Monday, June 11, 2018

The Fight Against Neoliberal Fascism is Anchored in Memory

Fascism today doesn't look exactly as it did when it spread through Germany and Italy in the 30s but the foundational elements are alive and well around the world today, including the United States of America.

Henry Giroux contends the key to beating back modern neo-fascists rests in historical memory.

As Hannah Arendt reminds us, the protean elements of fascism always run the risk of crystallizing into new forms. Historical memory is a prerequisite to the political and moral witnessing necessary to successfully counter growing fascism in the United States today. As Richard Evans, the renowned historian of modern Germany, observes, the Trump administration may not replicate all the features of Germany and Italy in the 1930s, but the legacy of fascism is important because it echoes a “warning from history” that cannot be dismissed. What historians such as Evans, Timothy Snyder and others have suggested is that it is crucial to examine history in order to understand what tyranny and authoritarianism look like and how we can use the past to fight against such forces. While the United States under Trump may not be an exact replica of Hitler’s Germany, the mobilizing ideas, policies, passions and ruthless social practices of fascism, wrapped in the flag and discourses of racial purity, ultra-nationalism and militarism, are at the center of power in the Trump administration.

When selected elements of history are suppressed and historical consciousness and memory no longer provide insights into the workings of repression, exploitation and resistance, people are easily trapped in forms of historical and social amnesia that limit their sense of perspective, their understanding of how power works and the ways in which the elements of fascism sustain themselves in different practices. Fascism is not unvarying and expresses its most fundamental attacks on democracy in different arrangements, which is all the more reason for people to develop what Timothy Snyder calls “an active relationship to history” in order to prevent a normalizing relationship to authoritarian regimes such as the United States under Trump’s rule. Surely, a critical understanding of history would go a long way in enabling the American people to recognize the elements of a fascist discourse in much of Trump’s racist tweets, speeches and policies.
...If there is one thing that the important lessons of history in the work of writers such as George Orwell have taught us, it is that we must refuse to be complicit in the mockery of truth. This is especially crucial in the current historical moment, given the way the Trump administration — along with far-right media giants, such as Infowars, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Fox News and Breitbart News Network — work to aggressively propagate a vast disimagination machine. With the death of historical memory comes the nightmare we had thought was no longer possible to witness again.
The Rise of Civic Illiteracy.
Donald Trump’s ascendancy in American politics has made visible a plague of deep-seated civic illiteracy, a corrupt political system and a contempt for reason that has been decades in the making. It also points to the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life and the erosion of any sense of shared citizenship. As market mentalities and moralities tighten their grip on all aspects of society, democratic institutions and public spheres are being downsized, if not altogether disappearing. ...At the same time, reason and truth are not simply contested or the subject of informed arguments as they should be, but wrongly vilified — banished to Trump’s poisonous world of “fake news.”
Under the Trump administration, language has been pillaged, truth and reason disparaged, and words and phrases emptied of any substance or turned into their opposite, all via the endless production of Trump’s Twitter storms and the ongoing clown spectacle of Fox News. ...What we are witnessing is not simply a political project to consolidate power in the hands of the corporate and financial elite, but also a reworking of the very meaning of literacy and education as crucial to what it means to create an informed citizenry and democratic society. In an age when literacy and thinking become dangerous to the anti-democratic forces governing all the commanding economic and cultural institutions of the United States, truth is viewed as a liability, ignorance becomes a virtue, and informed judgments and critical thinking are demeaned and turned into rubble and ashes. ...Traces of critical thought appear more and more at the margins of the culture as ignorance becomes the primary organizing principle of American society.
...The culture of manufactured illiteracy is also reproduced through a media apparatus that trades in illusions and the spectacle of violence.  ...In the age of manufactured illiteracy, there is more at work than simply an absence of learning, ideas or knowledge. Nor can the reign of manufactured illiteracy be solely attributed to the rise of the new social media, a culture of immediacy and a society that thrives on instant gratification. On the contrary, manufactured illiteracy is a political and educational project central to a right-wing corporatist ideology and set of policies that work aggressively to depoliticize people and make them complicitous with the neoliberal and racist political and economic forces that impose misery and suffering upon their lives.
The War on Education.
Increasingly, neoliberal regimes across Europe and North America have waged a major assault on higher education and those faculty and students who view it as crucial to producing the modes of learning and formative cultures necessary in the struggle for a strong and healthy democracy. For instance, in the United States, higher education is being defunded, devalued and privatized while also restricting access to working- and lower-middle-class students. Those underprivileged students who do have access to some form of post-secondary education are too frequently burdened with financial debts. ...The attack on higher education has a long history. Since the 1980s, the democratic principles of the university have been under assault by right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers, a select financial elite and big corporations, “leading to a blurring of the lines between the university and the corporate world.” Increasingly, the object of higher education is the individual consumer rather than the public good.
... One of the challenges facing the current generation of educators, students and others is the need to address the question of what is the role and mission of education in a time of tyranny. What should it attempt to accomplish in a society at a historical moment when society is slipping over into an abyss of fascism? Central to such a challenge is the question of what education should accomplish in a democracy. What will it take for higher education not to abandon its role as a democratic public sphere? What work do educators have to do to create the economic, political and ethical conditions necessary to endow young people and the general public with the capacities to think, question, doubt, imagine the unimaginable, and defend education as essential for inspiring and energizing the citizens necessary for the existence of a robust democracy? What kind of language is necessary for higher education to redefine its mission, one that enables faculty and students to work toward a different future than one that echoes the present, to confront the unspeakable, to recognize themselves as agents, not victims, and to muster up the courage to act in the service of a substantive and inclusive democracy? In a world in which there is an increasing abandonment of egalitarian and democratic values and impulses, what will it take to educate young people and the broader polity to challenge authority and hold power accountable?

