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Christians, Jews and Other Criminals: A Critique of Jean-Claude Milner

Slavoj Zizek

Marco Mauas' response to Zizek
[space] © lacan.com 2004


As Jean-Claude Milner 1 put it, democracy is based on a short-circuit between the majority and the All: in it, the winner takes all, has all the power, even if his majority is merely a couple of hundred votes among the millions, as was the case in the 2000 US elections in Florida: "the majority counts as all." In The History of the VKP, the Stalinist bible, there is a unique paradox when Stalin (who ghost-wrote the book) describes the outcome of the voting at a party congress in the late 1920s: "With a large majority, the delegates unanimously approved the resolution proposed by the Central Committee" - if the vote was unanimous, where did then the minority disappear? Far from betraying some perverse "totalitarian" twist, this identification is constitutive of democracy as such.

This paradoxical status of the minority as a "something that counts as nothing" enables us to discern in what precise sense the demos to which democracy refers "incessantly oscillates between the all and the nonall / pastout: "either the language of the limited Alls encounters a figure of the unlimited, or the unlimited encounters a figure of limit." 2 That is to say, there is a structural ambiguity inscribed into the very notion of demos: it either designates the non-All of an unlimited set (everyone is included in it, there are no exceptions, just an inconsistent multitude), or the One of THE People which has to be delimited from its enemies. Grosso modo, the predominance of the one or the other aspect defines the opposition between American and European democracy: "In the democracy in America, majority exists, but it does not speak (the silent majority) and it is speaks, it becomes a particular form of minority." 3 In the US, democracy is perceived as the field of the interplay of multiple agents, none of which embodies the All, i.e., which are all "minoritarian," while, in Europe, democracy traditionally referred to the rule of the One-People. However, Milner draws from this an elegant conclusion as to what is going on today: in contrast to the US which are predominantly "non-All" as a society, in their economy, culture, ideology, Europe is now going much further towards constituting itself as an unlimited POLITICAL (non-)All through the process of European unification in which there is place for anyone independently of geography or culture, up to Cyprus and Turkey. However, such a unified Europe can only constitute itself on the condition of the progressive erasure of all divisive historical traditions and legitimizations: consequently, the unified Europe is based on the erasure of history, of historical memory. 4 Recent phenomena like holocaust revisionism, the moral equation of all victims of the WWII (Germans suffered under the Allied bombardments no less than Russians and Englishmen; the fate of the Nazi collaborators liquidated by the Russians after the war is comparable to the victims of the Nazi genocide, etc.), are the logical outcome of this tendency: all specified limits are potentially erased on behalf of abstract suffering and victimization. And - this is what Milner is aiming at all along - this Europe, in its very advocacy of the unlimited openness and multicultural tolerance, again needs the figure of the "Jew" as a structural obstacle to this drive to unlimited unification; however, today's anti-Semitism is no longer the old ethnic anti-Semitism; its focus is displaced from Jews as an ethnic group to the State of Israel: "in the program of the Europe of the 21st century, the State of Israel occupies exactly the position that the name 'Jew' occupied in the Europe before the cut of 39-45." 5 In this way, today's anti-Semitism can present itself as anti-anti-Semitism, full of solidarity with the victims of the holocaust; the reproach is just that, in our era of the gradual dissolution of all limits, of the fluidification of all traditions, the Jews wanted to built their own clearly delimited Nation-State.

The paradoxes of the non-All thus provide the coordinates of the vicissitudes of the modern anti-Semitism: in the early modern anti-Semitism (exemplified by the name of Fichte), Jews were denounced for their limitation, for their sticking to their particular way of life, for their refusal to dissolve their identity in the unlimited field of modern secular citizenship. With the late 19th-century chauvinist imperialism, the logic was inverted: Jews were perceived as cosmopolitan, as the embodiment of an unlimited, "deracinated" existence which, like a cancerous intruder, threatens to dissolve the identity of every particular-limited ethnic community. Today, however, with the move towards the post-Nation-State globalization whose political expression is an unlimited Empire, Jews are again cast into the role of being stuck onto a Limit, a particular identity - they are more and more perceived as the obstacle on the path towards unification (not only of Europe, but also of Europe and the Arab world).

