Arquivo da tag: Democracia

Steven Pinker talks Donald Trump, the media, and how the world is better off today than ever before (ABC Australia)


“By many measures of human flourishing the state of humanity has been improving,” renowned cognitive scientist Steven Pinker says, a view often in contrast to the highlights of the 24-hour news cycle and the recent “counter-enlightenment” movement of Donald Trump.

“Fewer of us are dying of disease, fewer of us are dying of hunger, more of us are living in democracies, were more affluent, better educated … these are trends that you can’t easily appreciate from the news because they never happen all at once,” he says.

Canadian-American thinker Steven Pinker is the author of Bill Gates’s new favourite book — Enlightenment Now — in which he maintains that historically speaking the world is significantly better than ever before.

But he says the media’s narrow focus on negative anomalies can result in “systematically distorted” views of the world.

Speaking to the ABC’s The World program, Mr Pinker gave his views on Donald Trump, distorted perceptions and the simple arithmetic that proves the world is better than ever before.

Donald Trump’s ‘counter-enlightenment’

“Trumpism is of course part of a larger phenomenon of authoritarian populism. This is a backlash against the values responsible for the progress that we’ve enjoyed. It’s a kind of counter-enlightenment ideology that Trumpism promotes. Namely, instead of universal human wellbeing, it focusses on the glory of the nation, it assumes that nations are in zero-sum competition against each other as opposed to cooperating globally. It ignores the institutions of democracy which were specifically implemented to avoid a charismatic authoritarian leader from wielding power, but subjects him or her to the restraints of a governed system with checks and balances, which Donald Trump seems to think is rather a nuisance to his own ability to voice the greatness of the people directly. So in many ways all of the enlightenment forces we have enjoyed, are being pushed back by Trump. But this is a tension that has been in play for a couple of hundred years. No sooner did the enlightenment happen that a counter-enlightenment grew up to oppose it, and every once in a while it does make reappearances.”

News media can ‘systematically distort’ perceptions

“If your impression of the world is driven by journalism, then as long as various evils haven’t gone to zero there’ll always be enough of them to fill the news. And if journalism isn’t accompanied by a bit of historical context, that is not just what’s bad now but how bad it was in the past, and statistical context, namely how many wars? How many terrorist attacks? What is the rate of homicide? Then our intuitions, since they’re driven by images and narratives and anecdotes, can be systematically distorted by the news unless it’s presented in historical and statistical context.

‘Simple arithmetic’: The world is getting better

“It’s just a simple matter of arithmetic. You can’t look at how much there is right now and say that it is increasing or decreasing until you compare it with how much took place in the past. When you look at how much took place in the past you realise how much worse things were in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. We don’t appreciate it now when we concentrate on the remaining horrors, but there were horrific wars such as the Iran-Iraq war, the Soviets in Afghanistan, the war in Vietnam, the partition of India, the Bangladesh war of independence, the Korean War, which killed far more people than even the brutal wars of today. And if we only focus on the present, we ought to be aware of the suffering that continues to exist, but we can’t take that as evidence that things have gotten worse unless we remember what happened in the past.”

Don’t equate inequality with poverty

“Globally, inequality is decreasing. That is, if you don’t look within a wealthy country like Britain or the United States, but look across the globe either comparing countries or comparing people worldwide. As best as we can tell, inequality is decreasing because so many poor countries are getting richer faster than rich countries are getting richer. Now within the wealthy countries of the anglosphere, inequality is increasing. And although inequality brings with it a number of serious problems such as disproportionate political power to the wealthy. But inequality itself is not a problem. What we have to focus on is the wellbeing of those at the bottom end of the scale, the poor and the lower middle class. And those have not actually been decreasing once you take into account government transfers and benefits. Now this is a reason we shouldn’t take for granted, the important role of government transfers and benefits. It’s one of the reasons why the non-English speaking wealthy democracies tend to have greater equality than the English speaking ones. But we shouldn’t confuse inequality with poverty.”


Climate policy: Democracy is not an inconvenience (Nature)


Nico Stehr

22 September 2015

Climate scientists are tiring of governance that does not lead to action. But democracy must not be weakened in the fight against global warming, warns Nico Stehr.

Illustration by David Parkins

There are many threats to democracy in the modern era. Not least is the risk posed by the widespread public feeling that politicians are not listening. Such discontent can be seen in the political far right: the Tea Party movement in the United States, the UK Independence Party, the Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) demonstrators in Germany, and the National Front in France.

More surprisingly, a similar impatience with the political elite is now also present in the scientific community. Researchers are increasingly concerned that no one is listening to their diagnosis of the dangers of human-induced climate change and its long-lasting consequences, despite the robust scientific consensus. As governments continue to fail to take appropriate political action, democracy begins to look to some like an inconvenient form of governance. There is a tendency to want to take decisions out of the hands of politicians and the public, and, given the ‘exceptional circumstances’, put the decisions into the hands of scientists themselves.

This scientific disenchantment with democracy has slipped under the radar of many social scientists and commentators. Attention is urgently needed: the solution to the intractable ‘wicked problem’ of global warming is to enhance democracy, not jettison it.

Voices of discontent

Democratic nations seem to have failed us in the climate arena so far. The past decade’s climate summits in Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban and Warsaw were political washouts. Expectations for the next meeting in Paris this December are low.

Academics increasingly point to democracy as a reason for failure. NASA climate researcher James Hansen was quoted in 2009 in The Guardian as saying: “the democratic process doesn’t quite seem to be working”1. In a special issue of the journal Environmental Politics in 2010, political scientist Mark Beeson argued2 that forms of ‘good’ authoritarianism “may become not only justifiable, but essential for the survival of humanity in anything approaching a civilised form”. The title of an opinion piece published earlier this year in The Conversation, an online magazine funded by universities, sums up the issue: ‘Hidden crisis of liberal democracy creates climate change paralysis’ (see

The depiction of contemporary democracies as ill-equipped to deal with climate change comes from a range of considerations. These include a deep-seated pessimism about the psychological make-up of humans; the disinclination of people to mobilize on issues that seem far removed; and the presumed lack of intellectual competence of people to grasp complex issues. On top of these there is the presumed scientific illiteracy of most politicians and the electorate; the inability of governments locked into short-term voting cycles to address long-term problems; the influence of vested interests on political agendas; the addiction to fossil fuels; and the feeling among the climate-science community that its message falls on the deaf ears of politicians.

“It is dangerous to blindly believe that science and scientists alone can tell us what to do.”

Such views can be heard from the highest ranks of climate science. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change, said of the inaction in a 2011 interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel: “comfort and ignorance are the biggest flaws of human character. This is a potentially deadly mix”.

What, then, is the alternative? The solution hinted at by many people leans towards a technocracy, in which decisions are made by those with technical knowledge. This can be seen in a shift in the statements of some co-authors of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, who are moving away from a purely advisory role towards policy prescription (see, for example, ref. 3).

We must be careful what we wish for. Nations that have followed the path of ‘authoritarian modernization’, such as China and Russia, cannot claim to have a record of environmental accomplishments. In the past two or three years, China’s system has made it a global leader in renewables (it accounts for more than one-quarter of the planet’s investment in such energies4). Despite this, it is struggling to meet ambitious environmental targets and will continue to lead the world for some time in greenhouse-gas emissions. As Chinese citizens become wealthier and more educated, they will surely push for more democratic inclusion in environmental policymaking.

Broad-based support for environmental concerns and subsequent regulations came about in open democratic argument on the value of nature for humanity. Democracies learn from mistakes; autocracies lack flexibility and adaptability5. Democratic nations have forged the most effective international agreements, such as the Montreal Protocol against ozone-depleting substances.

Global stage

Impatient scientists often privilege hegemonic players such as world powers, states, transnational organizations, and multinational corporations. They tend to prefer sweeping policies of global mitigation over messier approaches of local adaptation; for them, global knowledge triumphs over local know-how. But societal trends are going in the opposite direction. The ability of large institutions to impose their will on citizens is declining. People are mobilizing around local concerns and efforts6.

The pessimistic assessment of the ability of democratic governance to cope with and control exceptional circumstances is linked to an optimistic assessment of the potential of large-scale social and economic planning. The uncertainties of social, political and economic events are treated as minor obstacles that can be overcome easily by implementing policies that experts prescribe. But humanity’s capacity to plan ahead effectively is limited. The centralized social and economic planning concept, widely discussed decades ago, has rightly fallen into disrepute7.

The argument for an authoritarian political approach concentrates on a single effect that governance ought to achieve: a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions. By focusing on that goal, rather than on the economic and social conditions that go hand-in-hand with it, climate policies are reduced to scientific or technical issues. But these are not the sole considerations. Environmental concerns are tightly entangled with other political, economic and cultural issues that both broaden the questions at hand and open up different ways of approaching it. Scientific knowledge is neither immediately performative nor persuasive.

Enhance engagement

There is but one political system that is able to rationally and legitimately cope with the divergent political interests affected by climate change and that is democracy. Only a democratic system can sensitively attend to the conflicts within and among nations and communities, decide between different policies, and generally advance the aspirations of different segments of the population. The ultimate and urgent challenge is that of enhancing democracy, for example by reducing social inequality8.

If not, the threat to civilization will be much more than just changes to our physical environment. The erosion of democracy is an unnecessary suppression of social complexity and rights.

The philosopher Friedrich Hayek, who led the debate against social and economic planning in the mid-twentieth century9, noted a paradox that applies today. As science advances, it tends to strengthen the idea that we should “aim at more deliberate and comprehensive control of all human activities”. Hayek pessimistically added: “It is for this reason that those intoxicated by the advance of knowledge so often become the enemies of freedom”10. We should heed his warning. It is dangerous to blindly believe that science and scientists alone can tell us what to do.

Nature 525, 449–450 (24 September 2015) dos:10.1038/525449a


  1. Adam, D. ‘Leading climate scientist: “democratic process isn’t working”’ The Guardian (18 March 2009).
  2. Beeson, M. Environ. Politics 19276294 (2010).
  3. Hansen, J. et alPLoS ONE (2013).
  4. REN21Renewables 2015 Global Status Report (REN21, 2015).
  5. Runciman, D. The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present (Princeton Univ. Press, 2013).
  6. Stehr, N. Information, Power and Democracy, Liberty is a Daughter of Knowledge (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015).
  7. Pierre, J. Debating Governance: Authority, Steering, and Democracy (Oxford Univ. Press, 2000).
  8. Rosanvallon, P. The Society of Equals (Harvard Univ. Press, 2013).
  9. Hayek, F. A. Nature 148580584 (1941).
  10. Hayek, F. A. The Constitution of Liberty (Routledge, 1960).

