Monday, November 24, 2008


In a Perspective piece on Truthout, Henry Giroux warns of new efforts by Defense Secretary Gates to ‘militarize’ universities (“Against the Militarized Academy”, here )

This sort of thing has been going on for a long time. Not unsurprisingly, the National Security State began to forge relationships – links, is more like it – with universities from its inception after the Second World War. In the struggle against Communism, it was seen in the universities as an endeavor worthy of them and compatible with – perhaps required by – their commitment to reason and science and the education of a democratic citizenry competent to participate in the affairs of the Republic.

The National Security State did everything it could to reduce the ‘perhaps’, making sure that large amount of cash went along with the collaboration (and all this on top of corporations looking to buy or rent the best and most prestigious talents to develop or sell their products).

For a while the university and the State could travel along together without too much trouble. Just where that changed is open to discussion. But it can be said at this point that the purposes of the National Imperial Security State are surely incompatible with the mission of a university.

Of course, it has to be said that the National Nanny State is equally hostile – for all practical purposes – to the mission of the university. The jaw-dropping speech codes and the faculty braying that ‘facts don’t matter’ are only the tips of huge icebergs beneath the surface: revolutions do not accept any ‘truth’ higher than or incompatible with their own objectives, any more than militaries do. And while Jean Bethke Elshtain adverts somewhere in her book “Sovereignty” that (I’m working from brute memory here) the most radical feminists and Theorists had unworkable agendas and migrated to the universities as their refuge of last resort, it’s still true that there’s a whole lotta damage they can and did cause, spewing their stuff to young minds in an almost Soviet hothouse atmosphere. And let’s not forget that they are on tap to impress judges and legislators with their expert and elite thoughts through books and testimony and talk-show appearances and the chit-chat at high-level, bosky buffets.

Militarization in the narrow sense may lead one to think that ‘the military’ should not be involved with the university. But the phenomenon called ‘militarization’ is not only dangerous but also extends beyond the presence of the military. An imperial nation requires an obedient but competent military; a corporate nation requires docile workers; and a government ruled by elites requires a subservient and obedient citizenry. Needless to say, Identity nation requires lots of citizens who ‘get it’ – and the dynamics of ‘getting it’ are not incompatible with the dynamics of reducing oneself to an obedient, un-thinking but ‘correct’ pawn.

As the troops become an imperial gendarmerie, so the citizenry become an obedient mass providing the food and the support. This was the way of Rome – in its last centuries (events moved more slowly then – We won’t have that much time).

The citizenry of a democratic Republic functioning as The People, that Primary Branch of Constitutional government, is only going to ‘get in the way’ of an imperial government, a corporate operating plan, a revolutionary and ‘politically correct’ agenda.

‘Elites’ educated into the capacity to think critically and to draw upon the resources of previous history and tradition and thought, and upon the accumulated experiences of previous generations, and to put this into the service of a free and democratic Republic … such elites will be valuable participants, servants perhaps – in the best sense of the word – of the common weal. Perhaps We might call them ... ummmmm .... 'public servants', although that may sound kind of pie-in-the-sky these days.

It may be imagined that the debilitating process of ‘militarization’ and all the danger it presents has already been well-advanced not only by the government but by the assorted whackery taught or asserted on campuses under the guise of this or that liberation in the past thirty-plus years.

All of which simply goes to show that the problem is even more advanced and entrenched than Giroux’s focus on the post-9/11 Bush-era militarization would suggest. Surely, the adult citizenry – college-educated included – have been profoundly passive for far longer than any recent initiative would account for. This country has not had a robust and vital democratic politics for quite some time.

In this regard I would also point out that neither the National Imperial Security State nor the National Nanny State require the services of the adversarial, evidence-based jurispraxis of Western law. The legal infringements by the Security State since 9-11 alone are matched by the ominous desiccation of fundamental legal principles in response to the demands of this or that Identity in the past several decades. The military system of justice – which is really a costumed kabuki designed to produce a command-designated outcome while maintaining the appearances of adversarial process – is far more compatible with, indeed indispensable to, a militarized and corporatized civic life. But it would be fatuous to imagine that the National Nanny State – in its commitment to meeting the demands of this or that identity – is any less desirous of the type of assured-outcome operation that the military system (treacherously and deceitfully) provides.

Indeed, one of the great challenges facing Mr. Obama, and one of the great dangers threatening Us, is that the more extreme (not at all to say ‘liberal’) elements of the Left will seek not to roll back the power accumulated by the Bush Administration, but rather to wield it in the service of this or that ‘emergency’ of this or that Identity. Surely, for example, the nation’s domestic patriarchal oppressors constitute as much a danger and outrage as any overseas Johnny-come-lately political terrorists … that sort of thing.

And while it may be somewhat true that the ‘most radical’ of the Identity theorists have retreated to the universities, still you can exert a lot of influence from such a prestigious and well-placed platform. We’ve seen what lobbyists can do: a relatively few folks, with enough access and enough well-packaged ‘cover’ can get an awful lot of unwise stuff passed into law up there in the fleshpots of Washington City.

It has been building for a long time now – this desiccation of the civic life of the Republic and of the vitality of The People. The Bush era has highlighted it, primarily by associating it with the unpleasantries of a failed invasive war and in-your-face assertion of extralegal government power. But before that, in the service of a putatively better cause, The People were side-tracked in the rush to get desired results.

Mr. Giroux comes late to the battle, and with only one boot on - but at this point, that's quibbling. His acute and comprehensive perceptions are spot-on.

It’s not eight years but forty years – at least – of ‘de facto’ militarization that need to be reversed in order to recover the civic vitality that has been buried beneath them. The threat does not simply lie ahead.

And if you think prevention is hard, wait til you try rolling-back.

But if We don’t, the civic vitality already lost will determine this country’s fate far more surely than even the increasing economic disaster and the almost-impossible-to-sustain military situation.

With things this bad for so long, you almost have to ask: where have the college-educated citizens been all this time?

Worse, as if it weren't bad enough being relegated to Lumpen status by the general Democratic gaga-festival over the 'knowledge economy' (read: knowledge and serfs, the latter waiting upon the former in some sort of quasi-Greek simulacrum of Plato at his worst), We are now confronted with those other modern-day moral and psychological class titans, the financial sector whizz-guys (and gals), demonstrating beyond any shadow of doubt that they are not now and have never been ready-for-prime-time.

Obama faces an Augean Stable.

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