Douthat or Zizek?

A disturbing convergence in the paper of record.

By Nathan Pippenger

Epidemics, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and rising waters. This year has had it all, but no truer sign of the End Times has yet emerged than a bizarre convergence, in the New York Times, of fastidiously goateed conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat and hirsute Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

A couple of weeks ago, Douthat weighed in on ISIS, and on Wednesday Žižek did the same. Can you guess which writer is which, or even tell their columns apart? Here’s one passage:

It may appear that the split between the permissive First World and the fundamentalist reaction to it runs more and more along the lines of the opposition between leading a long satisfying life full of material and cultural wealth and dedicating one’s life to some transcendent cause. […] William Butler Yeats’ “Second Coming” seems perfectly to render our present predicament: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” This is an excellent description of the current split between anemic liberals and impassioned fundamentalists.

Here’s another:

Whether reactionary or utopian, secular or religious, these counter-ideologies are as modern, in their way, as the Emancipation Proclamation or the United Nations Charter. […] [Their] features include not only the lust for violence and the will to power, but also a yearning for a transcendent cause that liberal societies can have trouble satisfying. […] liberalism’s “all-too-human order” — which privileges the sober, industrious and slightly boring — is simply “not for everyone.”

Astute readers, detecting the word “permissive” in the first passage, might think they’ve found the real Douthat column. Wrong. The first passage is from Žižek; Douthat supplies the second. I cut Douthat’s telltale reference to Michael Brendan Dougherty, just as I cut what I thought would be Žižek’s telltale citation of Nietzsche. But then I realized that Douthat’s piece, too, includes references to “all too human” and the “will to power.” The columns fade into each other; the differences dissolve; the world careens off its axis. If anybody needs me, I’ll be stocking up on canned goods and keeping an eye out for rough beasts slouching toward Bethlehem.

Nathan Pippenger is a contributing editor at Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanPip.

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