What will post-democracy look like? (The Sociological Imagination)

 ON JANUARY 19, 2015

As anyone who reads my blog regularly might have noticed, I’m a fan of Colin Crouch’s notion of post-democracy. I’ve interviewed him about it a couple of times: once in 2010 and again in 2013. Whereas he’d initially offered the notion to illuminate a potential trajectory, in the sense that we risk becoming post-democratic, we more latterly see a social order that might be said to have become post-democratic. He intends the term to function analogously to post-industrial: it is not that democracy is gone but that it has been hollowed out:

The term was indeed a direct analogy with ‘post-industrial’. A post-industrial society is not a non-industrial one. It continues to make and to use the products of industry, but the energy and innovative drive of the system have gone elsewhere. The same applies in a more complex way to post-modern, which is not the same as anti-modern or of course pre-modern. It implies a culture that uses the achievements of modernism but departs from them in its search for new possibilities. A post-democratic society therefore is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite. I did not say that we were now living in a post-democratic society, but that we were moving towards such a condition.

Crouch is far from the only theorist to have made such a claim. But I think there’s a precision to his argument which distinguishes it from the manner in which someone like, say, Bauman talks about depoliticisation. My current, slightly morbid, interest in representations of civilisational collapsehas left me wondering what entrenched post-democracy would look like. Asking this question does not refer to an absence of democracy, for which endless examples are possible, but rather for a more detailed sketch of what a social order which was once democratic but is now post-democratic would look like. While everyday life might look something like that which can be seen in Singapore, ‘the city of rules’ as this Guardian article puts it, I think there’s more to be said than this. However we can see in Singapore a vivid account of how micro-regulation can be deployed to facilitate a city in which ‘nothing goes wrong, but nothing really happens’ as one ex-pat memorably phrases it in that article. Is it so hard to imagine efficiency and orderliness being used to secure consent, at least amongst some, for a similar level of social control in western Europe or America?

Perhaps we’d also see the exceptional justice that intruded into UK life after the 2011 riots, with courts being kept open 24/7 in order to better facilitate the restoration of social order. There’s something akin to this in mega sporting events: opaque centralised planning overwhelms democratic consultation, ‘world cup courts’ dish out ad hoc justice, the social structure contorts itself for the pleasure of an international oligopoly upon whom proceedings depend, specialised security arrangements are intensively deployed in the interests of the event’s success and we often see a form of social cleansing (destruction of whole neighbourhoods) presented as a technocratic exercise in event management. We also see pre-arrests and predictive policing deployed to these ends and only a fool would not expect to see more of this as the technological apparatus and the political pressures encouraging them grow over time.

These security arrangements point to another aspect of a post-democratic social order: the economic vibrancy of the security sector. There is a technological dimension to this, with a long term growth fuelled by the ‘war on terror’ coupled with an increasing move towards ‘disruptive policing’ that offers technical solutions at a time of fiscal retrenchment, but we shouldn’t forget the more mundane side of the security industry and its interests in privatisation of policing. This is how Securitas, one of the world’s largest security companies, describe the prospects of the security industry. Note the title of the page: taking advantage of changes.

The global security services market employs several million people and is projected to reach USD 110 billion by 2016. Security services are in demand all over the world, in all industries and in both the public and private sectors. Demand for our services is closely linked to global economic development and social and demographic trends. As the global economy grows and develops, so do we.

Historically, the security market has grown 1–2 percent faster than GDP in mature markets. In recent years, due to current market dynamics and the gradual incorporation of technology into security solutions, security markets in Europe and North America have grown at the same pace as GDP. This trend is likely to continue over the next three to five years.

Market growth is crucial to Securitas’ future profitability and growth, but capitalizing on trends and changes in demand is also important. Developing new security solutions with a higher technology content and improved cost efficiency will allow the private security industry to expand the market by assuming responsibility for work presently performed by the police or other authorities. This development will also be a challenge for operations with insourced security services and increase interest in better outsourced solutions.

Consider this against a background of terrorism, as the spectacular narrative of the ‘war on terror’ comes to be replaced by a prospect of state of alert without end. We’ve not seen the end of the ‘war on terror’, we’ve seen a spectacular narrative become a taken for granted part of everyday life. It doesn’t need to be narrativised any more because it’s here to stay. Against this backdrop, we’re likely see an authoritarian slide in political culture, supplementing the institutional arrangements already in place, in which ‘responsibility’ becomes the key virtue in the exercise of freedoms – as I heard someone say on the radio yesterday, “it’s irresponsible to say democracy is the only thing that matters when we face a threat like this” (or words to that effect).

Crucially, I don’t think this process is inexorable and it’s certainly not the unfolding of an historical logic. It’s enacted by people at every level – including those who reinforce the slide at the micro level of everyday social interaction. The intractability of the problem comes because the process itself involves a hollowing out of processes of contestation at the highest level, such that the corporate agents pursuing this changing social order are also benefiting from it by potential sources of resistance being increasingly absent or at least passive on the macro level.  This is how Wolfgang Streeck describes this institutional project, as inflected through management of the financial crisis:

The utopian ideal of present day crisis management is to complete, with political means, the already far-advanced depoliticization of the economy; anchored in recognised nation-stated under the control of internal governmental and financial diplomacy insulated from democratic participation, with a population that would have learned, over years of hegemonic re-education, to regard the distributional outcomes of free markets as fair, or at least as without alternative.

Buying Time, pg 46

Mexico Vigilante Leader Demands Community Rule (ABC/AP)

MEXICO CITY — Jul 1, 2014, 5:18 PM ET

The leader of one of the first vigilante movements to spring up in Mexico last year filed a petition Tuesday demanding that the government allow communities in the southern state of Guerrero to elect local officials with open assemblies and show-of-hand votes.

Vigilante leader Bruno Placido said the petition filed with the Federal Electoral Tribunal asks specifically that the collective-vote system be allowed in the town of San Luis Acatlan. But Placido said his People’s Union movement would push for the system to be adopted in all 27 townships where vigilante forces known as “community police” now operate.

The system known as “usage and customs” forbids traditional campaigning and political parties. It currently is practiced in about 420 indigenous towns and villages, almost all in southern Oaxaca state.

Its adoption in non-Indian or mixed towns in Guerrero would mark a significant expansion. To date, its only use outside Oaxaca has been by rebellious Indian towns in Chiapas state and a lone Indian township in the western state of Michoacan, where a vigilante movement also exists.

Placido said the open-vote system would help keep drug gangs and violent crime out of the communities because current election procedures can put politicians in the pocket of drug gangs that finance their campaigns.

“The crime gangs are fomented by the politicians. When they campaign, they are financed with illicit funds, and when they get in, they are controlled by criminal funds,” Placido said. “What we are proposing to do is to get rid of this practice, in which the criminals name the authorities.”

His vigilante movement rose up with old shotguns and rifles in Guerrero in January 2013 and now has several thousand “citizen police” vigilantes serving in several towns.

Guerrero has been the scene of stubborn drug violence, including a Monday confrontation between soldiers and alleged drug gang members that killed 22 suspects at a warehouse and left a soldier injured.

The “usage and customs” system has been criticized for trampling on the rights of women, who are sometimes not allowed to run for office. But Placido said the assembly system would allow members of each of the three main ethnic groups in Guerrero — blacks, Indians and mixed-race — to elect representatives to a sort of town council.

There is no deadline for the federal tribunal to rule on the petition. The town of San Luis Acatlan is scheduled to hold a referendum soon on whether to formally adopt the system.

Mexican courts have generally upheld the right of Indian communities to make their own decisions on local governance issues.

Noam Chomsky: What Is the Common Good? (Truthout)

Tuesday, 07 January 2014 10:41

By Noam ChomskyTruthout | Op-Ed

 (Image: <a href="" target="_blank"> Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Brian Hillegas, Reigh LeBlanc, abrinsky</a>)(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Brian Hillegas, Reigh LeBlanc, abrinsky)

This article is adapted from a Dewey Lecture by Noam Chomsky at Columbia University in New York on Dec. 6, 2013.

Humans are social beings, and the kind of creature that a person becomes depends crucially on the social, cultural and institutional circumstances of his life.

We are therefore led to inquire into the social arrangements that are conducive to people’s rights and welfare, and to fulfilling their just aspirations – in brief, the common good.

For perspective I’d like to invoke what seem to me virtual truisms. They relate to an interesting category of ethical principles: those that are not only universal, in that they are virtually always professed, but also doubly universal, in that at the same time they are almost universally rejected in practice.

These range from very general principles, such as the truism that we should apply to ourselves the same standards we do to others (if not harsher ones), to more specific doctrines, such as a dedication to promoting democracy and human rights, which is proclaimed almost universally, even by the worst monsters – though the actual record is grim, across the spectrum.

A good place to start is with John Stuart Mill’s classic “On Liberty.” Its epigraph formulates “The grand, leading principle, towards which every argument unfolded in these pages directly converges: the absolute and essential importance of human development in its richest diversity.”

The words are quoted from Wilhelm von Humboldt, a founder of classical liberalism. It follows that institutions that constrain such development are illegitimate, unless they can somehow justify themselves.

Concern for the common good should impel us to find ways to cultivate human development in its richest diversity.

Adam Smith, another Enlightenment thinker with similar views, felt that it shouldn’t be too difficult to institute humane policies. In his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” he observed that “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.”

Smith acknowledges the power of what he calls the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind”: “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people.” But the more benign “original passions of human nature” might compensate for that pathology.

Classical liberalism shipwrecked on the shoals of capitalism, but its humanistic commitments and aspirations didn’t die. Rudolf Rocker, a 20th-century anarchist thinker and activist, reiterated similar ideas.

Rocker described what he calls “a definite trend in the historic development of mankind” that strives for “the free unhindered unfolding of all the individual and social forces in life.”

Rocker was outlining an anarchist tradition culminating in anarcho-syndicalism – in European terms, a variety of “libertarian socialism.”

This brand of socialism, he held, doesn’t depict “a fixed, self-enclosed social system” with a definite answer to all the multifarious questions and problems of human life, but rather a trend in human development that strives to attain Enlightenment ideals.

So understood, anarchism is part of a broader range of libertarian socialist thought and action that includes the practical achievements of revolutionary Spain in 1936; reaches further to worker-owned enterprises spreading today in the American rust belt, in northern Mexico, in Egypt, and many other countries, most extensively in the Basque country in Spain; and encompasses the many cooperative movements around the world and a good part of feminist and civil and human rights initiatives.

This broad tendency in human development seeks to identify structures of hierarchy, authority and domination that constrain human development, and then subject them to a very reasonable challenge: Justify yourself.

If these structures can’t meet that challenge, they should be dismantled – and, anarchists believe, “refashioned from below,” as commentator Nathan Schneider observes.

In part this sounds like truism: Why should anyone defend illegitimate structures and institutions? But truisms at least have the merit of being true, which distinguishes them from a good deal of political discourse. And I think they provide useful stepping stones to finding the common good.

