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Henry Giroux, public intellectual, on the menace of Trump and the new authoritarianism

“Trump’s election... confirms that the dark and haunting possibilities of authoritarianism are upon us, and have made way for a more extreme and totalitarian form of late capitalism.”  Extended interview.

lead The US President and Steve Bannon amongst others briefed on the Syria military strike by the National Security team in Florida, April 6, 2017. CNP/SIPA USA/Press Association. All rights reserved.Henry Giroux has written extensively on cultural studies, youth studies, popular culture, media studies, social theory, and the politics of higher and public education. Being one of the founding theorists and practitioners of critical pedagogy in the United States and Canada, Giroux has engaged in public critique of neoliberalism, the rise of neo-authoritarianism and the politics of war, as well as their effects on public culture and education. In this interview, he discusses the new developments that are taking place in the United States and the possible strategies and tactics to engage successfully in processes of resistance and egalitarian social transformation during the Trump era.

Joan Pedro-Carañana (JPC): Hello Professor Giroux and thank you for having this interview. We can begin by discussing the current state of US politics and then move on to looking at the alternatives for change. Let’s start with your evaluation of the first two months of Trump’s presidency.

Henry Giroux (HG): The first two months of Trump’s presidency fit perfectly with his neo-fascist ideology. Rather than being constrained by the history and power of the presidency as some have predicted, Trump has unapologetically embraced a deeply authoritarian ideology and politics, evident in a number of actions.

First, at his inaugural address he echoed fascist sentiments of the past by painting a dystopian image of the United States marked by carnage, rusted out factories, blighted communities, and ignorant students. Underlying this apocalyptic vision was a characteristically authoritarian emphasis on exploiting fear, the call for a strong man to address the nation’s problems, the demolition of traditional institutions of governance, an insistence on expanding the military, and an appeal to xenophobia and racism in order to establish terror as a major weapon of governance.

Second, Trump’s support for militarism, white nationalism, right-wing populism, and a version of neoliberalism on steroids was made concrete in his various cabinet and related appointments, which consisted mostly of generals, white supremacists, Islamophobes, Wall Street insiders, religious extremists, billionaires,  anti-intellectuals, incompetents, climate change deniers, and free-market fundamentalists. What all of these appointments share is a neoliberal and white nationalist ideology aimed at destroying all of those public spheres, such as education and the critical media that enabled democracy to function.

What all of these appointments share is a neoliberal and white nationalist ideology aimed at destroying all of those public spheres, such as education and the critical media that enabled democracy to function, and political institutions such as an independent judiciary. They are also united in eliminating policies that protect regulatory agencies and provide a foundation for holding power accountable. At stake here, is a united front of neo-fascists who are intent on eroding those institutions, values, resources, and social relations not predicated upon and organized according to the dictates of neoliberal rationality. 

Third, Trump initiated a number of executive orders that left no doubt that he was more than willing to destroy the environment, rip immigrant families apart, eliminate or weaken regulatory agencies, expand a bloated Pentagon budget, destroy public education, eliminate millions from health care insurance, deport 11 million unauthorized immigrants from the United States, unleash the military and police to enact his authoritarian white nationalist agenda, and invest billions in building a wall that stands as a symbol of white supremacy and racial hatred.

There is a culture of cruelty at work here that can be seen in the Trump administration’s willingness to destroy any program that may provide assistance to the poor, working and middle classes, the elderly, and young people. Moreover, the Trump regime is filled with warmongers who have taken power at a time in which the possibilities of a nuclear war with North Korea and Russia have reached dangerous levels. Furthermore, there is the possibility that the Trump administration will escalate a military conflict with Iran and become more involved militarily in Syria. Furthermore, there is the possibility that the Trump administration will escalate a military conflict.

Fourth, Trump has repeatedly exhibited a shocking disrespect for the truth, law, and civil liberties, and in doing so he has undermined the ability of citizens to be able to discern the truth in public discourse, test assumptions, weigh evidence, and insist on rigorous ethical standards and methods in holding power answerable.  

