Dec 7, 2013
Challenging Casino Capitalism and Authoritarian Politics in the Age of Disposability
Posted on Jun 27, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Monthly Review Press
Appeals to religion often provide a rationalization for the culture of greed, war, repression, and cruelty that drives casino capitalism, but both parties support unfettered capital accumulation, the endless search for short investments, and the criminalization of dissent. What is new in American politics in the current historical conjuncture is the emergence of a casino capitalism largely unchecked by massive social movements, the religionization of politics, and the intense role that religion increasingly plays as a formative register in legitimating the very parameters of politics.
The Religionization of Politics
It is also the case that something far more serious and dangerous is unfolding in American politics than the politicization of religion and the march toward authoritarianism. We are witnessing what Zygmunt Bauman has called the “religionization of politics,” whereby secular politics and policymaking will be reshaped by the logic and certitude of religious fundamentalism. As Bauman points out in a different context:
If the Republican candidacy race of 2012 is any indication, then political discourse in the United States has not only moved to the right—it has introduced totalitarian values and ideals into the mainstream of public life. Religious fanaticism, consumer culture, and the warfare state work in tandem with neoliberal economic forces to encourage privatization, corporate tax breaks, income and wealth inequality, and the further merging of the financial and military spheres in ways that diminish the authority and power of democratic governance. Neoliberal interests in freeing markets from social constraints, fueling competitiveness, destroying education systems, producing atomized subjects, and loosening individuals from any sense of social responsibility prepare the populace for a slow embrace of social Darwinism, state terrorism, and the mentality of war—not least of all by destroying communal bonds, dehumanizing the other, and pitting individuals against the communities they inhabit.
The Dark Shadows of Authoritarianism
Totalitarian temptations now saturate the media and larger culture in the language of austerity as political and economic orthodoxy. What we are witnessing in the United States is the normalization of a politics that exterminates not only the welfare state, and the truth, but all those who bear the sins of the Enlightenment—that is, those who refuse a life free from doubt. Reason and freedom have become enemies not merely to be mocked, but to be destroyed. And this is a war whose totalitarian tendencies are evident in the assault on science, immigrants, women, the elderly, the poor, people of color, and youth. What too often goes unsaid, particularly with the media’s focus on inflammatory rhetoric, is that those who dominate politics and policymaking, whether Democrats or Republicans, do so largely because of their disproportionate control of the nation’s income and wealth.
Increasingly, it appears that these political elite choose to act in ways that sustain their dominance through the systemic reproduction of an iniquitous social order. In other words, big money and corporate power rule while electoral politics are rigged. The secrecy of the voting booth becomes the ultimate expression of democracy, reducing politics to an individualized purchase—a crude form of economic action and a claim to hermetic power. A politics willing to invest in such ritualistic pageantry only adds to the current dysfunctional nature of our social order while reinforcing a profound failure of political imagination. The issue should no longer be how to work within the current electoral system, but how to dismantle it and construct a new political landscape capable of making a claim on equity, justice, and democracy for all of its inhabitants. Obama’s once inspiring call for hope has degenerated into a flight from responsibility. The Obama administration has worked to extend the policies of the George W. Bush administration by legitimating a range of foreign and domestic policies that have shredded civil liberties (going so far as to claim the authority to kill Americans without recourse to due process), expanding the permanent warfare state, and increasing the domestic reach of the punitive surveillance state. And if Romney and his ideological cohorts, now viewed as the most extreme faction of the Republican Party, had come to power, surely the existing totalitarian and anti-democratic tendencies at work in the United States would very likely have been dangerously intensified.
The War against Youth
One measure of the increasing move toward authoritarianism in the United States is evident in that the war against democracy and for neoliberalism is now being directed with special force and intensity against young people, especially low-income youth and poor minorities. We now live during an era in which obscene violence is directed with impunity against young protesters, and youth increasingly serve as targets of myriad forms of public and state-sanctioned punishment. The purpose of this book is to bring into the realm of consciousness the degree to which U.S. public spheres, institutions, and values have been hijacked by a politics of distraction and by violent spectacles whose alleged entertainment value conceals an underlying culture of degradation, state-sponsored repression, and an unrelenting depravity that, while it affects everyone, has the most damaging effects on today’s and tomorrow’s youth. A catalogue of indicting evidence reveals the depth and breadth of the war being waged against the social state, and particularly against young people. Beyond exposing the moral depravity of a nation that fails to protect its young, such a war speaks to nothing less than a perverse death wish, a barely masked desire for self-annihilation. The willful destruction of an entire generation not only transforms U.S. politics into pathology but is sure to signal the death knell for America’s future. How much longer will the American public have to wait before the nightmare comes to an end?
For these dire reasons, the time has come for progressives and others to shift the critique of Obama (or the Romney-Ryan platform for that matter) away from an exclusive focus on the policies and practices of his administration and instead develop a new language for politics—one with a longer historical purview and a deeper understanding of the ominous forces that now threaten any credible notion of the United States as an aspiring democracy. Democracy in this case serves not only as a referent for engaging the gap between the existing reality and the promise of its principles and ideals, but also as a site of ongoing struggle that is never finished or completed.
Toward a New Political Project
The first part of this book examines the trends and forces that are contributing to a widespread shift in American life toward authoritarianism. An awareness of the material and cultural elements that have produced these conditions is important; however, it is simply not enough. The collective response here must be to refuse to enter the current political discourse of compromise and accommodation—to think well beyond the discourse of facile concessions and to conduct struggles on the mutually informed terrains of civic literacy, education, and power. A rejection of traditional forms of political mobilization must be accompanied by a new political discourse, one that uncovers the hidden practices of neoliberal domination while developing rigorous models for critical reflection and fresh forms of intellectual and social engagement. As discussed in the second part of this book, young people across the United States and the globe are certainly doing so, despite the barbaric treatment to which they have been subjected over the past two decades, and particularly since the economic collapse of 2008.
Finding our way to a more humane future demands a new politics, a new set of values, a new understanding of politics, and a renewed sense of the fragile nature of democracy. In part, this means that the militant rhetorical war being waged by social conservatives guided by a distorted notion of religion or austerity under the guise of sound fiscal policy must be understood as a facet of contemporary authoritarianism. These tendencies have a long legacy in American history. But the current historical moment seems at an utter loss to create a massive social movement capable of addressing the totalitarian nature and social costs of a religious and political fundamentalism that is merging with an extreme market fundamentalism. In this case, a fundamentalism whose idea of freedom extends no further than personal financial gain and endless consumption.
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