For Rocker, “the problem that is set for our time is that of freeing man from the curse of economic exploitation and political and social enslavement.”

It should be noted that the American brand of libertarianism differs sharply from the libertarian tradition, accepting and indeed advocating the subordination of working people to the masters of the economy, and the subjection of everyone to the restrictive discipline and destructive features of markets.

Anarchism is, famously, opposed to the state, while advocating “planned administration of things in the interest of the community,” in Rocker’s words; and beyond that, wide-ranging federations of self-governing communities and workplaces.

Today, anarchists dedicated to these goals often support state power to protect people, society and the earth itself from the ravages of concentrated private capital. That’s no contradiction. People live and suffer and endure in the existing society. Available means should be used to safeguard and benefit them, even if a long-term goal is to construct preferable alternatives.

In the Brazilian rural workers movement, they speak of “widening the floors of the cage” – the cage of existing coercive institutions that can be widened by popular struggle – as has happened effectively over many years.

We can extend the image to think of the cage of state institutions as a protection from the savage beasts roaming outside: the predatory, state-supported capitalist institutions dedicated in principle to private gain, power and domination, with community and people’s interest at most a footnote, revered in rhetoric but dismissed in practice as a matter of principle and even law.

Much of the most respected work in academic political science compares public attitudes and government policy. In “Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America,” the Princeton scholar Martin Gilens reveals that the majority of the U.S. population is effectively disenfranchised.

About 70 percent of the population, at the lower end of the wealth/income scale, has no influence on policy, Gilens concludes. Moving up the scale, influence slowly increases. At the very top are those who pretty much determine policy, by means that aren’t obscure. The resulting system is not democracy but plutocracy.

Or perhaps, a little more kindly, it’s what legal scholar Conor Gearty calls “neo-democracy,” a partner to neoliberalism – a system in which liberty is enjoyed by the few, and security in its fullest sense is available only to the elite, but within a system of more general formal rights.

In contrast, as Rocker writes, a truly democratic system would achieve the character of “an alliance of free groups of men and women based on cooperative labor and a planned administration of things in the interest of the community.”

No one took the American philosopher John Dewey to be an anarchist. But consider his ideas. He recognized that “Power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Whoever owns them rules the life of the country,” even if democratic forms remain. Until those institutions are in the hands of the public, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business,” much as is seen today.

These ideas lead very naturally to a vision of society based on workers’ control of productive institutions, as envisioned by 19th century thinkers, notably Karl Marx but also – less familiar – John Stuart Mill.

Mill wrote, “The form of association, however, which if mankind continue to improve, must be expected to predominate, is . the association of the labourers themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers electable and removable by themselves.”

The Founding Fathers of the United States were well aware of the hazards of democracy. In the Constitutional Convention debates, the main framer, James Madison, warned of these hazards.

Naturally taking England as his model, Madison observed that “In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place,” undermining the right to property.

The basic problem that Madison foresaw in “framing a system which we wish to last for ages” was to ensure that the actual rulers will be the wealthy minority so as “to secure the rights of property agst. the danger from an equality & universality of suffrage, vesting compleat power over property in hands without a share in it.”

Scholarship generally agrees with the Brown University scholar Gordon S. Wood’s assessment that “The Constitution was intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period.”

Long before Madison, Artistotle, in his “Politics,” recognized the same problem with democracy.

Reviewing a variety of political systems, Aristotle concluded that this system was the best – or perhaps the least bad – form of government. But he recognized a flaw: The great mass of the poor could use their voting power to take the property of the rich, which would be unfair.

Madison and Aristotle arrived at opposite solutions: Aristotle advised reducing inequality, by what we would regard as welfare state measures. Madison felt that the answer was to reduce democracy.

In his last years, Thomas Jefferson, the man who drafted the United States’ Declaration of Independence, captured the essential nature of the conflict, which has far from ended. Jefferson had serious concerns about the quality and fate of the democratic experiment. He distinguished between “aristocrats and democrats.”

The aristocrats are “those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.”

The democrats, in contrast, “identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interest.”

Today the successors to Jefferson’s “aristocrats” might argue about who should play the guiding role: technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals, or bankers and corporate executives.

It is this political guardianship that the genuine libertarian tradition seeks to dismantle and reconstruct from below, while also changing industry, as Dewey put it, “from a feudalistic to a democratic social order” based on workers’ control, respecting the dignity of the producer as a genuine person, not a tool in the hands of others.

Like Karl Marx’s Old Mole – “our old friend, our old mole, who knows so well how to work underground, then suddenly to emerge” – the libertarian tradition is always burrowing close to the surface, always ready to peek through, sometimes in surprising and unexpected ways, seeking to bring about what seems to me to be a reasonable approximation to the common good.

© 2014 Noam Chomsky
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

Democracy Pays (Science Daily)

Dec. 23, 2013 — In relatively large communities, individuals do not always obey the rules and often exploit the willingness of others to cooperate. Institutions such as the police are there to provide protection from misconduct such as tax fraud. But such institutions don’t just come about spontaneously because they cost money which each individual must contribute.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Manfred Milinski from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön has now used an experimental game to investigate the conditions under which institutions of this kind can nevertheless arise. The study shows that a group of players does particularly well if it has first used its own “tax money” to set up a central institution which punishes both free riders and tax evaders. However, the groups only set up institutions to penalize tax evasion if they have decided to do so by a democratic majority decision. Democracy thus enables the creation of rules and institutions which, while demanding individual sacrifice, are best for the group. The chances of agreeing on common climate protection measures around the globe are thus greater under democratic conditions.

In most modern states, central institutions are funded by public taxation. This means, however, that tax evaders must also be punished. Once such a system has been established, it is also good for the community: it makes co-existence easier and it helps maintain common standards. However, such advantageous institutions do not come about by themselves. The community must first agree that such a common punishment authority makes sense and decide what powers it should be given. Climate protection is a case in point, demonstrating that this cannot always be achieved. But how can a community agree on sensible institutions and self-limitations?

The Max Planck researchers allowed participants in a modified public goods game to decide whether to pay taxes towards a policing institution with their starting capital. They were additionally able to pay money into a common pot. The total paid in was then tripled and paid out to all participants. If taxes had been paid beforehand, free riders who did not contribute to the group pot were punished by the police. In the absence of taxation, however, there would be no police and the group would run the risk that no-one would pay into the common pot.

Police punishment of both free riders and tax evaders quickly established cooperative behavior in the experiment. If, however, tax evaders were not punished, the opposite happened and the participants avoided paying taxes. Without policing, there was no longer any incentive to pay into the group pot, so reducing the profits for the group members. Ultimately, each individual thus benefits if tax evaders are punished.

But can participants foresee this development? To find out, the scientists gave the participants a choice: they were now able to choose individually whether they joined a group in which the police also punish tax evaders. Alternatively, they could choose a group in which only those participants who did not pay into the common pot were penalized. Faced with this choice, the majority preferred a community without punishment for tax evaders — with the result that virtually no taxes were paid and, subsequently, that contributions to the group pot also fell.

In a second experimental scenario, the players were instead able to decide by democratic vote whether, for all subsequent rounds, the police should be authorized to punish tax evaders as well as free riders or only free riders. In this case, the players clearly voted for institutions in which tax evaders were also punished. “People are often prepared to impose rules on themselves, but only if they know that these rules apply to everyone,” summarizes Christian Hilbe, the lead author of the study. A majority decision ensures that all participants are equally affected by the outcome of the vote. This makes it easier to introduce rules and institutions which, while demanding individual sacrifice, are best for the group.

The participants’ profits also demonstrate that majority decisions are better: those groups which were able to choose democratically were more cooperative and so also made greater profits. “Democracy pays — in the truest sense of the word,” says Manfred Milinski. “More democracy would certainly not go amiss when it comes to the problem of global warming.”

Zizek: a caminho de uma ruptura global (Outras Palavras)

POR SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK – ON 30/06/2013


Brasília, junho de 2013

Chegada dos Protestos ao Brasil e Turquia revela: há mal-estar generalizado contra lógicas e ideologia do capitalismo. Desafio é construir alternativas e nova democracia

Por Slavoj Žižek, no London Review of Books | Tradução Vila Vudu

Em seus primeiros escritos, Marx descreve a situação na Alemanha como uma daquelas na qual a única resposta a problemas particulares seria a solução universal: a revolução global. É expressão condensada da diferença entre período reformista e período revolucionário: em período reformista, a revolução global permanece como sonho que, se serve para alguma coisa, é apenas para dar peso às tentativas para mudar alguma coisa localmente; em período revolucionário, vê-se claramente que nada melhorará, sem mudança global radical. Nesse sentido puramente formal, 1990 foi ano revolucionário: as muitas reformas parciais nos estados comunistas jamais dariam conta do serviço; e era necessária uma quebra total, para resolver todos os problemas do dia a dia. Por exemplo, o problema de dar suficiente comida às pessoas.

Em que ponto estamos hoje, quanto a essa diferença? Os problemas e protestos dos últimos anos são sinais de que se aproxima uma crise global, ou não passam de pequenos obstáculos que pode enfrentar mediante intervenções locais? O mais notável nas erupções é que estão acontecendo não apenas, nem basicamente, nos pontos fracos do sistema, mas em pontos que, até aqui, eram percebidos como histórias de sucesso. Sabemos por que as pessoas protestam na Grécia ou na Espanha; mas por que há confusão em países prósperos e em rápido desenvolvimento como Turquia, Suécia ou Brasil?

Com algum distanciamento, pode-se ver que a revolução de Khomeini em 1979 foi o caso original de “dificuldades no paraíso”, dado que aconteceu em país que caminhava a passos largos para uma modernização pró-ocidente, e era o mais estável aliado do ocidente na região.

Antes da atual onda de protestos, a Turquia era quente: modelo ideal de estado estável, a combinar pujante economia liberal e islamismo moderado. Pronta para a Europa, um bem-vindo contraste com a Grécia mais “europeia”, colhida num labirinto ideológico e andando rumo à autodestruição econômica. Sim, é verdade: aqui e ali sempre viam-se alguns sinais péssimos (a Turquia, sempre a negar o holocausto dos armênios; prisão de jornalistas; o status não resolvido dos curdos; chamamentos a uma “grande Turquia” que ressuscitaria a tradição do Império Otomano; imposição, vez ou outra, de leis religiosas). Mas eram descartados como pequenas máculas que não comprometeriam o grande quadro.


