Slavoj Žižek by Hendrik Speck
If there is a star philosophy turn, it’s Slavoj Žižek. Last night he spoke at the RSA to a packed Great Room and justified his star status with constantly dazzling performance, which will beonline here soon. As Nigel Warburton, the event’s chair, remarked, what’s thrilling about listening to him talk publicly is the way he develops ideas in mid-sentence. Asides suddenly become new ideas, and even his asides seem to have asides.
One of his asides was a meditation on who would be the figures of the current era who would still be having statues built to them in 100 years time.
Žižek suggested Lee Kuan Yew, the reforming but authoritarian leader of Singapore, who turned the island city-state into one of the wealthiest economies in the world. And who more importantly provided the model for Deng Xiaoping’s modernisation of Communist China.
Why? Here he took an easy kick at Fukuyama’s idea that liberal captitalist democracy was the last word in history, pointing out that the winners in capitalism’s latest race appear to be not the liberal capitalist states, but the authoritarian ones like China. And (I’m writing from memory here) his real fear is that this is the successful model that we’re all heading towards. More authoritarian capitalist states, not fewer.
Every now and again I try and take on a climate denialist. It’s a fairly stupid, self-destructive thing to do, and leads to really, really, really silly arguments about whose scientists have bigger graphs, and talk of hockey sticks and mad petitions, but occasionally I think it’s worth doing to discover if you have any common ground at all, and to try and understand how the thinking behind this weird group of misfits with such extraordinary political power.
One thing that’s obvious. Denialists like James Delingpole and Nigel Lawson really aren’t interested in science. You can’t be interested in science if your method is to seek out the few dozen science names who put up serious arguments against the thousands and thousands who stand behind the conclusions of the 2007 IPCC report.
What denialists are really afraid of is the self-righteous authoritarianism that global warming brings. They are fundamentally libertarians. We may think they’re delusional libertarians, but what really concerns them is a fear of a future that actually looks much like Žižek’s.
Anthony Giddens in The Politics of Climate Change sees it as inevitable that the green-left’s dream of grass roots localisation is not up to the task of reform. Likewise he sees that broad international agreements of the kind that COP15 seek are too easy to fracture. That leaves nation states as the main actors in climate change – and the levers they have are inevitably based around carbon taxes. In Gidden’s world, (though he wouldn’t put it like this) the state will inevitably meddle in our lives more not less in the future.
Žižek’s fears, Gidden’s rationalism, and denialists’ libertarianism all find their way to the same place. So is there an alternative? One that will calm the fears of the less-mad denialists? Does climate change inevitably lead to a more authoritarian state?