Yet Trump has done more than  committ what Eric Alterman calls “public crimes against the truth.”[i] Public trust collapses in the absence of dissent, a culture of questioning, hard arguments, and a belief that truth not only exists but is also indispensable to a democracy. Public trust collapses in the absence of dissent.

Trump has lied repeatedly, even going so far as to accuse former President Obama of wiretapping, and when confronted with his misrepresentation of the facts, he has attacked critics as purveyors of fake news. Under Trump words no longer have any meaning and disappear into the rabbit hole of “alternative facts,” undermining the capacity for political dialogue, a culture of questioning, and civic culture itself. Furthermore, Trump not only refuses to use the term democracy in his speeches, he is doing everything he can to establish the foundations for an overt authoritarian society. Trump has proven in his first few months in office that he is a tragedy for justice, democracy, and the planet and a triumph for an American style proto-fascism.

JPC: You have argued that contemporary societies are at a turning point that is bringing about the rise of a new authoritarianism. Trump, by this account, would only be the tipping point of this transformation?

HG: The dark elements of totalitarianism have a long history in the United States, and can be seen in the legacy of nativism, white supremacy, Jim Crow, lynchings, ultra-nationalism, and right-wing populist movements such as the Klu Klux Klan and militiamen that have been endemic to shaping American culture and society.

They are also evident in the religious fundamentalism that has shaped so much of American history with its anti-intellectualism and contempt for the separation of church and state. Further evidence can be found in the history of corporations using state power to undermine democracy by smashing labor movements and weakening democratic political spheres.

The shadow of totalitarianism can also be seen in the kind of political fundamentalism that emerged in the United States in the 1920s in the Palmer raids and in the 50s with the rise of the McCarthy period and the squelching of dissent. We see it in the Powell Memo in the 1970s and in the first major report of the Trilateral Commission report called The Crisis of Democracy, which viewed democracy as an excess and  threat. We also saw elements of it in the use of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program in which radical groups were infiltrated, and in the case of the Black Panthers some of its members were killed.  

A COINTELPRO document outlining the FBI's plans to 'neutralize' Jean Seberg for her support for the Black Panther Party. Wikicommons/Richard W. Held. Some rights reserved.In spite of this sad legacy, Trump’s ascendency represents something new and even more dangerous. No president has displayed such sociopathic behavior, abolished the distinction between truth and fiction, surrounded himself with white nationalists and religious fundamentalists, and exhibit a “willingness to overtly invoke all the worst ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds in order to appeal to the most despicable elements of our society and unleash an upsurge of racism, anti-Semitism, sexual assault, and nativism by the KKK and other hate groups.”[ii]

Conservative commentator Charles Sykes is right in arguing that the administration’s “discrediting independent sources of information also has two major advantages for Mr. Trump: It helps insulate him from criticism and it allows him to create his own narratives, metrics and “alternative facts.”[iii] All administrations lie, but what we are seeing here is an attack on credibility itself.” In a terrifying signal of his willingness to discredit critical media outlets and suppress dissent, he has gone so far as to label the critical media as the “enemy of the people,” while his chief strategist, Stephan Bannon, has called them the “opposition party.” He has attacked – and in some cases fired – judges who have disagreed with his policies, threatened to withdraw federal funds from universities that he thought were largely inhabited by liberals and leftists, embraced alt-right conspiracy theories in order to attack his opponents and give legitimacy to his own flights from reason and morality.  What must be acknowledged is that a new historical conjuncture emerged in the 1970s when neoliberal capitalism began to wage an unprecedented war against the social contract.

What must be acknowledged is that a new historical conjuncture emerged in the 1970s when neoliberal capitalism began to wage an unprecedented war against the social contract, implemented austerity programs that weakened democratic public spheres, aggressively attacked the welfare state, and waged an assault on all of those institutions crucial to creating a critical formative culture in which matters of economic justice, civic literacy, freedom, and the social imagination are nurtured among the polity.  