E então, explodiram os protestos na praça Taksim. Não há quem não saiba que os planos para transformar um parque em torno da praça Taksim no centro de Istambul em shopping-center não foram “o caso”, naqueles protestos; e que um mal-estar muito mais profundo ganhava força. O mesmo se deve dizer dos protestos de meados de junho no Brasil: foram desencadeados por um pequeno aumento na tarifa do transporte público, e prosseguiram mesmo depois de o aumento ter sido revogado. Também nesse caso, os protestos explodiram num país que – pelo menos segundo a mídia – estava em pleno boom econômico e com todos os motivos para sentir-se confiante quanto ao futuro. Nesse caso, os protestos foram aparentemente apoiados pela presidente Dilma Rousseff, que se declarou satisfeitíssima com eles.

O que une protestos em todo o mundo — por mais diversos que sejam, na aparência — é que todos reagem contra diferentes facetas da globalização capitalista

É crucialmente importante não vermos os protestos turcos meramente como sociedade civil secular que se levanta contra regime islamista autoritário, apoiado por uma maioria islamista silenciosa. O que complica o quadro é o ímpeto anticapitalista dos protestos. Os que protestam sentem intuitivamente que o fundamentalismo de mercado e o fundamentalismo islâmico não se excluem mutuamente.

A privatização do espaço público por ação de um governo islamista mostra que as duas modalidades de fundamentalismo podem trabalhar de mãos dadas. É sinal claro de que o casamento “por toda a eternidade” de democracia e capitalismo já caminha para o divórcio.

Também é importante reconhecer que os que protestam não visam a nenhum objetivo “real” identificável. Os protestos não são, “realmente”, contra o capitalismo global, nem “realmente” contra o fundamentalismo religioso, nem “realmente” a favor de liberdades civis e democracia, nem visam “realmente” qualquer outra coisa específica. O que a maioria dos que participaram dos protestos “sabem” é de um mal-estar, de um descontentamento fluido, que sustenta e une várias demandas específicas.

A luta para entender os protestos não é luta só epistemológica, com jornalistas e teóricos tentando explicar seu “real” conteúdo: é também luta ontológica pela própria coisa, o que esteja acontecendo dentro dos próprios protestos. É apenas luta contra governo corrupto? É luta contra governo islâmico autoritário? É luta contra a privatização do espaço público? A pergunta continua aberta. E de como seja respondida dependerá o resultado de um processo político em andamento.

Em 2011, quando irrompiam protestos por toda a Europa e todo o Oriente Médio, muitos insistiram que não fossem tratados como instâncias de um único movimento global. Em vez disso, argumentavam, haveria uma resposta específica para cada situação específica. No Egito, os que protestavam queriam o que em outros países era alvo das críticas do movimento Occupy: “liberdade” e “democracia”. Mesmo entre países muçulmanos, haveria diferenças cruciais: a Primavera Árabe no Egito seria contra um regime autoritário e corrupto aliado do ocidente; a Revolução Verde no Irã, que começou em 2009, seria contra o islamismo autoritário. É fácil ver o quanto essa particularização dos protestos serve bem aos defensores do status quo: não há nenhuma ameaça direta à ordem global como tal. Só uma série de problemas locais separados…

O capitalismo global é processo complexo que afeta diferentes países de diferentes modos. O que une todos os protestos, por mais multifacetados que sejam, é que todos reagem contra diferentes facetas da globalização capitalista. A tendência geral do capitalismo global é hoje expandir o mercado, invadir e cercar o espaço público, reduzir os serviços públicos (saúde, educação, cultura) e impor cada vez mais firmemente um poder político autoritário. Nesse contexto, os gregos protestam contra o governo do capital financeiro internacional e contra seu próprio estado ineficiente e corrupto, cada dia menos capaz de prover os serviços sociais básicos. Nesse contexto, os turcos protestam contra a comercialização do espaço público e contra o autoritarismo religioso. E os egípcios protestam contra um governo apoiado pelas potências ocidentais. E os iranianos protestam contra a corrupção e o fundamentalismo religioso. E assim por diante.

Nenhum desses protestos pode ser reduzido a uma única questão. Todos lidam com uma específica combinação de pelo menos dois problemas, um econômico (da corrupção à ineficiência do próprio capitalismo); o outro, político-ideológico (da demanda por democracia à demanda pelo fim da democracia convencional multipartidária). O mesmo se aplica ao movimento Occupy. Na profusão de declarações (muitas vezes confusas), o movimento manteve dois traços básicos: primeiro, o descontentamento com o capitalismo como sistema, não apenas contra um ou outro corrupto ou corrupções locais; segundo, a consciência de que a forma institucionalizada de democracia multipartidária não tem meios para combater os excessos capitalistas. Em outras palavras, é preciso reinventar a democracia.


A causa subjacente dos protestos ser o capitalismo global não significa que a única solução seja “derrubar” o capitalismo. Nem é viável seguir a alternativa pragmática, que implica lidar com problemas individuais enquanto se espera por transformação radical. Essa ideia ignora o fato de que o capitalismo global é necessariamente contraditório e inconsistente: a liberdade de mercado anda de mãos dadas com os EUA protegerem seus próprios agronegócios e agronegociantes; pregar a democracia anda de mãos dadas com apoiar o governo da Arábia Saudita.

Essa inconsistência abre um espaço para a intervenção política: onde o capitalista global é forçado a violar suas próprias regras, ali há uma oportunidade para insistir em que ele obedeça àquelas regras. Exigir coerência e consistência em pontos estrategicamente selecionados nos quais o sistema não pode pagar para ser coerente e consistente é pressionar todo o sistema. A arte da política está em impor demandas específicas as quais, ao mesmo tempo em que são perfeitamente realistas, ferem o coração da ideologia hegemônica e implicam mudança muito mais radical. Essas demandas, por mais que sejam viáveis e legítimas, são, de fato, impossíveis. Caso exemplar é a proposta de Obama para prover assistência pública universal à saúde. Por isso as reações foram tão violentas.

Um movimento político começa com uma ideia, algo por que lutar, mas, no tempo, a ideia passa por transformação profunda – não apenas alguma acomodação tática, mas uma redefinição essencial –, porque a própria ideia passa a ser parte do processo: torna-se sobredeterminada.* Digamos que uma revolta comece com uma demanda por justiça, talvez sob a forma de demanda pela rejeição de uma determinada lei. Depois de o povo estar profundamente engajado na revolta, ele percebe que será preciso muito mais do que a demanda inicial, para que haja verdadeira justiça. O problema então é definir, precisamente, em que consiste esse “muito mais”.

A perspectiva liberal-pragmática entende que os problemas podem ser resolvidos gradualmente, um a um: “Há gente morrendo agora em Rwanda, então esqueçam a luta anti-imperialista e vamos impedir o massacre”. Ou: “Temos de combater a pobreza e o racismo já, aqui e agora, não esperar pelo colapso da ordem capitalista global”. John Caputo argumenta exatamente assim em After the Death of God (2007):

Eu ficaria perfeitamente feliz se os políticos da extrema-esquerda nos EUA fossem capazes de reformar o sistema oferecendo assistência universal à saúde, redistribuindo efetivamente a riqueza mais equitativamente com um sistema tributário [orig. Internal Revenue Code (IRC)] redefinido, restringindo o financiamento privado de campanhas eleitorais, autorizando o voto universal, para todos, tratando com humanidade os trabalhadores migrantes, e levando a efeito uma política externa multilateralista que integrasse o poder dos EUA dentro da comunidade internacional etc. Ou seja, intervindo sobre o capitalismo mediante reformas profundas, de longo alcance… Se depois de fazer tudo isso, Badiou e Žižek ainda reclamarem de um monstro chamado Capitalismo a nos assombrar, eu estaria inclinado a receber o tal monstro com um bocejo.

Não se trata de “derrubar” o capitalismo. Mas de construir lógicasde uma sociedade que vá além dele. Isso inclui novas formas de democracia

O problema aqui não é a conclusão de Caputo: se se pode alcançar tudo isso dentro do capitalismo, por que não ficar aí mesmo? O problema é a premissa subjacente de que seja possível obter tudo isso dentro do capitalismo global em sua forma atual. Mas e se os emperramentos e mau funcionamento do capitalismo, que Caputo listou, não forem meras perturbações contingentes, mas necessários por estrutura? E se o sonho de Caputo é um sonho de ordem capitalista universal, sem sintomas, sem os pontos críticos nos quais sua “verdade reprimida” mostra a própria cara?

Os protestos e revoltas de hoje são sustentados pela combinação de demandas sobrepostas, e é aí que está a sua força: lutam por democracia (“normal”, parlamentar) contra regimes autoritários; contra o racismo e o sexismo, especialmente quando dirigidos contra imigrantes e refugiados; contra a corrupção na política e nos negócios (poluição industrial do meio ambiente etc.); pelo estado de bem-estar contra o neoliberalismo; e por novas formas de democracia que avancem além dos rituais multipartidários. Questionam também o sistema capitalista global como tal, e tentam manter viva a ideia de uma sociedade que avance além do capitalismo.

Duas armadilhas há aí, a serem evitadas: o falso radicalismo (“o que realmente interessa é abolir o capitalismo liberal-parlamentar; todas as demais lutas são secundárias”), mas, também, o falso gradualismo (“no momentos temos de lutar contra a ditadura militar e por democracia básica, todos os sonhos de socialismo devem ser, agora, postos de lado”).

Aqui, ninguém se deve envergonhar de acionar a distinção maoista entre antagonismo principal e antagonismos secundários, entre os que mais interessam no fim e os que dominam hoje. Há situações nas quais insistir no antagonismo principal significa perder a oportunidade de acertar golpe significativo, no curso da luta.

Só uma política que tome plenamente em consideração a complexidade da sobredeterminação merece o nome de estratégia. Quando se embarca numa luta específica, a pergunta chave é: como nosso engajamento ou desengajamento nessa luta afeta outras lutas?

Praça Tahrir, Egito 2011

Praça Tahrir, Egito 2011

A regra geral é que quando uma revolta contra regime semidemocrático começa – como no Oriente Médio em 2011 – é fácil mobilizar grandes multidões com slogans (por democracia, contra a corrupção etc.). Mas muito rapidamente temos de enfrentar escolhas muito mais difíceis. Quando a revolta é bem-sucedida e alcança o objetivo inicial, nos damos conta de que o que realmente nos perturbava (a falta de liberdade, a humilhação diária, a corrupção, o futuro pouco ou nenhum) persiste sob novo disfarce. Nesse momento somos forçados a ver que havia furos no próprio objetivo inicial. Pode implicar que se chegue a ver que a democracia pode ser uma forma de des-liberdade, ou que se pode exigir muito mais do que apenas a mera democracia política: que a vida social e econômica tem de ser também democratizada.

Em resumo, o que à primeira vista tomamos como fracasso que só atingia um nobre princípio (a liberdade democrática) é afinal percebido como fracasso inerente ao próprio princípio. Essa descoberta – de que o princípio pelo qual lutamos pode ser inerentemente viciado – é um grande passo em qualquer educação política.

