Multiculturalism or the cultural logic of multinational capitalism
Slavoj Žižek

What relationship exists between the world of capital and the national state in this era of global capitalism? Maybe this relationship could be defined better as “auto-colonisation”: in the direct activity of multinational capital we no longer have anything to do with the opposing standards between metropolises and colonised countries, the global company in some way severs the umbilical cord with its nation of origin and treats its own country as a mere sphere of action, which it needs to colonise. This is where the motive for the bad feeling of nations orientated towards the populist left is, from le Pen to Buchanan: the fact is that the new multinationals behave with the French or American citizens in exactly the same way as they behave with Mexicans, Brazilians or the Taiwanese. However, doesn’t some kind of poetic justice exist in this self-referential shift? Today’s global capitalism is again a species of “the negation of negation”, after the period of national capitalism and its international/colonial phase. At the beginning (obviously in an ideal sense) a capitalism circumscribed by the national confines of the country are registered with an international market (the exchange between sovereign nations); after this phase follows the relationship of colonisation, in which the colonising country subordinates and (economically, politically and culturally) exploits the colonised country; however, the final act of this process is the paradox of colonisation, where the real colonies and colonising countries no longer exist – the power of colonising is no longer in the hands of the national states, but directly in the hands of the global businesses. In the long run, we’ll not only be wearing Banana Republic T-shirts, but we’ll also be living in the Banana Republic. Naturally, multiculturalism is the ideal form of global capitalism’s ideology, it is an attitude which from an empty global position any local culture is discussed, in the same way that a coloniser treats a colonised people as the “indigenous” whose nature must be studied attentively and with “respect”. In other words, the relationship between traditional imperialist colonialism and capitalist global auto-colonisation is the same as the relationship between Western cultural imperialism and multiculturalism: and just as global capitalism includes the paradox of colonisation without the colonised countries, so multiculturalism offers a protection of Euro-centric distance and/or the respect for local cultures without having any roots in its own particular culture. Multiculturalism is evidently an inverted and un-confessed form of “distant” racism: “respecting” the identity of the other, conceiving the other as an “authentic” closed community against which he, the multiculturalist, maintains a distance made possible by his privileged universal position. In other words, multiculturalism is a form of racism which empties the position of all positive content (the multiculturalist is not an open racist, he doesn’t oppose the other’s particular values of his own culture), but nevertheless preserves this position as an empty and privileged essence of universality, from which the other specific cultures can be adequately appreciated: multiculturalism’s respect for the specificity of the other is the most efficient means of reaffirming his own superiority.
Does what brings us to our conclusion that the neutrality of multiculturalism is a lie really derive from the fact that its position silently privileges Euro-centric contents? This is a right way of thinking, but it comes from the wrong reason. The background and roots of a particular culture, which sustains the universal position of multiculturalism, is not the “truth” of this position, concealed behind the mask of universality (“multiculturalism is in reality euro-centric…”), but on the contrary is the simple emblem of certain roots and a phantasmagorical cover, hiding the fact that the subject is already completely “without roots” and that its true position is in the emptiness of universality.
Today’s “diversities” (the homeless, people living in ghettos, the unemployed…) are symptoms of the universal late capitalist system, which admonishes us with increasing frequency on the immanent reasoning of late capitalism: the real utopia of capitalism consists of the possibility which with adequate measures (“the affirmative act” for the liberal progressives; the return to thinking about ourselves and family values for the conservatives) these “exceptions” will be eliminated in the long run, at least in principle. A utopia analogous to the concept “of the rainbow coalition”; in a utopian future will all the progressives’ longings (the fight for gay and lesbian rights; fight for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities; ecological battles; feminist struggles; etc.) be reunited by the communal “chain of equivalence”? Yet again, the essence fails for structural reasons; simply, due to the empirical complexity of their position, all the particular “progressive” battles will never be reunited, but will always demonstrate “wrong” chains of equivalence (for example, the continuous fights for ethnic Afro-American identity and the patriarchal homophonic ideologies). The manifestation of “wrong” persuasions is based on the sole principle structuring today’s “progressive” policy of re-establishing “chains of equivalency”: the only sphere of particular mass struggles, with their incessant movements and concentrations, maintains the “repression” of key roles of the economic battle – the policy of the left of the “chain of equivalency” between the various mass struggles is closely linked to the silent omission of an analysis of capitalism, both as a system of global economy and the acceptance of capitalist economic relations as an unquestionable framework.
(extracts from Slavoj Žižek: Multiculturalism or the cultural logic of multinational capitalism, in: Razpol 10 - glasilo Freudovskega polja, Ljubljana 1997.)