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The Death of the Liberal Class

I’m on a temporary roll! I’ve posted pieces by Chris Hedges before, to cries of despair from some of my readers, who think that Mr. Hedges is too pessimistic and too dark. Perhaps he is, but we live in pessimistic and dark days and he is merely forcing us to look in the mirror, which most of us truly do not want to do. It is much easier to blame others for our predicaments. But I’m weary of finger-pointing, as I said in my previous post. If you read this piece and then read the piece I posted previously, by Michael Ventura, I think you will agree with me that what Mr. Hedges calls the “liberal class” is identical to what Mr. Ventura calls the “Professional Tier”.

Those who inhabit this class should start to examine the Sarah Palin phenomenon more critically, instead of blowing her off. They say that she has no chance in 2012. Want to bet? They say she is not getting the proper approvals from the right power brokers and is not doing things like they have been done in the past. Does it matter when there is a huge seething mass of white-hot anger directed towards the corporate and liberal class? All she has to do is harness that anger, which she appears to be doing quite effectively, and she will annihilate the liberal and the corporate class if she chooses to do so. The only way that she will be stopped is for her to be co-opted, too, by the corporate class. But the corporate class has a spotty record in co-optation, too: those that they are feeding may well end up biting them. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and others like them may well turn out to be the forces that unleash so much anger that the resulting conflict brings down the entire house. It may well prove to be the case that these talking heads will unwittingly prove to be the nemesis of the corporate class.

At any rate, read this article and the one posted previously and let those ideas percolate through your consciousness.

Here is Mr. Hedges’ article, which is excerpted from his book, The Death of the Liberal Class. If you should go to Amazon.com to buy the book, do read the comments by the reviewers – they are most interesting. The article appeared on TruthDig on October 29, 2010.

The Death of the Liberal Class

In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue. It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements, making the liberal class a useful component within the power elite.

But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets that often end in violence. The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.

The liberal class refuses to recognize the obvious because it does not want to lose its comfortable and often well-paid perch. Churches and universities—in elite schools such as Princeton, professors can earn $180,000 a year—enjoy tax-exempt status as long as they refrain from overt political critiques. Labor leaders make lavish salaries and are considered junior partners within corporate capitalism as long as they do not speak in the language of class struggle. Politicians, like generals, are loyal to the demands of the corporate state in power and retire to become millionaires as lobbyists or corporate managers. Artists who use their talents to foster the myths and illusions that bombard our society live comfortably in the Hollywood Hills.

The media, the church, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts, and labor unions—the pillars of the liberal class—have been bought off with corporate money and promises of scraps tossed to them by the narrow circles of power. Journalists, who prize access to the powerful more than they prize truth, report lies and propaganda to propel us into a war in Iraq. Many of these same journalists assured us it was prudent to entrust our life savings to a financial system run by speculators and thieves. Those life savings were gutted. The media, catering to corporate advertisers and sponsors, at the same time renders invisible whole sections of the population whose misery, poverty, and grievances should be the principal focus of journalism.

In the name of tolerance—a word the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., never used—the liberal church and the synagogue refuse to denounce Christian heretics who acculturate the Christian religion with the worst aspects of consumerism, nationalism, greed, imperial hubris, violence, and bigotry. These institutions accept globalization and unfettered capitalism as natural law. Liberal religious institutions, which should concern themselves with justice, embrace a cloying personal piety expressed in a how-is-it-with-me kind of spirituality and small, self-righteous acts of publicly conspicuous charity. Years spent in seminary or rabbinical schools, years devoted to the study of ethics, justice, and morality, prove useless when it comes time to stand up to corporate forces that usurp religious and moral language for financial and political gain.

Universities no longer train students to think critically, to examine and critique systems of power and cultural and political assumptions, to ask the broad questions of meaning and morality once sustained by the humanities. These institutions have transformed themselves into vocational schools. They have become breeding grounds for systems managers trained to serve the corporate state. In a Faustian bargain with corporate power, many of these universities have swelled their endowments and the budgets of many of their departments with billions in corporate and government dollars. College presidents, paid enormous salaries as if they were the heads of corporations, are judged almost solely on their ability to raise money. In return, these universities, like the media and religious institutions, not only remain silent about corporate power but also condemn as “political” all within their walls who question corporate malfeasance and the excesses of unfettered capitalism.

