Following are excerpts from Henry Giroux’s column at Truthout, “In the Twilight of the Social State: Rethinking Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History”:
AN APPLICATION TO THE RESPONSIBILITIES INHERENT IN ALL CIVILIZED SOCIETIES THAT WE ARE ALL MORALLY BOUND TO TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER
The promise of democracy and economic justice and social rights necessitates a new language of public purpose, rationality and formative culture embedded in democratic public values, collective struggles and a social movement willing to fight for a new kind of politics, democracy and future.
We don’t need privatized utopias, but models of a democratic society and social state in which public values and democratic interests are expressed in a range of economic, political and cultural institutions.
The world needs a new army of critical and passionate messengers alert to the need for progressive social solidarities, social agency, collective action and a refusal to stare hopelessly at the rotting corpsȇs, gated communities and the walking dȇad that turn the promise of democracy into an advertisement for global destruction.
Hopefully, the myriad mistakes we Americans have made over the years can serve as a cautionary tale to those brave souls who, as we speak, are literally laying their lives on the line for what they believe in…. values that, alas, we seem to have forgotten.
As we move into the second Gilded Age with its reproduction of massive inequalities and a life of privilege for the few, we are confronted with a level of suffering that is unprecedented. While the statistics cannot portray the level of existential pain caused by the inequalities that produce so much unnecessary suffering, they do provide snapshots of those structural forces and institutions that increasingly make life difficult for millions of Americans under a ruthless form of economic Darwinism.
Such statistics also bring home the importance of going beyond just criticizing in the abstract the values and rationality that drive neoliberal / neoconservative market fundamentalism.
As Slavoj Zizek has rightly pointed out, when it comes to this crisis, the social and economic problem that must be addressed forcefully is the growing gap and antagonism between the included and the excluded.
And this gap must not only be made visible, but it must be confronted with pedagogical care around the question of whether democracy is still an appropriate name for the United States’ political system given the gulf, if not chasm, between the rich and the poor, the privileged and the underprivileged.
The catastrophe that marks the current historical moment no longer wraps itself in the mantle of progress. On the contrary, the storm brewing in the United States and other parts of the globe represent a kind of anti-progress, a refusal to think about, invest in or address the shared responsibilities that come with some vision of the future and “the good society”.
The historical forces producing this storm and its accompanying catastrophes are incorrigibly blind to the emergence of a “pulverized, atomized society spattered with the debris of broken inter-human bonds and their eminently frail and breakable substitutes.”
This is best exemplified in the now infamous and cruel tenets of a harsh neoliberalism stated without apology by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s in their mutual insistence that “government is the problem not the solution” and “there is no such thing as society.”
Composing meaningful visions of the good society that benefit citizens in general, rather than a select few, are now viewed as “a waste of time, since they are irrelevant to individual happiness and a successful life.”
Bounded by the narrow, private worlds that make up their everyday lives, the American public has surrendered to the atomizing consequences of a market-driven morality and society and has replaced the call for communal responsibility with the call to further one’s own interests at all costs.
The social and its most significant embodiment – the welfare state – is now viewed as an albatross around the neck of neoliberal notions of accumulation (as opposed to “progress”). Society has become hyper-individualized, trapped by the lure of material success and stripped of any obligation to the other.
Zygmunt Bauman argues that in such a society. Individual men and women are now expected, pushed and pulled to seek and find individual solutions to socially created problems and implement those solutions individually using individual skills and resources. This ideology proclaims the futility (indeed, counter productivity) of solidarity: of joining forces and subordinating individual actions to a “common cause”.
It derides the principle of communal responsibility for the well-being of its members, decrying it as a recipe for a debilitating “nanny state” and warning against care for the other leading to an abhorrent and detestable “dependency”.