The longstanding contract between labor and capital was torn up as politics became local, while power was no longer bounded by geography and embedded in a global elite with no obligations to nation states. As the nation state weakened, it was reduced to regulatory formation to serve the interest of the rich, corporations, and the financial elite. The power to get things done is no longer in the hands of the state; it now resides in the hands of the global elite and is managed by markets.

What has emerged with the rise of neoliberalism is both a crisis of the state and a crisis of agency and politics. One consequence of the separation of power and politics was that neoliberalism gave rise to massive inequalities in wealth, income, and power furthering rule by the financial elite and an economy of the 1%. The state was not able to provide social provisions and has rapidly been reduced to its carceral functions.  That is, as the social state was hollowed out, the punishing state increasingly took over its obligations. Political compromise, dialogue, and social investments gave way to a culture of containments, cruelty, militarism, and violence.

The war on terror further militarized American society and created the foundation for a culture of fear and a permanent war culture. War cultures need enemies and in a society governed by a ruthless notion of self-interest, privatization, and commodification, more and more groups were demonized, cast aside, and viewed as disposable. This included poor Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, unauthorized immigrants,  transgender communities, and young people who protested the increasing authoritarianism of American society.

Trump’s appeal to national greatness, populism, support for state violence against dissenters, a disdain for human solidarity, and a longstanding culture of racism has a long legacy in the United States, and was accelerated as the Republican Party was overtaken by religious, economic, and educational fundamentalists. Increasingly economics drove politics, set policies, and put a premium on the ability of markets to solve all problems, to control not only the economy but all of social life. Under a savage neoliberalism, repression has become permanent in the US as schools and the local police were militarized and more and more everyday behaviors, including a range of social problems, were criminalized. In addition, the dystopian embrace of an Orwellian control society was intensified under the umbrella of a National Security State, with its 17 intelligence agencies.

In addition, the dystopian embrace of an Orwellian control society was intensified under the umbrella of a National Security State, with its 17 intelligence agencies. The attacks on democratic ideals, values, institutions, and social relations were accentuated through the complicity of an apologetic mainstream media more concerned about their ratings than about their responsibility as constitutive of the Fourth Estate. 

As entertainment replaced the imperatives of a critical media, celebrity and consumer culture further serve to dumb down, depoliticize, and infantilize the polity. With the erosion of civic culture, historical memory, critical education, and any sense of shared citizenship, it was easy for Trump to create a corrupt political, economic, ethical, and social swamp while stoking the fears and anger of diverse elements of a displaced, forgotten, and angry polity who rightly felt cast aside by both political parties.  

Rather than being viewed as some eccentric clown and narcissistic blowhard, Trump must be viewed as the distilled essence of a much larger war on democracy brought to life in late modernity by an economic system that has increasingly used all the ideological and repressive institutions at its disposal to consolidate power in the hands of the 1%. Trump is both a symptom and accelerant of these forces and has moved a culture of bigotry, racism, greed, and hatred from the margins to the center of American society.  

Trump’s forebears

JPC: What would be the similarities and the differences in regards to past forms of authoritarianism and totalitarianism?

HG: There are echoes of classical fascism of the 1920s and 1030s in much of what Trump says and how he performs. Fascist overtones resound as Trump taps into a sea of misdirected anger, promotes himself as a strong leader who can save a nation in decline and repeats the fascist script of white nationalism in his attacks on immigrants and Muslims. He has managed to organize millions of people who believe that loyalty is more important than civic freedom and responsibility.

He also flirts with fascism in his call for a revival of ultra-nationalism, his discourse of racist hate, scapegoating the “other;” and his juvenile tantrums and tweet attacks on anyone who disagrees with him. His use of the spectacle to create a culture of self-promotion; his mix of politics and theater mediated by an emotional brutality and a willingness to elevate emotion over reason, war over peace, violence over critique, and militarism over democracy.

