Blog post

Excerpt from the new Living in the End Times afterword featured in Jacobin

Morgan Buck20 April 2011

Žižek and the Jacobin spirit unite in the latest installment of Jacobin magazine. In their Summer 2011 issue, the young quarterly publication known for its consistent quality and invigorating critical spirit will feature a timely excerpt from the new paperback edition of Slavoj Žižek's Living in the End Times.

The excerpt, part of an extensive new afterword written especially for the paperback edition, explores the de-fetishisation and de-mystification of both violence and democracy as necessary conditions for revolutionary Truth.

A more fundamental question might also be raised here: why does the revolutionary Truth-Event entail violence? Because it is enacted from the symptomal point (or torsion) of the social body, from the point of impossibility of the social totality-its subject is the "part of no-part" of society, those who, although they are formally part of society, are denied a proper place within it. This is society's "point of truth," and to assert it, the whole structure whose point of impossibility this point is must be annihilated, suspended. For exactly the same reason, as Lenin correctly perceived, the truth is revolutionary-the only way to assert it is to bring about a revolutionary upheaval in the existing hierarchic order. Thus one should oppose the old (pseudo-) Machiavellian idea that truth is impotent and that power, if it is to be effective, has to lie and to cheat: as Lenin claimed, Marxism is strong insofar as it is true. (This holds especially against the postmodern dismissal of universal truth as oppressive, according to which, as Gianni Vattimo put it, if the truth sets us free, it also sets us free from itself.)

In the history of radical politics, violence is usually associated with the so-called Jacobin legacy, and, for that reason, dismissed as something that should be abandoned if we are truly to begin again. Even many contemporary (post-)Marxists are embarrassed by the so-called Jacobin legacy of centralized state terror, from which they want to distance Marx himself, proposing an authentic "liberal" Marx whose thought was later obfuscated by Lenin. It was Lenin, so the story goes, who (re)introduced the Jacobin legacy, thus falsifying Marx's libertarian spirit. But is this really the case? Let us take a closer look at how the Jacobins rejected the recourse to a majority vote, on behalf of those who speak for an eternal Truth. How could the Jacobins, the partisans of unity and of the struggle against factions, justify this rejection? "The entire difficulty resides in how to distinguish between the voice of truth, even if it is minoritarian, and the factional voice which seeks only to divide artificially to conceal the truth."

Visit Jacobin to read the excerpt in full.