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Youth in Revolt: The Plague of State-Sponsored Violence

Posted on Mar 14, 2012
Jessierocks (CC-BY)

Young people attend an Occupy demonstration in early October 2011.

By Henry Giroux, Truthout

(Page 2)

While there is considerable coverage in the progressive media given to the violence being waged against the Occupy movement protesters, I want to build on these analyses by arguing that it is important to situate such violence within a broader set of categories that enables a critical understanding of not only the underlying social, economic and political forces at work in such assaults, but also allows us to reflect critically on the distinctiveness of the current historical period in which they are taking place. For example, it is difficult to address such state-sponsored violence against young people without analyzing the devolution of the social state and the corresponding rise of the warfare and punishing state. The notion of historical conjuncture is important here because it provides both an opening into the forces shaping a particular historical moment and it allows for a merging of theory and strategy. That is, it helps us to address theoretically how youth protests are largely related to a historically specific neoliberal project that promotes vast inequalities in income and wealth, creates the student loan debt bomb, eliminates much needed social programs, eviscerates the social wage and privileges profits and commodities over people. Within the United States, the often violent response to nonviolent forms of youth protests must also be analyzed within the framework of a mammoth military-industrial state and its commitment to war and the militarization of the entire society. As Tony Judt put it, “The United States is becoming not just a militarized state but a military society: a country where armed power is the measure of national greatness and war, or planning is the exemplary (and only) common project.”(7) The merging of the military-industrial complex and unbridled corporate power points to the need for strategies that address what is specific about the current warfare state and the neoliberal project and how different interests, modes of power, social relations, public pedagogies and economic configurations come together to shape its politics. Such a conjuncture is invaluable politically in that it provides a theoretical opening for making the practices of the warfare state and the neoliberal revolution visible in order “to give the resistance to its onward march, content, focus and a cutting edge.”(8) It also points to the conceptual power of making clear that history remains an open horizon that cannot be dismissed through appeals to the end of history or end of ideology.(9) It is precisely through the indeterminate nature of history that resistance becomes possible and politics refuses any guarantees and remains open. Following Stuart Hall, I want to argue that the current historical moment or what he calls the “long march of the Neoliberal Revolution,”(10) has to be understood in terms of the growing forms of violence that it deploys and reinforces. Such anti-democratic pressures and their relationship to the rising protests of young people in the United States and abroad are evident in the crisis that has emerged through the merging of governance and violence, the growth of the punishing state and the persistent development of what has been described by Alex Honneth as “a failed sociality.”(11)

The United States has become addicted to violence and this dependency is fuelled increasingly by its willingness to wage war at home and abroad. War in this instance is not merely the outgrowth of polices designed to protect the security and well-being of the United States. It is also, as C. Wright Mills pointed out, part of a “military metaphysics”(12) - a complex of forces that includes corporations, defense industries, politicians, financial institutions and universities. War provides jobs, profits, political payoffs, research funds and forms of political and economic power that reach into every aspect of society. War is also one of the nation’s most honored virtues, and its militaristic values now bear down on almost every aspect of American life.(13) As war becomes a mode of sovereignty and rule, it erodes the distinction between war and peace. Increasingly fed by a moral and political hysteria, warlike values produce and endorse shared fears as the primary register of social relations.

Shared fears and the media hysteria that feed them produce more than a culture of fear. Such hysteria also feeds the growing militarization of the police, who increasingly use their high-tech scanners, surveillance cameras and toxic chemicals on anyone who engages in peaceful protests against the warfare and corporate state. Images abound in the mainstream media of such abuses. There is the now famous image of an 84-year-old woman looking straight into a camera, her face drenched in a liquid spray used by the police after attending a protest rally. There is the image of a woman, who is two months pregnant, being carried to safety after being pepper sprayed by the police. There are the all-too-familiar images of young people being dragged by their hair across a street to a waiting police van.(14) In some cases, protesters have been seriously hurt as in the case of Scott Olsen, an Iraqi war veteran, who was critically injured in a protest in Oakland in October 2011. Too much of this violence is reminiscent of the violence used against civil rights demonstrators by the forces of Jim Crow in the fifties and sixties.(15)


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By gerard, March 16, 2012 at 11:26 am Link to this comment

balkas: My point was that people who write headlines need to say what the author means, and not just throw some words approximately in the direction of the author’s theme in order to catch people’s   attention.

