What is truly valuable about Žižek’s writing lies in the glimmer of a shift in sensibility, a shift between two different conceptions of political discourse. One involves the articulation of policies, which range from securing the conditions of biological survival to more ambitious projects to improve the quality of our lives. But Žižek also goes beyond this instrumentalism (which need not be conflated with mere technocracy) and asks the more open-ended question of what it means to live well.

Thinkers on the left have been traditionally and justifiably suspicious of such “ethical” concerns, framing them as bourgeois or “liberal” (uttered with the familiar repulsive ring, like a spit). It is therefore another provocation that Žižek defines his kind of communist as a “liberal with a diploma” (reversing Hungarian leader Viktor Orban’s propaganda that liberals are “communists with a diploma”). We earn such a diploma once we have “seriously studied why our liberal values are under threat” and become aware that “only a radical change can save them.”

“Radical” is an overused word. Žižek, however, genuinely challenges deep-seated dogmas of the Western left.

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