Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future
reviewed by Sharon L. Nichols - September 27, 2013
Henry Girouxs Youth in Revolt is a powerful commentary on the cultural neglect and victimization of todays youth. As suggested by the title, Girouxs main thesis is that youth are no longer willing to tolerate the conditions in which they are asked to live. More than any other time in our history, youth are rising up to fight the economic, social, and political inequities foisted onto them. Giroux points to the Occupy movement as evidence of youths growing activism. Ignited by the market crash of 2008, the resultant financial ruin perpetrated on 99% of Americans, and the growing global social unrest captured by the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement represents youths organized rejection of the status quo. Giroux challenges all of us not only to recognize the significance of youths efforts, but also to help these active and engaged youth bring about the change necessary to improve life for all generations.
Throughout the first five chapters, Giroux carefully and meticulously deconstructs the myth of American democracy the idea that all Americans have equal opportunities for prosperity, happiness, and advancement. In Chapter One, he begins by reminding us what we had in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11. The expansive spirits of community, course, and surge of compassion we witnessed for a short time after 9/11 provide a counter memory that reminds us that the possibility of collective struggle and shared hopes is far from a lost moment in history (p. 25). Unfortunately, we squandered the collective community and compassion borne out of this tragedy and instead entered into a period of depravity characterized by individualism, authoritarianism, and financial Darwinism. The result, he argues, is a country mired in cruelty and violence (Chapter Two), extremist attitudes (Chapter Three), an overreaching government (Chapter Four), and political discourse that celebrates individualism and vilifies collective goodness (Chapter Five).
Throughout these first five chapters, Giroux unequivocally establishes that todays America is not only vastly different from pre 9/11 America, but that it has become the kind of America that has severely undermined youths chances for a prosperous and happy future. However, there is hope. In Chapters Six and Seven, Giroux underscores how youth are fighting back. Through the Occupy movement, and other forms of activism present on college campuses, youth have made a very important statement in their call for political and economic fairness and social justice. These youth have:
challenged the popular myth that the United States is a representative democracy ..they have drawn attention not only to the vast inequality in wealth and power that belies any notion of democratic governance but also to the fact that most decisions in the United States are now made by the financial, military, and corporate elite. Similarly the protestors have drawn the publics attention to the various forms of cruelty imposed by the corporate state and encouraged people to link their every day suffering to an understanding and critique of broader social and economic forces. (p. 122-123)
Giroux reminds us of youths potential contributions to American culture. They are the new public intellectuals of the twenty-first century, using their bodies, social media, digital technologies, and other educational tools to raise new questions, point to new possibilities, and register their criticism of the antidemocratic elements of casino capitalism and the punishing state (p. 125). Through social media and the Internet, young protestors are moving to reclaim higher education as a site of struggle and the humanities as a sphere that is crucial for grounding ethics, justice, and morality (p. 126). By the end of the book, Giroux asks us to believe in the promise of the next generation of young people who are poised to reclaim democratic ideals of justice, morality, and civic responsibilities. In spite of a trajectory of social, financial, and economic inequities since 9/11, Giroux vociferously believes that youth have great power, talent, and skills to redirect our life course.
Girouxs writing style is dense, making it difficult at times to fully appreciate the nuances of his writing. However, working through these nuances is part of what makes this book not only powerful (and important), but also wonderfully interesting and descriptive. For example, in chapter One, he contextualizes a post 9/11 America this way:
Conservative and liberal politicians alike now spend trillions waging wars around the globe, funding the largest military state in the world, and providing huge tax benefits to the ultra rich and major corporations; at the same time, they drain public coffers, increase the scale of human poverty and misery, and eliminate all viable public sphereswhether they be the social state, public schools, public transportation or any other aspect of a formative culture that addresses the needs of the common good, or for that matter contributes to the building of viable and caring communities. (p. 28)
Later, in Chapter Two, he refers to a violence-saturated public as recipients of a carnival of simulated and real violence [that] now produces [a] depravity of aesthetics in which the culture of cruelty flourishes, fueled by a desperate energy and an endless menagerie of pain that meld intense excitement with a sense of fulfillment, release, instant arousal, and pleasure (p. 38) (emphasis added). Girouxs writing is poignant, passionate, and persuasive.
In the end, Youth in Revolt accomplishes two worthy goals. First, he masterfully deconstructs for us the idea that the American democracy of the past no longer exists. Page by page, Giroux asks readers to think critically, deeply and carefully about the state of our current culture and challenges us to no longer be passive co-conspirators. Second, he urges us all to listen to our youth. We must help the next generation realize the social equity they deserve if we are to give them any hope that they will experience social, political, and economic justice they deserve.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the welfare of our youth. Giroux reminds us how important they are to our future and how much they have to offer a rapidly changing society. At a time when we have seen growing marginalization of youths contributions to society, it is a refreshing reminder that they are activated, engaged, and hopeful. Girouxs writing style does not make for a quick read, but it is an important one for anyone who cares about the state of American values and priorities and the ways in which they serve our rapidly diversifying youth culture.