Trump’s addiction to massive self-enrichment and the gangster morality that informs it threatens to normalize a new level of political corruption. Moreover, he uses fear and terror to demonize the other and pay tribute to an unbridled militarism. He has surrounded himself with a right-wing inner circle to help him implement his dangerous policies on health care, the environment, the economy, foreign policy, immigration, and civil liberties.  

He has also expanded the notion of propaganda to something more perilous and lethal for a democracy. A habitual liar, he has attempted to obliterate the distinction between the facts and fiction, evidence-based arguments and lying, and in doing so has extended unlike at any other time in American history the landscape of distortion, misrepresentation, and falsification. He has not only reinforced the legitimacy of what I call the disimagination machine, but also created among large segments of the public a distrust of the truth and the institutions that promote critical thinking.

Consequently, he has managed to organize millions of people who believe that loyalty is more important than civic freedom and responsibility. In doing so he has emptied the language of politics and the horizon of politics of any substantive meaning, contributing to an authoritarian and depoliticized culture of sensationalism, immediacy, fear, and anxiety. Trump has galvanized and emboldened all the anti-democratic forces that have been shaping neoliberal capitalisms across the globe for the last forty years.

Counter protesters march against a planned KKK rally on December 3, 2016. The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan called it a ''Victory Klavalkade Klan Parade'' in celebration of the presidential election of Donald Trump. Carol Guzy/Press Association.All rights reserved.Unlike dictatorships of the 1930s, he has not set up a secret police, created concentration camps, taken complete control of the state, arrested dissenters, and developed a one party system. Moreover, there are no Nazi storm troopers and there is no violence waged by paramilitary forces. Yet while Trump’s America is not a replica of Nazi Germany, it expresses elements of totalitarianism in distinctly American forms. Hannah Arendt warned that rather than being a thing of the past, elements of totalitarianism would more than likely in mid-century crystallize into new forms. Surely, as Bill Dixon points out, “the all too protean origins of totalitarianism are still with us: loneliness as the normal register of social life, the frenzied lawfulness of ideological certitude, mass poverty and mass homelessness, the routine use of terror as a political instrument, and the ever growing speeds and scales of media, economics, and warfare.” The conditions that produce the terrifying curse of totalitarianism seem to be upon us and are visible in Trump’s denial of civil liberties, the stoking of fear in the general population, a hostility to the rule of law and a free and critical press, a contempt for the truth, and this attempt to create a new political formation through an alignment of religious fundamentalists, racists, xenophobes, Islamophobes, the ultra-rich, and unhinged militarists.  

JPC: What connects neoliberalism to the emergence of neo-authoritarianism?

HG: For the last forty years, neoliberalism has aggressively functioned as an economic, political and social project designed to consolidate wealth and power in the hands of the upper 1%. It functions through multiple registers as an ideology, mode of governance, policy making machine, and a poisonous form of public pedagogy.

As an ideology, it views the market as the primary organizing principle of society while embracing privatization, deregulation, and commodification as fundamental to the organization of politics and everyday life. As a mode of governance, it produces subjects wedded to unchecked self-interest and unbridled individualism while normalizing shark-like competition, the view that inequality is self-evidently a part of the natural order, and that consumption is the only valid obligation of citizenship.

As a policy machine, it allows money to drive politics, sells off state functions, weakens unions, replaces the welfare state with the warfare state, and seeks to eliminate social provisions while increasingly expanding the reach of the police state through the ongoing criminalization of social problems.  

As a form of public pedagogy, it wages a war against public values, critical thinking, and all forms of solidarity that embrace notions of collaboration, social responsibility, and the common good.

Neoliberalism has created the political, social and pedagogical landscape that accelerated the anti-democratic tendencies to create the conditions for a new authoritarianism in the United States.

It has created a society ruled by fear, imposed massive hardships and gross inequities that benefit the rich through austerity policies, eroded the civic and formative culture necessary to produce critically-informed citizens, and destroyed any sense of shared citizenship.