Milner thus locates the notion of "Jews" in the European ideological imaginary as the moment which prevents unification-peace, which has to be annihilated for Europe to unite, which is why Jews are always a "problem" demanding a "solution" - Hitler is merely the most radical point of this tradition. No wonder that, today, the European Union is getting more and more anti-Semitic, in its blatantly biased criticism of Israel: the very concept of Europe is tainted with anti-Semitism, which is why the first duty of Jews is to "get rid of Europe," not by ignoring it (only US can afford to do it), but by bringing to light the dark underside of European Enlightenment and democracy... So why were the Jews elevated into this role of the obstacle? What does the Jew stand for? Milner's answer is here radical: much more than the form of existence delimited by tradition, much more than stubborn attachment to a Nation-State - the Four-fold /quadruplicite/ of the masculine/feminine/parents/children, of the exchange of generations as a symbolic passage sustained by the Law. 6 The ultimate horizon of the ongoing postmodern overcoming of Limits is no longer that of Christianity, but, rather, the neo-pagan New Age dream of overcoming sexual difference as the index of our link to a singular body, of immortality through cloning, of our transformation from hardware into software, from human into post-human, into virtual entities that can migrate from one to another temporary embodiment - here are the very last lines of Milner's book:

If modernity is defined by the belief into an unlimited realization of dreams, our future is fully outlined. It leads through the absolute theoretical and practical anti-Judaism. To follow Lacan beyond what he explicitly stated, the foundations of a new religion are thus posited: anti-Judaism will be the natural religion of the humanity-to-come. 7

The figure of the "Jew" is thus elevated into the index of a properly ontological limit: it stands for the human finitude itself, for symbolic tradition, language, paternal Law, and, in Milner's "Lacanian" account of anti-Semitism as inscribed into the very European identity, "Europe" stands for the (Greek and Christian) dream of parousia, of a full jouissance beyond Law, unencumbered by any obstacles or prohibitions. Modernity itself is propelled by a desire to move beyond Laws, to a self-regulated transparent social body; the last installment of this saga, today's postmodern neo-pagan Gnosticism perceives reality as fully malleable, enabling us, humans, to transform ourselves into a migrating entity floating between a multitude of realities, sustained only by infinite Love. Against this tradition, Jews, in a radically anti-millenarian way, persist in their fidelity to the Law, they insist on the insurmountable finitude of humans, and, consequently, on the need for a minimum of "alienation," which is why they are perceived as an obstacle by everyone bent on a "final solution"...

Insofar as Jews insist on the unsurpassable horizon of the Law and resist the Christian sublation (Aufhebung) of the Law in Love, they are the embodiment of the irreducible finitude of the human condition: they are not just an empirical obstacle to full incestuous jouissance, but the obstacle "as such," the very principle of impediment, the perturbing excess that cannot ever be integrated. Jews are thus elevated to the objet a (notre objet a, the title of Francois Regnault's booklet on the Jews), 8 the object-cause of (our Western) desire, the obstacle which effectively sustains desire and in the absence of which our desire itself would vanish. They are not our object of desire in the sense of that what we desire, but in the strict Lacanian sense of that what sustains our desire, the metaphysical obstacle to the full self-presence or full jouissance, that which has to be eliminated for the arrival of the full jouissance, and, since this non-barred jouissance is structurally impossible, that which returns stronger and stronger as a spectral threat the more Jews are annihilated.

The weakness of Milner's version of anti-Semitism can be specified at a whole series of interconnected levels. First, is all we find beyond the Law really only the dream of a full jouissance, so that Lacan appears as the ultimate defender of the paternal Law? Is not the fundamental insight of the late Lacan precisely that there is an inherent obstacle to full jouissance operative already in the drive which functions beyond the Law: the inherent "obstacle" on account of which a drive involves a curved space, i.e., gets caught in a repetitive movement around its object, is not yet the "symbolic castration." For the late Lacan, on the contrary, the Prohibition - far from standing for a traumatic cut - enters precisely in order to pacify the situation, to rid us of the inherent impossibility inscribed into the functioning of a drive.

Second problem: is one of the key sources of European modernity not the tradition of secularized Judaism? Is arguably the ultimate formulation of a "full jouissance beyond Law" not found in Spinoza, in his notion of the third, highest, level of knowing? Is the very idea of modern "total" political revolution not rooted in Jewish messianism, as, among others, Walter Benjamin made it clear? The very tendency towards the unlimited which needs the Jews as its obstacle is thus grounded in Judaism.