Unions, organizations formerly steeped in the doctrine of class struggle and filled with members who sought broad social and political rights for the working class, have been transformed into domesticated negotiators with the capitalist class. Cars rolling off the Ford plants in Michigan were said to be made by UAW Ford. But where unions still exist, they have been reduced to simple bartering tools, if that. The social demands of unions in the early twentieth century that gave the working class weekends off, the right to strike, the eight-hour workday, and Social Security, have been abandoned. Universities, especially in political science and economics departments, parrot the discredited ideology of unregulated capitalism and have no new ideas. The arts, just as hungry as the media or the academy for corporate money and sponsorship, refuse to address the social and economic disparities that create suffering for tens of millions of citizens. Commercial artists peddle the mythical narrative, one propagated by corporations, self-help gurus, Oprah and the Christian Right, that if we dig deep enough within ourselves, focus on happiness, find our inner strength, or believe in miracles, we can have everything we desire.

Such magical thinking, a staple of the entertainment industry, blinds citizens to corporate structures that have made it impossible for families to lift themselves out of poverty or live with dignity. But perhaps the worst offender within the liberal class is the Democratic Party.

The party consciously sold out the working class for corporate money. Bill Clinton, who argued that labor had nowhere else to go, in 1994 passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which betrayed the working class. He went on to destroy welfare and in 1999 ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks to turn the banking system over to speculators. Barack Obama, who raised more than $600 million to run for president, most of it from corporations, has served corporate interests as assiduously as his party. He has continued the looting of the U.S. Treasury by corporations, refused to help the millions of Americans who have lost their homes because of bank repossessions or foreclosures, and has failed to address the misery of our permanent class of unemployed.

Populations will endure the repression of tyrants, as long as these rulers continue to manage and wield power effectively. But human history has demonstrated that once those in positions of power become redundant and impotent, yet insist on retaining the trappings and privileges of power, their subject populations will brutally discard them. Such a fate awaits the liberal class, which insists on clinging to its positions of privilege while at the same time refusing to play its traditional role within the democratic state. The liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power. And as corporate power pollutes and poisons the ecosystem and propels us into a world where there will be only masters and serfs, the liberal class, which serves no purpose in the new configuration, is being abandoned and discarded. The death of the liberal class means there is no check to a corporate apparatus designed to enrich a tiny elite and plunder the nation. An ineffectual liberal class means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal. It ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and middle classes will find expression outside the confines of democratic institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy.

2 Comments on “The Death of the Liberal Class”

  1. #1 Beth
    on Nov 30th, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Well, that was pretty bleak, for sure, Jeff. I am terrified by the thought of Sarah Palin as President. I still think there just wouldn’t be enough votes out there to elect her, but sometimes, in my darkest hours, I do worry. I just keep hoping and praying that someone new and progressive and charismatic and not a corporate sell-out will come along and seize the imaginations of all those disaffected and angry people and help them to harness that anger in positive ways. Or at least help them realize that a lot of them are angry at the wrong people.

  2. #2 Jeff
    on Nov 30th, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (Jn 8:32)

    If Sarah Palin were to be president, it would expose, once and for all, the rot and corruption in our political system. Would such an event cause a huge upheaval? No doubt. But maybe that is what this country needs. For far too long, we’ve been at the mercy of the corporate class and their liberal class enablers – the liberal class certainly isn’t looking out for the best interests of most Americans. First, you have to take off the rose-colored glasses and see what is truly there. Only then can you do something about it. The “saviour” that we thought Obama was has been demonstrably disproven – name your issue: DADT, unemployment, war, the economy, health care, net neutrality … it just goes on and on and on. He won’t fight for us, so why should we believe in him and his buddies in the Liberal Class?? Enough of begging rattlesnakes not to bite.

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