The Four Fundamentalisms of America’s Authoritarian State – Threats to Our Democracy

The excerpts below are from a recent article by Henry Giroux, author of Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism, who discusses the major fundamentalisms of our growing authoritarian state. But first, my two cents:

There is free market fundamentalism which redefines citizenship as being a faithful, unquestioning consumer. Where freedom is about shopping while a small minority fights expensive and unnecessary international wars. Where all public spaces are commercialized and those running the privatized public spaces are accountable only to the a minority of citizens who are significant shareholders.

There is religious fundamentalism which redefines freedom of religion as the right to impose Christian values on all Americans and declare war on those who oppose this freedom to abuse.

There is educational fundamentalism where only the rich can afford an education that will lead to more than a subsistence life style. Where critical thinking is shunned and zero tolerance prepares many for a life void of any chance of success. Where citizens are misinformed without challenge and public discourse is brought down to the lowest common denominator.

There is military fundamentalism where local police are given military grade weaponry to use against citizens and public universities are becoming a critical element in our national security state.

More from Giroux:

Free Market Fundamentalism

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.

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.

Religious Fundamentalism

The second fundamentalism is seen in a religious fervor embraced by a Republican Party that not only serves up creationism instead of science, but substitutes unthinking faith for critical reason and intolerance for a concern with and openness toward others. This is a deeply disturbing trend in which the line between the state and religion is being erased as radical Christians and evangelicals embrace and impose a moralism on Americans that is largely bigoted, patriarchal, uncritical and insensitive to real social problems such as poverty, racism, the crisis in health care and the increasing impoverishment of America’s children. Instead of addressing these problems, a flock of dangerous and powerful religious fanatics, who have enormous political clout, are waging a campaign to ban same-sex marriages, undermine scientific knowledge, eliminate important research initiatives such as those involving embryonic stem cells, deny the human destruction of the ecological system, overturn Roe v. Wade and ban contraceptives for women. This Taliban-like moralism now boldly translates into everyday cultural practices and political policies as right-wing evangelicals live out their messianic view of the world. For instance, in the last decade, conservative pharmacists have refused to fill prescriptions for religious reasons. Mixing medicine, politics and religion means that some women are being denied birth control pills or any other product designed to prevent conception; sex education in some cases has been limited to “abstinence only” programs inspired by faith-based institutions; and scientific research challenging these approaches has disappeared from government web sites. But the much-exalted religious fundamentalism touted by fanatics such as Santorum and many of his Tea Party followers does more than promote a disdain for critical thought and reinforce retrograde forms of homophobia and patriarchy. It also inspires a wave of criticism and censorship against all but the most sanitized facets of popular culture. Remember the moral outrage of the religious right over the allegedly homoerotic representations attributed to the animated cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.(15) There was also the conservative Texas lawmaker who jumped onto the moral bandwagon by introducing a bill that would put an end to “sexually suggestive” performances by cheerleaders at sports events and other extracurricular competitions.

Educational Fundamentalism

The third, related anti-democratic dogma is a virulent form of anti-intellectualism visible in the relentless attempt on the part of the Obama administration and his Republican Party allies to destroy critical education as a foundation for an engaged citizenry and a vibrant democracy. The attack on all levels of education is evident in the attempts to corporatize education, standardize curricula, privatize public schooling and use the language of business as a model for governance. It is equally evident in the ongoing effort to weaken the autonomy of higher education, undercut the power of faculty and turn full-time academic jobs into contractual labor. Public schools are increasingly reduced to training grounds and modeled after prisons – with an emphasis on criminalizing student behavior and prioritizing security over critical learning. Across the board, educators are now viewed largely as deskilled technicians, depoliticized professionals, paramilitary forces, hawkers for corporate goods or money and grant chasers.

Military Fundamentalism

The fourth anti-democratic dogma that is shaping American life and one of the most disturbing, is the ongoing militarization of public life. Americans are not only obsessed with military power, “it has become central to our national identity.”(19) What other explanation can there be for the fact that the United States has over 725 official military bases outside the country and 969 at home? Or that it spends more on “defense” than all the rest of the world put together? As Tony Judt states emphatically, “this country is obsessed with war: rumors of war, images of war, ‘preemptive’ war, ‘preventive’ war, ‘surgical’ war, ‘prophylactic’ war, ‘permanent’ war.”(20) War is no longer a state of exception, but a permanent driving force in American domestic and foreign policy. Cornel West points out that such aggressive militarism is fashioned out of an ideology that supports a foreign policy based on “the cowboy mythology of the American frontier fantasy,” while also producing domestic policy that expands “police power, augments the prison-industrial complex and legitimates unchecked male power (and violence) at home and in the workplace. It views crime as a monstrous enemy to crush (targeting poor people) rather than as an ugly behavior to change (by addressing the conditions that often encourage such behavior).”

Conclusion

In opposition to the rising tide of authoritarianism, there is a need for a vast social movement capable of challenging the basic premises of an ever-expanding, systematic attack on democracy. The elements of authoritarianism must be made visible not simply as concepts, but as practices. The Occupy movement and others arising in its wake need to build a network of new institutions that can offer a different language, history and set of values, knowledge and ideas. …

If progressives don’t want a neocon led plutocracy with their fundamentalist “Casino Capitalism” and war-on-everything-not-like-them mentality, who will placate evangelical authoritarian followers with laws to support their Christian only beliefs, who will privatize all public spaces and convert caring citizens into either obedient consumers or prisoners – all for the benefit of the ONE%, then we need to unite, quit bickering amongst ourselves, and recognize there are Executive and Legislative imperfections. These imperfections are engendered by the “bad barrels” created within these institutions by past authoritarians like GWB, Newt G, and T. Delay.

 

Edcuation costs, like medical costs, have accelerated unreasonably.

 

 

 

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About Andy Hailey

Vietnam Vet, UT El Paso Grad, Retired Aerospace Engineer, former union rep, 60's Republican now progressive, web admin, blogger.

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