At the same time, neoliberalism has accelerated a culture of consumption, sensationalism, shock, and spectacularized violence in a way that produces not only a widespread landscape of unchecked competition, commodification, and vulgarity but also a society in which agency is militarized, infantilized, and depoliticized.

New technologies that could advance social media platforms have been used by groups such as the Black Lives Matter movement and when coupled with the development of critical online media to educate and advance a radically democratic agenda have opened up new spaces of public pedagogy and resistance. At the same time, the landscape of the new technologies and mainstream social media operate within a powerful neoliberal ecosystem that exercises an inordinate influence in heightening narcissism, isolation, anxiety and loneliness. The landscape of the new technologies and mainstream social media operate within a powerful neoliberal ecosystem that exercises an inordinate influence in heightening narcissism, isolation, anxiety and loneliness.

By individualizing all social problems along with elevating individual responsibility to the highest ideal, neoliberalism has dismantled the bridges between private and public life making it almost impossible to translate private issues into broader systemic considerations. Neoliberalism created the conditions for the transformation of a liberal democracy into a fascist state by creating the foundations for not only control of commanding institutions by a financial elite, but also by eliminating the civil, personal, and political protections offered to individuals in a free society.

If authoritarianism in its various forms aims at the destruction of the liberal democratic order, neoliberalism provides the conditions for that devestating transformation to happen by creating a society adrift in extreme violence, cruelty, and a pathological disdain for democracy. Trump’s election as the President of the United States only confirms the dark and haunting possibilities of authoritarianism are upon us and have made way for a more extreme and totalitarian form of late capitalism.  

JPC: In your view, what role have educational institutions such as universities played in this US society?

HG: Ideally, educational institutions such as  higher education should be understood as democratic public spheres – as spaces in which education enables students to develop a keen sense of economic justice, deepen a sense of moral and political agency, utilize critical analytical skills, and cultivate a civic literacy through which they learn to respect the rights and perspectives of others. In this instance, higher education should exhibit in its policies and practices a responsibility not only to search for the truth regardless of where it may lead, but also to educate students to make authority and power politically and morally accountable while at the same time sustaining a democratic, formative public culture.

Unfortunately, the ideal is at odds with the reality, especially since the 1960s when a wave of student struggles to democratize the university and make it more inclusive mobilized a systemic and coordinated attack on the university as an alleged center of radical and liberal thought. Conservatives began to focus on how to change the mission of the university so as to bring it in line with free market principles while limiting the admission of minorities. Evidence of such a coordinated attack was obvious in claims by the Trilateral Commission complaining of the excess of democracy and later in the Powell Memo which claimed that advocates of the free market had to use their power and money to take back higher education from the student radicals and the excesses of democracy. But the greatest threat to higher education came from the growing ascendency of neoliberalism in the late 1970s, and its assumption of power with the election of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

In 2003 Granada Hills Charter High School became the largest charter school in the United States.Wikicommons/jcjusay. Some rights reserved.Under the regime of neoliberalism in the United States as well as in many other countries, many of the problems facing higher education can be linked to eviscerated funding models, the domination of these institutions by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the rise of charter schools, the intrusion of the national security state, and the slow demise of faculty self-governance, all of which not only contradicts the culture and democratic value of higher education but also makes a mockery of the very meaning and mission of the university as a democratic public sphere.

With the onslaught of neoliberal austerity measures, the mission of higher education was transformed from educating citizens to training students for the workforce. At the same time, the culture of business has replaced any vestige of democratic governance, with faculty reduced to degrading labor practices and students viewed mainly as customers.

Rather than enlarge the moral imagination and critical capacities of students, too many universities are now wedded to producing would-be hedge fund managers and depoliticized workers, and creating modes of education that promote a “technically trained docility.” Strapped for money and increasingly defined in the language of corporate culture, many universities are now driven principally by vocational, military, and economic considerations while increasingly removing academic knowledge production from democratic values and projects.

