“The crisis of education in the United States presents not only a danger to American democracy, but also the ideological and structural foundations for the emergence of a fascist state.” —Henry Giroux
“If history weren’t so important, people wouldn’t get so upset by it.” —Howard Zinn
A few days ago, Henry Giroux published an essay, “The Nazification of American Education,” in Counterpunch that strongly implies that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis a Nazi. Giroux, a leading proponent of critical pedagogy and critical theory (the 1960s deviation), the intersection at which academics and administrators intensely and incessantly toil to infuse educational practices with anti-Western sentiment and ressentiment, finds in DeSantis a personification of the emerging fascist state. The tone of Giroux’s essay is hysterical—as in confused and delusional; the argument is at every point absurd and hyperbolic.
To begin with the obvious, if teaching students about the ideals and deeds of the United States amounts to the “nazification of public education,” then one must presuppose that the historic character of the United States is in some substantial fashion National Socialist. Of course, in creed and accomplishment, the United States has not historically been a National Socialist endeavor—at least not before the rise of the corporate state. America was founded by liberals as a secular republic with an emphasis on individual rights and liberties. How can teaching students to appreciate American values and celebrate its successes—abolishing absolutism, ending slavery, empowering women, defeating National Socialism on the world stage, to name but a few—in any way represent “nazification of public education”? It just doesn’t follow.
What a nasty assumption at work in Giroux’s essay. It’s an assumption that runs throughout his popular writing.
Despite having the evidence directly in front of him, and (not meaning to patronize), being a smart man, Giroux nonetheless manages to mentally invert the situation. “Nazi education was designed to mold children rather than educate them,” he writes. “The Nazi educational system was deeply anti-intellectual and created modes of pedagogy that undermined the ability of students to think for themselves.” Moreover, Giroux recognizes that the Nazis used the educational system to weaponize identitarian division in order to advance hate and resentment of certain racial and ethnic groups. All true.
But is it not plainly the case that the progressive takeover of education is fundamentally marked by divisions along identitarian lines and resentment among groups, especially focusing on one racial group in particular and blaming it for a myriad of manufactured grievances? (See Is There Systemic Anti-White Racism? Reparations and Blood Guilt; The Metaphysics of the Antiracist Inquisition; Debunking a Sacred Text in the Church of Identitarianism; You are Broken. We Will Fix You; Not All White People Are Racist; The Psychological Wages of Antiracism.) Have we not seen the engineering of a comprehensive process to mold children in the spirit of critical gender and race theory? (Banning CRT in Public Instruction.) Are these not the ends of Giroux’s critical pedagogy? Clearly the current style of public education is not to encourage the nation’s youth to think for itself, but to stuff full its head opinions derived from particular standpoints—“theories” they call them—selected from a myriad of explanations about why the world appears this way or that.
It really isn’t that hard to stand back just a bit and see that it’s the agenda of woke progressivism that moves with the spirit of National Socialism. Yet Giroux thinks it’s the other way around. He can’t take that step back to gain perspective. He doesn’t even understand his source material, which is here critical theory. Giroux believes that families, mostly proletarian, and legislatures opposing the indoctrination of their children in critical race and gender theory—the goal of which is to transgress the norms and values of western civilization and the liberal ordering of social life—is fascistic and not the corporate state takeover of public education because he is invested in promulgating the ideology that legitimizes these arrangements. Giroux is a functionary for the technocratic apparatus, a tool of the administrative state. It is with considerable irony, then, that Giroux, well known for his concern for public education in the face of neoliberalism, works against his explicit standpoint by characterizing the populist movement against neoliberalism as fascistic.
His error occurs in part because of misunderstandings of National Socialism and the theory of it offered in the writings of leading Frankfurt School scholars before the New Left and postmodernist deviations. It’s almost as if he’s running a misdirection play for the establishment, distracting the masses from the administrative and technocratic systems commanding their time and minds. Perhaps he is. In a recent interview with Lex Fridman discussing his latest book, The War on the West, Douglas Murray responds to Fridman musing about identiarianism working from some ulterior motive by suggesting that indeed it is. It is, after all, a characteristic of what Franz Neumann describes in Behemoth as “totalitarian monopoly capitalism” to fracture the proletariat through division. (See The Behemoth Returns: The Nazis Racialized Everything. So Do CRTs; Totalitarian Monopoly Capitalism: Fascism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.)
