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Death of the Liberal Class [Hardcover]

Chris Hedges
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 12 2010
The liberal class plays a vital role in a democracy. It gives moral legitimacy to the state. It makes limited forms of dissent and incremental change possible. The liberal class posits itself as the conscience of the nation. It permits us, through its appeal to public virtues and the public good, to define ourselves as a good and noble people. Most importantly, on behalf of the power elite the liberal class serves as bulwarks against radical movements by offering a safety valve for popular frustrations and discontentment by discrediting those who talk of profound structural change. Once this class loses its social and political role then the delicate fabric of a democracy breaks down and the liberal class, along with the values it espouses, becomes an object of ridicule and hatred. The door that has been opened to proto-fascists has been opened by a bankrupt liberalism

The Death of the Liberal Class examines the failure of the liberal class to confront the rise of the corporate state and the consequences of a liberalism that has become profoundly bankrupted. Hedges argues there are five pillars of the liberal establishment — the press, liberal religious institutions, labor unions, universities and the Democratic Party — and that each of these institutions, more concerned with status and privilege than justice and progress, sold out the constituents they represented. In doing so, the liberal class has become irrelevant to society at large and ultimately the corporate power elite they once served.

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Waterloo Region Record
“Hedges is a fine writer. And the outrage that fairly pours off the pages of his book gives it punch and gusto.”
Winnipeg Free Press
“Insightful. . . . [Hedges] is an engaging writer, and his passion alone makes for a compelling read. . . . Offers those of us who dare to refer to ourselves as liberal a lot to think about.”
Harvard Political Review
“Hedges raises some critical points that are as convincing as they are depressing. It’s an important little book for anyone who is concerned with the current state of the Democratic Party and liberalism in general.”
The Huffington Post
“A sophisticated analysis that’s grounded in much more than just political economy.”
Beams and Struts  

About the Author

Chris Hedges, currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. Hedges has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, where he spent fifteen years. He is the author of the best-selling War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, which draws on his experiences in various conflicts to describe the patterns and behavior of nations and individuals in wartime. Hedges, the son of a Presbyterian minister, has a B.A. in English Literature from Colgate University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard University. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard during the academic year of 1998-1999. He has a strong grounding in the classics and knows Greek and Latin, as well as Arabic, French and Spanish. He currently writes for numerous publications including Foreign Affair.

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Political Nostalgia Dec 22 2010
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Read Hedge's latest essay on the fallen state of American liberalism and you might quickly conclude that something has gone terribly awry in this movement over the past few decades. While at times bordering on a political rant against weak-kneed liberals who have caved into the demands of the conservative establishment, "Death of the Liberal Class" tells a very captivating and complex tale about a force that continues to shape the very backbone of modern society. For Hedges, one of America's leading liberal intellectuals, liberalism has always been about defending the rights of individual to contribute to the greater good of society. Without that purpose or goal being worked out in the lives of individuals in a community, we become non-entities subject to all manner of cruel tyrannies. This book takes the reader through a maze of social and political developments where the forces of liberalism have surrendered the field in the interests of big business, big government, and the easy life. Repeatedly, Hedges stresses that academia, the press, the legal profession and political activists, as a liberal-thinking class, have failed to protect that which has made this country traditionally strong: its preservation of individual liberties. Instead, a false life, as seen in the corporate label, mass consumerism, and the prosecution of war, has emerged where the individual is enslaved to forces well beyond his or her control. This sad state of affairs, Hedges would have us believe, is the direct result of a liberal class refusing to stand up for honesty in government, accuracy in business, and integrity in the arts. To support his argument, Hedges rolls out a lot of evidence from America's recent past that show that liberalism was once a dynamic force for change. Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We have met the enemy and he is us.".....Pogo Feb. 16 2011
By Ronald W. Maron TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Like the proverbial frog that finds himself in the pot of ever hotter water, we, too, have become oblivious to the increase in decadence and corruption in our daily lives. The decrease in the compassion for all others, the ever increasing gross materialism, the spread of narcissism throughout our culture and the holding on to the misnomer of "American exceptionalism" has engulfed us without us even being aware of the change.

In a style of reporting that even Howard Zinn would approve of, Chris Hedges clearly lays out the road map of where we, as a passionate country, began and where we are now; a nation that looks down on the less fortunate as being less than human, a nation that treasures the 'sacred' words of Limbaugh and Beck, a nation that professes its Christianity in every poll but behave as if the Crusades have never ended, a nation that has taken the concept of freedom of speech and stretched it into the prevalence of hate speech, a country that feels that the 2nd amendment was meant to arm the Conservatives against the Liberals, and, finally, a country that answers the question of "Am I my brother's keeper?" with a resounding "NO!".