The ideal of higher education as a place to think, to engage in pure research, to promote dialogue, and to learn how to hold power accountable is viewed as a threat to neoliberal modes of governance. At the same time, education is viewed by the apostles of market fundamentalism as a space for producing profits and educating a supine and fearful labor force, as well as a powerful institution for indoctrinating students into accepting the obedience demanded by the corporate order.

JPC: You have also written about the need for and the possibilities of organizing forces of resistance and change during the Trump presidency. In particular, you have emphasized the importance of expanding the connections among diverse social movements. What are the groups that in your view could work together within the United States?

HG: I have argued that single issue movements such as the Black Lives Matter and anti-war movements have done a great deal to spread the principles of justice, equity, and inclusion in the United States and have incorporated a range of movements extending from those fighting for civil rights and lower student tuition to the struggles by young people against police violence and the mass incarceration state.

At Grand Central station in New York City on April 4, 2017 for a public action and vigil.Erik McGregor/Press Association. All rights reserved. I have argued that as important as these movements are as an expression of legitimate democratic ambitions, they often operate in ideological and political silos that run the risk of fragmenting the left while preventing it from developing a more comprehensive understanding of politics itself. 

In this instance, politics itself has to be rethought in terms of bringing together a wide range of single issue movements so as to create a broad-based political formation that as Chantal Mouffe argues is “receptive to those democratic aspirations and orientates them toward a [broader] defense of equality and social justice.”[iv]

The left and progressives need to unite to create a social movement united in its defense of radical democracy, a rejection of non-democratic forms of governance, and rejection of the notion that capitalism and democracy are synonymous.  

There is a need to pull the different elements of the left together so as to both affirm single issue movements and also recognize their limits when confronting the myriad dimensions of political, economic, and social oppression, particularly given how the machinery and rationality of  neoliberalism works now to govern all of social life.

Michael Lerner rightly argues that “we need to both validate and move beyond identity politics, to unite across class, race and gender, and bring to the forefront the intersectionality or shared experience of all the different forms of pain and  suffering….This kind of solidarity must be extended to all people on earth.”[v]

Finally, it is crucial to recognize that given the hold of neoliberalism on American politics and the move of neo-fascism from the margins to the center of power, it is crucial for progressives and the left to unite in their efforts “to create a powerful anti-capitalist movement from below, representing an altogether different solution, aimed at epoch-making structural change.”[vi] 

Agents of resistance

JPC: What about the old idea of internationalism? Is it better to dedicate efforts to advancing the national front or trying to build alliances between social movements and political forces from different countries in a longer process? Can both approaches be combined?

HG: There is no outside in politics any longer. Power is global and its effects touch everyone irrespective of national boundaries and local struggles. The threats of nuclear war, environmental destruction, terrorism,  the refugee crisis, militarism, and the predatory appropriations of resources, profits, and capital by the global ruling elite suggest that politics has to be waged on an international level in order to create resistance movements that can not only learn from and support each other. We need to create a new kind of politics that addresses the global reach of power and the growing potential for both mass destruction and mass global resistance. This does not imply giving up on local and national politics. On the contrary, it means connecting the dots so that the links between local and state politics can be understood within the logic of wider global forces and the interests that shape them.

JPC: Another key idea that you are promoting is that progressive movements must also embrace those who are angry with existing political and economic systems, but who lack a critical frame of reference for understanding the conditions for their anger. Could you sketch out your understanding of a concept that is so important in your work of critical pedagogy?

HG: Following theorists such as Paulo Freire, Antonio Gramsci, C. Wright Mills, Raymond Williams and Cornelius Castoriadis, I have made central to my work the recognition that the crisis of democracy was not only about economic domination or outright repression but also involved the crisis of pedagogy and education. 

Progressives would do well to take account of the profound educational transformations taking place among a variety of cultural apparatuses, which are really teaching machines,  and in doing so reclaim pedagogy as a central category of politics itself.

