Slavoj Zizek: There is no real choice between Le Pen and Macron

Yes, Le Pen is a threat, but if we throw all our support behind Macron, do we not get caught into a kind of circle and fight the effect by way of supporting the very neoliberalism that fuels the far right?

The title of a comment piece which appeared in The Guardian, the UK voice of the anti-Assange-pro-Hillary liberal left, says it all: “Le Pen is a far-right Holocaust revisionist. Macron isn’t. Hard choice?”

Predictably, the text proper begins with: “Is being an investment banker analogous with being a Holocaust revisionist? Is neoliberalism on a par with neofascism?” and mockingly dismisses even the conditional leftist support for the second-round Macron vote, the stance of: “I’d now vote Macron – VERY reluctantly.”

This is liberal blackmail at its worst: one should support Macron unconditionally; it doesn’t matter that he is a neoliberal centrist, just that he is against Le Pen. It’s the old story of Hillary versus Trump: in the face of the fascist threat, we should all gather around her banner (and conveniently forget how her side brutally outmanoeuvred Sanders and thus contributed to losing the election).

Are we not allowed at least to raise the question: yes, Macron is pro-European – but what kind of Europe does he personify? The very Europe whose failure feeds Le Pen populism, the anonymous Europe in the service of neoliberalism. This is the crux of the affair: yes, Le Pen is a threat, but if we throw all our support behind Macron, do we not get caught into a kind of circle and fight the effect by way of supporting its cause? This brings to mind a chocolate laxative available in the US. It is publicised with the paradoxical injunction: “Do you have constipation? Eat more of this chocolate!” – in other words, eat the very thing that causes constipation in order to be cured of it. In this sense, Macron is the chocolate-laxative candidate, offering us as a cure the very thing that caused the illness.

Our media present the two second-round contestants as standing for two radically opposed visions of France: the independent centrist versus the far-right racist – yes, but do they offer a real choice? Le Pen offers a feminised/softened version of brutal anti-immigrant populism (of her father), and Macron offers neoliberalism with a human face, while his image is also softly feminised (see the maternal role his wife plays in the media). So the father is out and femininity is in – but, again, what kind of femininity? As Alain Badiou pointed out, in today’s ideological universe, men are ludic adolescent outlaws, while women appear as hard, mature, serious, legal and punitive. Women today are not called by the ruling ideology to be subordinated, they are called – solicited, expected – to be judges, administrators, ministers, CEOs, teachers, policewomen and soldiers. A paradigmatic scene occurring daily in our security institutions is that of a feminine teacher/judge/psychologist taking care of an immature asocial young male delinquent.  A new figure of femininity is thus arising: a cold competitive agent of power, seductive and manipulative, attesting to the paradox that “in the conditions of capitalism women can do better than men” (Badiou). This, of course, in no way makes women suspicious as agents of capitalism; it merely signals that contemporary capitalism invented its own ideal image of woman who stands for cold administrative power with a human face.

Both candidates present themselves as anti-system, Le Pen in an obvious populist way and Macron in a more much interesting way: he is an outsider from existing political parties but, precisely as such, he stands for the system as such, in its indifference to established political choices. In contrast to Le Pen who stands for proper political passion, for the antagonism of Us against Them (from the immigrants to the non-patriotic financial elites), Macron stands for apolitical all-encompassing tolerance. We often hear the claim that Le Pen’s politics draws its strength from fear (the fear of immigrants, of the anonymous international financial institutions), but does the same not hold for Macron? He finished first because voters were afraid of Le Pen, and the circle is thus closed; there is no positive vision with either of the candidates, they are both candidates of fear.

The true stakes of this vote become clear if we locate it into its larger historical context. In Western and Eastern Europe, there are signs of a long-term rearrangement of the political space. Until recently, the political space was dominated by two main parties which addressed the entire electoral body, a Right-of-centre party (Christian-Democrat, liberal-conservative, people’s) and a left-of-centre party (socialist, social-democratic), with smaller parties addressing a narrow electorate (ecologists, neofascists, etc). Now, there is progressively emerging one party which stands for global capitalism as such, usually with relative tolerance towards abortion, gay rights, religious and ethnic minorities, etc; opposing this party is a stronger and stronger anti-immigrant populist party which, on its fringes, is accompanied by directly racist neofascist groups. The exemplary case is here Poland: after the disappearance of the ex-Communists, the main parties are the “anti-ideological” centrist liberal party of the ex-prime-minister Donald Tusk and the conservative Christian party of the Kaczynski brothers. The stakes of the radical centre today are: which of the two main parties, conservatives or liberals, will succeed in presenting itself as embodying the post-ideological non-politics against the other party dismissed as “still caught in old ideological spectres”? In the early Nineties, conservatives were better at it; later, it was liberal leftists who seemed to be gaining the upper hand, and Macron is the latest figure of a pure radical centre.

We have thus reached the lowest point in our political lives: a pseudo-choice if there ever was one. Yes, the victory of Le Pen would bring dangerous possibilities. But what I fear no less is the assuagement that will follow Macron’s triumphant victory: sighs of relief from everywhere, thank God the danger was kept at bay, Europe and our democracy are saved, so we can go back to our liberal-capitalist sleep again. The sad prospect that awaits us is that of a future in which, every four years, we will be thrown into a panic, scared by some form of “neofascist danger”, and in this way blackmailed into casting our vote for the “civilised” candidate in meaningless elections lacking any positive vision. This is why panicking liberals who are telling us that we should now abstain from all criticism of Macron are deeply wrong: now is the time to bring out his complicity with a system in crisis. After his victory it will be too late, the task will lose its urgency in the wave of self-satisfaction.

In the hopeless situation we are in, facing a false choice, we should gather the courage and simply abstain from voting. Abstain, and begin to think. The commonplace “enough talking, let’s act” is deeply deceiving – now, we should say precisely the opposite: enough of the pressure to do something, let’s begin to talk seriously, ie, to think! And by this I mean we should also leave behind the radical leftist self-complacency of endlessly repeating how the choices we are offered in the political space are false, and how only a renewed radical left can save us – yes, in a way, but why, then, does this left not emerge? What vision has the left to offer that would be strong enough to mobilise people? We should never forget that the ultimate cause of the act that we are caught into – the vicious cycle of Le Pen and Macron – is the disappearance of the viable leftist alternative.

‘Disparities’ by Slavoj Zizek is published by Bloomsbury

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