders, the military allows the crowd to pass into Parliament, and the people take over. As Finch asks Evey for V’s identity, she replies: ‘He was all of us.’ OK, a nice ecstatic moment, but I am ready to sell my mother into slavery in order to see V for Vendetta, Part 2: what would have happened the day after the victory of the people; how would they (re)organize daily life?

Echoing the rise of big popular protests in the last years, with hundreds of thousands assembling in public places (from New York, Paris and Madrid to Athens, Istanbul and Cairo), ‘assemblage’ (not in the sense of the assemblage theory deployed by Latour and Delanda but in the sense of analysing the phenomenon of assembling in public spaces), its performative effects, its power to challenge the existing power relations, became a popular topic of theory. One should retain a sceptical distance towards this topic: whatever its merits, it leaves untouched the key problem of how to pass from assembling protest to the imposition of a new power, of how this new power will function in contrast to the old one. Jean-Claude Milner reports that Althusser once improvised a typology of revolutionary leaders worthy of Kierkegaard’s classification of humans into officers, housemaids and chimney sweepers: those who quote proverbs, those who do not quote proverbs, those who invent (new) proverbs. The first are scoundrels (Althusser thought of Stalin), the second are great revolutionaries who are doomed to fail (Robespierre); only the third understand the true nature of a revolution and succeed (Lenin, Mao). If we leave aside Milner’s reading of this triad (the successful authentic leaders imported the revolutionary idea from abroad, and to make it appear rooted in their country they have to dress it up in the popular form of proverbs8), its importance resides in the fact that it registers three different ways of relating to the big Other (the symbolic substance, the domain of unwritten customs and wisdoms best expressed in the stupidity of proverbs). Scoundrels simply re-inscribe the revolution into the ideological tradition of their nation (for Stalin, the Soviet Union was the last stage of the progressive development of Russia). Radical revolutionaries like Robespierre fail because they just enact a break with the past without succeeding in their effort to enforce a new set of customs (recall the utter failure of Robespierre’s idea of replacing religion with a new cult of a Supreme Being). Leaders like Lenin and Mao succeeded (for some time, at least) because they invented new proverbs, which means that they imposed new customs that regulated daily life. One of the best Goldwynisms tells how, after being informed that critics sometimes complained that there were too many old clichés in his films, Sam Goldwyn wrote a memo to his scenario department: ‘We need more new clichés!’ He was right, and this is a revolution’s most difficult task – to create ‘new clichés’ for ordinary daily life.

There is an idea circulating in the underground among many disappointed radical Leftists, a softer repetition of the decision for terror in the aftermath of the 1968 movement (Action Directe in France, the Baader-Meinhof in Germany, for example): only a radical catastrophe (preferably an ecological one) can awaken the large crowds and thus give a new impetus to radical emancipation. The latest version of this idea relates to the refugees: an influx of a really large number of refugees could revitalize the European radical Left. I find this line of thought obscene: notwithstanding the fact that such a development would for sure give an immense boost to anti-immigrant brutality, the truly crazy aspect of this idea is that it attempts to fill the gap created by the absence of proletarians by importing them from abroad, so that we get the revolution by a surrogate revolutionary agent…

One can, of course, claim that the repeated defeats of the Left are just steps in a long educational process that may end in victory – say, Occupy Wall Street created the conditions for the Bernie Sanders movement, which in its turn may act as the first step in the rise of a large, organized Leftist movement. However, the least one can say is that, from 1968 onwards, the power edifice demonstrated an extraordinary ability to use movements of contestation as a source of its own renovation. But if the picture is so bleak, why then not call it a day and resign ourselves to modest reformism? The problem is, very simply, that global capitalism confronts us with a series of antagonisms that cannot be controlled or even contained within the frame of global capitalist democracy. None other than Elon Musk, the iconic Silicon Valley figure, the founder of SolarCity and Tesla, proposed the formula ‘Robots will take your jobs, government will have to pay your wage’:


Computers, intelligent machines, and robots seem like the workforce of the future. And as more and more jobs are replaced by technology, people will have less work to do and ultimately will be sustained by payments from the government, predicts Elon Musk. According to Musk, there really won’t be any other options: ‘There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation.9

