Koch brothers, think tanks and youth collectives

Blanca Alaníz, Casa Juan O´Gorman series, Digital photography, Mexico City, 2018.


Commentary on the newly released book by Carolina Rieger

Carolina Rieger conducted her investigation with a very tense and recent restlessness. What is post-truth? The book discusses this by showing the current ideas and says that “post-truth” emerges as a derivative of “post-modern”. It is a globalized term that presents itself as the center of a type of political thought produced by a myriad of intellectuals who are interested in aesthetics, social studies and cultural studies. In the face of history, they place themselves in a time after modernity and, according to reports, are more progressive, convey the idea of ​​overcoming a time and, therefore, their representations. Its first and great image is the denial of Enlightenment ideals and any social model supported by large categories of analysis, such as “class”, “civilization”, “state”. They defend a lived world, day after day, appealing to the immediate experience of the subjects, individuals who must be exalted in isolation, since the great analytical categories, invented, play on the collectivity, on the promises of a better world that, according to this vision never arrives.

It was left to the subjects, their individuality, their own bodies, and their language. At the beginning of the XNUMXst century, we are faced with such a derivative of post-modernity, post-truth, a noun that has gained much political relevance, and which presents us with a reality that is not very interested in objective facts, attached to emotions, celebrating personal beliefs, trapped in a kind of communicational fanaticism, in which the most important thing is not to test the veracity of information, attest to it or contest it. The truth at this present time would be of secondary importance. This is “post-truth”.

Now imagine, just imagine, if this idea turns into an intellectual weapon for political ends?

But, Carolina, having verified the close relationship between the expression “post-truth” and her most famous communication product, the fake news, with the coup that ousted President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, coming mainly from the mouths and actions of young right-wing activists, some with frankly reactionary attitudes, shifted to another concern: where did this youth with such an eagerness to moralize come from and why channels she spoke? At the time, it all seemed very confusing. The explanation that this group of young people would be just one of the constituent groups of that obscure movement, the so-called “June Journeys”, composed of supporters and deniers of the Military Dictatorship; middle-class members dissatisfied with the value of the dollar; anti-corruption bodybuilders; and maidens drinking champagne from the street, did not seem acceptable. Mainly because this youth fed the movement in favor of the coup in an accentuated and progressive way, with an accumulation of disinformation that echoed through new media (websites, blogs, videos, memes, etc.).

It was from this second nuisance that the possibility arose to study not the ideas that circulated about the so-called post-truth, but, on the contrary, to trace the agents that produced it, since the interesting social phenomenon that was happening before our eyes at that moment was the rapid circulation of lies colliding with true information, not caring if the lie was summoned as the core of common sense. Let's remember that common sense is “common”, not simply because it is “banal”, but because it is a shared knowledge between the subjects of the social relationship. Common sense is knowledge that depends on interaction, so it is interesting to think both about the meanings produced and shared at the time of their creation, and the method of producing these meanings: who produces them, motivated by what?

If the proposal was originally a question for Philosophy, it turned to History. This was the encounter between the author and the story of the Koch Brothers and their relationship with education and youth.


The book Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America by historian Nancy MacLean tells the story of an extended relationship between economist James McGill Buchanan and American billionaire Charles Koch. The author tells us that George Mason University, in Virginia, where Buchanan worked, received large sums of money for the development of an idea that, in the end, was understood as a project to suppress democracy in favor of millionaires. And it's not a conspiracy theory, although its creators don't mind that it's circulated that way. This book shows the relationship between tycoons and intellectuals promoting a political redefinition in the United States, and that it could give complete freedom to owners to make use of their property, without any limitation on the part of any institution.

This is perhaps the core of the doctrine of “libertarianism”. The story about the supremacy of the individual, the only one who, by himself, could create impediments to his own success. According to this theory, known as “public choice theory”, very wealthy people are the absolute proof of the preeminence of the will, that is, having the desire to wish earn greater bonuses for their merits. In this line of thought, the welfare state is a kind of assault on individual achievements, and associations such as trade unions, concerned clubs, are the greatest representation of the failure of others, acting in a discriminatory manner towards those who have achieved success.

