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Culture of Cruelty: the Age of Neoliberal Authoritarianism

Culture of Cruelty: the Age of Neoliberal Authoritarianism

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George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian society casts a dark shadow over the United States. As American society has moved from a welfare to a warfare state, the institutions that were once meant to limit human suffering and misfortune and protect the public from the excesses of the market have been either weakened or abolished.[1] With the withering, if not evisceration, of the social contract, the discourse of social responsibility has been removed from the principles of democratic reform. Relegated to an object of disdain by right-wing extremists, the legacy of democratic principles now withers under a social order marked by a hardening of the culture and the emergence of an unprecedented survival-of-the fittest ethos. This is a mean-spirited ethos that rails against any notion of solidarity and compassion that embraces a respect for others. The consequences of this emerging authoritarianism speak to a different experience of total terror in the 21st century.

The basic elements of this new neoliberal authoritarianism can be seen clearly in the ongoing and ruthless assault on the social state, unions, higher education, workers, students, poor minority youth, and any vestige of the social contract. Free market policies, values, and practices with their emphasis on the privatization of public wealth, the elimination of social protections, and the deregulation of economic activity now shape practically every commanding political and economic institution in both countries. Markets now use their economic and ideological resources to weaponize and militarize all aspects of everyday life, increasingly held in place by a culture of fear, a pedagogy of repression, a banal celebrity culture, game show aesthetics, and a politics of precarity, control, and mass surveillance.

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