Slavoj Zizek is “the most dangerous philosopher in the West”. And for good reason – his arguments endorse and promote “emancipatory violence”. Thankfully, his prolific writings have not changed the traditional morality of Western philosophy, which eschews violence as a solution to social problems. Zizek believes that this is a point in human history where the masses awaken to their status as brutalized and degraded. People should embrace “revolutionary-democratic terror”. Zizek criticizes our political economy as oppressive and advocates “divine terror” because true liberation cannot be achieved without wanton violence, in his view.
While his conclusions are horrific, Zizek’s work is valuable in that it probes into the bowels of current discontent, anger and angst. He sees capitalism as a religious ideology (allowing no other alternative) that has reached a crises stage and is now collapsing. Capitalism has veered away from its original moral roots to a dark culture of envy, greed and ugly modern consumerism.
Instead of killing people and confiscating their property, I think the ultimate resolution will not be violence but rather a gradual return to the spiritual, moral roots of capitalism. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904) by sociologist Max Weber lays out the good, moral foundational ethos of capitalism, which is why it is so successful. These moral underpinnings (bourgeois values) are still embraced by many of us. The spirit of capitalism is not greed and consumption but rather the creation of wealth and order, increased productivity and the best use of resources. Capitalism was born of religious faith, in Weber’s view, because some people developed an ethic that gives true meaning to their work.
This ethic includes a love of hard work for its own sake, orderliness, punctuality, honesty and a hatred of wasting time. Viewing our work as a “calling” (see my 4/11/17 post) results in the self-limitation of consumption and an ascetic compulsion to save. We value personal discipline, gratitude and a sense being fortunate stewards of wealth, morality and knowledge – entrusted to preserve them for the future generations. Many elite thinkers don’t see it that way. They dissect and bitterly criticize a naturally successful economic system. Next week, we examine why so many public intellectuals scornfully look the gift horse of capitalism straight in the mouth.