The third problematic feature concerns Milner's political premises: "The birth of the State of Israel proved that victory and justice can go hand in hand." 9 What this statement obliterates is the way the constitution of the State of Israel was, from the standpoint of Europe, the realized "final solution" of the Jewish problem (getting rid of the Jews) entertained by the Nazis themselves. That is to say, was the State of Israel not, to turn Clausewitz around, the continuation of the war against Jews with other (political) means? Is this not the "stain of injustice" that pertains to the State of Israel? 26 September 1937 is a date anyone interested in the history of anti-Semitism should remember: on that day, Adolf Eichmann and his assistant boarded a train in Berlin in order to visit Palestine: Heydrich himself gave Eichmann permission to accept the invitation of Feivel Polkes, a high member of Hagana (the Zionist secret organization), to visit Tel Aviv and discuss there the coordination of German and Jewish organizations to facilitate the emigration of Jews to Palestine. Both Germans and Zionists wanted as many Jews as possible to move to Palestina: Germans preferred them out of Western Europe, and Zionists themselves wanted the Jews in Palestina to outnumber the Arabs as fast as possible. (The visit failed because, due to some violent unrests, the British blocked the access to Palestina; but Eichmann and Polkes did meet days later in Cairo and discussed the coordination of German and Zionist activities.) 10 Is this weird incident not the supreme case of how the Nazis and the radical Zionists did share a common interest - in both cases, the purpose was a kind of "ethnic cleansing," i.e., to change violently the ratio of ethnic groups in the population? Are not today rather the Palestinians, these "Jews among the Arabs," who are a kind of objet a, the intersection of the two sets of Israelis and Arabs, the obstacle to their peace?

The irony missed by Milner is that, today, it is Muslims, not Jews, who are perceived as a threat and obstacle to globalization: it is a journalistic commonplace to point out that all great world religions found a way to live with capitalist modernization, with the exception of Islam, which is why the present conflict is often described as the one between the democratic West and the "Islamic Fascism." However, the crucial weakness of Milner's analysis concerns the (rather surprising) complete absence of the market economy and money in the rise of anti-Semitism: what about "Jew" as the figure in which social antagonism is reified? As the figure which stands for the financial ("nonproductive") capital and the profit in the sphere of exchange, and which thus enables us to elude the exploitation inscribed into the very process of production, and to sustain the myth of the harmonious relationship between Labor and Capital, once we get rid of the parasitic Jewish intruder? It is HERE that Lacan's logic of pastout finds its proper use: significantly, although Milner points out that the thesis "all is political" belongs to pastout (a remainder of his Maoist youth?), he deploys the social dimension of the pastout only in the guise of inconsistent/unlimited All, not in the guise of the antagonism that cuts across the entire social body ("class struggle"). The anti-Semitic figure of the Jew enables us to obfuscate the non-All of the constitutive social antagonism, transposing it into the conflict between the social All (the corporate notion of society) and its external Limit, the Jewish intruder which, from outside, brings into it imbalance and degeneration.

And this allows us to throw a new light on Milner's notion of "Jews" as the obstacle to unified Europe: what if the persistence of the anti-Semitic logic, far from being the necessary obverse of the non-All Europe, is on the contrary an indication of the tendency to conceive Europe as a limited All with the need for a constitutive exception? The task should be thus to fight for a non-All Europe as a truly new political form slowly emerging through the impasses of "unification" - THIS non-All Europe will no longer need the "Jew" as its limit-obstacle, as its constitutive exception. What if such a Europe will be a Europe of exceptions, a Europe in which every unit will be an exception? In short, what if this is the "solution to the Jewish problem" - that we all turn into "Jews," into objets a, into exceptions? That is to say, is it not that, in the "postmodern" global empire, what was till now the "Jewish exception" is more and more becoming the standard rule: a particular ethnic group which fully participates in the global economy while, simultaneously, maintaining its identity at the level of Milner's Four-Fold, i.e., through its founding cultural myths and rituals which are transferred from generation to generation? Milner misses this key point insofar as he fails to grasp the actual functioning of the emerging global pastout empire: in it, all particular identities are NOT simply "liquefied," rendered fluid, but maintained - Empire thrives on the multiplicity of particular (ethnic, religious, sexual, life-style...) identities which form the structural obverse of the unified field of the Capital.

