We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Beyond Savage Politics and Dystopian Nightmares

Click here to access article by Henry A. Giroux from Uncommon Thought Journal

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with this author's writings. I admire his writing abilities and his dramatic critiques of existing society. However, I also sense in his lengthy rants about the deterioration of contemporary society either an intellectual cowardliness or a deliberate attempt to co-opt anti-capitalists and lead them back safely to the fold of supporting a capitalist organization of society, albeit a kinder, gentler form of capitalism. I have not yet reached a final conclusion, but I often fear that it may be the latter which is essentially the characteristic of intellectual "gatekeeping" employed by intellectuals who consciously or unconsciously promote deceptive views that buttress the system of capitalism and the rule of society by its capitalist beneficiaries. 

I make this claim based on the following key excerpts from his article which is very representative of all his writings. My analysis follows the quotes.
What kind of society emerges when it is governed by the market-driven assumption that the only value that matters is exchange value....

What happens to democracy when a government inflicts on the American public narrow market-driven values, corporate relations of power and policies that impose gross inequities on society....

Evidence of the decay of American democracy....
In the above paragraphs he obliquely refers ("market-driven") to the ill effects of capitalist values, but assigns the fault in the second paragraph to the "government". The third paragraph suggests that we have enjoyed some kind of genuine democracy in the past. 
Witness the almost-hysterical displays of public anger by Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham over President Barack Obama's decision to avert bombing Syria in favor of a diplomatic solution. State violence is now the sanctioned norm of rule in a society in which political fanatics, such as Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio define policy according to a friend/enemy distinction and in doing so transform politics into an extension of war. Unrelenting in their role as archetypes of the hyper-dead, the Tea Party fanatics and their gutless allies spectacularize hatred and trade in fear, lies and misinformation while trying to hold the American public and the government hostage to their fanatical market-driven principles.
They are the face of the emerging counter-revolution taking over the nation - an updated and kinder version of the fascist brownshirts now dressed in suits carrying black briefcases and living in guarded communities. They are the dark angels of violence, and they trade in the mass psychology of fear and hate. They despise compromise and live by a take-no-prisoners political sensibility. They want to eliminate any vestiges of the government that provide social protections.

...they [the right-wing] also want to shut down the government and strip the American public of health care benefits while consolidating power in the hands of a party that, as former President Jimmy Carter pointed out, removed America from the pretense of being a functioning democracy.[viii] But they are not alone.

Casino capitalism and its right-wing apostles lack any sense of ethics or respect for the social contract and spew feverishly an endless rhetoric of hate and vile over the airwaves.
In the above paragraphs he presents Democratic officials as good guys, and the right-wing as the bad guys or "evil-doers" (a borrowed term from George Bush, Jr.) Also, notice in the last paragraph that he identifies the system as "casino capitalism". Throughout his writings you will see such expressions ("narrow market-driven values", "fanatical market-driven principles", "right-wing market fundamentalists", "market society", "market economy", "market authoritarianism", "global capitalism" , and frequently throws in references to "neo-liberalism", which serve to paint him as a radical, that is, someone who espouses a need to fundamentally organize the economy, which is at the very center of society, according to very different principles. 
There are some who suggest that such critiques of the growing authoritarianism and repression in American society are useless and in the long run do nothing more than reinforce a crippling dystopianism. I think this line of argument is not only wrong but complicitous with the very problems it refuses to acknowledge. From a left suffocating in cynicism, there is the argument that people are already aware of these problems, as if neoliberal hegemony does not exist and that its success in building a consensus around its ideology as a mode of common sense is passé. At the same time, liberals detest such criticism because it calls into question the totality of American politics rather than focus on one issue and gestures toward a radical restructuring of American society rather than piecemeal and useless reforms.
Here he again portrays himself as a radical by criticizing liberals who he accurately describes as mostly wanting to focus on particular issues instead of the system.
The enemy is not a market economy but a market society and the breakdown of all forms of social solidarity that inform democratic politics and the cultural, political and economic institutions that make it possible.
In this brief and isolated sentence he finally gives an indication of what he really believes in: a kinder, gentler, capitalist system; the kind that contains remnants of a "social contract" (see my comments regarding this subject here.): a thin layer of social welfare to mitigate the most egregious effects of capitalism, and rule of law to protect citizens against arbitrary rule of authorities. This is what people often refer to as "liberal capitalism" or even "liberalism" in the classical sense. 

The latter was essentially the propaganda component used by early capitalists who fought against restrictions imposed on their activities by monarchical-aristocratic rulers. It was sold to other classes as freedom in general from government authority in order to gain support in their struggle to overturn the existing ruling class and become the new ruling class. After becoming the ruling class, capitalists have been to some extent saddled with this liberal propaganda ever since and have been forced to pay lip service to it. It's only now that right-wing capitalists want to totally do away with this notion and such socially funded programs in order to fund their Empire ambitions. As for "rule of law", I don't think I need to argue that it has been revealed as a sham. Mostly the new capitalist class has used extensive indoctrination and control of information generally to counter any misgivings that their subjects might have about the actual self-serving rule of the capitalist class.
The contradictions of neoliberalism are unraveling....

There is a need for a systemic alternative to the existing system of global capitalism. But such an alternative will not happen unless the courage to take power is matched by the pedagogical imperative to address and inform a new cultural imaginary and mode of individual subjectivity and agency. Getting to the root of the problems facing the United States suggests building broad-based social movements that can imagine some form of democratic control over wealth, the use of direct action to challenge dominant economic institutions, the reclaiming of public spaces where the formative cultures of democracy can flourish, a need to shift resources away from militarization and wars to the needs of children and everyone else who believes that equality and democracy inform and enrich each other.

Judith Butler is right in arguing that any viable movement for a radical democracy needs not only to fight manufactured ignorance, economic inequality and racial injustice but also "produce a community that manifests the values of equality and mutual respect ... missing in a world that's structured by neoliberal principles."
Here again he targets "neoliberalism" in place of capitalism, and elevates it to a separate system. And, "getting to the root of the problems" means building movements to gain "some form of democratic control over wealth". Here he again reveals that he only wants a reformed capitalism which in the last paragraph he describes as a "radical democracy"!