The American public is no longer offered the opportunities, guidance, and modes of education that cultivate the capacities for critical thinking and engaged citizenship. The formative cultures that provide the preconditions for critical thought and agency and are crucial to any viable notion of the social are being dismantled. Under such circumstances, thought cannot sustain itself and becomes short-lived, fickle, and ephemeral. If Americans, especially young people, do not display a strong commitment to democratic politics and collective struggle, it is because they have lived through thirty years of what I have elsewhere called “a debilitating and humiliating disinvestment in their future,” especially if they are marginalized by class, ethnicity, and race.
If labor unions, students, workers, and others are not protesting in large numbers the ongoing intense attack on bargaining rights, labor, higher education, and the welfare state, it may be because they have been born into a society that is tantamount to what Alex Honneth describes as “an abyss of failed sociality [one in which] their perceived suffering has still not found resonance in the public space of articulation.”