YOUTH MUST DEFEND DEMOCRACY
HENRY A. GIROUX
A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair
Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural
Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship
at Ryerson University. He is the author of more than 50 books
including The Educational Deficit and the War on Youth
Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism.
Many of his essays, including The Spectacle of Illiteracy, appear
on his website at www.henryagiroux.com.
His interview with Bill
Moyers is must viewing. He was recently named one of
the century's 50 most significant contributors to the debate
COMMENTSAccording to famed anthropologist Arjun Appadurai,
the central question of our times is whether we're witnessing
the worldwide rejection of liberal democracy and its replacement
by some sort of populist authoritarianism.
no doubt that democracy is under siege in several countries,
including the United States, Turkey, the Philippines, India
and Russia. Yet what's often overlooked in analyses of the state
of global democracy is the importance of education. Education
is necessary to respond to the formative and often poisonous
cultures that have given rise to the right-wing populism that's
feeding authoritarian ideologies across the globe.
neo-liberal capitalism, education and the way that we teach
our youth has become central to politics. Our current system
has encouraged a culture of self-absorption, consumerism, privatization
and commodification. Civic culture has been badly undermined
while any viable notion of shared citizenship has been replaced
by commodified and commercial relations. What this suggests
is that important forms of political and social domination are
not only economic and structural, but also intellectual and
related to the way we learn and teach.
of the great challenges facing those who believe in a real democracy,
especially academics and young people, is the need to reinvent
the language of politics in order to make clear that there is
no substantive and inclusive democracy without informed citizens.
is imperative for academics to reclaim higher education as a
tool of democracy and to connect their work to broader social
issues. We must also assume the role of public intellectuals
who understand there's no genuine democracy without a culture
of questioning, self-reflection and genuine critical power.
well, it's crucial to create conditions that expand those cultures
and public spheres in which individuals can bring their private
troubles into a larger system.
It's time for academics to develop a culture of questioning
that enables young people and others to talk back to injustice.
We need to make power accountable and to embrace economic and
social justice as part of the mission of higher education. In
other words, academics need to teach young people how to hold
politicians and authority accountable.
generations face trials unique to their own times. The current
generation of young people is no different, though what this
generation is experiencing may be unprecedented. High on the
list of trials is the precariousness of the time -- a time in
which the security and foundations enjoyed by earlier generations
have been largely abandoned. Traditional social structures,
long-term jobs, stable communities and permanent bonds have
withered in the face of globalization, disposability and the
scourge of unbridled consumerism.
is a time when massive inequality plagues the planet. Resources
and power are largely controlled by a small financial elite.
The social contract is shrinking: war has become normalized,
environmental protections are being dismantled, fear has become
the new national anthem, and more and more people, especially
young people, are being written out of democracy's script.
around world, the spirit of resistance on the part of young
people is coming alive once again as they reject the growing
racism, Islamaphobia, militarism and authoritarianism that is
emerging all over the globe.
shouldn't be discouraged by the way the world looks at the present
moment. Hope should never be surrendered to the forces of cynicism
Instead, youth must be visionary, brave, willing to make trouble
and to think dangerously. Ideas have consequences, and when
they're employed to nurture and sustain a flourishing democracy
in which people struggle for justice together, history will
must reject measuring their lives simply in traditional terms
of wealth, prestige, status and the false comforts of gated
communities and gated imaginations. They must also refuse to
live in a society in which consumerism, self-interest and violence
function as the only viable forms of political currency.
These goals are politically, ethically and morally deficient
and capitulate to the bankrupt notion that we are consumers
first and citizens second.
IS MORE THAN SIGHT
young people must be steadfast, generous, honest, civic-minded
and think about their lives as a project rooted in the desire
to create a better world.
must expand their dreams and think about what it means to build
a future marked by a robust and inclusive democracy. In doing
so, they need to embrace acts of solidarity, work to expand
the common good and collectivize compassion. Such practices
will bestow upon them the ability to govern wisely rather than
simply be governed maliciously.
great hope that this current generation will confront the poisonous
authoritarianism that is emerging in many countries today. One
strategy for doing this is to reaffirm what binds us together.
How might we develop new forms of solidarity? What would it
mean to elevate the dignity and decency of everyday people,
people need to learn how to bear witness to the injustices that
surround them. They need to accept the call to become visionaries
willing to create a society in which people, as the great journalist
Bill Moyers argues, can "become fully free to claim their
moral and political agency."
the end of her life, Helen Keller was asked by a student if
there was anything worse than losing her sight. She replied
losing her vision would have been worse. Today's young people
must maintain, nurture and enhance their vision of a better