For Marx the abstract liberal subject was correlated with the commodity form:
In what conditions do individuals experience themselves as subjects of universal human rights..? in a society in which commodity exchange predominates, individuals themselves, in their daily lives, relate to themselves, as well as to the objects they encounter, as to contingent embodiments of abstract-universal notions.
The classical Marxist gesture is to ‘uncover’ the gap between the two, universal rights are unmasked as Trump (universal rights masks the privilege of white rich men), the value of a commodities appears to be a function of the interaction of supply and demand (“I will make a new trade deal with China/Mexico) when really it is class relations (Trump is a millionaire who is going to give unprecedented tax cuts to the rich) etc…
Zizek’s departure is to suggest that this fiction – “universal rights” – has a certain efficiency independent of that which it conceals:
the “appearance” of egaliberte, precisely, is NOT a “mere appearance,” but evinces an effectivity of its own, which allows it to set in motion the process of the rearticulation of actual socio-economic relations by way of their progressive “politicization” (Why shouldn’t women also vote? Why shouldn’t conditions at the working place also be of public political concern? etc.)
Which renders his recent intervention on the Presidential Election more perplexing when he seemed to suggest that second order effects of the election of Trump, may have progressive potential. Adam Kotsko highlights Zizek’s folly best here.
But whatever one can accuse liberal multiculturalism of, one should at least admit that it is profoundly anti-“essentialist”: it is its barbarian Other which is perceived as “essentialist” and thereby “false,” i.e., fundamentalism “naturalizes” or “essentializes” historically conditioned contingent traits
Trumps election victory seems to be the victory of this ‘barbarian Other’ at the expense of liberal multiculturalism. Here, using a form of argument familiar to any readers of Zizek, is it not that the universal ‘symbolic fiction’ is not really all that independent from the particular content? The symbolic fiction, elected Trump as a staging of our collective cynicism?