Five Books on Neoliberalism, Nonviolence, and Society
Empires of Vision
Edited by Martin Jay and Sumathi Ramaswamy
Duke University Press, 2014
The Soul of the World
Princeton University Press, 2014
Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education
Henry A. Giroux
Haymarket Books, 2014
Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy
Harvard University Press, 2014
The Nonviolence Handbook
Michael N. Nagler
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014
It is not only new action that the world needs, but also new thinking. These five books yield a deep understanding of the multi-dimensional crisis that ties humanity to an inhumane, unjust, and environmentally calamitous social order while keeping us passive in a variety of ways.
Duke University Press has done social visionaries a real service by printing Martin Jay and Sumathi Ramaswamy’s massive collection of insightful articles unveiling how the very way we see the world is daily shaped by “pictorial practices, image-making technologies, and vision-oriented subjectivities” that have been “entangled in empire-building, nationalist reactions, postcolonial contestations, and transnational globalization.”
It is not just economic or military power that shapes the way we see the world, but also photographs, paintings, maps, and the whole range of visual arts and media that are scrutinized in this collection.
Roger Scruton gets at the depravity of the current world from a very different angle, capturing the way that most humans cannot be at home in market-based societies because we experience transcendent obligations and sacred attachments that cannot be subject to the logic of the marketplace or to the ultra-individualism fostered by the notion that “choice” is the ultimate value.
Henry Giroux focuses much more than Scruton on what in the larger society has made the alienation and depravity of the current situation plausible. In particular, he examines the war that neoliberalism must fight against any form of education that does not reduce human values and experience to that which can be measured and eventually monetized in the capitalist marketplace. Neoliberalism’s assault, Giroux tells us, undermines higher education’s ability to foster values like caring for the other, produces cultural illiteracy, and makes it hard for students to believe in the possibility of fundamental change.
Ultimately, the values underlying academia’s transformation into a “service station” to society (as former University of California president Clark Kerr put it fifty years ago, thereby inspiring the Free Speech Movement’s revolt in 1964) are the values of the global economy—values detailed in Saskia Sassen’s engaging and upsetting book.
Sassen unveils the brutality that continues to accompany transnational struggles for land, raw materials, and markets. She also exposes companies’ ruthless inattention to the destruction of the earth and the expulsion of human beings from their homelands. We in the advanced industrial societies benefit most from the corporations that are in the vanguard of these expulsions, and yet we greet the dispossessed with arrests, humiliation, and deportation.
Striking a more optimistic note, Michael Nagler expresses hope in the growth of a global nonviolent movement that can fight back more effectively when we mobilize people around their highest values, so that anger and violence are replaced by militant and disruptive nonviolence. His useful handbook should be in the toolkit of every social change activist.