Radical as it may appear, Milner's idea perfectly fits one of the two clichés that pervade the European public space with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the one extreme, Muslims continue to function as Europe's constitutive Other: the main opposition of today's ideologico-political struggle is the one between the tolerant multicultural liberal Europe and the fundamentalist militant Islam. Any political or even cultural organization of Muslims is immediately dismissed as a fundamentalist threat to our secular values. Exemplary is here Oriana Fallacci with her thesis that Europe already spiritually capitulated: it already treats itself as a province of Islam, afraid of asserting its cultural and political identity. From this perspective, the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is a fake: every critique of the Israeli politics is a mask (and a new form of appearance) of anti-Semitism. European advocacy of peace in the Middle East and its solidarity with Palestinians is perceived as the continuation of the old anti-Semitism with other means... At the other extreme, there are those for whom the West Bank occupation is simply the last case of European colonialism, and the evocation of holocaust is thoroughly politically instrumentalized in order to legitimize this colonial expansion, and the same ethico-political standards should apply to all, Israelis included. From this standpoint, the fact that Arab Muslims continue to function as Europe's constitutive Other is precisely what one has to submit to a critical analysis which should "deconstruct" the image of the Islamic fundamentalist threat... The truly enigmatic feature is how (again, in a kind of parallax gap) these two thoroughly opposed views can coexist in our public space: it is possible to claim, at the same time, that anti-Semitism is all-pervasive again in its "postmodern" version, AND that Muslims continue to function as the figure of the cultural-racial Other. Where, in this opposition, is the truth? Definitely not in any kind of the middle ground, of avoiding the two extremes. One should rather assert the truth of both extremes, conceiving each of the two as the symptom of its opposite. Does the idea of Jews turning into a Nation-State not imply the END of Judaism - no wonder the Nazis supported this plan! Jews stood for the "Four-fold" precisely in order to maintain their identity without a Nation-State.


1. Jean-Claude Milner, Les penchants criminels de l'Europe démocratique, Paris: Editions Verdier, 2003.
2. Milner, op.cit., p. 42.
3. Milner, op.cit., p. 141.
4. Milner evokes the post-Yugoslav war of the early 1990's as a "particularly revelatory example" (op.cit., p. 66.) of this erasure: in order to account for this conflict, one has to return to historical figures which, as Milner puts it acerbically, come "earlier than the Treatise of Rome," to the WWII, to the Versailles treaty, to the Congress of Vienna, etc. - perplexed by this intrusion of history, Europe raised its hands and had to appeal to the US... What we have here is a "particularly revelatory example" of the ignorance of Milner himself: the reference to history, to "ancient passions and unsettled accounts exploding again," was one of the commonplaces of the Western European perception of the post-Yugoslav crisis - all media and politicians endlessly repeated the cliché that, in order to understand what was going on in ex-Yugoslavia, one had to know hundreds years of history. Far from the Western Europe refusing to confront the "weight of history" in the Balkans, these specters of the past rather served as an ideological screen resuscitated in order to enable Europe to avoid confronting the actual political stakes of the post-Yugoslav crisis..
5. Milner, op.cit., p. 97.
6. Milner, op.cit., p. 119.
7. Milner, op.cit., p. 126.
8. François Regnault, Notre objet a, Lagrasse: Verdier 2003.
9. Jean-Claude Milner, Les penchants criminals de l'Europe démocratique, Lagrasse: Verdier, 2003, p. 74.
10. Heinz Hoehne, The Order of the Death's Head. The Story of Hitler's SS, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000, p. 336-337.


back up to be continued...

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

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Comment On This Article





comments gif
I like it
Peter Smith <quinquej@hotmail.com>
New York City, - Thursday, September 22, 2005 at 00:19:09 (EDT)
I recommend the lecture of Jean-Claude Milner's book: "Les penchants criminels de l'Europe démocratique". It is a good reading as a "companion" of this article - it is my opinion.
I would like to ask Slavoj Zizek how does he place this new-old type of problem-solution, as Jean Claude Milner puts it. The jew is a problem, "The Jewish problem". Now there is "the Israel problem".
Jean-Claude Milner's thesis is that "Israel" is the new name for "Jew" in the new type of anti-semitism we are facing.
Jean-Claude Milner bases his thesis on Lacan's formulae of sexuation. We were glad to be able to discuss his book with him here in Israel, together with the problem of evaluation.

Marco Mauas

Marco Mauas <mauas@netvision.net.il>
Israel, - Thursday, April 01, 2004 at 18:20:32 (EST)