Neoliberalism and Fascism - the Bond.

I bring the two terms together in the phrase “neoliberal fascism,” which I define as both a project and a movement. Neoliberalism is an enabling force that weakens, if not destroys the commanding institutions of a democracy while undermining its most valuable principles. It is part of what Sheldon Wolin called a totalitarian imaginary that constitutes a revolutionary break from democracy. This is a form of fascism in which state rule is replaced by corporate sovereignty and a culture of fear, insecurity and precarity reinvigorates executive power and the rise of the punishing state. Consequently, neoliberalism as a form of gangster capitalism provides a fertile ground for the unleashing of the ideological architecture, poisonous values, and racist social relations sanctioned and produced under fascism. Neoliberalism and fascism conjoin and advance in a comfortable and mutually compatible project and movement that connects the worst excesses of capitalism with fascist ideals: the veneration of war and a hatred of reason and truth; a populist celebration of ultra-nationalism and racial purity; the suppression of freedom and dissent; a culture which promotes lies, spectacles of disparagement and a demonization of the other; a discourse of decline, brutal exploitation and ultimately, state violence in heterogeneous forms. All vestiges of the social are replaced by an idealization of individualism and all forms of responsibility are reduced to individual agents. Neoliberalism creates a failed democracy, and in doing so, opens up the fascists’ use of fear and terror to transform a state of exception into a state of emergency. As a project, it destroys all the commanding institutions of democracy and consolidates power in the hands of a financial elite. 

It is time to repudiate the notion that capitalism and democracy are the same thing, renew faith in the promises of a democratic socialism, create new political formations around an alliance of diverse social movements and take seriously the need to make education central to politics itself. As Walter Benjamin reminds us, fascism is the product often of failed democracies, and under the reign of neoliberalism, we are in the midst of not simply a dysfunctional democracy, but in the grip of an extreme form of gangster capitalism wedded to unbridled forms of corporate power that produce massive inequalities in wealth and power, and aggressively wage war on everything crucial to a vibrant democratic society.

1 comment:

Purple library guy said...

Yes, well, good luck with that "memory" thing. Not for nothing that Gore Vidal always called it the "United States of Amnesia".