Proto-Fascism in America: Neoliberalism and the Demise of Democracy
reviewed by Aaron Cooley - 2004
Title: Proto-Fascism in America: Neoliberalism and the Demise of Democracy
Author(s): Henry A. Giroux
Publisher: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, Bloomington
ISBN: 0873678524, Pages: 90, Year: 2004
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The claims in Henry Giroux’s Proto-Fascism in America: Neoliberalism and the Demise of Democracy will ring true for some scholars, will startle others, and will most likely be ignored by those politicians he accuses of leading the
Before proceeding, I must mention that writing that questions the future
The first trend that Giroux tackles to support his critique of neoliberalism is the expansion of the military. He states, “This radical shift in the size, scope, and influence of the military can be seen on the one hand, in the redistribution in domestic resources and government funding away from social programs and into military-oriented security measures at home and into the war abroad” (p. 1). From the outset, Giroux’s distaste for what he sees as the militarization of American society is clear. He then moves quickly to how this ubiquitous change affects education. Giroux explains, “Schools are one of the most serious public spheres to come under the influence of military culture and values” (p. 3).
After making this brief connection to education, he concludes the introduction by focusing on the hubris of American foreign policy. He ends by commenting, “What is in fact being labeled as a war against terrorism is beginning to look increasingly like a war waged by the Bush Administration against democracy itself” (p. 4). Polemics like that are what would have this work labeled as the “worst of the kook left.” From a pragmatic perspective, I have to assert my worry that the impact and influence of dissent in a democracy may not be best served by comparing two groups that most citizens do not find similar. The rhetoric—regardless of its validity—does not seem persuasive or to be the perception of most people. It is persuasive rhetoric and public perception—not necessarily truth—that give politicians the mandate and power to govern. In a bizarre way, the right is much more post-modern than the left as the right focuses on shaping perception at the expense of truth. This manipulation of perception is something the right has mastered and something many on the left are unwilling to admit. Giroux’s ideas might gain a greater foothold in the public debate if the left learned this lesson from the right.
The next chapter, “The War at Home and Abroad,” fills in the indictment Giroux is pulling together. His sources are diverse, from Senator Robert Byrd’s comments to the words of conservative turncoat Michael Lind, but his focus remains the same. He commands:
Embracing a policy molded largely by fear and bristling with partisan, right-wing ideological interests, the Bush Administration took advantage of the tragedy of 9/11 by adopting and justifying a domestic and foreign policy that blatantly privileged security over freedom, the rule of market over social needs, and militarization over human rights and social justice. (p. 6)
There is certainly no standing still on Giroux’s ideological train, and the picture he paints of
Giroux makes an even more troubling assertion by calling attention to changes in the language of the political discourse used to describe social circumstances. Giroux states:
The liberal democratic vocabulary of rights, entitlements, social provisions, community, social responsibility, living wage, job security, equality, and justice seem oddly out of place in a country where the promise of democracy has been replaced by casino capitalism, a winner-take-all philosophy . . . there is no vocabulary for progressive social change, democratically inspired visions, or critical notions of social agency to expand the meaning and purpose of democratic public life” (p. 66).
Giroux sees this neoliberal vision for
Giroux concludes by invoking Bourdieu’s thought that: “power of the dominant order is not just economic, but intellectual—lying in the realm of beliefs” (p. 72), which brings the discussion back to education and the development of the beliefs of young citizens. Giroux’s best answer to this question is that: “Democracy necessitates forms of education that provide a new ethic of freedom and reassert collective identity as a central preoccupation of a vibrant democratic culture and society” (p. 72).
Unfortunately for Giroux, he seems to have forgotten what democracy means, at least in a technical sense of the definition of “the rule of the people.” His animosity and vitriol—well-informed and well-intentioned as it may be—for the current political situation is not the predominant will of the people. Quite simply, if the majority of Americans want a more harsh neoliberal democracy—or then, abdicate their civic responsibility and let others choose the country’s future—that is what we will have. The structures of government and the constitution are that difficult to usurp.
As a progressive, but politically minded educator, I do wonder what is the aim and audience of this work. Even if you were to take everything Giroux says (and has said) as gospel, the means of getting from where we are to where he wants to be are unclear. Giroux is certainly attuned to the changes in the political arena and the manipulation of words and meanings for political purposes. However, considering the current political environment, this tract is unlikely to win over anyone not already troubled by our drift or stampede—take your pick—away from the gains of the New Deal and the Civil Rights era.