Hegel 1: Zizek and Hegel

I feel that I need to know what Hegel is on about. I am therefore proposing to write a series of blog posts of some relevance to Hegel. The idea would be to simply provide something with which I can work through Hegel. In this first post I will attempt to articulate why I feel that Hegel would be a good person for me to read. This will be done through talking about what Zizek seems to be saying in In Defence of Lost Causes. As a sign of the crudeness with which I feel that I am approaching this topic the next post will discuss what the wikipedia entry says about Hegel.

In Zizek’s “In Defence of Lost Causes” positing three essential political dispositions are posited. Firstly, the politics of identifying an agent that has some legitimacy in dictating the actions of a collectivity. Secondly, the politics of criticising the gap in legitimacy of the claims made by disposition one and on that basis dictating activities of a collectivity. Thirdly, a politics grounded on identifying with ‘the excluded’ of the world and by/through them articulating actions relating to what might be called the limits of thought.

The first two are really categories that are identical and part of Zizeks effort is to illuminate this identity. On the one hand disposition one covers those politics that are properly utopian in that they identify a utopian world or an agent capable of articulating that world as the core to politics. In this category one would have to place all those that come to the state as the site of the articulation of some vision.

On the other hand is the politics of subtraction. A politics in which it is recognised that all such desires for such a subject of politics are constructions, therefore have an element of violence in them and that when pursued ultimately lead to some form of totalitarianism. Accordingly, politics becomes the game of negating and undermining the claims to legitimacy made by those that are attempting to seize the state. Never one always multiple in their origin such political endeavours take their quest from an attempt to undermine the violence conducted by disposition one.

But Zizek makes the point that this subtraction cannot in itself claim the distance that gives it its supposed legitimacy and on this basis he revels the identity between political disposition one and political disposition two. In fact what Zizek suggests is that the only definitive difference between disposition one and disposition two is that disposition two contains a move that is effectively an ideological cover.

Through restricting, criticising and negating the claims to authority of the state this disposition determines political action but never claims that authority itself. It does not claim that authority because it offers no stable articulation that would produce action. To use the terminology of Charles Sanders Peirce this position is one of doubt that attacks belief, which alone is capable of informing action. The method of subtraction is simply the politics of doubt.

According to this politics new emancipatory ways of living arise from the activity of doubt. It remains connected to politics because the activity of doubt produces new forms of belief that inform action.

This for Zizek is the ideological move par excellence of the bourgeoisie. The natural legitimacy of doubt lies precisely in its claim not to be a claim of legitimacy. Whilst it is something that is only expressible in terms of movement this does not prevent it from holding the state. This is both through the fact that its reactive nature ties it to the politics of disposition one and also, more pertinently, that the state can be constituted via a belief in doubt, so to speak. By virtue of a logic that suggests that what is held in the state is necessarily incomplete in its legitimacy the fact that doubt occupies this centre means, or at least indicates, that it too is something that is lacking and therefore a species of disposition one.

An example that demonstrates this point for Zizek is the difference between the ideological politics of Thatcherism and the transformation enacted by Blair’s Third way politics. What the politics of the Third Way claims is that it is able to escape the equally ‘lacking’ politics of socialism and neo-liberalism by presenting a ‘practical’ response to problems. What we have is a denial of any claim to legitimacy and instead a doubt about all such claims that is the core of the approach.

What Zizek seems to suggest is, to put it in Marxist terms, that the core of bourgeois interest is in the advancement of doubt. It is the expression of what Marx identified when he suggested that the rule of the bourgeoisie is a time when “All that is solid melts into air”. This liquefaction is something that would occur to the claims based upon the rights of the individual by which liberals have often made gains and which is traditionally identified with the interests of the bourgeois subject. In this way Blair’s third way is the ultimate outcome of the hard-core neo-liberalism of Thatcher. A similar observation could perhaps be made with respect to the Howard-Rudd transformation.

The political disposition of subtraction is therefore a variant of disposition one where a logic of dissolution through doubt is posited as the ruling order. The end of that logic is the exchangeability of anything for anything else and the best emblem for that is the relations of money. The difference between disposition one and disposition two is the refusal of disposition two to itself remain solid.

This becomes the claim that this movement of doubt is irrefutable because it is not a claim. This therefore posits that the rule of the bourgeoisie is natural and incontestable – it is the claim that is made by such people as Francis Fukuyama in declaring the “end of history”. The movement expressed by doubt becomes the realisation of a specifically human pathos justifying indefinitely its rule at the centre of the political order.

Zizek’s third disposition of politics is the disposition that allows this lie to be identified. It is the answer to the questions that Zizek poses and seems to ask us and it seeks to bring to the limit the thinking and practice of violence and belief. It is a disposition that seems to differentiate itself from disposition two by suggesting that in some sense doubt needs to fold back upon itself.

There seems to be three key points that Zizek is making here. Point number one is that violence is something that always occurs in politics and the politics of subtraction is something that does not escape this. Point two is that the justifications for such violence are always missing, or incomplete and again this is something that a politics of doubt does not escape. The third point is that a confrontation with this fact has some value (it is a value for which value is not the appropriate word) and is linked by Zizek to those that are entirely excluded and the saving power referred to be Heidegger.

Central to understanding what Zizek is talking about is an understanding of Hegel. It seems that an at least popular attitude to Hegel is to view him as a philosopher that best articulates the modern paradigm of thought as determined centrally by what has been denoted here as doubt. For Zizek however, this is to mistake the true negation. The difference emerges for instance when Zizek states:

“The only true subtraction is the negation of the negation, i.e the self elimination of the negation. A subtraction merely accedes to the current order and remains its component.”
As a preliminary way of understanding this Zizek seems to oppose the negation that occurs via what has here been called doubt to a negation that is an act of fidelity to a past event (drawing from Walter Benjamin).

So what is the negation of the negation? Amongst other concepts associated with Hegel?


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This author is just another fucking dickhead.

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