May 18, 2013
The New Extremism
Posted on Jan 25, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
More radical critics like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Sheldon Wolin, Stanley Aronowitz, Judith Butler, Robert Scheer, Jeffrey St. Clair, Matt Taibbi, Angela Davis and David Theo Goldberg, among others, have long recognized the transformation of the United States from a weak democracy to a spirited authoritarian state. All of these theorists have challenged the permanent war economy, the erosion of civil liberties, the power of the corporate state, the moral bankruptcy of the liberal intelligentsia, the corporate control of the media, the criminal wars of repression abroad, the rise of the torture state and the increasing militarization of everyday life.
However extremist the Republican Party has become with its ongoing war on women, immigrants, young people, the welfare state, voting rights and all manner of civil rights, this should not suggest that the Democratic Party occupies a valued liberal position. On the contrary, policy in the United States is now being shaped by a Democratic Party that has become increasingly more conservative in the last 30 years along with a Republican Party that now represents one of the most extremist political parties to ever seize power in Washington. And while the Republican Party has fallen into the hands of radical extremists, both parties “support shifting the costs of the crisis and the government bailouts of banks, large corporations and the stock market, onto the mass of the citizens.” Both parties support bailing out the rich and doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists. Moreover, both parties reject the idea of democracy as a collectively inhabited public space and ethos that unconditionally stands for individual, political and economic rights. President Obama and his Wall Street advisors may hold onto some weak notion of the social contract, but they are far from liberal when it comes to embracing the military physics of the corporate warfare state.
As Chris Hedges, Paul Street, Noam Chomsky and Salvatore Babones have repeatedly pointed out, calling the Republican Party extremists should not cloud the increasingly authoritarian positions now embraced by the Obama administration. For instance, President Obama has deported more immigrants than his predecessor George W. Bush; he has advocated for the privatization of public schools, pursued neoliberal modes of educational governance and slashed funds from a number of vital social service programs. He has put into place a health care program that eliminated the public option and joined forces with insurance companies and Big Pharma.
As is well known, the Obama administration also kept Guantanamo open, justified warrantless wiretapping, accelerated drone attacks that killed many innocent civilians, supports indefinite detention and sanctions a form of “extraordinary rendition,” in which potential terrorists are abducted and shipped off to foreign countries to be tortured. In fact, the realm of politics has moved so far to the right in the United States that modes of extremism that were once thought unthinkable have now become commonplace. As Glenn Greenwald has argued, the Patriot Act, state-sponsored torture, assassinations, kill lists and surveillance programs, once “widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties” have “become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal.” While both parties have given up the mantel of democratic politics, the Republican Party is more extreme in its range of targets and its savage attempts to destroy those modes of governance and public spheres that provide the conditions for robust and critical forms of civic life, education, agency and democracy.
The extremism of the current Republican Party has many political, ideological, economic and cultural registers, but one of its most dangerous and punitive is its attacks on the social state, the public good and the very notion of responsible government. If the Democratic Party has undermined vital civil liberties while promoting a warfare state, the Republican Party has created a new understanding of politics as the space in which corporations and finance capital provide the template for all aspects of governance and policy. Governance in this mode of politics is a mixture of corporate power and financial warfare, accompanied by rule through the apparatuses of punishment, including the courts, military and police. If the slavish obedience to the corporate and finance state is visible in the Republican Party’s call for deregulation, privatization, free trade and a no-tax policy for the wealthy and corporations, the rule of the punishing state becomes clear in the call for the criminalization of a range of social behaviors ranging from abortion and homelessness, to debt payments and student protests.
While the use of military force against workers and civil rights has a long history in the US, the rule of finance capital is both new and takes on a new urgency, given the threat it poses to a substantive democracy. Robert McChesney argues that the rule of capital has transformed the United States from a weak democracy to “Dollarocracy - the rule of money rather than the rule of people - a specifically US form of plutocracy [that] is now so dominant, so pervasive, that it is accepted as simply the landscape people inhabit.” Michael Hudson goes further in his analysis and characterizes one element of the new extremism as a form of financial warfare waged against not merely the social state but all those groups that historically have fought for expanding political, economic and personal rights. He writes:
The second feature of the new extremism is the ongoing commercialization and destruction of democratic public spaces. The latter refers to the ongoing privatization, commercialization and attack on those democratic public spheres that provide the space for critical thinking, informed dialogue, thoughtfulness, the affirmation of non-commodified norms and the unconditional protection of social rights. Institutions of democratic culture such as schools, the art world, unions, the media, and other public spheres where public values and important social issues are both engaged and offer the conditions for producing informed citizens are now viewed with disdain because they embrace modes of critical reasoning and a collective ethos at odds with anti-democratic and market-driven values.
The Republican Party is not simply wedded to a vicious anti-intellectualism; it scorns the very notion of reason and embraces ignorance as the basis for community. This is evident not only in the rejection of science, evidence and reason as the foundation of an informed community, but also in the embrace of fundamentalist positions that pander to ignorance as a basis for shutting down dissent, mobilizing supporters and retooling American education as a business, a training site to initiate the young into a world where the corporate, financial and military elite decide their needs, desires and future.
The third feature of the new extremism focuses on the attack on the social contract and welfare state and the ideas and institutions that make them possible. The new extremists recognize that the space of citizenship is as important as the idea of citizenship and they want to make sure that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the American public to find and inhabit those public spaces where the discourse of the common good, public life and social justice can be taught and learned - spaces where a language for defending vital public spheres can be developed. The Republican Party discourse on deficits and austerity is in reality an attempt to dismantle the welfare state and the social supports it provides. For Republican Party extremists, budget deficits become the key weapon in forcing the government to reduce its spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social provisions at odds with market-driven values, deregulation and the logic of privatization.
One consequence of this attack on the welfare state and the social contract has been the emergence of a market fundamentalism that trivializes democratic values and public concerns. At the same time, this market fundamentalism enshrines a rabid individualism, legitimates an all-embracing quest for profits, and promotes a Social Darwinism in which misfortune is seen as a weakness and the Hobbesian rule of a “war of all against all” replaces any vestige of shared responsibilities or compassion for others. If the conservative revolution launched by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had as its goal the rolling back of social democratic rights, the counter-revolutionaries that now control the Republican Party go much further. That is, they are not interested in rolling back the benefits of the social state, they want to eliminate government-sponsored social provisions, trade union rights, and other social and economic rights. The enemy in this discourse is equality and substantive social rights.
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