While some may view the author's determination as being caused by a 'sour grapes' attitude developed towards the New York Times, I do not. I see this book as a last ditch plea for the American public to come to attention, become informed and to begin to take action against the past three decades of corporate take-overs. For as the author states, if we do not do so very quickly as a country, all we have left to do is to simply and selfishly save ourselves from the morass that envelopes the country.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brave, Fantastic, and Dreadful !! March 6 2011
Brave for having the courage to clearly state facts and opinions most are fearful of addressing.
Fantastic for it's ability to make one critically consider our current societal situation.
Dreadful in the picture it paints of a citizenry sleepwalking into diasater.
Well written brutal honesty, this is one of the best books I've read in quite some time.
Anyone who feels there's something wrong in America today; whether that be economically, politically or socially would be well served by this scathing critique of today's corporate control of our institutions, and the lack of effective resistance against it....scary stuff!
If a good book makes you think, then mission accomplished.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An engaging necessary reading ... Jan. 7 2012
A vital, insightful & necessary reading for anyone involved in social justice and political activism, not only in the United States but, anywhere. Highly recommended!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  95 reviews
213 of 234 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This truly is a "must read" Nov. 11 2010
By David Shank - Published on
The term "must read" is admittedly overused and abused. Not so with this recommendation because this is a book that will advance the debate we are having as a country about who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. Additionally, in the interest of complete disclosure - I am a huge fan of Chris Hedges' work - even though I do not agree all of the time with his points of view - his work is always well written, well researched, and very well presented. No difference here.

His fundamental premise is compelling and enlightening. He argues that the "real division in America today is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between average citizens and the corporate and financial elite...." If you are like me, you have been dismayed at the breakdown in our political rhetoric over the last 20 years; you have been depressed by the hostility and vitriol that marks the "debate" about politics; you despair at the prospect that the logical conclusion is that there is no "solution" at the end of the road. For my team to win this game - your side must lose. The old saying that "politics is the art of compromise" seems to have gone right out the window.

Although I have not finished the book I have read enough to understand what Hedges is doing and (I think) where he is going. His argument resonates with me because although I voted for Obama I am one of those who have been very disappointed with the gulf between what he promised and what he is doing. His campaign rhetoric energized me (and perhaps millions of others) with the promise that "change" was coming but he lied - giving proof to the sad truth that there is not really a "dimes worth of difference" between the political parties.

Hedges gives us an answer to why this is happening. Our leaders our serving their masters - the problem is that those masters are not the people of this country - they are the corporate interests who now are the ones who get what they need and want from the government. When Hedges writes about the economic collapse and the ensuing "relief" bestowed on wall st. and various corporations while people get slammed I am outraged - again. His "promise" that wall st. bail-outs and reform would unlock lending to kick start the economic engine that is the American people - he flat out lied. The bail-out happened. The lending did not. Obama does not seem to care about it. The Dems don't care about it. The R's don't care about it. And Americans are increasingly and justifiably outraged at the abuse.

You can imagine that the rage behind the tea-party is really only the beginning of what is to come as a result of our discovery that "the emperor has no clothes." The R's are naive to believe that the tea-party is a good thing for them. As Hedges eloquently observes - this is not about D's and R's. It is about something much more fundamental.

Read this book. Learn this perspective. You will be a better citizen for the effort. Ultimately we will be a better country as a result.
136 of 151 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OUCH Nov. 24 2010
By William O. Straub - Published on
I have read most of Hedges' books, and he is easily my favorite political/cultural writer. But this book is also his darkest to date. I've given it five stars, mostly because I still believe that what Hedges has to say is worth reading, now more than ever.

That said, the book comes off rather as a hissy fit against the now-impotent liberal class which, in Hedges' opinion, has utterly failed to live up to its moral principles. And he's right. Since the world's ruling uber-class is interested only in acquiring more and more wealth and power, Hedges believes that all we have to look forward to at this point in human history is eventual economic and environmental devastation. To allay the inevitable sense of utter hopelessness, however, Hedges leaves us one redeeming moral act: civil disobedience and resistance. While admitting that this path will almost certainly lead to self-destruction of those who choose it, Hedges implies that it would at least give us the satisfaction that we will have done our moral duty. Shades of Immanuel Kant, indeed.

