This article has been edited as of Feb. 27, 2020
A previously published version of this article stated that Giroux phoned his daughter to ask about Casablancas. This has been corrected to state that he asked his son.
This article is part one of a two part series. Read part two here.
The latter half of the 2010 decade brought with it the rise of various right-winged movements throughout the world. Henry Giroux, a McMaster professor in the department of English and cultural studies, felt a sense of urgency; that the public needed to be educated in order to advance our democracy and combat the right side of politics. We recently had the chance to catch up with Giroux after he published his newest book, The Terror of the Unforeseen, which includes a forward by Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes.
INTRODUCTION TO CASABLANCAS:
In 2016, Giroux received a phone call from an agent asking if he knew who Julian Casablancas was, to which he responded, “No, I don’t”. He then phoned his son to ask who the mysterious rock star was.
Casablancas brought a film crew to Giroux’s Hamilton home and interviewed the professor about his work. This was the start of the duo’s friendship. Giroux then asked Casablancas if he wanted to write a forward in The Terror of the Unforeseen to open up his narrative to a much-wider audience.
After the forward was written, Casablancas interviewed Giroux in front of a live audience at a McMaster Library event at The Westdale Theatre (1014 King St. W.) on Oct. 24, 2019. The event was entitled “The Looming Threat of Fascist Politics”.
Giroux was born in Providence, Rhode Island, living in a working-class neighbourhood. He obtained a basketball scholarship from the University of Southern Maine and graduated from the university to become a high school teacher. He received a scholarship to complete his schooling at Carnegie-Mellon University, graduating with a PhD in 1977.
After becoming a professor at Boston University, Giroux began researching what education looks like at universities; what does it mean to get a university education?
In 1981, Giroux’s research inspired his second book, Theory and Resistance in Education: a Pedagogy for the Opposition. In Theory and Resistance, he defends that education has become a privatized endeavour that does not prioritizes the public’s best interests, including the interests of students. This privatization has become apparent through the promotion of maths and sciences, and the undermining of social and behavioural teachings. Giroux concludes that universities are no longer producing public intellectuals, people who think and reason critically, with the absence of humanities and social sciences.
When Giroux went up for tenure at Boston University, everyone but the president of the University wanted to give him the teaching position.
“[The president] was the east coast equivalent of Ronald Reagan, and a really ruthless guy.. he was denying tenure to everybody on the left [side of the political spectrum],” said Giroux.
Giroux moved to Miami University where he started the first cultural studies centre in the United States. He was then offered an endowed chair at Pennsylvania State University. When the opportunity came to apply to McMaster University, Giroux leapt at the offer and was hired in 2004.
THE TERROR OF THE UNFORESEEN:
Casablancas joined Giroux’s project because he saw the value in Giroux’s ideology.
“The idea for the book came out of a certain sense of incredible urgency . . . motivated by the election of Donald Trump and the rise of right-winged movements throughout the world,” said Giroux.
The author coined the term “neoliberal fascism”: a cross between racist ideology and a ruling financial elite class that disregards lower classes. This term is the basis of Giroux’s book, which describes how neoliberal fascism affects universities and media, along with how it has contributed to the creation of alt-right culture.
“I tried to take seriously the notion that politics follows culture, meaning that, you can’t really talk about politics unless you talk about the way in which people are experiencing their everyday lives and the problems that confront them,” said Giroux.
He believes that fascism never goes away, that it will always manifest itself in some context. Giroux used the U.S. as an example. The wealth and power held by the governing financial elite has created a state that does not care about the inequalities faced by most of its citizens.
Giroux links the above issues to the war on youth that much of his work has focused on, with the belief that youth are a long-term investment that are being written out of democracy.
Giroux sees elements of youth being written out of democracy on our own campus. He also recognized that neoliberal ideology could have been a contributing cause to the province’s financial cuts to universities.
“The [ideal] model for education is now patterned after a business culture and with that, it seems to me, comes with an enormous set of dangers and anxieties,” stated Giroux.
According to Giroux, universities used to operate as public good; however, this is no longer their priority. Instead, universities are constantly worried about their bottom line, due in part to neoliberalism. This is especially evident in the elimination of or lack of funding for programs and courses that bring in less money for universities. Giroux cites the example of liberal arts education, which he believes is vital for every student to obtain. He believes this field teaches students a general understanding of our interactions with the world and how to become a socially responsible citizen; however, Giroux believes that liberal arts are being neglected in favour of teaching science and math.
While he understands that universities run deficits, this need to meet the bottom line can open the door for them to become influenced to opt-in to privatization and corporate influence. Giroux believes the only type of influence major corporations should have on campus are in the forms of sponsorships to allow the university to carry out its business as students are neither clients nor products.
“We have an obligation as educators, not to prepare students for just the work, but to prepare them for the world and what it means.”
When asked about the Ford government’s stance on OSAP cuts, Giroux believes that the government has a limited notion of investment, likely stemming from neoliberalist ideals.
“You don’t invest in students, for them to return profits . . . you invest in students and do everything you can to make sure that they can distinguish between meaningful work and meaningless work; that they can have some vision of the future that’s rooted in democratic values, that has some sense of compassion for what it means to live in a world in which we’re completely interdependent.
The Terror of the Unforeseen is the 71st book by Henry Giroux.
“I write because I believe that writing matters, I believe that elevating ideas into the public realm may help change the way people view the world,” said Giroux.
Stay tuned for part two of this series featuring our interview with Julian Casablancas.