Rallying cry: Youth must stand up to defend democracy

rallying cry
A young woman protests at a “Not My President” demonstration against Donald Trump. (Shutterstock)


13 July 2017 | | The Conversation

“According to famed anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, the central question of our times is whether we’re witnessing the worldwide rejection of liberal democracy and its replacement by some sort of populist authoritarianism.

There’s no doubt that democracy is under siege in several countries, including the United States, Turkey, the Philippines, India and Russia. Yet what’s often overlooked in analyses of the state of global democracy is the importance of education. Education is necessary to respond to the formative and often poisonous cultures that have given rise to the right-wing populism that’s feeding authoritarian ideologies across the globe.

Under neo-liberal capitalism, education and the way that we teach our youth has become central to politics. Our current system has encouraged a culture of self-absorption, consumerism, privatization and commodification. Civic culture has been badly undermined while any viable notion of shared citizenship has been replaced by commodified and commercial relations.

What this suggests is that important forms of political and social domination are not only economic and structural, but also intellectual and related to the way we learn and teach.

One of the great challenges facing those who believe in a real democracy, especially academics and young people, is the need to reinvent the language of politics in order to make clear that there is no substantive and inclusive democracy without informed citizens.

Democracy demands questions

It is imperative for academics to reclaim higher education as a tool of democracy and to connect their work to broader social issues. We must also assume the role of public intellectuals who understand there’s no genuine democracy without a culture of questioning, self-reflection and genuine critical power.

As well, it’s crucial to create conditions that expand those cultures and public spheres in which individuals can bring their private troubles into a larger system.

It’s time for academics to develop a culture of questioning that enables young people and others to talk back to injustice. We need to make power accountable and to embrace economic and social justice as part of the mission of higher education. In other words, academics need to teach young people how to hold politicians and authority accountable.

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