"The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any."
- Hannah Arendt
Any system of rule in human history is intent on displaying itself as eternal and unquestionable. Forces that are in contradiction with it are therefore condemned in the strongest possible terms, their ideas outlawed, any memory of them wiped out.
Yet our world is shaped by the conflict between opposing forces. Throughout the ages such conflict has been described in different terms by different people: as a struggle between light and darkness, good and evil, slaves and masters. Zarathustra, Lao Tse, Hegel, priests, philosophers and revolutionaries have all described aspects of this dialectic.
History books would have us believe that human civilization has developed in a linear fashion, that the development of agriculture, cities, money, markets, art and religion all inevitably led to the institutionalized power of a few over the many – in other words, the state. This is a narrative that has little to do with historical facts and everything with legitimizing contemporary authority. We know today that cities, trade, science and technology all existed long before the first states and empires, and have continued to exist outside of their control. This civilization of free societies has been in conflict with the forces of central coercive authority ever since. Its morals and politics are democratic, in the sense that they are rooted in cooperation, mutual agreement and a positive vision of the future.
To be ignorant of this reality means to consign oneself to the absolute and eternal reality of the hegemonic state civilization. Education can be a means to manifest the contemporary myth of power, by actively spreading or passively acknowledging it, or it can be a means to question its totality and eternity by uncovering the legacy of the free and beautiful ways of life in the past and present.
In the age of modernity state civilization has become a global system affecting almost every human on earth. Dystopian science-fiction has with prophetic imagination painted a realistic picture of the future that this system is moving towards: one in which life on earth is almost wiped out and the surviving humans are constantly fighting for their mere existence, hunted down, killed or enslaved by machines of their own making.
This is no certain fate. The intellectuals who would have us believe in such inevitability, building their arguments on supposed biological, economic and psychological facts, have merely appropriated the religious dogma of fatalism and given it a modern, scientific veneer. Its purpose, as it always has been, is to keep people complacent, hopeless and dumb, will-less tools to be formed and wielded at will by the ruling power.
The fact remains that for all its effort and brutality, state civilization has become neither universal nor without alternatives. The legacy of free society has endured in a myriad of forms. It remains strong in the periphery, in ferns and forests, deserts and steppes, on remote islands and high mountains. And it holds sway in the centers, the eternal suburbs and high-rise megacities, from the lowliest women forming secret clubs to fight off rapists and educate their children, to the high-level government employee leaking information about the state's war crimes and surveillance programs to the public.
The reason that state civilization remains hegemonic and seemingly without alternative is that it has developed a global system of institutions that back its power materially and ideologically, whereas its democratic counterpart is in a disarray of a thousand disconnected fragments, lacking unity and direction.
The revolutionary mission of the 21st century is to reclaim our societies’ moral and political legacy, to unite the forces fighting for freedom and justice, and usher in the new age of democratic modernity. The academy is one of many efforts to achieve that.