I’m half way through Chris Hedges’ depressing and informative book, The Death of the Liberal Class.
Hedges says, “The story began, I believe, in World War I, when there was a massive reconfiguration of American political life, and I would argue American culture itself.”
Hedges’ thesis is that up until World War I, progressive and even socialist ideas and politicians were acceptable. Leftist politicians, periodicals, and art thrived. It seemed that America was moving towards a fairer and more just society. But since about the time of World War I, militarist and corporatist interests have been able to manage American political and cultural life so as to squash leftist ideas, institutions, and individuals.
All the “elite” institutions of the Left — unions, universities, artists, publications, churches, the media, and political parties — have been repeatedly targeted, either by outright attacks from the Right, or by co-opting (being bought out). Moreover, the liberal class is now mostly the lapdog of the corporatist-militarist interests. Hedges documents all this, showing how unions and artists, for example, let themselves be purged of leftists. They’ve allowed the Right to demonize socialists and communists, thereby shifting the country’s politics to the right and removing cover from their own left flank. (Even if you’re not a socialist — and I am not a socialist — you can appreciate Hedges’ argument.) Most liberals are too fearful or bought out to stand up to right Right.
Woodrow Wilson’s support of “the war to end all wars” and of “making the world safe for democracy” entailed a concerted effort to market war. Wilson started out as a progressive and ended up supporting war, like so many others during the past century. Hedges describes the parallels between Wilson’s marketing of WWI and Bush & Cheney’s marketing of the invasion of Iraq. In both cases, huge amounts of money were spent on a well-organized campaign to rouse patriotic fervor for war and to attack pacifists’ patriotism. (This was one of the most eye-opening parts of the book. Even if you think that WWI was a “good war”, you still should be aware of how far government went to sway public opinion. The effort was very organized and self-conscious. Hedges presents lots of historical evidence about this.)
Sure, there were setbacks for the Right. During the 1930s and again during the 1960s, progressive views about economics, class, gender, race, and military made headway. But WWII effectively stopped the leftward shift, and since then liberal elites have wimped out and failed to connect with the working class, who are distrustful of the elitism and snobbery of most liberals. During the 60s, working class kids fought in Vietnam, while middle class and rich kids took drugs, listened to rock music, or got into Eastern religion. No wonder the left is emasculated. Hedges seems to enjoy taunting and ridiculing liberals; he paints with a broad brush.
Pirate TV has a great video of Hedges speech about his book.