Hedges presents the readers with an unpleasant ride starting with the collapse of the progressive movement as it was co-opted by the Creel Commission( cf Committee on Public Information ) and the marketing of the First World War as the war to end all wars, also sold as the war to make the world safe for democracy. ( I still feel that there should be a caveat here that says something about how the products may not be available in all areas, and how they may be void based upon local marketing conditions. You know, the sort of boilerplate to protect marketeers from being held legally liable for any underTruthineff of their spiel. )
While it is politically polite to talk about the Sedition Act of 1918 as independent of the Espionage Act, this so called act was really a set of amendments to the Espionage Act. Some will appeal to Brandenburg v. Ohio in the hope that it will protect us from any of the harm. One must embrace the Irony that Brandenburg was a KKK leader, in Rural Ohio, facing persecution under the syndicalism statutes first installed to protect us from the Red Menace of 1919. We continue to hear today that the perpetual state of war means that the Espionage Act can be used to protect us from WikiLeaking by non-American citizens. One has to respect the champions of democracy as they call not merely for the assassination of Americans, but also for treason trials of non-Americans residing outside of America. It would be one thing if this madness were a part of some nasty right-wing cabal, but we are talking about the openly outspoken heirs to Wilsonian Democracy and the creation of the Propaganda Product Branding of Americanism that we have all come to believe was always the way of things.
Death of the Liberal Class follows the thread of despair as the Liberal Class opts out of the hard choices by ‘triangulating’ their way around the very ideals they alleged were important. The Creel Commission is the thin edge of that wedge as we move to productizing patriotism so that the government can embark upon the simpler Public Relation campaign of defending Brand Americana as if that had always been the way it always was and always will be. As we have watched, the creation of the Permanent War has allowed “liberal” Americans to talk again in the language of the Espionage Act, since it allows them to sound like “serious people”. It would have been nice if Hedges had paused along the way to really address the issues of the Permanent War Economy as a part and parcel of the underlying betrayal. Instead, Hedges is better at writing about the religious side of commitment than he is about the awkward and unpleasant parts of creating a remake of the sausage we keep getting resold at the economic level.
His chapter on Dismantling the Liberal Class is a great framework of the cultural conflicts involved. He offers the reader a fabulous insight into the arts, theater, and the various ways in which Americans came together to reinvent their narrative as a success rather than as the sad disaster painted by the Hooverville Developer’s Association. He touches on some of the tragedy that was the failure to bring out The Cradle Will Rock as the full-on Musical that it was.
The Politics as Spectacle chapter ties in well with his previous book, Empire of Illusions. Hedges offers a rare insight into the New Left’s failure to build upon the lessons of the Great Depression. This was a problem driven as much by the New Left’s inability to make a real connection with the working class as by Labor’s co-optation into the new anti-Communist blame games that were the final phase of what others are now calling the Great Prosperity.
Hedges provides one of the best introductions to both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King that I have yet read, and it should be used as a real discussion space to address the question, “What do we want Americans to be doing with our Egalitarianism?”. He also righteously points out that with the rise of a positive Black sense of self, the return of Suffragette ways, and the awakening at Stonewall to a need for Hope and Equality across the board, the utility of Liberal White HetMale Guilt was no longer going to work as the coin of the realm.
Along the way, Hedges covers the tragedies as the Arts stepped away from being engaged in the lives of the people as they had been with the Federal Theatre Project, and instead became merely playthings to show that only the right types of rich white folks understood the importance of “Art for Art’s Sake”. The liberal academic “Art” regime felt that this concept was something the plebeian masses would never be able to comprehend. This works well as a part of the Kultur Kampf that helps redefine why Government is the Problem.
The tragedy of the academic world becoming a useless playground for those who can afford to stay and play helps explain why it is no longer engaged in providing viable critical analysis of the economic, social, political and cultural problems. These are issues we must leave to the experts - at the right prices - since only they can talk to the correct types of experts about the correct types of correctness. What tragically started out as the Political Correctness memefest has become the full tilt boogie of product branding the one true and only response to the failure of liberalism: The Corporate State.
If there is any serious weakness, it is his failure to address the deeper linkages at the economic level. For Hedges, the Corporate State is here. It is no longer a debating point. There is really no longer any reasonable way around it. The independent press has fallen. The majikal thinking that had been the children’s crusades of the counterculture sixties have not been able to blossom any new flows in the new Web 2.0 world. As one of my friends said painfully:
“If you are not paying for it,While Hedges is not yet fully speaking the language of Cultural Hegemony, he is aware that too much of what is being passed off as culture today is simply the market branding declaring that the rich are rich for clearly better reasons than the poor can understand. He understands that this conflict will not be resolved with romantic adolescent appeals to armed struggle and foco revolution. While that may work well in the light romantic cheeseball porn that Randianists confuse for political philosophy, it will not be the means that will ultimately return America to one person, one vote, and the Rule of Law.
then you are the product.”
The Fear that Americans should be addressing is how to prevent the degeneration of the Corporate State into the expected internal feeding frenzy that comes about when the upper 1% of the economy no longer has to worry about Americans because their private security systems will extract them from harm’s way. Meanwhile, their groupies are expecting that The Rapture will be their parachute to safety in the next life. This compromise allows the groupies to be the Martyr’s Brigade protecting the well-to-do who will be willing to comp any of the brigade’s families for a job well done. This is a pattern we have seen already in the collapse of the Liberal Class in the Middle East and the rest of the developing world.
Hedges, Chriss. “Death of the Liberal Class”, New York: Nation Books, 2010 ISBN 978-1-56858-644-1
Hedges, Chriss. “Empire of Illusions: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle”, New York: Nation Books, 2009 ISBN 9781568584379