Representantes da ideologia reinante mobilizam todo o seu arsenal para impedir que cheguemos a essa conclusão radical. Dizem-nos que a liberdade democrática implica suas próprias responsabilidades, que tem um preço, que é sinal de imaturidade esperar demais da democracia. Numa sociedade livre, dizem eles, devemos agir como capitalistas e investir em nossa própria vida: se fracassarmos, se não conseguirmos fazer os necessários sacrifícios, ou se de algum modo não correspondermos, a culpa é nossa.


Istambul, maio de 2013

Em sentido político mais direto, os EUA perseguem coerentemente uma estratégia de controle de danos em sua política externa, recanalizando os levantes populares para formas capitalistas-parlamentares aceitáveis: na África do Sul, depois do apartheid; nas Filipinas, depois da queda de Marcos; na Indonésia, depois de Suharto etc. É nesse ponto que a política propriamente dita começa: a questão é como empurrar ainda mais adiante, depois que passa a primeira, excitante, onda de mudança; como dar o passo seguinte, sem sucumbir à tentação “totalitária”; como avançar além de Mandela, sem virar Mugabe.

O que significaria isso, num caso concreto? Comparemos dois países vizinhos, Grécia e Turquia. À primeira vista, talvez pareçam completamente diferentes: Grécia, presa na armadilha da ruinosa política de austeridade; Turquia em pleno boom econômico e emergindo como nova superpotência regional. Mas e se cada Turquia contiver sua própria Grécia, suas próprias ilhas de miséria? Como Brecht diz em sua Elegias Hollywoodenses (orig. Hollywood Elegies’ [1942]),

A vila de Hollywood foi planejada segundo a ideia
De que o povo aqui seria proprietário de partes do paraíso. Ali,
Chegaram à conclusão de que Deus
Embora precisando de céu e inferno, não precisava
Planejar dois estabelecimentos, mas
Só um: o paraíso. Que esse,
para os pobres e infortunados, funciona
como inferno.

Esses versos descrevem bastante bem a “aldeia global” de hoje: aplicam-se ao Qatar ou Dubai, playgrounds para os ricos, que dependem de manter os trabalhadores imigrantes em estado de semiescravidão, ou escravidão. Exame mais detido revela semelhanças entre Turquia e Grécia: privatizações, o fechamento do espaço público, o desmonte dos serviços sociais, a ascensão de políticos autoritários. Num plano elementar, os que protestam na Grécia e os que protestam na Turquia estão engajados na mesma luta. O melhor caminho talvez seja coordenar as duas lutas, rejeitar as tentações “patrióticas”, deixar para trás a inimizade histórica entre os dois países e buscar espaços de solidariedade. O futuro dos protestos talvez dependa disso.

* Em seu prefácio à Contribuição à Crítica da Economia Política, Marx escreveu (no seu pior modo evolucional) que a humanidade só se propõe problemas que seja capaz de resolver. E se invertermos a ganga dessa frase e declararmos que, regra geral, a humanidade propõe-se problemas que não pode resolver, e assim dispara um processo cujo desdobramento é imprevisível, no curso do qual, a própria tarefa é redefinida?

[1] Não encontramos tradução para o português. Aqui, tradução de trabalho, sem ambição literária, só para ajudar a ler [NTs].

Um país estranho (FSP)


São Paulo, terça-feira, 23 de outubro de 2012

A Islândia é uma ilha com pouco mais de 300 mil habitantes que parece decidida a inventar a democracia do futuro.

Por uma razão não totalmente clara, esse país que fora um dos primeiros a quebrar com a crise financeira de 2008 sumiu em larga medida das páginas da imprensa mundial. Coisas estranhas, no entanto, aconteceram por lá.

Primeiro, o presidente da República submeteu a plebiscito propostas de ajuda estatal a bancos falidos. O ex-primeiro-ministro grego George Papandreou foi posto para fora do governo quando aventou uma ideia semelhante. O povo islandês, todavia, não se fez de rogado e disse claramente que não pagaria nenhuma dívida de bancos.

Mais do que isso, os executivos dos bancos foram presos e o primeiro-ministro que governava o país à época da crise foi julgado e condenado.

Algo muito diferente do resto da Europa, onde os executivos que quebraram a economia mundial foram para casa levando no bolso “stock options” vindos diretamente das ajudas estatais.

Como se não bastasse, a Islândia resolveu escrever uma nova Constituição. Submetida a sufrágio universal, ela foi aprovada no último fim de semana. A Constituição não foi redigida por membros do Parlamento ou por juristas, mas por 25 “pessoas comuns” escolhidas de maneira direta.

Durante sua redação, qualquer um podia utilizar as redes sociais para enviar sugestões de leis e questionar o projeto. Todas as discussões entre os membros do Conselho Constitucional podiam ser acompanhadas do computador de qualquer cidadão.

O resultado é uma Constituição que estatiza todos os recursos naturais, impede o Estado de ter documentos secretos sobre seus cidadãos e cria as bases de uma democracia direta, onde basta o pedido de 10% da população para que uma lei aprovada pelo Parlamento seja objeto de plebiscito.

Seu preâmbulo não poderia ser mais claro a respeito do espírito de todo o documento: “Nós, o povo da Islândia, queremos criar uma sociedade justa que ofereça as mesmas oportunidades a todos. Nossas diferentes origens são uma riqueza comum e, juntos, somos responsáveis pela herança de gerações”.

Em uma época na qual a Europa afunda na xenofobia e esquece o igualitarismo como valor republicano fundamental, a Constituição islandesa soa estranha. Esse estranho país, contudo, já não está mais em crise econômica.

Cresceu 2,1% no ano passado e deve crescer 2,7% neste ano. Eles fizeram tudo o que Portugal, Espanha, Grécia, Itália e outros não fizeram. Ou seja, eles confiaram na força da soberania popular e resolveram guiar seu destino com as próprias mãos. Algo atualmente muito estranho.

VLADIMIR SAFATLE escreve às terças-feiras nesta coluna.

Henry A. Giroux: Why Don’t Americans Care About Democracy at Home? (

Tuesday, 02 October 2012 13:47 – By Henry A GirouxTruthout | Op-Ed


(Photo: Lance Page / Truthout)“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”  – James Baldwin

Four decades of neoliberal policies have given way to an economic Darwinism that promotes a politics of cruelty. And its much vaunted ideology is taking over the United States.[1] As a theater of cruelty and mode of public pedagogy, economic Darwinism undermines all forms of solidarity capable of challenging market-driven values and social relations. At the same time, economic Darwinism promotes the virtues of an unbridled individualism that is almost pathological in its disdain for community, social responsibility, public values and the public good. As the welfare state is dismantled and spending is cut to the point where government becomes unrecognizable – except to promote policies that benefit the rich, corporations and the defense industry – the already weakened federal and state governments are increasingly replaced by the harsh realities of the punishing state and what João Biehl has called proliferating “zones of social abandonment” and “terminal exclusion.”[2]

To read more articles by Henry Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

One consequence is that social problems are increasingly criminalized, while social protections are either eliminated or fatally weakened. Another result of this crushing form of economic Darwinism is that it thrives on a kind of social amnesia that erases critical thought, historical analyses and any understanding of broader systemic relations. In this instance, it does the opposite of critical memory work by eliminating those public spheres where people learn to translate private troubles into public issues. That is, it breaks “the link between public agendas and private worries, the very hub of the democratic process.”[3] Once set in motion, economic Darwinism unleashes a mode of thinking in which social problems are reduced to individual flaws and political considerations collapse into the injurious and self-indicting discourse of character. As George Lakoff and Glenn Smith argue, the anti-public philosophy of economic Darwinism makes a parody of democracy by defining freedom as “the liberty to seek one’s own interests and well-being, without being responsible for the interests or well-being of anyone else. It’s a morality of personal, but not social, responsibility. The only freedom you should have is what you can provide for yourself, not what the Public provides for you to start out.”[4] Put simply, we alone become responsible for the problems we confront when we can no longer conceive how larger forces control or constrain our choices and the lives we are destined to lead.

Yet, the harsh values and practices of this new social order are visible – in the increasing incarceration of young people, the modeling of public schools after prisons, state violence waged against peaceful student protesters and state policies that bail out investment bankers but leave the middle and working classes in a state of poverty, despair and insecurity. Such values are also evident in the GOP Social-Darwinist budget plan that rewards the rich and cuts aid for those who need it the most. For instance, the Romney/Ryan budget plan “proposes to cut the taxes of households earning over $1 million by an average of $295,874 a year,”[5] but at a cruel cost to those most disadvantaged populations who rely on social programs. In order to pay for tax reductions that benefit the rich, the Romney/Ryan budget would cut funds for food stamps, Pell grants, health care benefits, unemployment insurance, veterans’ benefits and other crucial social programs.[6] As Paul Krugman has argued, the Ryan budget “isn’t just looking for ways to save money [it’s] also trying to make life harder for the poor – for their own good. In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, [Ryan] declared, ‘We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.'”[7] Krugman rightly replies, “I doubt that Americans forced to rely on unemployment benefits and food stamps in a depressed economy feel that they’re living in a comfortable hammock.”[8] As an extremist version of neoliberalism, Ryanomics is especially vicious towards American children, 16.1 million of whom currently live in poverty. Marian Wright Edelman captures the harshness and savagery of the Ryan budget passed in the House of Representatives. She writes:

Ryanomics is an all out assault on our poorest children while asking not a dime of sacrifice from the richest 2 percent of Americans or from wealthy corporations. Ryanomics slashes hundreds of billions of dollars from child and family nutrition, health, child care, education and child protection services, in order to extend and add to the massive Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires at a taxpayer cost of $5 trillion over 10 years. On top of making the Bush tax cuts permanent, the top income bracket would get an additional 10 percent tax cut. Millionaires and billionaires would on average keep at least an additional quarter of a million dollars each year and possibly as much as $400,000 a year according to the Citizens for Tax Justice.[9]

Under the euphemism of a politics of austerity, we are witnessing not only widespread cuts in vital infrastructures, education and social protections, but also the emergence of policies produced in the spirit of revenge aimed at the poor, the elderly and others marginalized by race and class. As Robert Reich, Charles Ferguson, and a host of recent commentators have pointed out, this extreme concentration of power in every commanding institution of society promotes predatory practices and rewards sociopathic behavior. Such a system creates an authoritarian class of corporate and hedge-fund swindlers that reaps its own profits by

placing big bets with other people’s money. The winners in this system are top Wall Street executives and traders, private-equity managers and hedge-fund moguls, and the losers are most of the rest of us. The system is largely responsible for the greatest concentration of the nation’s income and wealth at the very top since the Gilded Age of the 19th century, with the richest 400 Americans owning as much as the bottom 150 million put together. And these multimillionaires and billionaires are now actively buying the 2012 election – and with it, American democracy.[10]

Unfortunately, the American public has remained largely silent, if not also complicitous with the rise of a neoliberal version of authoritarianism. While young people have started to challenge this politics and machinery of corruption, war, violence and death, they represent a small and marginalized part of the movement that will be necessary to initiate massive collective resistance to the aggressive violence being waged against all those public spheres that further the promise of democracy in the United States. The actions of student protesters and others have been crucial in drawing public attention to the constellation of forces that are pushing the United States into what Hannah Arendt called “dark times.” The questions now being asked must be seen as the first step toward exposing dire social and political costs of concentrating wealth, income and power into the hands of the upper one percent.

