deadly weapon of neoliberal fascism
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
Americans live in an era in which every aspect of society displays
symptoms of political, economic and ethical impoverishment.
This condition extends from the workplace and education to the
legal system and the larger culture. It is evident in the way
our society has increasingly become dominated by the language
of extreme nationalism, racism, nativism and grotesque levels
of inequality. And it is evident in the depoliticizing conditions
of our social order that strip individuals of critical thought,
self-determination and reflective agency.
the current era, politics is no longer about the language of
public interest, but about how to survive in a world without
social provisions, support, community and a faith in collective
struggle. This is a language that operates in the service of
violence, and marks, to quote author Bill Dixon, “a terrifying
new horizon for human political experience.” This is a
language that is horrifying for producing without apology what
the end of politics, if not humanity itself, might look like.
Under such circumstances, democracy is not merely under siege,
but is close to being erased.
of such violence abound in the United States under the presidency
of Donald Trump, who has promised to cut in his budget over
a trillion dollars in support of Medicare and Medicaid. He has
also, relentlessly attacked the Affordable Care Act resulting
in nearly 2,000,000 more people being uninsured and a proposed
$4.5 billion cut from federal spending on food stamps over five
years. Moreover, the Trump administration continues to endanger
the planet by rolling back clean water protections created to
regulate the use of polluting chemicals near bodies of water.
Other examples include the White House asking the Supreme Court
to end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program,
which provides immigration protections for over 700,000 undocumented
young people who were brought to the United States as children.
There is also a recent Supreme Court ruling allowing the United
States to deny asylum to people who pass through another country
on their way to the U.S. — a decision that turns away
most Central American migrants who arrive at the southern border.
this unapologetic authoritarian regime, the language of violence,
cruelty and hatred has reached new levels. For instance the
New York Times reported that Trump suggested shooting
immigrants in the legs in order to prevent them from crossing
the Southern border.
gets worse. Trump also ordered the ending of the “medical
deferred action” program which allows immigrants who are
seriously ill to extend their stay in the U.S. by two years
in order to receive much-needed medical treatment. Massachusetts
Senator Ed Markey captured the cruelty of such a policy in his
statement that the Trump administration is now “literally
deporting kids with cancer” and that this policy would
“terrorize sick kids who are literally fighting for their
lives.” The administration walked its position back after
fierce criticism, but the underlying intent is unmistakable.
and his allies appear to delight in asserting power through
acts of cruelty that threaten, disrupt, and condemn entire populations
to a politics of disposability and spheres of terminal exclusion.
Among the many instances of this type of cruelty is Trump’s
deportation of 200,000 Salvadorian immigrants as part of his
policy of ending the humanitarian program known as the Temporary
Protected Status policy.
OF THE PREDATORY CULTURE OF NEOLIBERALISM
is more at work here than a fascist politics of disappearance.
There is also an attack on modes of critical agency and on the
educational and cultural institutions that create the conditions
where citizens can be informed in order to make democracy possible.
Under these pressures, people become susceptible to modes of
agency that embrace shared fears, the loss of autonomy and rancid
hatreds rather than collective values and obligations.
fundamentalism has turned the principles of democracy against
itself, twisting the language of autonomy, solidarity, freedom
and justice that make economic and social equality a viable
idea and political goal. Neoliberalism produces a notion of
individualism and anti-intellectualism that harbors a violent
disdain for community and, in doing so, reinforces the notion
that all social bonds and their respective ethos of social responsibility
are untrustworthy. Unchecked notions of self-interest and a
regressive withdrawal from a substantive oppositional politics
now replace notions of the common good and engaged citizenship,
just as “existing political institutions have long since
ceased to represent anyone but the wealthy.” Under the
reign of a market fundamentalism, social atomization becomes
comparable to the death of an inclusive and just democracy.
related to the depoliticizing practices of neoliberalism, the
politics of social atomization and a failed sociality is the
existence of a survival-of the-fittest ethos that drives oppressive
narratives used to define both agency and our relationship to
others. Mimicking the logic of a war culture, neoliberal pedagogy
creates a predatory culture in which the demand of hyper-competitiveness
pits individuals against each other through a market-based logic
in which compassion and caring for the other is replaced by
a culture of winners and losers, with the former assuming the
status of a national sport, if not religion. As Hartmut Rosa
observes, under neoliberalism:
language of aggression replaces matters of concern for those
deemed “other” by virtue of their class, ethnicity,
religion, race or non-participation in a consumer society. Underlying
this neoliberal worldview is a militaristic mentality that replicates
reality TV’s mantra of a “war of all against all,”
which brings home the lesson that punishment is the norm and
compassion the exception. Yet, this rhetoric of command does
more than pit individual against each other in an endless loop
of competitiveness and a world in which there are only individual
winners; it also weakens public values and reinforces a hardening
of the culture, one in which a self-righteous coldness takes
delight in the suffering of others.
else to explain Trump’s racist comments and cruel policies
aimed at undocumented immigrants trying to escape from poverty,
violence, gangs and rogue societies? How else to explain separating
children from their parents at the border and then jailing them
in concentration camps? The predatory culture of hyper-competitiveness
produces a weakening of democratic values, pressures and ideals,
and in doing so, creates a culture in which expressions of violence
and cruelty replace the ability to act politically, responsibility
and with civic courage. This predatory culture furthers the
process of depoliticization by making it difficult for individuals
to identify with any sense of shared responsibility and viable
notion of the common good.
