Leo R. Sandy - America's 4 fundamentalisms

  • Published in Columns

Professor Henry A. Giroux is one of my favorite writers and social critics – a person who consistently speaks truth to power. Giroux taught at BU when I was a graduate student there but later moved to Canada where is continues to teach. In his article, “The Scorched-Earth Politics of America's Four Fundamentalisms” (http://truth-out.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=7086:the-scorchedearth-politics-of-americas-four-fundamentalisms), Giroux goes into great ...

Professor Henry A. Giroux is one of my favorite writers and social critics – a person who consistently speaks truth to power. Giroux taught at BU when I was a graduate student there but later moved to Canada where is continues to teach. In his article, “The Scorched-Earth Politics of America's Four Fundamentalisms” (http://truth-out.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=7086:the-scorchedearth-politics-of-americas-four-fundamentalisms), Giroux goes into great depth about four fundamentalisms that contrast sharply with “the mythical notion that the United States is a free nation dedicated to reproducing the principles of equality, justice and democracy.” Giroux describes these four fundamentalisms as market fundamentalism, religious fundamentalism, educational fundamentalism and military fundamentalism all of which have been nurtured in a context of expanding authoritarianism.

To Giroux, market fundamentalism “not only trivializes democratic values and public concerns, but also enshrines a rabid individualism, an all-embracing quest for profits and a social Darwinism in which misfortune is seen as a weakness, and a Hobbesian 'war of all against all' replaces any vestige of shared responsibilities or compassion for others. Free-market fundamentalists now wage a full-fledged attack on the social contract, the welfare state, any notion of the common good and those public spheres not yet defined by commercial interests… Everybody is now a customer or client, and every relationship is ultimately judged in bottom-line, cost-effective terms. Freedom is no longer about equality, social justice or the public welfare, but about the trade in goods, financial capital and commodities.”

Giroux believes that the privatization of institutions undermines the concept of citizenship and promotes runaway consumerism where people are no longer citizens and where families are reduced to consumer units. “It also commercializes and privatizes public space, undermining both the idea of citizenship and those very spaces (schools, media etc.) needed to produce a formative culture that offers vigorous and engaged opportunities for dialogue, debate, reasoned exchange and discriminating judgments. Under such circumstances, hope is foreclosed and it becomes difficult either to imagine a life beyond capitalism or to believe in a politics that takes democracy seriously.”

With this kind of fundamentalism, it is no wonder that government is demonized. The corporation is seen as the lone ranger on a white horse rescuing citizens from the interference of government. Having the corporation now seen as a person paves the way for the encroachment of the corporation as an absolute unregulated entity where it makes rules that allow it more and more control and power. For Giroux, this leads to a situation where “everything is privatized and public issues collapse into individual concerns so there is no way of linking private woes to social problems — the result is a dog-eat-dog world.”

Religious Fundamentalism is the second fundamentalism and, for Giroux, is expressed “in a religious fervor embraced by a Republican Party that not only serves up creationism instead of science, but substitutes unthinking faith for critical reason and intolerance for a concern with and openness toward others. This is a deeply disturbing trend in which the line between the state and religion is being erased as radical Christians and evangelicals embrace and impose a moralism on Americans that is largely bigoted, patriarchal, uncritical and insensitive to real social problems such as poverty, racism, the crisis in health care and the increasing impoverishment of America's children... This Taliban-like moralism now boldly translates into everyday cultural practices and political policies as right-wing evangelicals live out their messianic view of the world.”

Educational Fundamentalism is the third fundamentalism. This is being done through “attempts to corporatize education, standardize curricula, privatize public schooling and use the language of business as a model for governance. It is equally evident in the ongoing effort to weaken the autonomy of higher education, undercut the power of faculty and turn full-time academic jobs into contractual labor. Public schools are increasingly reduced to training grounds and modeled after prisons — with an emphasis on criminalizing student behavior and prioritizing security over critical learning.” In such an environment, the media play a crucial educational role to keep the public distracted with “crude entertainment and an obsession with celebrity culture” (as well as to) “restrict the range of views to which people have access and, as a result, do a disservice to democracy by stripping it of the possibility for debate, critical exchange and civic engagement. Rather than perform an essential public service, they become the primary pedagogical tool for promoting a culture of consent and conformity in which citizens are misinformed and public discourse is debased.”

The fourth is military fundamentalism that is reflected in the existence of 725 military bases on foreign soil and 969 within the United States. The U.S. spends more on defense than all the countries of the world put together and it is the number one seller of arms to the most brutal regimes in the world. War is ingrained in the American psyche and every problem we try to solve has to have the word “war” it – war on drugs, war on poverty, war on terrorism. Soldiers are viewed as our best citizens while those pursuing a college degree or achieving in the arts and science are looked on with suspicion or disdain. For Giroux, “War is no longer a state of exception, but a permanent driving force in American domestic and foreign policy…The influence of militaristic values, social relations and ideology now permeates American culture. For example, major universities aggressively court the military establishment for Defense Department grants and, in doing so, become less open to either academic subjects or programs that encourage rigorous debate, dialogue and critical thinking… Public schools not only have more military recruiters creeping their halls, they also have more military personnel teaching in the classrooms.”

To counter the insidious influence of these four fundamentalisms, Giroux sees “a need for a vast social movement capable of challenging the basic premises of an ever-expanding, systematic attack on democracy… There is a need for free schools, universities, public spheres, and other spaces where learning can be connected to social change and understanding translated into the building of social movements.” (Also), young people, parents, community workers, educators, artists, and others must make a case for linking learning to social change… Educators need to develop a new discourse whose aim is to foster a democratic politics and pedagogy that embody the legacy and principles of social justice, equality, freedom and rights associated with the democratic concerns of history, space, plurality, power, discourse, identities, morality and the future.”

Giroux concludes his paper with some encouraging signs of change: “more and more individuals and groups at home and around the globe — including students, workers, feminists, educators, writers, environmentalists, senior citizens, artists, and a host of other individuals and movements — are organizing to challenge the dangerous slide on the part of the United States into the morass of an authoritarianism that threatens not just the promise, but the very idea of democracy in the 21st Century.

(Leo R. Sandy is professor of counselor education at Plymouth State University and a consulting school psychologist.)