The Ghost of Authoritarianism in the Age of the Shutdown

By Henry Giroux

ShutdownIn the aftermath of the reign of Nazi terror in the 1940s, the philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote:

National Socialism lives on, and even today we still do not know whether it is merely the ghost of what was so monstrous that it lingers on after its own death, or whether it has not yet died at all, whether the willingness to commit the unspeakable survives in people as well as in the conditions that enclose them.1

Adorno’s words are as relevant today as they were when he first wrote them. The threat of authoritarianism to citizen-based democracy is alive and well in the United States, and its presence can be felt in the historical conditions leading up to the partial government shutdown and the refusal on the part of the new extremists to raise the debt ceiling. Adorno believed that while the specific features and horrors of mid-century fascism such as the concentration camps and the control of governments by a political elite and the gestapo would not be reproduced in the same way, democracy as a political ideal and as a working proposition would be under assault once again by new anti-democratic forces all too willing to impose totalitarian systems on their adversaries.2

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