Neoliberal Ideology and the Rhetoric of Freedom

In addition to amassing ever expanding amounts of material wealth, the rich now control the means of schooling and education in the United States. They have disinvested in critical education, while reproducing notions of common sense that incessantly replicate the basic values, ideas and relations necessary to sustain the institutions of economic Darwinism. Both parties support educational reforms that increase conceptual illiteracy. Critical learning is now reduced to mastering test-taking, memorizing facts, and learning how not to question knowledge and authority. This type of rote pedagogy, as Zygmunt Bauman points out, is “the most effective prescription for grinding communication to a halt and for [robbing] it of the presumption and expectation of meaningfulness and sense.”[11]

This type of market-driven illiteracy has eviscerated the notion of freedom, turning it largely into the desire to consume and invest exclusively in relationships that serve only one’s individual interests. Citizens are treated by the political and economic elite as restless children and are “invited daily to convert the practice of citizenship into the art of shopping.”[12] Shallow consumerism coupled with an indifference to the needs and suffering of others has produced a politics of disengagement and a culture of moral irresponsibility. Language has been stripped of the terms, phrases and ideas that embrace a concern for the other. With meaning utterly privatized, words are reduced to signifiers that mimic spectacles of violence, designed to provide entertainment rather than thoughtful analysis. Sentiments circulating in the dominant culture parade either idiocy or a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, while anti-public rhetoric strips society of the knowledge and values necessary for the development of a democratically engaged and socially responsible public.

In such circumstances, freedom has truly morphed into its opposite. Neoliberal ideology has construed as pathological any notion that in a healthy society people depend on each other in multiple, complex, direct and indirect ways. As Lewis Lapham points out, “Citizens are no longer held in thoughtful regard … just as thinking and acting are removed from acts of public conscience.”[13] Economic Darwinism has produced a legitimating ideology in which the conditions for critical inquiry, moral responsibility and social and economic justice disappear. The result is that neoliberal ideology increasingly resembles a call to war that turns the principles of democracy against democracy itself. Americans now live in an atomized and pulverized society, “spattered with the debris of broken interhuman bonds”[14] in which “democracy becomes a perishable commodity”[15] and all things public are viewed with disdain. Increasingly, it appears the only bond holding American society together is a perverse collective death-drive.

Neoliberal Governance

At the level of governance, neoliberalism has turned politics into a tawdry form of money laundering in which the spaces and registers that circulate power are controlled by those who have amassed large amounts of capital. Elections, like mainstream politicians, are now bought and sold to the highest bidder. In the Senate and House of Representatives, 47 percent are millionaires and the “estimated median net worth of a current U.S. senator stood at an average of $2.56 million while the median net worth of members of Congress is $913,000.”[16] Elected representatives no longer do the bidding of the people who elect them. Rather, they are now largely influenced by the demands of lobbyists who have enormous clout in promoting the interests of the elite, financial services and mega corporations. Currently, there are just over 14,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, DC, which amounts to approximately 23 lobbyists for every member of Congress. Although the number of lobbyists has steadily increased by about 20 percent since 1998, the Center for Responsive Politics found that “total spending on lobbying the federal government has almost tripled since 1998, to $3.3 billion.”[17] As Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger succinctly put it, “A radical minority of the superrich has gained ascendency over politics, buying the policies, laws, tax breaks, subsidies and rules that consolidate a permanent state of vast inequality by which they can further help themselves to America’s wealth and resources.”[18] Democratic governance has been replaced by the sovereignty of the market, paving the way for modes of governance intent on transforming democratic citizens into entrepreneurial agents. The language of the market and business culture have now almost entirely supplanted any celebration of the public good or the calls to enhance civil society characteristic of past generations.

Neoliberal governance has produced an economy and a political system almost entirely controlled by the rich and powerful – what a Citigroup report called a “Plutonomy,” an economy powered by the wealthy.[19] These plutocrats are what I have called the new zombies sucking the resources out of the planet and the rest of us in order to strengthen their grasp on political and economic power and fuel their exorbitant lifestyles. Policies are now enacted that provide massive tax cuts to the rich and generous subsidies to banks and corporations – alongside massive disinvestments in job creation programs, the building of critical infrastructures and the development of crucial social programs, which range from health care to school meal programs for disadvantaged children. In reality, the massive disinvestment in schools, social programs and an aging infrastructure is not about a lack of money. The real problem stems from government priorities that inform both how the money is collected and how it is spent.[20] Over 60 percent of the federal budget goes to military spending, while only 6 percent is allocated toward education. The US spends more than $92 billion on corporate subsidies and only $59 billion on social welfare programs.[21] John Cavanagh has estimated that if there were a tiny tax imposed on Wall Street “stock and derivatives transactions,” the government could raise $150 billion annually.[22] In addition, if the tax code were adjusted in a fair manner to tax the wealthy, another $79 billion could be raised. Finally, Cavanagh points out that $100 billion in tax income is lost annually through tax haven abuse; proper regulation would make it costly for corporations to declare “their profits in overseas tax havens like the Cayman Islands.”[23]

At the same time, the financialization of the economy and culture has resulted in the poisonous growth of monopoly power, predatory lending, abusive credit card practices and misuses of CEO pay. The false but central neoliberal tenet that markets can solve all of society’s problems has no way of limiting the power of money and has given rise to “a politics in which policies that favor the rich … have allowed the financial sector to amass vast economic and political power.”[24] As Joseph Stiglitz points out, there is more at work in this form of governance than a pandering to the wealthy and powerful: There is also the specter of an authoritarian society “where people live in gated communities,” large segments of the population are impoverished or locked up in prison and Americans live in a state of constant fear as they face growing “economic insecurity, health care insecurity [and] a sense of physical insecurity.”[25] In other words, the authoritarian nature of neoliberal political governance and economic power is also visible in the rise of a national security state in which civil liberties are being drastically abridged and violated.

As the war on terror becomes a normalized state of existence, the most basic rights available to American citizens are being shredded. The spirit of revenge, militarization and fear now permeates the discourse of national security. For instance, under Presidents Bush and Obama, the idea of habeas corpus with its guarantee that prisoners have minimal rights has given way to policies of indefinite detention, abductions, targeted assassinations, drone killings and an expanding state surveillance apparatus. The Obama administration has designated 46 inmates for indefinite detention at Guantanamo because, according to the government, they can be neither tried nor safely released. Moreover, another “167 men now confined at Guantanamo … have been cleared for release yet remain at the facility.”[26]

With the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2012, the rule of legal illegalities has been extended to threaten the lives and rights of US citizens. The law authorizes military detention of individuals who are suspected of belonging not only to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda but to “associated forces.” As Glenn Greenwald points out, this “grants the president the power to indefinitely detain in military custody not only accused terrorists, but also their supporters, all without charges or trial.”[27] The vagueness of the law allows the possibility of subjecting US citizens who are considered in violation of the law to indefinite detention. Of course, that might include journalists, writers, intellectuals and anyone else who might be accused because of their dealings with alleged terrorists. Fortunately, US District Judge Katherine Forrest of New York agreed with Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky and other writers who have challenged the legality of the law. Judge Forrest recently acknowledged the unconstitutionality of the law and ruled in favor of a preliminary barring of the enforcement of the National Defense Authorization Act.[28]

The anti-democratic practices at work in the Obama administration also include the US government’s use of state secrecy to provide a cover or prevent being embarrassed by practices that range from the illegal use of torture to the abduction of innocent foreign nationals. Under the rubric of national security, a shadow state has emerged that eschews transparency and commits unlawful acts. Given the power of the government to engage in a range of illegalities and to make them disappear through an appeal to state secrecy, it should come as no surprise that warrantless wiretapping, justified in the name of national security, is on the rise at both the federal and state levels. For instance, the New York City Police Department “implemented surveillance programs that violate the civil liberties of that city’s Muslim-American citizens [by infiltrating] mosques and universities [and] collecting information on individuals suspected of no crimes.”[29] And the American public barely acknowledged this shocking abuse of power. Such anti-democratic policies and practices have become the new norm in American society and reveal a frightening and dangerous move toward a 21st century version of authoritarianism.

Neoliberalism as the New Lingua Franca of Cruelty

The harsh realities of a society defined by the imperatives of punishment, cruelty, militarism, secrecy and exclusion can also be seen in the emergence of a growing rhetoric of insult, humiliation and slander. Teachers are referred to as welfare queens by right-wing pundits; conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that Michael J. Fox was “faking” the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease when he appeared in a political ad for Democrat Claire McCaskill; and the public is routinely treated to racist comments, slurs and insults about Barack Obama by a host of shock jocks, politicians and even one federal judge.[30] Poverty is not only seen as a personal failing, it has become the object of abuse, fear and loathing. Poor people, rather than poverty, are now the problem, because the poor, as right-wing ideologues never fail to remind us, are lazy (and after all how could they be poor since they own TVs and cell phones). Racism, cruelty, insults and the discourse of humiliation are now packaged in a mindless rhetoric that is as unapologetic as it is ruthless – and has become the new lingua franca of public exchange.

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney echoed the harshness of the new lingua franca of cruelty when asked recently about the government’s responsibility to 50 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. Incredibly, Romney said they already have access to health care because they can go to hospital emergency rooms. In response, a New York Times editorial pointed out that emergency room care “is the most expensive and least effective way of providing care” and such a remark “reeks of contempt for those left behind by the current insurance system, suggesting that they must suffer with illness until the point where they need an ambulance.”[31] Indifferent to the health care needs of the poor and middle class, Romney also conveniently forgets that, as indicated in a Harvard University study, “more than 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies are caused by the cost of overwhelming medical expenses.”[32] The new lingua franca of cruelty and its politics of disposability are on full display here. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, we live in a time when revenge has become the cure-all for most of our social and economic ills.

Neoliberalism and the Retreat from Ethical Considerations

Not only does neoliberal rationality believe in the ability of markets to solve all problems, it also removes economics and markets from ethical considerations. Economic growth, rather than social needs, drives politics. Long-term investments are replaced by short-term gains and profits, while compassion is viewed as a weakness and democratic public values are scorned because they subordinate market considerations to the common good. As the language of privatization, deregulation and commodification replaces the discourse of social responsibility, all things public – including public schools, libraries, transportation systems, crucial infrastructures and public services – are viewed either as a drain on the market or as a pathology.[33] Greed is now championed because it allegedly drives innovation and creates jobs. Massive disparities in income and wealth are celebrated as a justification for embracing a survival-of-the-fittest ethic and paying homage to a ruthless mode of unbridled individualism.

