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ANATOMY OF TORTURE — Historian Christopher Dietrich on the 100-year-long history of American torture; Jeffrey St. Clair on the implications of giving impunity to the CIA’s torturers; Chris Floyd on how the US has exported torture to its client states around the world. David Macaray on the Paradoxes of Police Unions; Louis Proyect on Slave Rebellions in the Open Seas; Paul Krassner on the Perils of Political Cartooning; Martha Rosenberg on the dangers of Livestock Shot-up with Antibiotics; and Lee Ballinger on Elvis, Race and the Poor South. Plus: Mike Whitney on Greece and the Eurozone and JoAnn Wypijewski on Media Lies that Killed.
Hysterical Authoritarianism

Terrorism, Violence, and the Culture of Madness

by HENRY A. GIROUX

The thought of security bears within it an essential risk. A state which has security as its sole task and source of legitimacy is a fragile organism; it can always be provoked by terrorism to become more terroristic.

— Giorgio Agamben

George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian society casts a dark shadow over the United States. The consequences can be seen clearly in the ongoing and ruthless assault on the social state, workers, unions, higher education, students, poor minorities and any vestige of the social contract. Free market policies, values, and practices with their emphasis on the privatization of public wealth, the elimination of social protections, and the deregulation of economic activity now shape practically every commanding political and economic institution in the United States. Public spheres that once offered at least the glimmer of progressive ideas, enlightened social policies, non-commodified values, and critical dialogue and exchange have been increasingly militarized—or replaced by private spaces and corporate settings whose ultimate fidelity is to increasing profit margins. Citizenship is now subsumed by the national security state and a cult of secrecy, organized and reinforced by the constant mobilization of fear and insecurity designed to produce a form of ethical tranquilization and a paralyzing level of social infantilism.

Chris Hedges crystalizes this premise in arguing that Americans now live in a society in which “violence is the habitual response by the state to every dilemma,” legitimizing war as a permanent feature of society and violence as the organizing principle of politics.[1] Under such circumstances, malevolent modes of rationality now impose the values of a militarized neoliberal regime on everyone, shattering viable modes of agency, solidarity, and hope. Amid the bleakness and despair, the discourses of militarism, danger and war now fuel a war on terrorism “that represents the negation of politics—since all interaction is reduced to a test of military strength war brings death and destruction, not only to the adversary but also to one’s side, and without distinguishing between guilty and innocent.”[2] Human barbarity is no longer invisible, hidden under the bureaucratic language of Orwellian doublespeak. Its conspicuousness, if not celebration, emerged in the new editions of American exceptionalism ushered in by the post 9/11 exacerbation of the war on terror.

In the aftermath of these monstrous acts of terrorism, there was a growing sense among politicians, the mainstream media, and conservative and liberal pundits that history as we knew it had been irrefutably ruptured. If politics seemed irrelevant before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it now seemed both urgent and despairing. But history cannot be erased, and those traditional public spheres in which people could exchange ideas, debate, and shape the conditions that structured their...

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