Giroux writes that, under Nazism, “Race consciousness was a crucial pedagogical goal which was used to both unify young people and elicit political loyalty based on national honor and a ‘budding nationalistic fanaticism.’” Giroux appears oblivious to the “crucial pedagogical goal” of indoctrinating America’s youth in critical race and gender theory to both divide the people and “elicit political loyalty” to the corporate state and the transnationalist methods of cultural pluralism and globalization by rewarding those who toe the ideological line. Giroux really can’t see that the greatest source of race consciousness in today’s America comes from his side? (I have written extensively on this subject on Freedom and Reason. See Critical Race Theory: A New Racism; What Critical Race Theory Is and Isn’t. Spoiler Alert: It’s Racist and Not Marxist; Crenshaw Confesses: Critical Race Theory is About Racial Reckoning; Banning CRT in Public Instruction; Awakening to the Problem of the Awokening: Unreasonableness and Quasi-religious Standards.)
In 1959, in “The Meaning of Working Through the Past,” Theodor Adorno writes, “I consider the survival of National Socialism within democracy to be potentially more menacing than the survival of fascist tendencies against democracy.” Although Adorno is fascinated by the authoritarian personality found among conservative thinkers and concerned about the implications (see The Authoritarian Personality), the body of his work, succinctly wrapped in this quote, indicates that he wasn’t as worried about the antidemocratic forces at the margins of society (which doesn’t in any case accurately characterize the ever-growing populist-nationalist movement that threatens to derail the new world order transnationalists are establishing) as he was about the antidemocratic and illiberal corporate state tendencies animating what Adorno referred to as the “administered world,” an intrinsically authoritarian situation emerging from technocratic rationality antithetical to egalitarianism and individual liberty.
Adorno understood, as did C. Wright Mills (see The Power Elite and The Causes of World War Three) and others, that the real fascistic threat in the post-war period emerges from the guts of corporate bureaucratic arrangements, with its social logic pressed into the prevailing cultural and educational institutions, not from the handful of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who show up with street corners with “shirts, stickers, and flags” adorned with images of the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (an instantiation of the fascist threat Giroux, following Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Counterpunch, offers in his essay).
It is, therefore, with some bemusement that one finds Giroux using Adorno to frame his argument. Indeed, the deployment of an Adorno quote in diametric opposition to the claims Giroux’s makes reveals a profound misreading of Adorno’s position, which differs from the critical theory Giroux apes, i.e., Herbert Marcuse and his ilk, a deviation that, with the help of postmodernism, finds its way into the transgressive methods of CRT, queer theory, and the like, which in turn find their way into the heads of children.
Perhaps some time spent with Adorno’s correspondence with Marcuse might help clarify matters for Giroux. The exchange of letters concerned student harassment of Adorno not unlike Brett Weinstein’s experience as Evergreen State College, a situation about which I can easily imagine Giroux taking the wrong side. Adorno was (as was Jürgen Habermas) highly critical of the New Left tendency, seen in the student movement of the latter 1960s, detecting in it the potential for leftwing fascism. Marcuse, who became a New Left guru during that period, while admitting to Adorno the irrationalism of those politics, was nonetheless swept up in that tendency, even advocating the repression of the speech of those with whom he disagreed (see The Noisy and Destructive Children of Herbert Marcuse; see also Mao Zedong Thought and the New Left Corruption of Emancipatory Politics and my Project Censored piece Defending the Digital Commons: A Left-Libertarian Critique of Speech and Censorship in the Virtual Public Square).