The late Pierre Bourdieu was right when he stated that the left has too often “underestimated the symbolic and pedagogical dimensions of struggle and have not always forged appropriate weapons to fight on this front.”[vii] He also states that “left intellectuals must recognize that the most important forms of domination are not only economic but also intellectual and pedagogical, and lie on the side of belief and persuasion. It is important to recognize that intellectuals bear an enormous responsibility for challenging this form of domination.”[viii]

These are important pedagogical interventions and imply that critical pedagogy in the broadest sense is not just about matters of understanding, however critical, but also provides the conditions, ideals, and practices necessary for assuming the responsibilities we have as citizens to expose human misery and to eliminate the conditions that produce it. Pedagogy is about changing consciousness, developing discourses and modes of representation in which people can recognize themselves and their problems, and be able to invest in a new understanding of both individual and collective struggle. 

Bernie Sanders points to a supporter during a Get Out the Vote rally on November 5, 2016, in Colorado Springs, CO, USA. Colorado Springs Gazette/Press Association. All rights reserved.Matters of responsibility, social action, and political intervention do not simply develop out of social critique but also forms of self-reflection, critical analysis, and communicative engagement. In short, any radical democratic project must incorporate the need for intellectuals and others to address critical pedagogy not only as a mode of educated hope and a crucial element of an insurrectional educational project, but also as a practice that addresses the possibility of interpretation as a form of intervention in the world.

It is crucial to recognize that any viable approach to a democratically inspired politics must embrace the challenge of enabling people to recognize and invest something of themselves in the language, representations, ideology, values, and sensibilities used by the left and other progressives. This means taking up the task of making something meaningful in order to make it critical and transformative.

Equally important is the need to give people the knowledge and skills to understand how private and everyday troubles connect to wider structures. As Stuart Hall has noted, “You can't just rest with the underlying structural logic. And so you think about what is likely to awaken identification. There's no politics without identification. People have to invest something of themselves, something that they recognize is of them or speaks to their condition, and without that moment of recognition ... you won't have a political movement without that moment of identification.”[ix]   

Critical pedagogy can neither be reduced to a method nor is it non-directive in the manner of a spontaneous conversation with friends over coffee. As public intellectuals, authority must be reconfigured not as a way to stifle the curiosity and deaden the imagination, but as a platform that provides the conditions for students to learn the knowledge, skills, values, and social relationships that enhance their capacities to assume authority over the forces that shape their lives both in and out of schools.

I have argued for years that critical pedagogy must always be attentive to addressing the democratic potential of engaging how experience, knowledge, and power are shaped both in the classroom and in wider public spheres and cultural apparatuses, extending from the social media and the Internet to film culture and the critical and mainstream media.

In this sense, critical pedagogy and education itself must become both central to politics and linked to the recovery of historical memory, to the abolition of existing inequities, and a “hopeful version of democracy where the outcome is a more just, equitable society that works toward the end of oppression and suffering of all.”[x]

JPC: We can conclude the interview by looking at the future with some informed optimism. Can you explain the concept of militant hope?

HG: Any confrontation with the current historical moment has to be contoured with a sense of hope and possibility so that intellectuals, artists, workers, educators, and young people can imagine otherwise in order to act otherwise. 

While many countries have become more authoritarian and repressive, there are signs that neoliberalism in its various versions is currently being challenged, especially by young people, and that the social imagination is still alive.

The pathologies of neoliberalism are becoming more and more obvious and the contradictions between rule by the few and the imperatives of a liberal democracy have become more jarring and visible. The widespread support for Bernie Sanders, especially among young people, is a hopeful sign, as is the fact that many Americans favor progressive programs such as a government-guaranteed healthcare program, social security and higher taxes for the rich. The pathologies of neoliberalism are becoming more and more obvious and the contradictions between rule by the few and the imperatives of a liberal democracy have become more jarring and visible.

For resistance not to disappear in the fog of cynicism, the urgency of the present moment demands recognizing that the cruel and harsh reality of a society that finds justice, morality, and the truth repugnant has to be repeatedly challenged as an excuse for either a withdrawal from political life or a collapse of faith in the possibility of change.