If this prospect is not the end of capitalism, then what is? One should also note that Musk’s formula implies a strong government, not just some network of local cooperatives. So the only true question today is this: do we endorse the predominant acceptance of capitalism as a fact of (human) nature, or does today’s global capitalism contain strong enough antagonisms to prevent its indefinite reproduction? There are four such antagonisms. They concern (1) the commons of culture in the broadest sense, of ‘immaterial’ capital: the immediately socialized forms of ‘cognitive’ capital, primarily language, our means of communication and education, not to mention the financial sphere with the absurd consequences of uncontrolled virtual money circulation; (2) the commons of external nature, threatened by human pollution: all particular dangers – global warming, dying of the oceans, etc. – are aspects of a derailment of the entire life reproduction system on earth; (3) the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity): with new biogenetic technology, the creation of a New Man in the literal sense of changing human nature becomes a realistic prospect; and, last but not least, (4) the commons of humanity itself, of the shared social and political space: the more capitalism gets global, the more new walls and apartheids are emerging, separating those who are IN from those who are OUT. This global division is accompanied by the rise of tensions between new geopolitical blocks (the ‘clash of civilizations’). It is this reference to ‘commons’ that justifies the resuscitation of the notion of communism: it enables us to see the progressive ‘enclosure’ of the commons as a process of proletarianization of those who are thereby excluded from the very substance of their lives.

Only the fourth antagonism, the reference to the excluded, justifies the term communism: the first three effectively concern questions of humanity’s economic, anthropological, even physical, survival, while the fourth one is ultimately a question of justice. But here we stumble upon the old boring question of the relationship between socialism and communism: why call the goal of a radical emancipatory movement communism? In the Marxist tradition, socialism was conceptualized as the (in)famous lower stage of communism, so that the ‘progress’ was supposed to run from socialism to communism. (No wonder that, with regard to the sad reality of life under ‘really existing socialism’, jokes abounded like the well-known one from the Soviet Union where a group of people in Moscow are reading a big propaganda poster which says: ‘In twenty years, we will live in full communism!’ One of the people starts to laugh and jump with pleasure and joy, and when others ask him why, he replies: ‘I have cancer, I will be dead for sure in twenty years!’) But the reality was different; most socialist countries, rather, began with some version of primitive but radical communism (the Soviet Union in 1918–20, etc.), and then, in order to survive, they had to ‘regress’ and make compromises with the old society – so the line of development ran from communism to socialism (which combined the old and the new). The worst thing we can do today is to drop the name ‘communism’ and advocate a watered-down version of ‘democratic socialism’. The task confronting us today is precisely the reinvention of communism, a radical change that moves well beyond some vague notion of social solidarity. Insofar as, in the course of the historical process of change, its goal itself should be redefined, we can say that ‘communism’ is to be reinvented as the name for what emerges as the goal after the failure of socialism.

The establishment reacts to today’s ‘radical’ theory in the same way as the one described by Hegel in the Preface to the Philosophy of Right, where he mentions ‘a letter of Joh. v. Müller who, speaking of the condition of Rome in the year 1803, when the city was under French rule, writes, “A professor, asked how the public academies were doing, answered, ‘On les tolère comme les bordels! [‘They are tolerated, like brothels!’]’ “ ‘10 Is not most of what goes on today in ‘radical’ academia tolerated in the same way – it is considered that ‘though not of much good, [they] can be of no great harm. Hence the recommendation, so it is thought, if useless, can do no injury.’11 It is my contention that only a reinvented communism can return to theory its emancipatory force.


This approach to communism (expounded in many recent books of mine) has lately been submitted to a series of criticisms – basically, my critics identify five principal sins: my (openly admitted) eurocentrism, i.e., my insistence on the European roots of the project of universal emancipation; my rejection of the Greek Left Platform proposal to risk a more radical measure (Grexit, etc.) after the victory of the Syriza government at the referendum; my critique of the elevation of refugees and migrants into a new form of global proletariat and my insistence on the problems of cultural identity; my doubts about some ideological components of the LGBT+ movement; and, last but not least, my ‘support’ for the ‘fascist’ Donald Trump. As expected, all these reproaches are combined into the thesis that I am effectively a homophobic eurocentrist racist who opposes any authentic radical measure…The present book addresses systematically all these critical points.

The Courage of Hopelessness is indeed a dark book, but I prefer to be a pessimist: not expecting anything, I am here and there nicely surprised (since things are usually not as bad as they could be), while optimists see their hopes dashed and end up depressed all the time. The two parts of the book deploy the dark diagnosis at two levels: that of the economico-political mess we are in – ‘The Ups and Downs of Global Capitalism’ – and that of the ideological theatre where political and economic battles are fought – ‘The Ideological Theatre of Shadows’. (This theatre is in no way just a secondary reflection of the ‘true’ economic struggle, but the very stage where ‘true’ battles are fought.) Part One first provides a quick overview of the impasses of global capitalism; it then describes the fate of Syriza as the attempt to break out of the global capitalist imbroglio; and it concludes with an overview of the return of religion as a political factor from China to Israel. Part Two begins with an analysis of the so-called ‘terrorist threat’ of religious fundamentalism; it then deals with the worldwide battle for sexuality raging between conservatives and the forces of political correctness; it concludes with the populist rage as the predominant reaction to these impasses. A short finale paints an even darker picture of how the ongoing geo-political tensions may lead to the Third World War.

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