Monday, August 01, 2011

"theJacobin spirit"


""In the history of radical politics, violence is usually associated with the so-called Jacobin legacy, and, for that reason, dismissed as something that should be abandoned if we are truly to begin again. Even many contemporary (post-)Marxists are embarrassed by the so-called Jacobin legacy of centralized state terror, from which they want to distance Marx himself, proposing an authentic “liberal” Marx whose thought was later obfuscated by Lenin. It was Lenin, so the story goes, who (re)introduced the Jacobin legacy, thus falsifying Marx’s libertarian spirit. But is this really the case? Let us take a closer look at how the Jacobins rejected the recourse to a majority vote, on behalf of those who speak for an eternal Truth. How could the Jacobins, the partisans of unity and of the struggle against factions, justify this rejection? “The entire difficulty resides in how to distinguish between the voice of truth, even if it is minoritarian, and the factional voice which seeks only to divide artificially to conceal the truth.”""

Robespierre’s answer was that the truth is irreducible to numbers (to counting); it can be experienced also in solitude: those who proclaim a truth they have experienced should not be treated as factionists, but as sensible and courageous people. Addressing the Assemblée nationale on December 28, 1792, Robespierre claimed that, in attesting to the truth, any invocation of a majority or minority is nothing but a means of reducing “to silence those whom one designated by this term [minority]”; “[The] minority has everywhere an eternal right: to render audible the voice of truth.” It is deeply significant that Robespierre made this statement in the Assemblée apropos the trial of the king. The Girondins had proposed a “democratic” solution: in such a difficult case, it was necessary to make an “appeal to the people,” to convoke local assemblies across France and ask them to vote on how to deal with the king—only such a move could give legitimacy to the trial. Robespierre’s response was that such an appeal to the people would effectively cancel the people’s sovereign will which, through the Revolution, had already made itself known and changed the very nature of the French state, bringing the Republic into being. What the Girondins effectively insinuate, he claims, is that the revolutionary insurrection was “only an act of a part of the people, even of a minority, and that one should solicit the speech of a kind of silent majority.” In short, the Revolution has already decided the matter, the very fact of the Revolution means that the king is guilty, hence to put his guilt to the vote would mean casting doubt on the Revolution itself. When we are dealing with “strong truths” (les vérités fortes), asserting them necessarily entails symbolic violence.""

Love him or hate him, Zizek's one of a few legendary stalinist comedians.

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