Giroux writes, “Education under the Third Reich offers significant insights into how repressive forms of pedagogy become central to shaping the identities, values, and worldviews of young people.” Indeed. As an active university teacher, I see everyday the effects of woke progressive indoctrination of our nation’s youth. The disregard for cognitive liberty, rejection of reason, loathing of Western culture, and the depth of identitarian thinking does not bode well for the future of liberal society—and how the institutions won’t even assess itself to determine the extent of the problem (see Science Politics at the University of Wisconsin—Deliberate Ignorance About the State of Cognitive Liberty and Viewpoint Diversity on College Campuses see also Refining the Art and Science of Propaganda in an Era of Popular Doubt and Questioning). “Nazi educational policies,” writes Giroux, has “made visible how in the final analysis education is always political in that it is a struggle over agency, ideology, knowledge, power, and the future.” He then raises the specter of Hitler. “For Hitler, matters of indoctrination, education, and the shaping of the collective consciousness of young people was an integral element of Nazi rule and politics.” Giroux quotes Mein Kampf: “Whoever has the youth has the future.”
Giroux might have pulled from George Orwell, who writes in Nineteen Eighty-Four: “He who controls the past controls the future; he who controls the present controls the past.”(You will recall that O’Brien invites Winston to rehearse the sloan.) That way Giroux could have referenced another proponent of critical pedagogy, the evangelist of “New History” Howard Zinn, who interpreted Orwell to be saying “that history is incredibly important in shaping the world view of the next generation of people.” However, Giroux would write such words without awareness that he is describing the prevailing social logic of American public education, a social logic, as I have said, in the service of corporate state governance.
Giroux has a woefully impoverished understanding of cognitive liberty and the point of government in a free society. He believes that good government is one that protects the power of administrators and teachers in public schools to indoctrinate children with the preachments of Wokism. In his writings, which are filled with glittering generalities, he goes about “democracy” and whatnot. But good government obtains when the state establishes and maintains the conditions that enable self-government. By self-government, we mean the power of individuals to govern their personal destinies and the collective endeavor represented by the republic to make certain the availability of such power for that purpose. The function of the state in a free society is not to mold citizens, to shape them towards ends that are not their own, to tell them what to think, but to protect their rights and liberties from others and from the state and otherwise get out of their way as they travel the path to self-actualization. Good government empowers citizens, not tosses obstacles before human development. This is the substance of any democracy worth practicing.
I write above that the current method of public instruction involves indoctrinating youth with opinions derived from particular standpoints selected from a myriad of explanations about the world. Critical race theory teaches students not to demand evidence that racism has occurred when an accusation has been leveled, but to look at every circumstance of differential outcome and imagine how racism manifests there using a “theory” that finds racism one way or another—while excluding alternative explanations on the grounds that they are also racist. (See Committing the Crime it Condemns.) Critical gender theory teachers students that gender, and now even sex, are arbitrary social constructs. A doctor does not risk misidentifying a baby’s sex at birth (an extremely rare occurrence), but rather “assigns” babies one sex or another based on a heterosexist (and patriarchal) worldview. And so on. These are opinions—opinions that run contrary to fact and reason, but opinions nonetheless. (See The New Left Practice of Eschewing Anthropological Truths; The LGBTQ Lobby Sues Florida; If QAnon is Not a Deep State Construct, It Certainly Functions that Way; The Strange Alchemy Turning Criticism of Patriarchy into Bigotry; The Ethic of Transparency in Public Education—and the Problem of Indoctrination; Can I Get an “Amen” to That? No, But Here’s Some Fairy Dust.)
Yet they undergird public school curriculum as if they are the final truth, parading as enlightened insights into the fundamental human condition, which is either fixed or fluid depending on which advances the agenda. This is what Adorno and Max Horkheimer, in their 1944 Dialectic of Enlightenment, as “enlightenment as mass deception.” Teachers are today part of the technocratic apparatus that serves the corporate state agenda. Woke progressivism is the ideology that lubricates the machinery of what is essentially totalitarian monopoly capitalism. It is a false enlightenment that dominates the culture industry, mass media, public schools, and the university in contemporary corporate America.