It is not a conspiracy, because it is a historical fact, especially when we know Buchanan's direct involvement, supported by the ideas of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, with Gal. Augusto Pinochet. This relationship resulted in the well-known neoliberal thrust that turned Chile into a privatization laboratory, attesting that this dictatorial government opened the way to facilitate programmatic actions, such as economic austerity, labor deregulation, punishment of social movements, etc. In the year 2020, what we saw in Chile was a generalized uprising, from an entire country, against this same plan started in the 1970s in Latin America, to later be felt in England (Margaret Thatcher) and the United States (Ronald Reagan). .

Far from looking like a continuation of Liberalism, the new clothes of this Neoliberalism, and this libertarianist aspect, do not have the prerogative to follow the social contract established between society and the State. In this case, it is a conservative action that is not only contradicted, but not responsible, with its social opposite, whom we normally call the people.

Let's think about Brazil. It is possible to define Brazilian neoconservatism as a political and social movement that established, above all, the privatist ideology, by defending the predominance of private power, both corporate and family, in the social order. The idea of ​​a punitive state is clearly detected, mainly in terms of morality and, at the same time, the dismantling of the welfare state, changing it to individualist meritocracy, the pillar of such neoliberal rationality (Lacerda, 2017)[I]. What is observed is a complex relationship of agents that guide an agenda that is both neoliberal and evangelism of the Christian right, whose communicating vessels, already consolidated, in a transnational offensive, established itself as the new right in Brazil.

This fusion of interests, sometimes disconnected, sees in public education, on the one hand, an environment of theses for privatization processes of the most varied types and, on the other, an environment that, due to its current configuration, must be “destroyed” because follows guidelines aimed at social diversity. And “destroyed” seems to be a bad word, given Jair Bolsonaro’s catchphrase: “let’s put an end to all this there”. Regardless of the point, democracy is not necessarily a founding element.

On the one hand, the school becomes a free market space and accountability, emphasizing the ideas of entrepreneurship and competition; traced by a worldwide movement of educational reform transforming it into a profitable institution, by the designations of institutions already known, and others, not so much, such as: the World Trade Organization (WTO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Bank, financial consultancies, new information and communication technology companies, various foundations, lobbies business, think tanks intellectual and operational, and different apparatuses that preach the so-called doctrine of libertarianism linked to education. They all see the public school, not just as a vehicle for gains, but understand it as a founding technology of neoliberal subjectivity.

The movement of the Christian right, in a political effort to reestablish religious and parental control in the formation of individuals, positioned as prominent subjects of party action in legislative houses, defends the patriarchal family and creationism. It took education as a battlefield, contrary to the guidelines of gender, sexual orientation, race, in terms of public policies, school culture, the composition of didactic materials. They interfered in the National Education Plan, in the Family Statute they were opposed to the “School without Homophobia Program”, they promoted the “School without Party” and are in favor of the homeschooling. We see the pro-family action, mainly by the hand of evangelicals, as a direct reaction to the feminist and LGBT+ movements.

There are several interesting works that seek to explain the current political moment in Brazil and position the meaning of education in this context. Here, I highlight two. The first is the work of Lacerda (2019), which shows the privatizing axis of the neoconservative language, having as hypothesis the existence of a capillarity between the neoconservative movements in Brazil and the United States, fomented from the 1990s and which, intrinsically , has the school as the primary object of dispute. Also important is the research by Duarte (2019) for the global project Democracy Undone: The Authoritarian's Playbook. TheGroundTruth Project, because it presents us with Olavo de Carvalho, not only as an intellectual mentor of the Bolsonaro government, but as an articulator of a wide network of militants of the “cultural war” whose core is the “destruction” of what they call “communo-leftism”, represented by universities, scientific production, public education, grassroots social movements. This group follows the doctrine of “traditionalism” according to the Italian philosopher Julius Evola, and defends a system of social castes with a predominance of white men; they aim at occupying new spaces for cultural diffusion; celebrate reactionism. Its political motto is delirium, they constitute traditions fake news and are historical revisionists.

And now, sharply, this book is added to the debate. It shows the diffusion of a neoliberal, Christian and racist ideology, acting on the political referrals of Latin American countries, through the action of various think tanks diffusers of the libertarian ideal, with that ideal of the superiority of the individual over the collective.

