“Love as a political category” by Slavoj Žižek

16/05/2013, 21:00h, cinema Europa, 6th Subversive festival

Slavoj Žižek “Love as a political category”

Moderator: Srećko Horvat

Che Guevara’s statement that “the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love” should be read together with his much more problematic statement on revolutionaries as “killing machines”: “Hatred is an element of struggle; relentless hatred of the enemy that impels us over and beyond the natural limitations of man and transforms us into effective, violent, selective, and cold killing machines. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy.” These two apparently opposite stances are united in Che’s motto: “Hay que endurecerse sin perder jamás la ternura. (One must endure — become hard, toughen oneself – without losing tenderness.)” Or, to paraphrase Kant and Robespierre again: love without cruelty is powerless; cruelty without love is a blind, short-lived passion. Guevara is here paraphrasing Christ’s declarations on the unity of love and sword — in both cases, the underlying paradox is that what makes love angelic, what elevates it over mere unstable and pathetic sentimentality, is its cruelty itself, its link with violence — it is this link which raises love “over and beyond the natural limitations of man.” Has this topic any relevance for our late capitalist predicament?

Slavoj Žižek

Slovenian philosopher and cultural critic working in the traditions of Hegelianism, Marxism and Lacanian psychoanalysis. He has made contributions to political theory, film theory and theoretical psychoanalysis. Žižek is a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a professor at the European Graduate School. He has been a visiting professor at many important universities. He is currently the International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London and president of the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis, Ljubljana. He has been called ‘the most dangerous political philosopher in the West’. He is a traditional guest and Parteigenosse at Subversive Festival. He has published over 50 books that have been translated into 20 languages. He writes on many topics including subjectivity, ideology, capitalism, fundamentalism, racism, tolerance, multiculturalism, human rights, ecology, globalization, the Iraq War, revolution, utopianism, totalitarianism, postmodernism, pop culture, opera, cinema, political theology, and religion. Some of his books are The Sublime Object of Ideology (2002.), The Ticklish Subject (2006.), Violence (2008.), The Parallax View (2009.), First As Tragedy, Then As Force (2010).


I find the talk by Slavoj Žižek quite interesting in the way he contrasted Buddhist love with Christian love. I noted that he began his speech by comparing eros and agape, and then mentioned some examples of how the notion of love has been used by politicians to control people, as seen in the history of North Korea and Japan, in a somewhat misleading way. Žižek then shared that Buddhism generally teaches an all-encompassing compassion, which is opposed to the Christian violent and intolerant love. He added that the Buddhist stance is that of indifference, of quenching of all passions, while the Christian love is violent and sublime, if I have heard him correctly. He pointed out that “true love is precisely….the forsaking of the promise of eternity itself for an imperfect individual”, as seen in the example of Jesus becoming a common mortal willing to forsake eternity itself for us.

Žižek then moved on to discuss the possible meanings of Jesus’ words about coming not to bring peace but a sword, and teaching people to follow him by hating their father, mother, and so on. On the surface, this looks like God is a jealous God. Žižek then offered his interpretation, saying that it is not to hate them as living beings but rather to hate the entire hierarchical social order which they represent that demands subordination. So it is about the hatred of established social hierarchy in order to become Jesus’ followers.

So this is the very core of Christianity to Žižek, which is about Christ dying to bring about the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and among us, where there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, and so on. It is a violent assertion of universal equality over social hierarchy. Hence, to him, agape is political love – unconditional love for our neighbours, which is the fulfilment of the law, serving as a foundation for a new social order, connecting us all to universal singularity.

Incidentally, I remember another video in which another speaker shares a similar interpretation of Jesus’ words, which I mentioned in another blog:

I also like his interpretation of Jesus’ words about hating one’s father, mother, brothers and so on, which is about unplugging from the old system of discrimination and injustice and hating this system, and actively challenging instead of passively accepting it. Indeed, we can pursue the mission of Christ by the way we live, such as creating an alternative community that is based on equality and universal brotherhood, regardless of our differences in ethnicities, backgrounds and belief systems.

(From “Zizek’s The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why the Christian Legacy is Worth Fighting For?“)


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Where is the controversy? All thoughts are built on contrast but thoughts are not Reality, they merely capture our attention most of the time and so we think, and thinking we go about being mostly interested in what is transitory. My question is to discover that which is of a different quality altogether.
    Your post gives much food for thought 😉 ! tomas ☼

    1. jimmytst says:

      Thanks for your comment, Tomas. It is good to know my post gives much food for thought. May peace and blessings be with you.


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