It may be helpful to consider this passing doff of the hat towards Hitchens in the light of Žižek’s previous comments on the cardinal virtue of Leninism in his 2001 book On Belief: ‘a Leninist, like a Conservative, is authentic in the sense of fully assuming the consequences of his choice, i.e. of being fully aware of what it actually means to take power and to exert it’ (p.4). Žižek’s withering contempt for the anti-war movement is directed against the contrived and (as Lenin would have it) infantile ‘purity’ of its politics, the stance of Hegel’s ‘Beautiful Soul’. Thus, where Hitchens recognises that any authentic political judgment will bloody one’s hands, the anti-war movement is enslaved to the fantasy of its own political innocence. Such a fantasy harbours more than a little unacknowledged violence of its own.
This insistence on Leninist responsibility (again, I can’t help inserting a note of parenthetic petit-bourgeois anxiety here – is Leninism really the most apt name for this responsibly self-implicating politics?) helps make sense of one of the apparent contradictions in Žižek’s political writings, namely that he seems simultaneously more uncompromisingly radical and more pragmatic than the liberal-left he prefers to ignore. He is more radical in that he insists on the imperative and efficacy of political action in the face of the trend towards the primary of the ethical in contemporary Continental European philosophy from Habermas to Derrida and Laclau. In the first of his theoretical appendices, he contrasts the Derridean political act – a strategic intervention which always falls short of an impossibly transcendent ethical imperative – with a more Lacanian conception of the act as ‘the impossible that did happen’ (p.80, Žižek’s emphasis). Whilst the tone of Žižek’s engagement with deconstructive political theory is exact and respectful, it seems also to be the high-theoretical analogue of his much ruder critique of the anti-war left, which also regulates its politics by means of an impossibly high ideal and thereby evades all hard judgments.
Nowhere is the potential folly of such a purist politics better illustrated than in Žižek’s splendid riposte to those ‘Western leftists’ who, in the early 1990s, reproached him for ‘betraying the unique chance of maintaining a united Yugoslavia – to which I always answered that I was not yet ready to lead my life so that it would not shatter the dreams of Western leftists’ (p.24).