ON THE INSTITUTIONS THAT MAKE DEMOCRACY POSSIBLE
public spheres such as the oppositional media, schools and other
public institutions are disappearing under the toxic policies
of austerity and privatization thus reinforcing a hyper-individualized,
masculine and militarized culture that destroys notions of engaged
and critical citizenship, along with any viable sense of individual
and social agency. Operating under the false assumption that
there are only individual solutions to socially produced problems,
neoliberal pedagogy reinforces depoliticizing states of individual
alienation and isolation, which increasingly are normalized,
rendering human beings numb and fearful, immune to the demands
of economic and social justice and increasingly divorced from
matters of politics, ethics and social responsibility. This
amounts to a form of depoliticization in which individuals develop
a propensity to descend into a moral stupor, a deadening cynicism,
all the while becoming increasingly susceptible to political
shocks, and the seductive pleasure of the manufactured spectacle.
predatory culture of hyper-competitiveness produces a weakening
of democratic values.
this instance, the political becomes relentlessly personal,
rendering difficult any notion of social agency and collective
resistance. There is more at work here than a freezing of the
capacity for the development of modes of critical agency; there
are also signs of widespread apathy as more and more people
refuse even the most elementary appeals to participate in elections
or educate themselves about politics. Meanwhile, we see the
slow deterioration of public spheres that once offered at least
the glimmer of progressive ideas, enlightened social policies,
non-commodified values and critical exchanges. As public institutions
and values are undermined, unions are weakened, working people
lose their jobs with no tools to prevent such losses from happening,
and increasingly all that is left is a culture of unfocused
anger, despair, immediacy and entertainment, which infantilizes
everything it touches.
the connections between democracy and education wither rather
than working to improve the conditions that bear down on one’s
life and society in general. Dealing with life’s problems
becomes a solitary affair, reducing matters of social responsibility
to a regressive and depoliticized notion of individual choice.
As the social sphere is emptied of democratic institutions and
ideals, apocalyptic visions of fear and fatalism reinforce the
increasingly normalized assumption that there are no alternatives
to existing political logics and the tyranny of a neoliberal
global economy. Under neoliberalism, shared notions of solidarity
are erased along with institutions that nurture an engaged and
critical sensibility. This type of depoliticizing erasure raises
several questions: Can a democratic conception of politics emerge?
How does it happen? And what agents of change are available
to take up the task of mass and collective resistance?
this neoliberal populist political formation, language functions
to repress any sense of moral decency and connection to others;
as a result, individual communication rooted in democratic values
and dialogue loses all meaning. Individuals, Leo Lowenthal argues,
are pressured increasingly to act as “ruthless seekers
after their own survival, psychological pawns and puppets of
a system that knows no other purpose than to keep itself in
power.” Critical agency is now viewed as dangerous and
undermined by the ongoing neoliberal pedagogical machineries
of power and a culture of manufactured ignorance that works
as to produce a form of political repression, on the one hand,
and political regression and infantilism on the other.
DANGERS OF DEPOLITICIZATION
turns ignorance into a virtue, making it all the more difficult
for individuals to balance reason and affect, distinguish between
fact and fiction, and make critical and informed judgments.
Increasingly, education both in schools and in the wider cultural
apparatuses, such as the mainstream and conservative media,
becomes a tool of repression and serve to promote and legitimate
neoliberal fascist propaganda. As such, the never-ending task
of critique gives way to the failure of conscience, while succumbing
to simplistic views of the world defined through an irrationality
that is at the heart of a fascist politics. Reason and informed
judgment, once a precondition for creating informed citizens,
gives way to a culture of shouting, emotional overdrive and
shortened attention spans. New digital technologies and platforms
controlled by monopolies trade in consumerism, speed, and brevity
and conspire to make thoughtfulness, if not thinking itself,
difficult. Knowledge is no longer troubling; instead, it is
pre-packaged in the 24/7 news cycle reduced to babbling one-liners
and commercial smart bombs.
neoliberal ideology works its way through the vast reach of
the mainstream and conservative media, it operates as a disimagination
machine that attempts to both control history and erase moments
of resistance and oppression. History as an act of dangerous
memory is whitewashed, purged of utopian ideals and replaced
by apocalyptic fantasies. These include narratives of decline,
fear, insecurity, anxiety and visions of imminent danger, often
expressed in the language of invasion, dangerous hordes, criminal
and disease-infected others. As public vocabularies and transcripts
disappear, it is difficult for individuals to understand historically
the multiple wars waged on democratic ideals. Everything appears
to lack any antecedents, making the poisonous vitriol and policies
of neoliberal fascism more energizing, fresh and free of a toxic
public spheres such as the oppositional media, schools and other
public institutions are disappearing under the toxic policies
of austerity and privatization.
