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The Hardening of Society and the Rise of Cultures of Cruelty in Neo-Fascist America

Photo by Hayden Schiff | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Hayden Schiff | CC BY 2.0

 

What does the culture of cruelty look like under a neo-fascist regime?

First, language is emptied of any sense of ethics and compassion.

Second, a survival of the fittest discourse provides a breeding ground for racial and social sorting.

Third, references to justice are viewed as treasonous or, as at the present moment, labelled dismissively as “fake news.”

Fourth, the discourse of disposability extends to an increasing number of groups.

Fifth, ignorance becomes militarized, enforced not through an appeal to reason but through the use of the language of humiliation and eventually through the machinery of force.

Sixth, any form of dependency is viewed as a form of weakness, and becomes a referent and eventually a basis for social cleansing. That is, any form of solidarity not based on  market-driven values is subject to derision and potential punishment.

Seventh, the language of borders and walls replaces the discourse of bridges and compassion.

Eighth, violence becomes the most important method for addressing social problems and mediating all relationships, hence, the increasing criminalization of a wide range of behaviours in the United States.

Ninth, the word democracy disappears from officially mandated state language.

Tenth, the critical media is gradually defamed and eventually outlawed.

Eleventh, all forms of critical education present in theory, method, and institutionally are destroyed.

Twelfth, shared fears replace shared responsibilities and everyone is reduced to the status of a potential terrorist, watched constantly and humiliated through body searches at border crossings.

Thirteenth, all vestiges of the welfare state disappear and millions are subject to fending for themselves.

Fourteenth, massive inequalities in power, wealth, and income will generate a host of Reality TV shows celebrating the financial elite.

Underlying this project is one of the most powerfully oppressive ideologies of neoliberal neo-fascism. That is, the only unit of agency and analysis that matters is the isolated individual. Shared trust and visions of economic equality and political justice give way to individual terrors and self-blame reinforced by the neoliberal notion that people are solely responsible for their political, economic, and social misfortunes. Consequently, a hardening of the culture is buttressed by the force of state sanctioned cultural apparatuses that enshrine privatization in the discourse of self-reliance, unchecked self-interest, untrammeled individualism, and deep distrust of anything remotely called the common good. Freedom of choice becomes code for defining responsibility solely as an individual task, reinforced by a shameful appeal to character.

Liberal critics argue that choice absent the notion of constraints feeds Ayn Rand’s culture of rabid individualism and unchecked greed. What they miss in this neo-fascist moment is that the systemic evil, cruelty, and moral irresponsibility at the heart of neoliberalism makes Ayn Rand’s lunacy look tame. Rand’s world has been surpassed by a ruling class of financial elites that embody not the old style greed of Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street, but the psychopathic personality of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

The notion that saving money by reducing the taxes of the rich justifies eliminating health care for 24 million people is just one example of how this culture of cruelty and hardening of the culture will play out.

Dark Times are truly upon us. There will be an acceleration of acts of violence under the Trump administration and the conditions for eliminating this new stage of state violence will mean not only understanding the roots of neo-fascism in the United States, but also eliminating the economic, political, and cultural forces that produced it.

There is more at work here than getting rid of Trump, there is a need to eliminate a system in which democracy is equated with capitalism, a system driven almost exclusively by financial interests, and beholden to two political parties that are hard wired into neoliberal savagery.

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Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and is the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013), Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014), The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2018), and the American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (City Lights, 2018). His website is www. henryagiroux.com.

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