Has America Become an Authoritarian State?
Continued from previous page
Opposing this contemporary, cruel form of authoritarianism demands a new language for embracing the social, for defining civic engagement, for rethinking the meaning of agency and politics and for talking about social responsibility. Rethinking the social means, in part, embracing the role of the state in providing regulations that limit the power of corporations and the financial service industries. It means reconfiguring the very nature of power in order to subordinate capitalism's major structuring institutions to the rule of law, democratic values and the precepts of justice and equality. The state is not merely an instrument of governance, it is also a site where organized irresponsibility has to give way to organized responsibility, where ethics cannot be privatized and separated from economic considerations, where the rule of law cannot be used to produce legal illegalities and where politics becomes inseparable from the claims of justice, equality and freedom. This suggests the need for social movements to organize and fight for modes of sovereignty at all levels of government in which people, rather than money and corporations, shape the nature of politics, policies and cultural apparatuses that provide the public values that nourish critical modes of citizenship and democracy itself.
The Roles of Critical Education and Collective Struggle in Taking Back Democracy
At stake here is not merely a call for reform but a revolutionary ideal that enables people to hold power, participate in the process of governing and create genuine publics capable of translating private troubles and issues into public problems. This is a revolution that not only calls for structural change but for a transformation in the ways in which subjectivities are created, desires are produced and agency itself becomes crucial to any viable notion of freedom. There is a pedagogical element to a rethinking of the political that has often been ignored by progressives of various political persuasions and that is the necessity to make pedagogy itself central to the very meaning of politics. In this case, it is not enough to demand that people be provided with the right to participate in the experience of governing, but also educated in every aspect of what it means to live in a democracy. At the very least, this suggests an education that enables a working knowledge of citizen-based skills and the development of those capacities that encourage individuals to be self-reflective, develop a passion for public values and be willing to develop and defend those public spaces that lift ideas into the worldly space of the public realm.
The philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis surely is right in insisting that we must take seriously the political task of creating those diverse public spheres which are capable of rendering all individuals fit to participate in the governing of society, willing to promote the common good and engage the social within a broader political and theoretical landscape, one not tied to the priority of economic interests and an endlessly commodifying market-driven social order. Politics demands an informed citizenry, which can only be produced collectively through the existence of public spheres that give meaning to their struggles and fight for justice, economic rights and human dignity. In that sense, any viable struggle against the new authoritarianism in the United States might start with Castoriadis' insistence that any viable form of politics begins with creating formative cultures and public spheres in which critical education in the broadest sense becomes essential to the very meaning of justice, social responsibility, and democracy.
For Castoriadis, at the heart of such formative cultures are operative forms of public pedagogy that create citizens "who are critical thinkers capable of putting existing institutions into question so that democracy" can be nourished and sustained. As a moral and political practice, pedagogy becomes productive of what knowledge, values, and identities are produced in a particular society. Similarly, it becomes a determining factor in creating a society willing to both question itself and struggle for those ideals that give meaning and substance to the promise of a substantive democracy.