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 8:06 am Link to this comment

perhaps HG meant to say: “youth in revolt agaisnt state-sponsored
this can be illated from what he says in his piece. in any case-and in
spite of putting it wrongly- i understood it as i said above.

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 7:59 am Link to this comment

kiddie school=doggie school of obedience=KZ lager. this was noticed by
some at least a century ago.

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 7:45 am Link to this comment

HG: “as war becomes a mode of sovereignty, it erodes the distinction
between war and peace”.
this statement appears to some degree inaccurate/inadequate. for one
factor, it doesn’t include a vital fact: that said distinction does not exist
in US because US had not ever been at an usual war, in which an army
engages another army of equal or thereabouts strength on own and/or
theirs or own soil. 
so, enduring such US wars or rather raids, incursions, variety acts of
war, blockades, invasions in order to stop spread of socialism-
communism; protect people, spread democracy, can be endured
effortlessly/helplessly and often thoughtlessly/uncaringly by vast % of
americans; usually called silent majority .

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 7:16 am Link to this comment

natch, an army, spy agencies, and police [private included] will be used
by the 1% against home pop and not just ‘alien’ and disobedient world
if ‘lesser-valued’ people and peoples remain obedient and show piety to
personal and national supremacism [such as for the ashkenazic or
anglosaxon-ashkenazic voelker (folks), there will be peace on earth and
not before. also spricht bozhidarevski, thanks

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By balkas, March 15, 2012 at 6:47 am Link to this comment

yes, i’ve been fervently hoping that world youths would one day notice
that 99.99% of them would continue to be left out, used as meat for wars
or as oppressors of own people here in US and in much of the world; and
also remain dependents on unseen/secluded/protected by police people
without any degree of humanity in them.
however, in some parts of europe there appears little awakening now by
but we can expect it! thanks

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By CassandraSpeaks, March 15, 2012 at 1:13 am Link to this comment

This is an excellent article, and I appreciate Gerald’s comment as well. I don’t think we’ve reached the tipping point yet, but we should start thinking about what to do in November.

Obama and Romney are both warmongering, 1%-loving, corporatist, neoliberal neofascists. Their different rhetoric at this point reflects the difference in their parties’ bases, not actual differences in philosophy, ethics or styles of governance.

When Bush was president, most Democrats did speak out against the wars, rights violations and abuses of power, but their vocal cords were paralyzed on March 20, 2009. This proves, of course, that they are just unprincipled, partisan hypocrites, but at least their opposition could help curb the abuses.

As crazy as it may sound, that is why I, a lifelong liberal Democrat, will vote for Romney over Obama, unless there is a viable third-party candidate such as Kucinich or Gary Johnson.

We can ill afford another 4 years of Obama.

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By do over, March 14, 2012 at 9:27 pm Link to this comment

Corruption saturates society, top to bottom, therefore, change will not result from well researched articles, debates, etc.  Those methods have failed.

Change will take place differently.  ______________________________
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Richard Buckminster Fuller

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By gerard, March 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm Link to this comment

A poor headline,  again:  “Youth in Revolt: The Plague of State-Sponsored Violence”  What?  Really?
the youth in revolt are a plague—of State-sponsored Violence?  Excuse me, but that gives a completely false impression of the content of the article. I read this in Truthout yesterday and was bowled over by the stupidity of the caption.  Who writes these things?

Now—here’s for starters, the most important idea in the piece which has to be put across to the 99% a.s.a.p. “This movement is NOT simply about reclaiming space, but also about producing new ideas, generating a new conversation and introducing a new political language. Rejecting the notion that democracy and markets are the same, young people are calling for an end to the corporate control of the commanding institutions of politics and culture, poverty, the suppression of dissent and the permanent war state.  This movement is not simply about reclaiming space, but also about PRODUCING NEW IDEAS, GENERATING A NEW CONVERSATION AND INTRODUCING A NEW POLITICAL LANGUAGE, CALLING FOR AN END TO THE CORPORATE CONTROL OF THE COMMANDING INSTITUTIONS OF POLITICS AND CULTURE, POVERTY, THE SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT AND THE PERMANENT WAR STATE.” 
  If we permit this beginning movement to be suppressed, we will lose everything we ever thought we had, including our own humanity. Nothing is half as important.
  This movement is in no way a “plague” of “state-sponsored violence”—it is a gift we scarcely deserve!
  (Again, of course I know Giroux didn’t MEAN that; but THAT’S WHAT THE HEADLINE SAYS!)

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