As I earlier alluded to, the nation has already fallen well away from the republican principles upon which it was founded, the teaching of which Giroux thinks are fascist. But it is the illiberalism of Giroux’s worldview that’s in line with the fascist threat he decries. Progressives have, by systematically misrepresenting history, cleverly argued that liberalism was fascist along (after all, the founders owned people, subjugated women, and colonized the world) and that the new fascism, i.e., “social justice,” will correct all that. It’s how they use the term “anti-racism” to continue racism in an inverted fashion, rationalized by a rhetoric of asymmetrical power. Not even a year ago, in a move symbolic of wrenching historical figures from cultural contexts, Thomas Jefferson’s statue was removed from city hall in New York because the founder and third president enslaved people. The man who stated in the most eloquent terms imaginable the fundamental principles of human freedom delegitimized because he lived with the legacy of slavery, a world-wide and millennia-old economic practice. There are countless instantiations of this move.
It was the Enlightenment principles of humanism and liberalism that eventually ended the practice of slavery, but Giroux and progressives like him, rejecting liberalism, appear as romantics, mired in a worldview that sees the public not as agents but as objects to control; not as citizens of a republic, but as subjects in a bureaucratic collective; not as individuals, but as personifications of abstract demographic and cultural categories. Like a clergy, progressive educators see education not as a system of empowerment but as a system of indoctrination. This is because the children given over to what administrators and teachers see as their institution will likely bear the wrong and regressive thoughts of their families and communities. Teachers see other people’s children as their own children. They are the new parents who know better than the real parents. They even keep from the parents secrets with the children. Progressives enjoy hours of control over the minds of children—more than half the conscious day of the little ones—and they mean to use that time to condition a generation to think in their terms. The progressive seeks to push out of the heads of America’s youth those ideas that are contrary to their own—ideas they characterize as “racist,” “sexist,” “transphobic,” etc.—and replace them with allegiance to the corporate state and its operating system, i.e., the identitarian divisioning of human populations.
I don’t mean to be dramatic, but the notion that Governor Ron DeSantis is in any fashion a Nazi or a fascist or anything remotely approaching that ideology is so absurd as to raise questions about the Giroux judgment overall—even if one did not already know this from acquaintance with his recent work.* Giroux is wrong because he works from a standpoint that is wrong. In thought and in deed, Governor DeSantis is pro-individual, pro-family, pro-American, and pro-West. To be sure, in the eyes of those who see the world in abstractions and endeavor to cancel individualism and dismantle the family, America, and the West, these are terrible things to be. But this is what passes for much of the left today: a pathological loathing of patriotic Americans. As a leftist, I am embarrassed to read the nonsense produced by other leftists. But, then, my leftism is liberal and republican, not bureaucratic collectivist. Like many other things, leftism is not monolithic. Nor is the New Left tendency in any fashion communist (there are misunderstandings left and right).
I want to close with a few remarks about Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment to help readers understand how to read critical theory. Adorno and Horkheimer are neo-Marxist, and the Marxist method of historical materialism is what we might describe as a moving critique. Adorno and Horkheimer’s analysis is therefore useful for what it might tell us about the present-day situation, and for this one needs to understand the underpinning logic of critique in order to adapt the argument, not slap it on top of the contemporary. The passages I am critiquing focus on the way language is used to direct behavior in an administered fashion that serves the interests of corporate power. It is this use of language that marks present-day public instruction, which has become in the period between Adorno and Horkheimer’s writing and today fully integrated into the administered society.
The social logic of totalitarian monopoly capitalism has colonized public education. The divisioning of human populations into identity groups is entirely consistent with the phenomenon of branding in consumer culture. One is encouraged, even compelled to adopt an identity as one adopts a style, with attire, banners, flags, placards, and standards—and an imperialist attitude—in tow. Adorno and Horkheimer identify this as the work of the “culture industry.” We see it in what George Orwell termed “Newspeak” in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eight-Four penned only a few years after Dialectic of Enlightenment. The language is changed on the premise that language creates reality. It’s a theological notion, the Christian notion of logos, that in the beginning there was the word. Those who control words thus control reality and the people in it. They determine who is in the circle of respectability and who is not. They determine what passwords access institutional privilege. They write the code.
