Slavoj Žižek Charged With Plagiarizing A White Nationalist Magazine Article


Any­one who does any sort of research-based writ­ing knows how easy it is for an occa­sion­al close approx­i­ma­tion of another’s prose to slip into a sum­ma­ry. Such instances rarely con­sti­tute pla­gia­rism, but they can occu­py an uncom­fort­able gray area. Recent alle­ga­tions against Sloven­ian the­o­rist Slavoj Žižek, how­ev­er, charge the whole­sale theft of entire pas­sages of text, almost ver­ba­tim. It’s an unusu­al sto­ry, not least because of the source mate­r­i­al Žižek alleged­ly lifted—an arti­cle in Amer­i­can Renais­sanceiden­ti­fied by the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter as a white suprema­cist pub­li­ca­tion.

As Crit­i­cal The­o­ry reports, the first hints of a pos­si­ble bor­row­ing came on July 8 from Steve Sail­er, writ­ing for the The Unz Review (an alter­na­tive out­let with its own some­times pecu­liar pre­oc­cu­pa­tions when it comes to race). Sail­er points to a por­tion of Žižek’s 2006 arti­cle “A Plea for a Return to Dif­férance (with a Minor Pro Domo Sua)” that is unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly lucid and, well, un-Žižek-like. The text in ques­tion sum­ma­rizes Kevin MacDonald’s anti-Semit­ic evo­lu­tion­ary-psy­chol­o­gy book The Cul­ture of Cri­tique. The day after Sail­er’s obser­va­tion, blog­ger Deogol­wulf tracked down a review of the Mac­Don­ald book by Stan­ley Horn­beck in Amer­i­can Renais­sance and placed Žižek and Hornbeck’s prose side by side. Observe the sig­nif­i­cant sim­i­lar­i­ties and minor dif­fer­ences here.

In a July 11th arti­cle break­ing the sto­ry, Newsweek wrote that it had con­tact­ed Deogol­wulf and Sail­er for com­ment, but nei­ther respond­ed by the time of pub­li­ca­tion. How­ev­er, James Williams, senior man­ag­ing edi­tor for the jour­nal Crit­i­cal Inquiry, which pub­lished Žižek’s arti­cle, did, say­ing Žižek “absolute­ly” bor­rowed from Horn­beck. Had they known, said Williams, “we would have cer­tain­ly asked him to remove the ille­gal pas­sages.” Horn­beck also respond­ed, call­ing the bor­row­ing “con­temptible.”

Did Žižek know­ing­ly pla­gia­rize Amer­i­can Renais­sance (does Žižek even read Amer­i­can Renais­sance)? Accord­ing to Žižek him­self, the answer is no. In an email to Crit­i­cal The­o­ry, he writes that the close resem­blance between his arti­cle and Hornbeck’s review is the result of a sum­ma­ry of MacDonald’s work giv­en to him by an unnamed “friend.” Here’s more from Žižek’s email. (Note: he uses the word “résumé” here in the sense of “sum­ma­ry”):

With regard to the recent accu­sa­tions about my pla­gia­rism, here is what hap­pened. When I was writ­ing the text on Der­ri­da which con­tains the prob­lem­at­ic pas­sages, a friend told me about Kevin Macdonald’s the­o­ries, and I asked him to send me a brief resume. The friend send [sic] it to me, assur­ing me that I can use it freely since it mere­ly resumes another’s line of thought. Con­se­quent­ly, I did just that – and I sin­cere­ly apol­o­gize for not know­ing that my friend’s resume was large­ly bor­rowed from Stan­ley Hornbeck’s review of Macdonald’s book.

“The prob­lem­at­ic pas­sages,” Žižek con­tin­ues in his defense, “are pure­ly infor­ma­tive, a report on another’s the­o­ry for which I have no affin­i­ty what­so­ev­er.” He adds at the end, “I nonethe­less deeply regret the inci­dent.”

It is true that unlike, say, Sen­a­tor Rand Paul—who appar­ent­ly passed off almost whol­ly pla­gia­rized arti­cles as his own orig­i­nal work—Žižek does not take any cred­it for MacDonald’s ideas and sum­ma­rizes them only in an attempt to refute them. Nonethe­less, as Newsweek notes (in an unfor­tu­nate choice of words), for con­ser­v­a­tive crit­ics, Žižek is “a big scalp” and the mat­ter a very seri­ous one. Zizek’s “slop­py cita­tions,” writes Crit­i­cal The­o­ry, have come under fire before—notably in his feud with Noam Chom­sky, who caught Žižek mis­at­tribut­ing a racist quote to him. (Žižek “admit­ted the mis­take and apol­o­gized.”) This case seems much more severe for the length of the pas­sages lift­ed as well as Žižek’s fail­ure to check and cite his source. Charges of aca­d­e­m­ic pla­gia­rism fre­quent­ly go to press. But with such a pub­lic fig­ure (and film star) as the flam­boy­ant Marx­ist Žižek, and such inflam­ma­to­ry far right source mate­r­i­al, this par­tic­u­lar­ly regret­table incident—unintentional as it may be—makes for some par­tic­u­lar­ly sen­sa­tion­al­ist head­lines.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Slavoj Žižek Responds to Noam Chom­sky: ‘I Don’t Know a Guy Who Was So Often Empir­i­cal­ly Wrong’

Vice Meets Up with Super­star Com­mu­nist Cul­tur­al The­o­rist Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek’s Pervert’s Guide to Ide­ol­o­gy Decodes The Dark Knight and They Live

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (7)
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  • CEH in NJ says:

    This would have been an enjoy­able arti­cle except for the gra­tu­itous Rand snark. One of the nice fea­tures of Open Cul­ture is that it gen­er­al­ly avoids cur­rent polit­i­cal ref­er­ences. Hope­ful­ly this type of remark is just an aber­ra­tion that will not be repeat­ed in future posts.

  • Droy says:

    Why do does this web­site keeps fea­tur­ing this guy?

  • Bobby Boy says:

    CEH — Agree. Since snarky com­ments like that invite oth­ers to remind us that our very own Vice Pres­i­dent has been judged guilty of pla­gia­rism in his dark past. Let’s hope no one does that.

  • Joe says:

    Since there is noth­ing new to write about marx or marx­ism and copy­ing each oth­er’s work is a pas­time among such ‘intel­lec­tu­als’ who is real­ly sur­prised at pal­gia­rism exposed?

    Zizek is and remains a fraud. The only thing com­mu­nists cre­ate with any real effi­cien­cy is corpses.

  • Jason says:

    Zizek is a moron-detec­tor, who­ev­er likes him is a moron

  • Adrian Turcu says:

    Rand Paul? Real­ly?

  • Josh Jones says:

    I fail to see how a valid com­par­i­son with anoth­er high-pro­file, well-doc­u­ment­ed pla­gia­rism case in an arti­cle about pos­si­ble high-pro­file pla­gia­rism con­sti­tutes “gra­tu­itous snark.” Nor is it nec­es­sar­i­ly a polit­i­cal point in any way, since I have absolute­ly noth­ing to say above about Sen­a­tor Paul’s pol­i­tics.

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