“The fragile web of civility is the ‘social substance’ of free independent individuals, it is their very mode of (inter) dependence. If this substance disintegrates, the very social space of individual freedom is foreclosed.” For this reason, civility is a hidden ideology – or rather a successful one – that has become normalized and is unquestioned because it forms the very basis for the idea of human freedom. Unlike religion and law, civility cannot be enforced, since to impose it would mean that perhaps humans are not inherently polite or civil; it is only an act.Source:
In this way, freedom is feigned, according to Žižek. It is delineated as a free choice to behave politely, be tolerant, and regulate internal conflicts. But this is actually the framework one uses to define freedom itself. In other words, freedom could not occur without the abstract idea of what freedom is supposed to be.
To guarantee freedom, ethics demands denial of the pure subjectivity of the Other. The Judeo-Christian command to “love thy neighbor,” says Žižek, makes the Neighbor inhuman. Subjectivity is lost when ethics requires universality: it is not the neighbor who is loved, but the abstract concept – an unproblematic thing – which is subsumed under the title “fellow man.” At the same time, a safe distance or abyss is maintained from the Other through “politeness.”
Žižek uses the example of would-be Adolph Hitler assassins who decided against killing the mass murderer at an opportune time in the mess hall because “it is not seemly to shoot a man at lunch.” This reveals the sheer abstraction of civility and the denial of subjectivity in both Hitler and his victims: the Nazi’s true nature is ignored in order to restore his title as “fellow man” while his victims are made secondary to a strange custom.
Paradoxically, human freedom requires the inhuman treatment of the Neighbor, and the humane treatment of the Other requires that he or she be made an object. Since the Other is unfathomable and terrifying, a civil, free society must domesticate the unknown territory through routine niceties and abstract kindness to a universal Neighbor that does not exist.
from: Žižek, Slavoj. "In Defense of Lost Causes".