than revealing humanity’s legacy of repression and violence,
or its heroic moments of resistance, memory is trapped in the
present. The politics of depoliticization — with its refiguring
of the social sphere, individual responsibility, historical
memory, critical thinking and collective identity — now
begins to take the form of an acute indifference, withdrawal
from public life and a disdain for politics that amounts to
a political catastrophe. The move from crisis, which implies
the possibility of change, to catastrophe in which there are
present agents necessary for a radical restructuring of society,
is disappearing. In a society increasingly marked by a flight
from responsibility, the ethical duty to care for the other
vanishes or is viewed with disdain. In short, matters of self-fulfillment
and an egoistic self-referentiality work hand in hand with instances
of “painless morality” or an empty morality stripped
of ethical obligations and an attentiveness to social costs.
live in a neoliberal age that destroys the most important democratic
institutions, values and relations that connect us. This is
evident in the overwrought concentration of power and wealth
among the 1 per cent with its corollary in corporate-induced
corruption that leads millionaire politicians such as Trump
to believe that he is above the law and can disregard the constitution
and separation of powers. This is apparent in Trump’s
refusal to cooperate with the impeachment process taking place
in the Congress. It is also evident in the institutional, political,
and cultural practices that delight in the merging of violence
and power to enact a cruelty upon entire populations —
women, immigrants, children, Blacks, and Muslims. In addition,
this form of cruelty is evident in the recent Supreme Court
decision that reinforces Trump’s brutal asylum policies.
examples of the current culture of cruelty can be found in the
opioid crisis, produced largely for the profits of drug companies.
These are companies that traffic in death, and in the rising
of suicide rates due to what Anne Case and Angus Deaton labeled
“deaths of despair.” Such deaths are largely caused
by social isolation, disenfranchisement, poverty, lack of meaningful
jobs, stagnant wages, and cuts in social programs due to tax
breaks for the rich and oversized corporations.
is one of the threads that is closely tied to the workings and
legitimation of a fascist politics, as can be seen under modes
of governance enacted by demagogues such as Trump, Bolsonaro,
Erdogan and others who have elevated cruelty and violence to
a national ideal.
as both a promise, activity and ideal is in retreat around the
globe, given how it is continually undermined by neoliberal
capitalism. Astra Taylor is right to argue that “the massive
financial inequities it creates dismantle hard-won democratic
gains.” In societies where market values are considered
more important than democratic values, hope only lives amid
the darkness of the moment. Without hope there is no possibility
for resistance, dissent and struggle. Agency is the condition
of struggle, and hope is the condition of agency. Hope expands
the space of the possible and becomes a way of recognizing and
naming the incomplete nature of the present.
hope dies, what is also lost is a viable sense of those essential
social spheres, public goods, historical consciousness and collective
forms of support necessary for an active and engaged citizenry.
problem of agency is a precondition for any viable form of individual
and collective resistance. It is also crucial to address changes
in consciousness and to rethink the issue of historical and
collective agency as part of the struggle for structural change.
Ideological and structural changes can only take place through
a formative culture and those institutions and public spheres
that make education central to politics itself. The indifference
to a discourse regarding who are the historic agents of change
in the current moment is not merely deficient politically, it
is also complicit with the rise of right-wing authoritarian
the connections between democracy and education wither, hope
becomes the enemy of agency, and agency is reduced to learning
how to survive.
emerges in the absence of these institutions, public narratives
and democratic spaces is a neoliberal fascist politics and culture.
This new political formation and punitive monstrosity is defined
by the glitter, cruelty, spectacles, commodification, technological
fanaticism, regressive notions of privatization and disembodied
notions of individualism that dethrone what Hannah Arendt has
called “the prime importance of the political.”
As Frederick Douglass once said, “it is not light that
is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder…
the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed.”
resistance is making its appearance forcefully in the current
moment. Young people are fighting ecological destruction, disenfranchised
educators are challenging pedagogies of oppression, and cultural
workers around the globe are revolting against the rising tide
of fascist politics.
this context, these agents of change are building new alliances
with working classes who are exercising more radical forms of
collective resistance in the struggle for an economic democracy
and socially just society. The plague of a fascist politics
and its politics of depoliticization may be on the move, but
as Marx once said, history is open. In the current historical
conjuncture, ample possibilities are emerging to recognize that
the current crisis of agency is a precondition for addressing
not only the crisis of education and politics, but also the
crisis of democracy itself. Only then, as Douglass pointed out,
can “the conscience of the nation . . . be roused”
and the plague of neoliberal fascism challenged and overcome.