Chris Hedges, who left seminary and social work to become a war correspondent and political writer, is a truly moral and compassionate man, perhaps the only one of his kind left on the political scene. My advice, however, is that you read the last chapter of this book first, "Rebellion." If you can stomach that without feeling totally hopeless, then go back and read the rest of the book to see why Hedges has come to the worldview that he now feels compelled to unveil to us. It's pretty bleak, and I can only wonder if this will be his last book, as I cannot for the life of me think of what else he has left to say about the probable fate of our world.
62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Depressing but true Jan. 15 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Chris Hedges is a regular contributor to the Truth Dig blog and I have always enjoyed his commentaries, so I just finished reading Death of the Liberal Class. As a progressive/liberal I found this book to be very depressing, because Hedges makes us confront the obvious: the corporatists have won. Our real enemies are no longer Fox News or any other conservative outlet. The enemy is ourselves or to be more correct, what passes for liberal leadership in the United States. Basically the liberal class has sold out. They no longer represent the downtrodden. They represent the elite viewpoints of those who have progressive values but who could care less about helping others to the degree that was done in the 1930's. Liberals today identify as much with the wealthy as do the conservatives. At least that is what Chris Hedges thinks and he has built a strong case in his book. He doesn't think very highly of Bill Clinton who identified very heavily with corporate interests. Barack Obama is preoccupied with his own power and prestige. When the President was asked who he admired in the business world he cited Fred Smith the CEO of FedEx who was a notorious union buster and a key contributor to the Republican party. Your could argue with the pessimissm of Mr. Hedges but you would have a hard time marshalling the facts to counteract his assertions. Because if we take an honest look at the progressive movement in this country, it has been going down hill for at least the last three decades. And Mr. Hedges claims it is only going to get worse as we ignore the dangers of climate change and as the gap between haves and have not's widens. We are in for more wars as the rich try to protect their gains and getting the lower classes to fight their wars for them. Hedges seems to think at some point we will need to man the ramparts to fight against the corporate tyranny or we will die a slow death anyway. The belief that science will come to our rescue and save us from climate change will be our ultimate undoing. As it dawns on the corporatists that there is nothing left to grab off to add to their bank accounts they will hit the panic button and try to save themselves. It has the potential to be a very gloomy future and there will be none of the traditional progressive institutions to come to our rescue. This is a very depressing book but worth reading.
38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the Liberal Class Committed Suicide? Nov. 28 2010
By Herbert L Calhoun - Published on
Here, one of my favorite authors, and commentators argues that in a traditional democracy, the liberal class serves as a safety value for slowly releasing the tensions that build up from the pressures of maintaining the status quo of the power elite. In point of fact, as he contends, it is liberals that actually give legitimacy to the power elite. However today, the relentless assault by the corporate state on the democratic values of our democracy has all but rendered our democratic process irrelevant: We have all become pawns and serfs in a game of pseudo democracy rigged by the corporate state: All thanks to weak kneed and limp-wristed liberals, who are the corporate class' most recent victim.

With their heads forever in the sand, liberals continue to live in the nether-nether world of passe democratic rhetoric and reveling in hollow acts of "democratic political theater." But more than this, all our political institutions are now being either overrun by, or co-opted by the dictates of the corporate and national security state. As but one example, today, we have begun to take globalization as an article of faith -- with only whimpering critiques. But more importantly, all values, liberal or otherwise, have begun to fall by the wayside when the time comes to stand up to mean-spirited, shallow and always greedy corporate dictates. Today it is the corporate narrative that has usurped religious, patriotic as well as moral messages, values and language. We now live in a Corporatocracy, and only the liberals stand between complete corporate rule and an awaking America to the living danger of a Fascist take over of the nation. And now the liberals have been completely co-opted.

Recent democrats, such as both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are rightly taken to task by the author. Bill Clinton is lambasted, for instance, for having consciously sold out the working class for corporate money: He passed NAFTA, and destroyed welfare, both of which, arguably, betrayed the working and poorer classes. And even more importantly, he along with the help of key conservative Republicans, ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks. An act that effectively turned the banking system over to Wall Street speculators and led to the financial mess that the U.S. has today and from which it may never completely recover from.

Similarly, Barack Obama raised more than $600 million to run for president (the most ever raised in U.S. history by a single candidate running for a U.S. office), most of it from the very corporations engaged in the recent financial meltdown. Like the Cheney/Bush administration before him, Obama too has run interference for the continued looting of the U.S. Treasury by corporations. He has done this at the same time that he made a conscious calculation not to help the millions of Americans who have lost their homes because of bank repossessions or foreclosures. Not only has Obama failed to address the misery of our permanent class of unemployed, he has thumbed his nose at blacks too and especially those in the inner city underclass of his own tribe - the one group that just coincidentally voted for him at the rate of 93%. The only difference between a liberal and a conservative, is that a conservative has values worth fighting for.

In short, the author argues rather persuasively that the liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power. I could not agree with him more. Easily five Stars
58 of 72 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, but padded and disorganized Dec 30 2010
By Frank Lynch - Published on
Verified Purchase
Hedges's basic thesis is solid enough: it's that those we think of as liberals have checked their advocacy at the door, in order to gain prosperity, credit, acclaim etc. And his examples of the phenomena are accurate.

But his survey of the history of better liberals goes on for far longer than it needs to (you get his point long before he's finished -- for example, long transcripts of theater productions). And after that he slips into redundancy, and tacked on screeds about other issues (a late section on global warming seems to come from nowhere; the discussion seems worthwhile, but its placement makes the book seem disorganized).

He supports the thesis with transcripts of interviews he's conducted - - and they all support his points. But each interview is treated separately, segregated from the others. IMHO it would have been better if the salient points of the interviews were re-collated around their relevant points. But this might not be possible, I haven't attempted it - - I did wish, however, that chapters including these interviews were simply retitled as something like "So and So Chimes In."

I have a lot of respect for the points Hedges has made here. The points are solid. But I think he'd have done better with re-arranging his outline before writing (or adhering to his outline?) And even with that, the core of his points don't deserve a full book treatment.

The immediacy of the need for a book containing his points argues against an anthology containing an assortment of discussions like this. In the 18th Century, they had these things called "pamphlets." Too bad that format is gone.
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