“The blind and rapidly spreading repetition of words with special designations links advertising with the totalitarian watchword,” write Adorno and Horkheimer. “The layer of experience which created the words for their speakers has been removed; in this swift appropriation language acquires the coldness which until now it had only on billboards and in the advertisement columns of newspapers. Innumerable people use words and expressions which they have either ceased to understand or employ only because they trigger off conditioned reflexes.” We can see here that the authors have detected the colonization of the popular lifeworld of tactics that secure corporate governance; by the mid-1940s, consumerism had already entrenched in the depths of mass consciousness. Over the next several decades, the repetition of words with special designations would come to dominate public instruction. They were very clear that this is a fascist development.
We often hear from the political right that the cultural Marxists, on the command of Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, have accomplished a long march through the institutions of Western society, and that such methods as social and emotional learning are marks of a communist sensibility translated to a rhetoric about an intersecting array of identity groups. But the long march though the institutions was really the colonization of republic society by corporate ideology. Enlightenment as mass deception replaced Enlightened democratic practice (republicanism). What is kept from consciousness by the teaching of critical gender and race theory are the material interests of the working family. What is missing in the theory of intersecting oppressions is class analysis. So the correct historical account is obscured. (See The New Left’s War on Imaginary Structures of Oppression in Order to Hide the Real Ones.)
Why would one expect anything else? Are we really to suppose that corporations actively deploy (not merely tolerate) critical theory and critical pedagogy because they want to subvert corporate power? Or do we suppose the dominant institutions are woke because they function to perpetuate and entrench corporate power? What benefit do working class families derive from having public schools teach children to despise their race or question their gender? Who bankrolled Black Lives Matter? (See Corporations Own the Left. Black Lives Matter Proves it; What’s Really Going On with #BlackLivesMatter.)
What is happening here should be obvious. Corporate power is unhappy with DeSantis because he is their enemy. Corporate power is unhappy with Donald Trump because he is their enemy. Corporate power is unhappy with the populist-nationalist movement to reassert republican, liberal, and enlightened democratic values and practices. Enlightenment principles—humanism, individualism, self-government, and all the rest of it—are antithetical to the social logic of corporatocracy. A return to the principles of the Enlightenment threaten to derail the transnationalist project to establish a world government that would oversee the final destruction of capitalism and stand up its replacement: a global neofeudalist order secured by the Balkanization of everything. With its insistence on cultural pluralism and moral relativism and its program of managed decline of the modern nation-state, the goal of progressivism has never been about dismantling the intersecting oppressions against which they rail, but rather it has been about establishing and entrenching a consciousness that sees division everywhere except where it truly matters. The Enlightenment led to the emancipation of slaves and women. In time, it will lead to the emancipation of the individual from collectivist structures. So it obviously must be delegitimized.
The social logic of bureaucratic corporate arrangements has infected everything. Adorno and Horkheimer saw it coming. Giroux misses it. “The minister for mass education talks incomprehendingly of ‘dynamic forces,’” write Adorno and Horkheimer; “and the hit songs unceasingly celebrate ‘reverie’ and ‘rhapsody.’” Adorno and Horkheimer find that “the culture industry has taken over the civilizing inheritance of the entrepreneurial and frontier democracy—whose appreciation of intellectual deviations was [admittedly] never very finely attuned. All are free to dance and enjoy themselves, just as they have been free, since the historical neutralization of religion, to join any of the innumerable sects. But freedom to choose an ideology—since ideology always reflects economic coercion—everywhere proves to be freedom to choose what is always the same.” How does Giroux leverage Frankfurt-style critical theory and not grasp what it is telling him?
Adorno and Horkheimer conclude that “the choice of words in conversation, and the whole inner life as classified by the now somewhat devalued depth psychology, bear witness to man’s attempt to make himself a proficient apparatus, similar (even in emotions) to the model served up by the culture industry.” Public instruction has become fused with culture industry method and the intended result is youth making itself a proficient apparatus for corporate needs, which are essentially totalitarian in character. Perhaps Giroux doesn’t know this, but his arguments serve the interests of the establishment, not the interests of those with whom he claims to stand. And the establishment is the present-day manifestation of National Socialism, which the idea of nation is replaced by every conceivable imaginary community. In the final analysis, Giroux’s essay is an exercise in anti-working class politics.
