First as Tragedy, Then as Farce Book Summary - First as Tragedy, Then as Farce Book explained in key points
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First as Tragedy, Then as Farce summary

Slavoj Žižek

Why the crises keep happening

4.5 (57 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

"First as Tragedy, Then as Farce" by Slavoj Žižek is a critical reflection on the failures of capitalism, exploring the contradictions and paradoxes of its contemporary forms. It argues for a return to a more radical leftist politics.

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    First as Tragedy, Then as Farce
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    Capitalism isn’t a mechanism, but an ideology that is strengthened by crisis.

    People who have grown up under capitalism view it as the perfectly natural evolution of social organization; but they would be wrong.

    While capitalism is often presented as a completely neutral method of organization that makes the economic system work like a well-oiled machine, the fact is that capitalism is an ideology – a system of ideas that makes us do what we do.

    Too often, capitalism is portrayed in technical terms as something that simply works, and not as something that is imbued with ideas about how the world works.

    However, the fact that capitalism can function in any sort of civilization with systems of meaning, such as Buddhism, Christianity or the belief in the welfare state, is proof that capitalism doesn’t just work. These systems of meaning serve as a type of security that people can rely on when their dreams of self-made success – dreams embedded in the capitalist ideology – inevitably crumble, unfulfilled.

    If capitalism were natural or neutral, we wouldn’t need these systems of meaning to fall back on.

    So why do so many of us consider capitalism to be natural and desirable, and continue to trust in a system that goes through crisis after crisis? Well, each crisis of capitalism acts as a type of shock therapy that keeps us dreaming.

    While crises can sometimes make us challenge our beliefs, they more often make us go back to basics. Rather than critically reflecting on the dominant ideology, we instead view crisis as the result of not adhering to the ideology strictly enough.

    For example, when socialist regimes were faced with the crises that led to their demise, the response from the leaders was, it’s not socialist enough. When the people of Eastern Europe rebelled against their Soviet-supported governments in the twentieth century, they were met not with compromise, but with even more ardently socialist regimes.

    A more contemporary example is the 2008 financial crisis, which has been described as the result of too much state intervention, laws and regulation. In reality, it was a result of woefully inadequate regulation.

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    What is First as Tragedy, Then as Farce about?

    First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (2008) sets out to uncover the hidden ideology that surrounds us in our everyday lives. In examining how capitalist society affects our lives and permeates the way we think, the book ultimately offers a new and better alternative to the way our world is structured today.

    Best quote from First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

    Like love, ideology is blind, even if the people caught up in it are not.

    —Slavoj Žižek
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    Who should read First as Tragedy, Then as Farce?

    • People interested in politics, society and philosophy
    • Fans of Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and Alan Badiou
    • Students of philosophy or psychoanalysis

    About the Author

    Slavoj Žižek is a philosopher and cultural critic from Ljubljana, Slovenia, and is a senior researcher at the University of Ljubljana. He is also Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in London.

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