Is America on the Verge of Theocracy? 4 Fundamentalist Ideologies Threatening U.S. Liberty
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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.
As market fundamentalism ensures that the logic of capital trumps democratic sovereignty, low-intensity warfare at home chips away at democratic freedoms, while high-intensity warfare abroad delivers democracy with bombs, tanks and chemical warfare. The cost abroad is massive human suffering and death. At home, as Paul Krugman points out, "The hijacking of public policy by private interests" parallels "the downward spiral in governance." With the rise of market fundamentalism, economics is accorded more respect than politics and the citizen is reduced to being only a consumer - the buying and selling of goods is all that seems to matter. Even children are now targeted as a constituency from which to make money, reduced to commodities, sexualized in endless advertisements and shamelessly treated as a market for huge profits. Market fundamentalism not only makes time a burden for those without health insurance, child care, a decent job and adequate social services, but it also commercializes and privatizes public space, undermining both the idea of citizenship and those very spaces (schools, media etc.) needed to produce a formative culture that offers vigorous and engaged opportunities for dialogue, debate, reasoned exchange and discriminating judgments. Under such circumstances, hope is foreclosed and it becomes difficult either to imagine a life beyond capitalism or to believe in a politics that takes democracy seriously.
When the market becomes the template for all social relations, the obligations of citizenship are reduced merely to consumption, while production is valued only insofar as it contributes to obscene levels of inequality. Not only the government but all the commanding institutions of society are now placed in the hands of powerful corporate interests, as market fundamentalism works hard to eliminate government regulation of big business and celebrates a ruthless competitive individualism. This type of strangulating control renders politics corrupt and cynical. Robert Kuttner gets it right when he observes:
One of our major parties has turned nihilist, giddily toying with default on the nation's debt, revelling in the dark pleasures of fiscal Walpurginsnacht. Government itself is the devil.... Whether the tart is the Environment Protection Agency, the Dodd-Frank law or the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are out to destroy government's ability to govern ... the administration trapped in the radical right's surreal logic plays by Tea Party rules rather than changing the game ... the right's reckless assault on our public institutions is not just an attack on government. It is a war on America.
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.