According to the book, the brothers Charles and David Koch as partners generated an individual fortune, accumulated for each one, at 42,9 billion dollars. They are part of a billionaire aristocracy and are proud to keep the “American dream”. Millionaires were born, children of Fred Chase Koch (1900-1967), an ultra-rightist, oil entrepreneur, who in 1958 founded the John Birch Society, an entity made up of millionaires and anti-communist intellectuals with plans for education, seeking the development of responsible, Christian and autonomous individuals. For some scholars, the group was a racist organization, which opposed civil rights movements with frankly paranoid strands.

The documentation raised allows us to travel from this parental cell to the present moment, showing the social relations established between the numerous institutions founded by the Koch Brothers and the groups that acted in the parliamentary coup that took place in Brazil.

According to the research, there is a multidimensional network of institutions and political groups that spread “libertarian” ideas around the world, but mainly in Latin America, and that act directly in the formation of a youthful political elite. Currently, a large part of the financing is distributed by two large institutions, the mega think tanks call Atlas Network and the student organization called Students for Liberty, with the mission of “educating, developing and empowering the next generation of freedom leaders”, in a unique model of education.

However, the formative web of the Kochs is not restricted to these institutions. They finance research in different areas of knowledge, keep researchers under their umbrella, pay for the circulation of names and amplification of academic citations, finance partner universities, have social innovation laboratories, etc. They embarked on the “cultural war” to foment mistrust regarding the functioning of the State, generate suspicions regarding public institutions, and acting for education became one of the main paths of the program. That's why young people are seen as new entrepreneurial leaders, perfect for carrying out structural changes in society. It is not about forming “a new man”, but modeling new children.

The book is the staggered history of a family, it tells about the increase in its financial assets, the ideological diffusion of its ideas, concentrating efforts in the sense of molding the social mentality. The book maps the action of this network of institutions and political groups and the incorporation of business, moralizing and privatizing discourses in the education network, even pointing to the axiomatic segregating character in the genesis of schools charters and the system of vouchers, sets applied in Chile, with results of obvious failures, and which are the result of the relationship between Buchanan's group and the tycoons. These new types of schools aimed to thwart attempts to overcome racial segregation in the public school system in the southern United States. Read the book to learn more about this story.

In order to carry out this work, the author sought and analyzed a wide range of documentation, making a journey through the networks of interest through their official websites and, from them, expanded the circuit of relationships between the groups directly linked to the Kochs or financed by them. Therefore, the contents of websites, research and academic contents, digitized collections, books, advertisements, photographs, films and contents of magazines and reports that focused on them were analysed. Even social networks, Facebook pages, were scoured. It is, then, a contemporary analysis, through the historical key.

It is not surprising, in the end, that the research points to the action of the Free Brazil Movement (MBL) as an exponent in the “libertarian” type of post-truth production, even though it is not the only Brazilian youth group in this category. During the coup d'état process, they ecstatically replicated the neoliberal guidelines disseminated by the Koch networks. In the educational field, they seek to dismantle the ideals of training citizens from the republican school, in an effort to change its social function. In the political field, they are spokespersons for individualistic, enterprising neoliberalism, with the motto “being your own company”. On the economic front, they fight for changes in social security and labor laws. The book shows, in the end, that one of the great ends of the Koch ideology is to finance, directly or indirectly, youth movements to interfere in the social field of their countries. Carolina's research shows other examples.

The book is recommended to anyone interested in the recent history of our country. It serves defenders of democracy, wanting knowledge about the engendering of conservative groups in the reorganization of their power before the State. It concerns educators, as it provides subsidies to understand the interference of billionaire interest groups, in an attempt to make the public school a business space. It is interesting to Latin Americanists for the vision of the wide networks of American capitalist and Christian domination, which reinvigorated the old policy of “manifest destiny” over this vast territory. Training for young people, so that they know that shame can be experienced at any age in life. According to the book, democracy is dispensable. Libertarianism wants to spare capitalism from democracy.

*Katya Braghini is a professor of history of education at the Pontifical University of São Paulo (PUC-SP).


Carolina Rieger Massetti Schiavon. Koch brothers, think tanks and youth collectives: The performance of the libertarian network on education. Lisbon, editions 70, 2021, 270 pages.


[I] LACERDA, Marina Basso. The new Brazilian conservatism: from Reagan to Bolsonaro. Porto Alegre: Zouk, 2019.


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