Morality in this instance becomes empty, stripped of any obligations to the other. How else to explain Mitt Romney’s gaffe caught on video in which he derided “47 percent of the people [who] will vote for the president no matter what?”[34] There was more at work here than what some have called “the killing of the American dream” or simply a cynical political admission by Romney that some voting blocs do not matter. [35]Romney’s comments about those 47 percent of adult Americans who don’t pay income taxes for one reason or another, whom he described as “people who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,”[36] makes clear that a politics of disposability is central to the extreme right-wing philosophy of those who control the Congress and are vying for the presidency. Paul Krugman is on target in arguing that in spite of massive suffering caused by the economic recession – a recession that produced “once-unthinkable levels of economic distress” – there is “growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn’t care.”[37] Of course, Krugman is not suggesting that if the corporate and financial elite cared the predatory nature of capitalism would be transformed. Rather, he is suggesting that economic Darwinism leaves no room for compassion or ethical considerations, which makes it use of power much worse than more liberal models of a market-based society.

Politics of Disposability and the Breakdown of American Democracy

The not-so-hidden order of politics underlying the second Gilded Age and its heartless version of economic Darwinism is that some populations, primarily the elderly, young people, the unemployed, immigrants and poor whites and minorities of color, now constitute a form of human waste or excess. The politics of disposability delineates these populations as unworthy of investment or of sharing in the rights, benefits and protections of a substantive democracy.[38] What is particularly disturbing is how little opposition among there is among the American public to this view of particular social groups as disposable – this, perhaps more than anything else, signals the presence of a rising authoritarianism in the United States. Left unchecked, economic Darwinism will not only destroy the social fabric and undermine democracy; it will also ensure the marginalization and eventual elimination of those intellectuals willing to fight for public values, rights, spaces and institutions not wedded to the logic of privatization, commodification, deregulation, militarization, hyper-masculinity and a ruthless “competitive struggle in which only the fittest could survive.”[39] Clearly, this new politics of disposability and culture of cruelty will wreak destruction in ways not yet imaginable, despite the horrific outcomes of the economic and financial crisis brought on by economic Darwinism. All evidence suggests a new reality is unfolding, one that is characterized by a deeply rooted crisis of education, agency and social responsibility.

Under such circumstances, to paraphrase C. Wright Mills, we are seeing the breakdown of democracy, the disappearance of critical intellectuals, and “the collapse of those public spheres which offer a sense of critical agency and social imagination.”[40] Since the 1970s, we have witnessed the forces of market fundamentalism attempt to strip education of its public values, critical content and civic responsibilities as part of a broader goal to create new subjects wedded to the logic of privatization, efficiency, flexibility, consumerism and the destruction of the social state. Today, neoliberalism’s ascendency has made the educational force of culture toxic, while educational institutions – whether in public or higher education – have all but transformed from promoting the public good to affirming private interests.

Encountering an onslaught of neoliberal ideology from all sides, it becomes increasingly difficult for the larger public to hold on to ideas that affirm social justice, community and those public values central to the cultural and political life of an aspiring democracy. Within both formal education and the educational force of the broader cultural apparatus – with its networks of knowledge production in the old and new media – we are witnessing the emergence and dominance of a powerful and ruthless market-driven notion of politics, governance, teaching, learning, freedom, agency and responsibility. Such modes of education do not foster a sense of organized responsibility central to a healthy democracy. Instead, they foster what I have referred to in the past as a sense of organized irresponsibility – a practice that underlies the economic Darwinism, public pedagogy and corruption at the heart of both the current recession and American politics.

Beyond Neoliberal Mis-Education

The anti-democratic practices that drive free-market fundamentalism are increasingly evident in the neoliberal framing of public and higher education as a corporate-based sector that embraces commodifying the curriculum, supporting top-down management, implementing more courses that promote business values and reducing all spheres of education to job training sites. As universities turn toward corporate management models, they increasingly use and exploit cheap faculty labor. In fact, many colleges and universities are drawing more and more upon adjunct and non-tenured faculty, many of whom occupy the status of indentured servants who are overworked, lack benefits, receive little or no support and are paid salaries that qualify them for food stamps.[41] Students are buried under huge debts that are celebrated by the debt collection industry that is cashing in on their misfortune. Jerry Aston, one member of the industry, wrote in a column after witnessing a protest rally by students criticizing their mounting debt that “I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent – for our industry.”[42]

There is more at work here than infusing market values into every aspect of higher education. There is also a full-fledged assault on the very notion of public goods, democratic public spheres and the role of education in creating an informed citizenry. When Rick Santorum argued that intellectuals were not wanted in the Republican Party, he was mimicking what has become common sense in a society wedded to narrow instrumental values and various modes of fundamentalism. Critical thinking and a literate public have become dangerous to those who want to celebrate orthodoxy over dialogue, emotion over reason and ideological certainty over thoughtfulness. Hannah Arendt’s warning that “it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think”[43] at the heart of authoritarian regimes is now embraced as a fundamental tenet of Republican Party politics.

In the United States, many of the problems in higher education can be linked to low funding, the domination of universities by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the intrusion of the national security state and the lack of faculty self-governance, all of which not only contradicts the culture and democratic value of higher education, but also makes a mockery of the very meaning and mission of the university. Decreased financial support for higher education stands in sharp contrast to increased support for tax benefits for the rich, financial industries and corporations. Rather than strengthen civic imagination among students, public universities are wedded more and more to the logic of profitability, to producing students as useful machines and to a form of education that promotes a “technically trained docility.”[44]

Universities and colleges have been largely abandoned as democratic public spheres dedicated to providing a public service, expanding upon humankind’s great intellectual and cultural achievements and educating future generations to be able to confront the challenges of a global democracy. As a core political and civic institution, higher education rarely appears any longer to be committed to addressing important social problems. Instead, many universities and colleges have become unapologetic accomplices to corporate values and power, and in doing so increasingly make social problems either irrelevant or invisible. Just as democracy appears to be fading in the United States, so is the legacy of higher education’s faith in and commitment to democracy.

Unfortunately, one measure of this disinvestment in higher education as a public good can be seen in the fact that many states such as California are spending more on prisons than on higher education.[45] Educating low income and poor minorities to be engaged citizens has been undermined by an unholy alliance of law-and-order conservatives, private prison corporations and prison guard unions along with the rise of the punishing state, all of whom have more of a vested interest in locking people up than educating them. It is no coincidence that as the US disinvests in the institutions fundamental to a democracy, it has invested heavily in those apparatuses that propel the rise of the prison-industrial complex and the punishing-surveillance state. The social costs of prioritizing punishing over education is clear in one shocking statistic provided by a recent study that stated “by age 23, almost a third of Americans or 30.2 percent have been arrested for a crime…. Researchers say [this] is a measure of growing exposure to the criminal justice system in everyday life.”[46]

The assault on the university is symptomatic of the deep educational and political crisis facing the United States. It is but one lens through which to recognize that the future of democracy depends on achieving the educational and ethical standards of the society we inhabit.[47] Political, moral, and social indifference is the result, in part, of a public that is increasingly constituted within an educational landscape that reduces thinking to a burden and celebrates civic illiteracy as foundational for negotiating a society in which moral disengagement and political corruption go hand in hand.[48]

This collapse on the part of the American public into a political and moral coma is induced, in part, by an ever expanding mass mediated celebrity culture that trades in hype and sensation. It is also accentuated by a governmental apparatus that sanctions modes of training that undermine any viable notion of critical schooling and public pedagogy. While there is much being written about how unfair the left is to the Obama administration, what is often forgotten by these liberal critics is that Obama has virtually aligned himself with educational practices and policies that are as instrumentalist and anti-intellectual as they are politically reactionary and therein lies one viable reason for not supporting his candidacy.[49]What liberals refuse to entertain is that the left is correct in attacking Obama for his cowardly retreat from a number of progressive issues and his dastardly undermining of civil liberties. In fact, they do not go far enough in their criticisms. Often even progressives miss that Obama’s views on what type of formative educational culture is necessary to create critically engaged and socially responsible citizens is utterly reactionary and provides no space for the nurturance of a radically democratic imagination. Hence, while liberals point to some of Obama’s progressive policies – often in a new age discourse that betrays their own supine moralism – in making a case for his re-election, they fail to acknowledge that Obama’s educational policies do nothing to contest, and are aligned with, his weak-willed compromises and authoritarian policies. In other words, Obama’s educational commitments undermine the creation of a formative culture capable of questioning authoritarian ideas, modes of governance and reactionary policies. The question is not whether he is slightly less repugnant than Romney. On the contrary, it is about how the left should engage politics in a more robust and democratic way by imagining what it would mean to work collectively and with “slow impatience” for a new political order outside of the current moderate and extreme right-wing politics and the debased, uncritical educational apparatus that supports it.

The Role of Critical Education

One way of challenging the new authoritarianism is to reclaim the relationship between critical education and social change. Education both in and out of schools is the bedrock for the formative culture necessary to create not only a literate public but also a public willing to fight for its capacity to hold power accountable and to participate in the decisions and institutions that shape its everyday existence. The question of what kind of subjects and modes of individual and social agency are necessary for a democracy to survive appears more crucial now than ever before, and this is a question that places matters of education, pedagogy and culture at the center of any understanding of politics. We live at a time when the American people appear to have no interest in democracy – beyond the four-year ritual performance of voting, and even this act fails to attract a robust majority of citizens. The term has been emptied of any viable meaning, hijacked by political scoundrels, corporate elites and the advertising industry. The passion that democracy exhibits as an ongoing struggle for rights, justice and a future of hope has been transmuted into a misplaced desire to shop, fulfill the pleasure quotient in spectacles of violence and misappropriate the language of democracy to deploy it as a rationale for racist actions against immigrants, Muslims and poor minorities of color and class.

Clearly, as the Occupy Movement and other youth movements around the world have demonstrated, the time has come not only to redefine the promise of democracy but also to challenge those who have poisoned its meaning. We have already witnessed such a challenge by protest movements both at home and abroad in which the struggle over education has become one of the most powerful fulcrums for addressing the detrimental effects of neoliberalism. What these struggles, particularly by young people, have in common is the attempt to merge the powers of persuasion and critical, civic literacy with the power of social movements to activate and mobilize real change. They are recovering a notion of the social and reclaiming a kind of humanity that should inspire and inform our collective willingness to imagine what a real democracy might look like. The political philosopher, Cornelius Castoriadis, rightly argues that “people need to be educated for democracy by not only expanding the capacities that enable them to assume public responsibility but also through active participation in the very process of governing.”[50] The current attack on democracy is directly linked to a systemic destruction of all those public spheres that expand the power of the imagination, critical inquiry, thoughtful exchange and the formative culture that makes critical education and an engaged citizenry dangerous to fundamentalists of all ideological stripes.

