Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Zizek is right to suggest that Stalin was morally superior to Hitler

More electoral ruminations from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro

Thus, the Democrats’ hypocrisy is to be preferred to the Republicans’ cynicism, for good Kantian reasons (though Zizek would probably give Hegelian ones instead). As Kant famously said about the French Revolution, no matter how much this uprising might have “miscarried” or been “filled with misery and atrocities,” nonetheless any decent human being, observing the events of the Revolution from afar, would have to be caught up in “a wishful participation that borders closely on enthusiasm”; the sheer fact of this “sympathy,” despite everything that goes wrong in actuality, itself testifies to “a moral predisposition in the human race.” In other words, the sheer fact that something like the French Revolution could occur, no matter how badly it went wrong subsequently, gives us a legitimate ground for hoping that human beings are not forever subject to the Hobbesian alternative of either continual war of all against all, or severe and violent repression...

there was an essential moral difference between Stalin and Hitler. Zizek condemns the currently fashionable habit of lumping Stalin and Hitler together as totalitarian dictators. The difference, as in the Presidential race today, has to do with hypocrisy. Stalin professed support for human rights like free speech, for self-determination, for peace, and for harmony and equality among individuals and peoples regardless of race, ethnicity, etc.; all these principles are enshrined in the Soviet Constitution of the 1930s. Of course, in fact Stalin was a megalomaniacal tyrant who ruled arbitrarily, violated all of these ideals, and put millions of people to death; but Zizek is entirely right to suggest that such hypocrisy is morally superior, and far to be preferred, to Hitler’s overtly racist and anti-democratic ideology — which he unhypocritically put into practice. It’s for this reason that American Communists of the 1930s-1950s (observers of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath from afar, just as Kant was an observer of the French Revolution from afar) are far more honorable and decent (for all their ludicrous idolization of Stalin and sleazy maneuvers against other factions on the left) than the anti-Communists of the same period.

In recent years, and especially in the weeks following McCain’s selection of Palin, conservatives have excoriated liberals for, basically, thinking that conservatives are stupid, and that stupidity is the only explanation for why anybody would, say, be enthusiastic about Palin. And I think that the conservatives who argue in this manner are somewhat correct — at least to the extent that, as I’ve said before, many liberals’ scorn for Palin has prevented them from seeing the great appeal she has, affectively, to large segments of the electorate...

[ADDENDUM: The irony, though, is that I am mourning, not the failure of some grand hope, but rather merely the continued frustration of a hope that, even in "victory," would not have been fulfilled. I am mourning, in advance, the failure of a failure. Such is the depressive postmodernist condition: in comparison, even something like Walter Benjamin's melancholia seems like the most lurid optimism, a grand modernist gesture that we cannot believe in any longer. But it is precisely in such a situation that Kant's injunction, that we must believe in, and have hope for, the prospect of an improvement of the human condition even in the face of all empirical evidence for the contrary. Our deepest moral obligation is to be faithful to this hope, even though its fulfillment cannot be foreseen, and even though it is something that can be promised "only indefinitely and as a contingent event."]

[2ND ADDENDUM: I fear that I am beginning to sound like late Derrida, with all his words about infinite deferral, democracy to come, etc. I can only repeat what I have said before; that essentially Derrida's thought is a minor, but honorable, footnote to Kant.] This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 at 11:58 am and is filed under Politics.

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