A militant hope should foster a sense of moral outrage and the need to organize with great ferocity. There are no victories without struggles. And while we may be entering a historical moment that has tipped over into an unapologetic authoritarianism, such moments are as hopeful as they are dangerous. The urgency of such moments can galvanize people into a new understanding of the meaning and value of collective political resistance.

What cannot be forgotten is that no society is without resistance, and hope can never be reduced to merely an abstraction. Hope has to be informed, concrete, and actionable.  Hope in the abstract is not enough. We need a form of militant hope and practice that engages with the forces of authoritarianism on educational and political fronts so as to become a foundation for what might be called hope in action – that is, a new force of collective resistance and a vehicle for anger transformed into collective struggle, a principle for making despair unconvincing and struggle possible.

Nothing will change unless people begin to take seriously the deeply rooted cultural and subjective underpinnings of oppression in the United States and what it might require to make such issues meaningful in both personal and collective ways, in order to make them critical and transformative. This is fundamentally a pedagogical as well as a political concern. As Charles Derber has explained, knowing “how to express possibilities and convey them authentically and persuasively seems crucially important”[xi] if any viable notion of resistance is to take place.

JPC: Thank you

This interview was originally published on Truthout on April 11, 2017. Thanks go to them and to the author for permission to republish.


[i] Eric Alterman, “Kafka Would’t Dare,” The Nation ( April 3, 2017), p. 6.

[ii] Peter Dreier, “American Fascist,” Common Dreams, [January 20, 2017]. Online: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/01/20/american-fascist

[iii] Charles J. Sykes, “Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying,” The New York Times, [Feb 4, 2017] Online: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/04/opinion/sunday/why-nobody-cares-the-president-is-lying.html

[iv] Chantal Mouffe, “The Populist Moment,” Open Democracy, (November 21, 2016)
Online: https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/chantal-mouffe/populist-moment

[v] Rabbi Michael Lerner, “Overcoming Trump-ism: A New Strategy for Progressives,” Tikkun Magazine, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Winter 2017). Online: http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/overcoming-trump-ism-a-new-strategy-for-progressives

[vi] John Bellamy Foster, “Neofascism in the White House,” Monthly Review, [April 1, 2017]. Online: https://monthlyreview.org/2017/04/01/neofascism-in-the-white-house/

[vii] Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance (New York: Free Press, 1998), p. 11.

[viii] Pierre Bourdieu and Gunter Grass, “The ‘Progressive’ Restoration: A Franco-German Dialogue,” New Left Review 14 (March-April, 2002), P. 2.

[ix] Stuart Hall and Les Back, “In Conversation: At Home and Not at Home”, Cultural Studies, Vol. 23, No. 4, (July 2009), pp. 680-681

[x] Richard Voelz, “Reconsidering the Image of Preacher-Teacher: Intersections between Henry Giroux’s Critical Pedagogy and Homiletics,” Practical Matters (Spring 2014), p. 79.

[xi] Charles Derber, private correspondence with the author, January 29, 2014.

About the authors

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and is the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America’s Addiction to Terrorism (Monthly Review Press, 2016), and America at War with Itself (City Lights, 2017). In 2002, he was named as one of the top fifty educational thinkers of the modern period in Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education: From Piaget to the Present as part of Routledge’s Key Guides Publication Series. In 2007, he was named by the Toronto Star as one of the “12 Canadians Changing the Way We Think.” He is a contributing editor to a number of journals, including Tikkun, the Journal of Wild Culture, and Ragazine. Giroux is also a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors. His web site is www.henryagiroux.com.

Joan Pedro-Carañana, is Associate Professor at Saint Louis University-Madrid Campus. His doctoral research was in communication, social change and development (Complutense University of Madrid). Joan has been active in a variety of social movements and is interested in the role of media, education and culture in the transformation of societies.

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