The popularity of Slavoj Žižek, explained

Slavoj Žižek: “Why I Am Still A Communist”. The 2019 Holberg Debate with Slavoj Žižek & Tyler Cowen

Dr. Žižek holds the distinction of being one of the few far-leftists who isn’t down-voted and pilloried to oblivion in the YouTube comments. I’m trying to figure how and why this guy is so popular when communism, online, is generally unpopular. I think it is because he rambles without really saying anything that is necessarily pro-communist , but rather attacks political correctness and sacred cows (such as the legacy of Thatcher, who both conservatives and liberals alike online seem to agree is overrated and undeserving of her deification), that are easy targets and unpopular on both side of the aisle.

Conservatism, online at least, has undergone a major transformation over the past 5 or so years. Although neoconservatism, with its emphasis on unfettered free markets and foreign interventionism, is still popular to a large degree offline and in certain think tanks, online sentiment has soured against this brand of conservatism, even by other conservatives. The rise of the rational/pragmatic/smart-right, along with the center-right IDW, are examples of such a re-branding process, to a brand of conservatism that is smarter and puts greater precedence on economics and biology. Mainstream conservatives have led America into too many wars, expanded the surveillance state, are too deferential to Israel, and their pull-yourself-up approach to poverty overlooks biological factors. Many people on the_Donald, as an example of the pragmatic-right, are tired of the prudishness of mainstream conservatism and how it blames poverty on laziness, when factors such as IQ, family wealth, and economics also play a significant role in regard to individual socioeconomic outcomes, all of which are outside of one’s control. The popularity of Žižek by many on the rationalist-right , who are smart and aware of these factors and are opposed to binary or reductionist thinking, is an example of the demand for more evolved discourse, at least online [offline tends to be much different, and mainstream views tend to be more dominant].

Regarding the video and the bipartisan popularity of of Žižek , in general, both sides of the aisle can agree that there is too much political correctness and that these arbitrary social norms that are imposed under the pretense of preventing ‘hurt feelings,’ impede honesty and true understanding, and makes discourse worse. [Political correctness is so universally disliked online that being for political correctness is more contrarian the being opposed to it, even though being anti-PC is framed as contrarian.] Žižek’s nihilism and low opinion of humanity, in general, is also popular with a large online subset, too. Many conservatives and classical liberal alike can also agree that the world will live on and is indifferent if all humans kill each other, or that organic food is overrated, or that people who preach environmentalism are hypocrites because they only care about their ‘own’ environment.

But if being a communist is loosely defined to mean believing that society has a lot of problems, that some welfare state is needed, that modernity is overrated, and that everyone is a hypocrite and a totalitarian to some degree, then that could explain why Žižek gets so little push-back in the comments, as he recasts communism as a posture, a philosophical abstraction, or social critique (a collection of shared narratives and indictment of modernity), than an economic and social system that has had a poor track record (with the exception of China, which is hugely successful because it abandoned the failed market-Communism of Mao, and also having a high-IQ population). The smart-left and smart-right can agree that capitalism and modernity have a lot of problems, but there is much less agreement about wealth redistribution, central planning, or public ownership of the means of production as solutions.

Moreover, Žižek , intentionally or not, has cultivated this public image of being a sort of inscrutable ‘great intellectual,’ so people listen with rapt attentiveness and respect and patience, trying to glean these gems of profundity and intellectual insight, that would not be afforded to other leftists and intellectuals [upon watching 50 minutes of it and reading the comments on Tyler’s blog in response, you are not missing out on anything]. Dropping names such as Hegel and Freud adds intellectual rigor to what is otherwise an empty presentation, and helps him cultivate this the public image of sounding smart even if he is saying nothing. A common criticism leveled against Žižek’s debate opponents, such as in this video Tyler Cowen, and earlier, Jordan Peterson, is that they so not understand what Žižek is saying, but I think that is more of a function of Žižek’s vacuousness and equivocalness that does not yield itself to any sort of reification or position that can be argued against, than an inattentiveness or lack of smarts of his opponents.