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‘Death of the Liberal Class’

Posted on Oct 29, 2010

By Chris Hedges

From the book “Death of the Liberal Class,” by Chris Hedges.  Excerpted by arrangement with Nation Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group.  Copyright © 2010.

We’re pleased to feature this excerpt from “Death of the Liberal Class,” the latest book by the acclaimed foreign correspondent, author and Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges. The following selection is taken from the first chapter of the book, published this month by Nation Books.

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.


book cover


Death of the Liberal Class


By Chris Hedges


Nation Books, 256 pages


Buy the book

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.

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RayLan's avatar

By RayLan, October 29, 2010 at 7:59 am Link to this comment

“Mr. Hedges performs exactly as he blames the corporate state: he postulates
views he prefers, without any hard experiential evidence to support his views”

There is no evidence for that pronouncement whatsoever. Why would Chris ‘prefer’ to believe that the liberal class is dying? He is not a conservative - he is not sold on free market capitalism - if he were biased and trying to sell a bill of goods - it would be more political expedient to celebrate the life not the death of liberalism as indeed many Dems still try to do.

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By WarrenMetzler, October 29, 2010 at 7:44 am Link to this comment

Mr. Hedges performs exactly as he blames the corporate state: he postulates
views he prefers, without any hard experiential evidence to support his views;
just as the corporations don’t need any hard experiential evidence to support
their worship of profit without regard for whether society receives a smidgen of
value from the products they sell.

Each person has free will. Hence each person personally chooses whether to act
in their daily activities with moral character, or to go with the current status quo
(which although the majority of each population, is always seeking personal

The significant immorality today is because most have personally chosen to be
immoral and seek control of their own destinies, easy ways, and lots of money,
power and fame. It is not because corporations have forced their views on
everyone else. After all, each corporate actions is an action chosen and done by
a person; no corporate action is an action done by some entity called a
corporation. And, I propose, each corporate action is taken to facilitate the
personal agenda of the person choosing and taking that action. No corporate
action occurs because the “corporation” chooses to act.

This fact is the main reason it was unconstitutional, immoral, and lacking in any
logic for the Supreme Court in the 1800’s to claim that corporations possessed
the same rights as humans.

Chris is right that today we have become significantly immoral, I propose he is
wrong in blaming corporations. He should know better having worked for the
New York Times long enough to know how they operated, and having been in
universities long enough to know how they operate.

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By keeperofthefire, October 29, 2010 at 7:43 am Link to this comment

this 60s hippy,activist,back to the lander has seen it all this life time,but the last 20 years slide into hell,i put the blame on the lots of talk no action american people!!!!!!!mr. hedges,i respect&admire; you,but truth be told,the “liberal class"has from day one of this phoney&corrupt; system of government,been a load of horseshit,its job always was to throw a few bones to the citizen slaves to keep them quiet,while the bankers&corporations; destroyed the world!!!i say f the “liberals”&since; this generation doesn’t have the guts to stamd up to these nazis,bring on 2012!!

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By surfnow, October 29, 2010 at 7:34 am Link to this comment

The political definition of “liberal” has been redefined. Now all it takes to be classified as a liberal , you just have to be pro-choice , and vote yes on insiginifcant social issues like gays in the military and affirmative action. This is why warmongering globalists like the Clintons can be defined as “liberal.” ” Progressives” are the new liberals.

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