The Specter of Authoritarianism and the Future of the Left

An Interview with Henry Giroux on Democracy in Crisis

by C.J. POLYCHRONIOU

1. It is widely believed that the advanced liberal societies are suffering a crisis of democracy, a view you share wholeheartedly, although the empirical research, with its positivists bias, tends to be more cautious. In what ways is there less democracy today in places like the United States than there was, say, 20 or 30 years ago?

What we have seen in the United States and a number of other countries since the 1970s is the emergence of a savage form of free market fundamentalism, often called neoliberalism, in which there is not only a deep distrust of public values, public goods and public institutions but the embrace of a market ideology that accelerates the power of the financial elite and big business while gutting those formative cultures and institutions necessary for a democracy to survive. The commanding institutions of society in many countries, including the United States, are now in the hands of powerful corporate interests, the financial elite and right-wing bigots whose strangulating control over politics renders democracy corrupt and dysfunctional.  More specifically, Americans now live in what the new Pope has condemned as the “tyranny of unfettered capitalism,” where the corporate, financial, and ruling elites shape politics, assault unions, mobilize great extremes of wealth and power, and enforce a brutalizing regime of neoliberalism. This is a period that lacks any sense of social and economic justice, a historical moment in which the existing norms, values, and for that matter language itself legitimate the production of zones of social and civil death, death spheres—driven by a mad violence rooted in a dystopian theater of cruelty.  Some have argued that Americans have entered a new Gilded Age or an oligarchy, but in reality it is more brutal than these terms suggest. This new period of political, social, and economic savagery is more reminiscent of what Hannah Arendt called “dark times,” a historical conjuncture rooted in the reworked attributes of a life-sapping totalitarianism, posing shamelessly as an updated version of democracy. The new authoritarianism  reinforces what conservative politicians, hedge fund managers and pundits refuse to admit, which is that in the United States the social contract and social wage are under sustained assault by right-wing politicians and anti-public intellectuals from both political parties.  Moreover, those public spheres and institutions that support social provisions, the public good and keep public values alive are under sustained attack. Such attacks have not only produced a range of policies that have expanded the misery, suffering, and hardships of millions of people, but have also put into place a growing culture of cruelty in which those who suffer the misfortunes of poverty, unemployment, low skill jobs, homelessness, and other social problems are the object of both humiliation and scorn.

Read the rest at Counter Punch

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