Has America Become an Authoritarian State?
Continued from previous page
Against the dystopian visions that drive the new extremism, there is a need for teachers, workers, artists, students, young people, academics and others to produce a language of critique, provocation and possibility. This is a discourse of civic engagement that embraces politics, in part, as a pedagogical practice organized around what I have in the past labeled as educated hope. Educated hope sharpens the "ethopolitical" instrument and "operates at the root of where the ethical imagination and the political mingle." Educated hope signals the merging of civic education and democratic action as part of a broader attempt to enable young people and others to critically analyze and transform those values, ideologies and market-driven politics that produce a growing machinery and register of widespread inequality and social death. It suggests creating a new language and order of symbolic relations so as to understand the past as well as the dynamics of the present and the future.
Educators, progressives, and civic-minded citizens need a language that puts justice back into the regressive culture of cost-benefit analyses and rejects the civic vacuum created by the extremist apostles of casino capitalism. We also need a language that is vigilant about where democratic identities are not only produced but also where forms of social agency are denied. Those concerned about the fate of justice and democracy also need to reconfigure the political order in order to create relations of power that are capable of controlling the increasing separation of politics, which are nation-based and local, from the exercise of power, which is now global and unrestrained by the politics of the nation-state. Power is now global while politics is local. What this means is that globalization has cut economic and military power free from its traditional political shackles exercised by the nation state and allows it to roam unhindered throughout the globe. The traditional merging of power and politics has been broken and as Bauman points out, "We may say that power has 'flown' from the historically developed institutions that used to exercise democratic control over uses and abuses of power in the modern nation-states. Globalization in its current form means a progressive disempowerment of nation-states and (so far) the absence of any effective substitute."
Consequently, resistance to the new extremism in the United States must be addressed as part of a broader global struggle, built on strong political and civic commitments and forms of solidarity that are local and internationalist in nature. Beyond critique, any viable challenge must rethink what Jacques Derrida has called the concepts of "the possible and impossible." Thinking beyond the given involves constructing new narratives regarding the stories we tell about ourselves, about the future and the promise of a democracy to come.
A language of critique and educated hope suggests a new and spirited struggle against a culture of civic illiteracy, one in which the commanding institutions of society are divorced from matters of ethics, social responsibility and social cost. The new extremism in American society, which attempts to make critical thinking irrelevant and render hope a paralyzing cynicism, must be challenged by a politics and pedagogy that have the capacity not only to "influence those in power" but also mobilize those who don't have power." This is a pedagogy that should "not only shift the way people think about the moment, but potentially energizes them to do something different." A politics that merges critique and hope recognizes that while the idea of the good society may be weakened, it is far from an idea that can be relegated to the dustbin of history.
Yet, while the grip of an authoritarian political culture and the politics of distraction are getting stronger in American society, the current attack on democracy should be taken as a new historical opportunity to generate new collective struggles in the hopes of creating a future that refuses to be defined by the dystopian forces now shaping American society. In the aftermath of the massive suffering of produced by World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust, Theodor W. Adorno in the shadow of an older form of authoritarianism refused to give up on hope as an essential condition of agency, politics and justice. He insists that: "Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn't break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation.... Open thinking points beyond itself." His words are both profound and instructive for the time in which we live because they point to the need to think beyond the given, to think beyond the distorted and market-based inverted hope now on offer from the advocates of casino capitalism.