Žižek vs Hannan re Marx

Žižek vs Hannan re Marx

On 3 June 2021 the Cambridge Union streamed a virtual debate between brilliant speakers who have both been featured on this blog before.

Slavoj Žižek appeared in January 2019 with a speech delivered to the Oxford Union. He it was, with his manifold twitches and fidgets, that finally cemented my conviction that if you are interesting enough it doesn’t matter if you display idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. I described him then as a tonic. I still do.

Daniel Hannan has been featured no less than seven times, the first time in November 2012, and epitomises my oft-repeated declaration that the better they are the pickier I get. My pickiness with him was that his search for public speaking perfection risked smoothing away his edges so much that his personality could get hidden.

Could you have a more contrasting pair? And the motion they are debating is This House Believes Marx Was Right.

The debate is introduced and chaired very well by Joel Rosen, President of the Union, and begins with a ten minute statement from each of the speakers. Žižek for the proposition goes first.

It is interesting that, rather than fill the screen with just the speaker, the producers elect to show both speakers all the time. My advice to those who are on TV debates is never while others are speaking to pull faces, nod, shake your head, scowl or make any other tacit comment, but remain impassive and keep your powder dry. I am therefore delighted to see Hannan listening intently but without expression. (There is one dramatic exception late in the debate when Žižek makes a staggering statement which causes my jaw to drop and Hannan’s eyes almost to pop out. I’ll come back to that.)

Žižek’s fidgets and twitches are matched by his Slovenian accent that you could slice and dice with a blunt spoon. Normally this doesn’t matter, but add to that the sound distortion through the virtual meeting medium, and I fear that here he is often very difficult for my English ears to decipher. This is a pity because he is good, and knowing this I concentrate like fury – and though it’s sometimes hard work it is worth doing.

Ten minutes later Hannan begins his opposition, and the contrast is even greater than I expected. Whereas Žižek delights in going off on convoluted tangents, Hannan is keeping everything super-tight with coherence to match. Nevertheless the deep-frozen Hannan discipline that I have seen in the past thaws enough to allow more passion to show through, and that delights me.

The centre section of the debate consists of rebuttals, and then questions from each other, from viewers and from the chairman.

One question put to them concerns whether Marx’s philosophy would be better at combatting the climate crisis. What climate crisis? My instant reaction is that I am watching here something I have never seen on the subject of global warming – a debate. Al Gore used to parrot a slogan, “The debate is over!” What debate? I have never seen or heard of any actual proper debate, though I have seen plenty of debate challenges issued causing alarmists to scurry for cover. You’d have thought that alone would have weakened their standing, yet “the climate crisis” is blithely dropped into a question in a debate like this as if everyone accepts its very existence – while many seriously significant scientists don’t, as a recent speech on this blog testifies.

A question to Hannan is “who is your favourite communist thinker?” and to Žižek “who is your favourite conservative thinker?” As usual Žižek goes around the houses a few times before giving his answer. It comes at 1.11.35 and there is the afore-mentioned jaw-dropper which I shall not spoil, but Hannan’s face is a sight to behold.

The debate rounds off with a concluding speech from each of of them.

Is there a winner? Is a vote taken? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I have had a riveting hour and a half, and that satisfies me.

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