“The first choice has to be the wrong choice,” as Žižek says in his monumental new book, because “the wrong choice creates the conditions for the right choice”. There is no such thing as being wholly in the right, or wholly in the wrong; and this principle applies to politics as much as to personal life. Politics, as Žižek understands it, is a rare and splendid thing: no actions are genuinely political unless they are revolutionary, and revolution is not revolution unless it institutes “true change” – the kind of comprehensive makeover that “sets its own standards” and “can only be measured by criteria that result from it”. Genuine revolutionaries are not interested in operating on “the enemy’s turf”, haggling over various strategies for satisfying pre-existing needs or securing pre-existing rights: they want to break completely with the past and create “an opening for the truly New”. Authentic revolutions have often been betrayed, but as far as Žižek is concerned, they are never misconceived.
Žižek refuses to indulge in sanctimonious regrets over the failings of 20th-century communism. He has always had a soft spot for Stalin, and likes to tell the story of Uncle Joe’s response when asked which of two deviations was worse: both of them are worse, he said, with perfect Lacanian panache. Žižek’s objection to Stalinism is not that it involved terror and mass murder, but that it sought to justify them by reference to a happy communist tomorrow: the trouble with Soviet communism, as he puts it, is “not that it is too immoral, but that it is secretly too moral”. Hitler elicits similar even-handedness: the unfortunate Führer was “trapped within the horizon of bourgeois society”, Žižek says, and the “true problem of nazism” was “not that it went too far … but that it did not go far enough”.
John Gray also has a worthwhile review/essay on Zizek in the NY Review. Alas, Gray has an ax to grind, and past a certain point the review turns into Gray’s parody of Zizek’s philosophy. For the record, I find Zizek a far more interesting thinker than Gray.
And for good measure, here’s everybody’s favorite Zizek “bit.”