In youth work circles [or at least in youth work academia] Henry Giroux is best known for a vision of critical pedagogy, which advocates for the need to make pedagogy central to politics itself, seeking to create the conditions necessary for the development of a formative culture that provides the foundation for developing critical citizens and a meaningful and substantive democracy.
In recent years he has aimed his critical arrows at the curse of neoliberalism, exposing its anti-democratic and authoritarian character through such books as ‘Neoliberalism’s War Against Higher Education’ and ‘Education and the Crisis of Public Values’. Throughout his work, he is sensitive to the condition of young people under neoliberalism, going so far as to talk of ‘a war on youth’ – see ‘Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?’ and a previous post on this site, ‘The War on Youth: ‘Twas ever thus.
In his latest book, ‘American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism’ he ups the stakes. The spectre now haunting society is an emerging neoliberal fascism. His argument is expressed in a new article, Neoliberal Fascism and the Echoes of History.
Perhaps you think he exaggerates. I’m minded of a phrase we used in our founding Open Letter about the need to wake from the slumber of decided opinion. I can but recommend that you engage with Henry’s analysis.
A couple of excerpts to entice you:
The nightmares that have shaped the past and await return slightly just below the surface of American society are poised to wreak havoc on us again. America has reached a distinctive crossroads in which the principles and practices of a fascist past and neoliberal present have merged to produce what Philip Roth once called “the terror of the unforeseen.”
The war against liberal democracy has become a global phenomenon. Authoritarian regimes have spread from Turkey, Poland, Hungary and India to the United States and a number of other countries. Right-wing populist movements are on the march, spewing forth a poisonous mix of ultra-nationalism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. The language of national decline, humiliation and demonization fuels dangerous proposals and policies aimed at racial purification and social sorting while hyping a masculinization of agency and a militarism reminiscent of past dictatorships. Under current circumstances, the forces that have produced the histories of mass violence, torture, genocide and fascism have not been left behind. Consequently, it has been more difficult to argue that the legacy of fascism has nothing to teach us regarding how “the question of fascism and power clearly belongs to the present.”
We live at a time in which the social is individualized and at odds with a notion of solidarity once described by Frankfurt School theorist Herbert Marcuse as “the refusal to let one’s happiness coexist with the suffering of others.” Marcuse invokes a forgotten notion of the social in which one is willing not only to make sacrifices for others but also “to engage in joint struggle against the cause of suffering or against a common adversary.”
One step toward fighting and overcoming the criminogenic machinery of terminal exclusion and social death endemic to neoliberal fascism is to make education central to a politics that changes the way people think, desire, hope and act. How might language and history adopt modes of persuasion that anchor democratic life in a commitment to economic equality, social justice and a broad shared vision? The challenge we face under a fascism buoyed by a savage neoliberalism is to ask and act on what language, memory and education as the practice of freedom might mean in a democracy. What work can they perform, how can hope be nourished by collective action and the ongoing struggle to create a broad-based democratic socialist movement? What work has to be done to “imagine a politics in which empowerment can grow and public freedom thrive without violence?” What institutions have to be defended and fought for if the spirit of a radical democracy is to return to view and survive?