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Who Are You to tell me to Question Authority?

Benjamin Franks writes about and reviews Henry Giroux’s book, Against the New Authoritarianism: Politics after Abu Ghraib. The review is published in Variant. Excerpt below:

Henry Giroux is a highly prolific radical educationalist who has authored over 40 books. Many of his works apply the analytical insights of Critical Theory (a synonym for the Frankfurt School of unorthodox Marxists such as Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse) to highlight the impact of the cultural industries on children’s learning. In Against the New Authoritarianism, Giroux returns to one of the central concerns of the Frankfurt School: the rise of fascism within liberal democratic societies.

The book has two main hypotheses, which are interrelated. The first is that under the Presidency of George W. Bush, the United States is approaching a proto-fascist state; the second that a critical education is a vital strategy for resisting such developments. The first thesis is by far the most controversial, for the classification of states into particular categories has had far-reaching policy implications. The academic Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a policy advisor to Ronald Reagan, divided non-democracies into two types, those acceptable ‘authoritarian’ states who the US should support and unacceptable ‘evil’ / ‘totalitarian’ states who must be actively undermined. Underneath the rhetoric, the only difference between the two was that ‘totalitarian’ states had an official policy of ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’ and a more redistributive economy, whilst the merely ‘authoritarian’, whilst having no better human rights records (and in many cases worse), were favourably disposed towards US investment. However, this division between acceptable ‘authoritarian’ and unacceptable ‘totalitarian’ regimes not only sought to justify the military and diplomatic manoeuvres of the US in the 1980s, but also helped to shape them. A similar if more simplistic division shapes Bush’s foreign policy, with similarly calamitous consequences.

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