• Eva Strnadová

The Courage of Hopelessness

Slavoj Žižek reviews today’s ideological, political and economic bones of contention to ask whether radical change is possible.

About the Author

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher and a researcher at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Ljubljana. He is equally an international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities of the University of London. Influenced by Hegel and Lacan, Žižek’s book covers a broad range of topics treated with his typical sense of humour.

The Year 2016 in Numbers

Clearly stated in the book’s subtitle ‘Chronicles of a Year of Acting Dangerously’, Žižek recalls the year 2016 and applies his philosophy to the abrupt changes. This applies to mass migrations, geopolitical tensions, terrorism and the explosion of right-wing populism and the emerging radical political parties.

In the years to come, the big battlefield will be in Europe, and at stake will be the very core of European emancipatory legacy." Slavoj Žižek (p. 294)

An annual review of the refugee crisis for 2016 included political shifts such as the EU-Turkey Refugee Agreement, which was in practice barely implemented followed by a closure of national borders belonging to states on the ‘Balkan route’. This year has equally witnessed major milestones such as the Migration Partnership Framework launched by the EU to reduce migration to Europe from and through Africa and politicians met for the first-ever UN summit on refugees and migrants resulting in an adoption of the New York Declaration.

In 2016, around 1.2 million asylum applications were made in the European Union. This increase of asylum seekers reflected a longer trend as the global population of forcibly displaced people has been growing from 33.9 million in 1997 to 65.5 million in 2016.

The year 2016 was a peak in the humanitarian crisis. According to UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler, from one death for every 269 refugees who reached European shores in 2015, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiralled to one in 88.

Žižek's Argument

Drawing on the thought of Giorgio Agamben, an Italian philosopher, ‘thought is the courage of hopelessness’, Žižek refuses a pessimistic diagnosis of today’s society. According to him, courage does not resist in imagining an alternative. Courage is rather an acceptance of the fact that there is no alternative.

Žižek understands these challenges to be a crisis of capitalism and questions a possibility for genuine change. Should we accept capitalism as natural and innate to us? Can the wave of populism and failure of socialism be an opportunity for a radical change?

Book reviewed: Slavoj Žižek, The Courage of Hopelessness: Chronicles of a Year of Acting Dangerously (Allen Lane, 2017).