* * *
* In “The Ugly Terror of a Fascist Abyss Lurks in the Background of This Pandemic,” published in TruthOut during the burning of American cities by Antifa and Black Lives Matter in the summer of 2020, Giroux writes the following: “There are lessons to be learned regarding how history is reproduced in the present. First, there is the Trump administration’s caging of children on the southern border. Second, there is Trump’s threat to use ‘dominating force’ and unleash the National Guard and police upon demonstrators peacefully resisting police violence against people of color. Third, there is Trump’s relentless language of violence designed both to embolden second amendment gun rights activists toward committing violence and to dehumanize certain populations while attempting [he quotes Jason Stanley] ‘to harness the emotion of nostalgia to the central themes of fascist ideology—authoritarianism, hierarchy, purity and struggle.’”
Everything about this paragraph is demonstrably wrong. Giroux has more than enough time to know that the images of children in cages at the US border were from the Obama era, a presidency he describes elsewhere as “an unprecedented moment in the fight against the legacy of racism while at the same time offering new possibilities for addressing how racism works in a post-Bush period.” Giroux also writes that the Obama presidency “puts the brakes on many authoritarian and anti-democratic tendencies operating both domestically and abroad, while offering a foothold not only for a fresh critique of neoliberal and neoconservative policies, but also an opportunity to reclaim and energize the language of the social contract and social democracy.” How on earth anybody thought these thoughts astonishes me. I knew and blogged before Obama was president that he was a corporate state tactic. Moreover, his politically-motivated pivot on the matter religion revealed his duplicity. (For the religious pivot, see Barack Obama: Doing the Lord’s Work; Mixing Church and State: Is Obama Un-American? Obama’s Religious Speech. See also Migrant Detention Facilities are Not Fascist Concentration Camps; Ocasio-Cortez and the Powers of Expectation and Identity; Immigration, Deportation, and Reductio ad Hitlerum.) )
Giroux seems to believe that American citizens have no right to expect that the government will act to protect them and their property. The problem with Trump’s threat to deploy the National Guard to defend persons and property from rioters who operated on the false premise that police specially target black people for violence was that he did not in any significant way follow through with the threat. Giroux is thus wrong here on two counts: (1) by the summer of 2020 it was obvious to anybody who bothered to look at the vast body of literature on the matter that the claims of systemic racism in lethal civilian-police encounters were mythic (see The Problematic Premise of Black Lives Matter; The Far Podcast: The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police Officer-Civilian Encounters; The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters; Again, The Myth of the Racist Criminal Justice System; Debunking Mythologies Surrounding the American Criminal Justice System; The Police are Sexist, too); (2) the federal government has an obligation to defend the civil liberties and rights of American citizens even when state governments fail to do so. Every one of us is first a citizen of the United States. Yet the federal government allowed state and city governments to allow thugs to overrun our cities, causing dozens of deaths scores of injuries, and billions of dollars in damages. (See Fake News, Executive Power, and the Anti-Working Class Character of Street Crime; On Riots and the Postmodern Corruption of the Culture of Protest; Unacceptable: Evers and Biden Inflame Insurrectionist Passions; Antifa, the Proud Boys, and the Relative Scale of Violent Extremism.)
To this claim about Trump emboldening gun owners and rehearsing central themes of fascist ideology, an obvious and cynical attempt to raise the specter of Brownshirts, I can only say that Giroux has a penchant to chase phantoms. Again, the only real fascist threat to American democracy is from above, forces that have mobilized millions of subalterns to eat at the foundations of the republic—and I’m not talking about those Hillary Clinton called the “deplorables.” What’s going on here is part of a large-scale campaign to delegitimize the working class of America. (See The Establishment Project to Demonize Conservative White Males. What’s This All About? “A New Kind of American Radicalism”: The Campaign to Portray Ordinary America as Deviant and Dangerous; Suppressing the Rabble: Portraying Conservatism and Republicanism as Fringe and Dangerous; Rittenhouse’s Real Crime and Corporate State Promotion of Extremism; The Wages of Victimism: Leftwing Trauma Production for Political Ends; A Peaceful Transition of Political Power.) Giroux is the paradigm of the professional-managerial attitude animating the present-day academic. This stratum loathes the proletariat while claiming to stand with racialized and sexualized elements they “discover” in it.