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First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

Why the crises keep happening

By Slavoj Žižek
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First as Tragedy, Then as Farce by Slavoj Žižek

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.

Key idea 1 of 10

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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