As the crucial lens through which to create the formative culture in which politics and power can be made visible and held accountable, pedagogy plays a central role. But as Archon Fung points out, criticism is not the only public responsibility of intellectuals, artists, journalists, educators and others who engage in critical pedagogical practices. “Intellectuals can also join citizens – and sometimes governments – to construct a world that is more just and democratic. One such constructive role is aiding popular movements and organizations in their efforts to advance justice and democracy.”[51] In this instance, understanding must be linked to the practice of social responsibility and the willingness to fashion a politics that addresses real problems and enacts concrete solutions. As Heather Gautney points out:

We need to start thinking seriously about what kind of political system we really want. And we need to start pressing for things that our politicians did not discuss at the conventions. Real solutions – like universal education, debt forgiveness, wealth redistribution and participatory political structures – that would empower us to decide together what’s best. Not who’s best.[52]

Critical thinking divorced from action is often as sterile as action divorced from critical theory. Given the urgency of the historical moment, we need a politics and a public pedagogy which make knowledge meaningful in order to make it critical and transformative. Or as Stuart Hall argues, we need to produce modes of analyses and knowledge in which “people can invest something of themselves … something that they recognize is of them or speaks to their condition.”[53]

I want to conclude by quoting from James Baldwin, a courageous writer who refused to let the hope of democracy die in his lifetime and who offered that mix of politics, passion and courage that deserves not just admiration but emulation. His sense of rage was grounded in a working-class sensibility, eloquence and passion that illuminates a higher standard for what it means to be a public intellectual and an engaged intellectual. His words capture something that is missing from the American cultural and political landscape, something affirmative that needs to be seized upon, rethought, and occupied – as part of both the fight against the new authoritarianism and its cynical, dangerous and cruel practices, and the struggle to reclaim a notion of justice and mutuality that seems to be dying in all of us. In “The Fire Next Time,” Baldwin writes:

One must say Yes to life, and embrace it wherever it is found – and it is found in terrible places…. For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.


Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, [i]Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction,[/i] (Oxford University Press, 2010). Juliet B. Schor,[i] Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth[/i](New York: Penguin Press, 2010); Henry A. Giroux, [i]Against the Terror of Neoliberalism[/i] (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey,[i] A Brief History of Neoliberalism[/i] (New York: Oxford Press, 2005); John and Jean Comaroff, eds. [i]Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism[/i]  (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001). On the moral limits and failings of neoliberalism, see Michael J. Sandel, [i] What Money Can’t Buy[/i] (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) and for positing a case for neoliberalism as a criminal enterprise, see Jeff Madrick,[i] Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present [/i](New York: Vintage, 2011); Charles Ferguson, [i]Predator Nation [/i](New York: Crown Business, 2012); Henry A. Giroux, [i]Zombie Politics in the Age of Casino Capitalism[/i] (New York: Peter Lang, 2010).

João Biehl, [i]Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment [/i](Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005). These zones are also brilliantly analyzed in Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, [i]Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt [/i](New York: Knopf, 2012).

Zygmunt Bauman,”Does ‘Democracy’ Still Mean Anything? (And in Case It Does, What Is It?)” [i]Truthout [/i](January 21, 2011). Online:;view=item&id=73:does-democracy-still-mean-anything-and-in-case-it-does-what-is-it

George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith, “Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” The Berkeley Blog (August 23, 2012). Online:


Robert Reich,”Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age” [i]Truthout [/i](July 2, 2012). Online:

David Theo Goldberg, “The Taxing Terms of the GOP Plan Invite Class Carnage,” (September 20, 2012). Online:

Paul Krugman,”Galt, gold and God,” [i]The New York Times, [/i](August 23, 2012), p. A25.

8. Ibid.

 Marian Wright Edelman,”Ryanomics Assault on Poor and Hungry Children,” [i]Huffington Post [/i](September 14, 2012). Online:

10. Reich,”Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age,”; Charles Ferguson, [i]Predatory Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America [/i](New York: Crown Business, 2012); Daisy Grewal,”How Wealth Reduces Compassion: As Riches Grow, Empathy for Others Seems to Decline,”[i] Scientific American[/i](April 10, 2012). Online:

Bauman,”Does ‘Democracy’ Still Mean Anything?”

Lewis H. Lapham,”Feast of Fools: How American Democracy Became the Property of a Commercial Oligarchy,” [i]Truthout[/i] (September 20, 2012). Online:


Zygmunt Bauman, [i]This is Not a Diary[/i] (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), p. 102.

15. Lapham,”Feast of Fools,”

16. Eric Lichtblau,”Economic Downturn Took a Detour at Capitol Hill,” [i]The New York Times[/i] (December 26, 2011). Online:

17. Peter Grier,”So Much Money, So Few Lobbyists in D.C.: How Does the Math Work?” [i]DC Decoder[/i] (February 24, 2012). Online:

Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger,”Money in Politics: Where is the Outrage?” [i]Huffington Post [/i](August 30, 2012). Online:

It is difficult to access this study because Citigroup does its best to make it disappear from the Internet. See the discussion of it by Noam Chomsky in”Plutonomy and the Precariat: On the History of the U.S. Economy in Decline,”[i] Truthdig [/i](May 8, 2012). Online:

Salvatore Babones,”To End the Jobs Recession, Invest an Extra $20 Billion in Public Education,” [i]Truthout [/i](August 21, 2012). Online:$20-billion-in-public-education

John Atcheson,”The Real Welfare Problem: Government Giveaways to the Corporate 1%,” [i]Common  Dreams [/i](September 3, 2012). Online:

John Cavanagh,”Seven Ways to End the Deficit (Without Throwing Grandma Under the Bus),” [i]Yes! Magazine [/i](September 7, 2012). Online:


Joseph Stiglitz,”Politics Is at the Root of the Problem,” [i]European Magazine[/i](April 23, 2012). Online:

Lynn Parramore,”Exclusive Interview: Joseph Stiglitz Sees Terrifying Future for America If We Don’t Reverse Inequality,” [i]AlterNet [/i](June 24, 2012). Online:

Editorial,”America’s Detainee Problem,” [i]Los Angeles Times [/i](September 23, 2012). Online:

Glenn Greenwald,”Unlike Afghan Leaders, Obama Fights for Power of Indefinite Military Detention,” [i]The Guardian[/i] (September 18, 2012). Online: See also, Glenn Greenwald,”Federal Court Enjoins NDAA,” [i]Salon[/i] (May 16, 2012). Online: . See also, Henry A. Giroux, [i]Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror[/i](BoulderParadigm 2010).

Charlie Savage,”Judge Rules against Law on Indefinite Detention,” [i]New York Times [/i](September 12, 2012). Online:

Karen J. Greenberg,”Ever More and Ever Less,” [i]TomDispatch[/i] (March 18, 2012). Online:

Catherine Poe,”Federal Judge Emails Racist Joke about President Obama,” [i]Washington Times [/i](March 1, 2012). Online:

Editorial,”Why Romney Is Slipping,” [i]New York Times[/i] (September 25, 2012), p. A20.

Brennan Keller,”Medical Expenses: Top Cause of Bankruptcy in the United States,” [i]Give Forward[/i] (October 13, 2011). Online:

George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith,”Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” [i]Berkeley Blog [/i](August 23, 2012). Online:

David Corn, “Secret Video: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He Really Thinks of Obama Voters,” [i]Mother Jones[/i] (September 17, 2012). Online:

Naomi Wolf,”How the Mitt Romney Video Killed the American Dream,” [i]The Guardian [/i](September 21, 2012). Online:

Corn,”Secret Video,”

Paul Krugman,”Defining Prosperity Down,” [i]New York Times [/i](August 1, 2010), p. A17.

Zygmunt Bauman is the most important theorist writing about the politics of disposability.  Among his many books, see [i]Wasted Lives [/i](London: Polity Press, 2004).

Robert Reich,”The Rebirth of Social Darwinism,” [i]Robert Reich’s Blog[/i](November 30, 2011). Online:

C. Wright Mills, [i]The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills [/i](New York:OxfordUniversity Press, 2008), p. 200.

Hart Research Associates, [i]American Academics: Survey of Part Time and Adjunct Higher Education Faculty[/i] (Washington, D.C.: AFT, 2011). Online: Street, Maria Maisto, Esther Merves, and Gary  Rhoades, [i]Who Is Professor “Staff” and How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?[/i] (Los Angeles: Center for the Future of Higher Education, 2012). Online:

Andrew Martin and Andrew W. Lehren,”A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College,” [i]New York Times [/i](May 12, 2012), p. A1.

Cited in Richard J. Bernstein, [i]The Abuse of Evil: The Corruption of Politics and Religion since 9/11[/i] (London: Polity Press, 2005), pp. 7-8.

Martha C. Nussbaum,[i] Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs The Humanities[/i](New Jersey:PrincetonUniversity Press, 2010), p. 142.

45. Les Leopold,”Crazy Country: 6 Reasons America Spends More on Prisons Than On Higher Education,” [i]Alternet[/i] (August 27, 2012). Online On this issue, see also the classic work by Angela Y. Davis, [i]Are Prisons Obsolete?[/i] (New York: Open Media, 2003); and Michelle Alexander, [i]The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [/i](New York: New Press, 2012).

Erica Goode,”Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds,” New York Times(December 19, 2011), p. A15.

Zygmunt Bauman,[i] The Individualized Society[/i] (London: Polity, 2001), p. 4.

Leopold,”Crazy Country,”

49. See, for instance, Rebecca Solnit,”Rain on Our Parade: A Letter to the Dismal Left,” [i][/i] (September 27, 2012). Online:,_we_could_be_heroes/ TomDispatch refers to this article as a call for hope over despair. It should be labeled as a call for accommodation over the need for a radical democratic politics.  For an alternative to this politics of accommodation, see the work of Stanley Aronowitz, Chris Hedges, Henry Giroux, Noam Chomsky, and others.

Cornelius Castoriadis,”Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime,” [i]Constellations [/i]4:1 (1997), p. 5.

Archon Fung,”The Constructive Responsibility of Intellectuals,” [i]Boston Review[/i](September 9, 2011). Online:

Heather Gautney,”Why Do Political Elites All Hate Democracy?”[i] LA Progressive[/i] (September 19, 2012). Online:

Stuart Hall and Les Back,”In Conversation: At Home and Not at Home,” [i]Cultural Studies[/i] Vol. 23, No. 4 (July 2009), p. 681.