The Courage of Hopelessness

The lines from Joel 3:14 – “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” – provide the first accurate description of the moment when a society is at crossroads, confronted with a choice that may decide its fate. This is the situation of Europe today.

Every anti-immigrant populist would fully agree with this claim: yes, Europe’s very identity is threatened by the invasion of Muslim and other refugee multitudes. But the actual situation is exactly the opposite: it is today’s anti-immigrant populists who are the true threat to the emancipatory core of the European Enlightenment. A Europe where Marine le Pen or Geert Wilders are in power is no longer Europe. So what is this Europe worth fighting for?

The true novelty of the French Revolution resides in the distinction between citizen’s rights and human rights. One should reject here the classic Marxist notion of human rights as the rights of the member of bourgeois civil society. While citizens are defined by the political order of a sovereign state, “human” is what remains of a citizen when he/she is deprived of the citizenship, finding him/herself in what in artillery one calls the open space, reduced to the abstract talking body. Recall the Calais camp before it was dismantled – as Jean-Claude Milner wrote, “those who are assembled there from 2000 are not guilty of anything, they are not accused of anything, they do not infringe upon any part of the law; they are simply there and they live.” It is in this sense that the universal human rights should remain our regulative when we negotiate the difficult relationship between the constraints of citizenship and particular ways of life. Without this compass we inevitably regress to barbarism.

Slavoj Žižek, courtesy Slavoj Žižek, 2016

Slavoj Žižek is a Christian atheist, Hegelian philosopher, Lacanian psychoanalyst, and Communist political theorist. His work tries to re-found dialectical materialism through a Lacanian reading of the German Idealism. He also deals with the critical diagnostics of contemporary capitalism and of the twists and turns of today’s ideology. He works as a Researcher at Birkbeck College, University of London and is Visiting Professor at NYU, New York City, as well as Kyung Hee University, Seoul. His latest publications are Disparities (London 2016), Antigone (London 2016) and The Courage of Hopelessness (London 2017).

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