(Zizek 2011) The Jacobin spirit: on violence and democracy

Žižek, Slavoj. The Jacobin spirit: on violence and democracy. Jacobin. 2011 Summer; 3–4:15–17. Available from: http://jacobinmag.com/summer-2011/the-jacobin-spirit/.

Žižek attacks the common view that the existence of liberal democratic institutions (free elections, freedom of the press, independence of the judiciary, and so forth) is a reasonable measure of the freedom of a people, and that the decisions of democratic parliamentary governments should be accepted as expressions of the will of the people. He argues that in a capitalist society, violence and coercion originating largely in the private sphere (property ownership, employment, family relationships, etc.) permeate the entire society and compromise not only the official liberal institutions themselves, but even the conscious decisions of the masses (in voting, for example). In effect, Žižek asserts that the masses in a capitalist society are acting under duress. Citing U.S. policies toward Chile and Venezuela as examples, he argues that such duress is often imposed deliberately and systematically in such a way as to coerce the decisionmaking of an entire people toward a particular result. For this reason, radical leaders are justified in following the example of Lenin and Robespierre in using violence when expedient, and disregarding majority rule in cases where current majority opinion is subject to coercion and is at variance with the manifest best interests of the masses. Žižek points out that even conservative mainstream political leaders have taken a similar position when their populations were subjected to sufficiently extreme coercion; for example, General de Gaulle claimed in 1940 that only he and the Resistance could speak for France as a whole, not Marshal Pétain and the Vichy government, even though Vichy had overwhelming majority support in France at the time (estimated even by one French Communist leader at 90%).



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