Mar 10, 2014
The Scorched-Earth Politics of America’s Four Fundamentalisms
Posted on Mar 7, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Those governing the United States no longer have a moral compass or a democratic vision, nor do they have a hold on the social values that would engage modes of governance beneficial to the broader public. Governance is now in the hands of corporate power and the United States increasingly exhibits all the characteristics of a failed state. As many notable and courageous critics ranging from Sheldon Wolin to Chris Hedges have pointed out, American politics is being shaped by extremists who have shredded civil liberties, lied to the public to legitimate sending young American troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, alienated most of the international community with a blatant exercise of arrogant power and investment in a permanent warfare state, tarnished the highest offices of government with unsavory corporate alliances, used political power to unabashedly pursue legislative policies that favor the rich and punish the poor and perhaps irreparably damaged any remaining public spheres not governed by the logic of the market. They have waged a covert war against poor young people and people of color who are being either warehoused in substandard schools or incarcerated at alarming rates. Academic freedom is increasingly under attack by extremists such as Rick Santorum; homophobia and racism have become the poster ideologies of the Republican Party; war and warriors have become the most endearing models of national greatness; and a full-fledged assault on women’s reproductive rights is being championed by the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls and a not insignificant number of Republican governors. While people of color, the poor, youth, the middle class, the elderly, LGBT communities and women are being attacked, the Republican Party is supporting a campaign to collapse the boundaries between the church and state, and even liberal critics such as Frank Rich believe that the United States is on the verge of becoming a fundamentalist theocracy. Let me develop this further by examining four of the most serious fundamentalisms that now constitute the new authoritarianism in the United States.
A number of powerful anti-democratic tendencies now threaten American democracy and at least four of these are guaranteed to entail grave social and economic consequences. The first is a market fundamentalism that not only trivializes democratic values and public concerns, but also enshrines a rabid individualism, an all-embracing quest for profits and a social Darwinism in which misfortune is seen as a weakness, and a Hobbesian “war of all against all” replaces any vestige of shared responsibilities or compassion for others. Free-market fundamentalists now wage a full-fledged attack on the social contract, the welfare state, any notion of the common good and those public spheres not yet defined by commercial interests. Within neoliberal ideology, the market becomes the template for organizing the rest of society. Everybody is now a customer or client, and every relationship is ultimately judged in bottom-line, cost-effective terms. Freedom is no longer about equality, social justice or the public welfare, but about the trade in goods, financial capital and commodities.
As market fundamentalism ensures that the logic of capital trumps democratic sovereignty, low-intensity warfare at home chips away at democratic freedoms, while high-intensity warfare abroad delivers democracy with bombs, tanks and chemical warfare. The cost abroad is massive human suffering and death. At home, as Paul Krugman points out, “The hijacking of public policy by private interests” parallels “the downward spiral in governance.” With the rise of market fundamentalism, economics is accorded more respect than politics and the citizen is reduced to being only a consumer—the buying and selling of goods is all that seems to matter. Even children are now targeted as a constituency from which to make money, reduced to commodities, sexualized in endless advertisements and shamelessly treated as a market for huge profits. Market fundamentalism not only makes time a burden for those without health insurance, child care, a decent job and adequate social services, but it also commercializes and privatizes public space, undermining both the idea of citizenship and those very spaces (schools, media etc.) needed to produce a formative culture that offers vigorous and engaged opportunities for dialogue, debate, reasoned exchange and discriminating judgments. Under such circumstances, hope is foreclosed and it becomes difficult either to imagine a life beyond capitalism or to believe in a politics that takes democracy seriously.
One of our major parties has turned nihilist, giddily toying with default on the nation’s debt, revelling in the dark pleasures of fiscal Walpurginsnacht. Government itself is the devil…. Whether the tart is the Environment Protection Agency, the Dodd-Frank law or the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are out to destroy government’s ability to govern ... the administration trapped in the radical right’s surreal logic plays by Tea Party rules rather than changing the game ... the right’s reckless assault on our public institutions is not just an attack on government. It is a war on America.
In the land of the isolated individual, everything is privatized and public issues collapse into individual concerns so there is no way of linking private woes to social problems—the result is a dog-eat-dog world. Moreover, when all things formerly linked to the public good are so aggressively individualized and commercialized, it leaves few places in which a critical language and democratic values can be developed to defend institutions as vital public spheres.
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