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The Origin of America’s Intellectual Vacuum

Posted on Nov 15, 2010

Like Chandler Davis, screenwriters Dalton Trumbo, left, and John Howard Lawson were sent to prison for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee.

By Chris Hedges

The blacklisted mathematics instructor Chandler Davis, after serving six months in the Danbury federal penitentiary for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), warned the universities that ousted him and thousands of other professors that the purges would decimate the country’s intellectual life.

“You must welcome dissent; you must welcome serious, systematic, proselytizing dissent—not only the playful, the fitful, or the eclectic; you must value it enough, not merely to refrain from expelling it yourselves, but to refuse to have it torn from you by outsiders,” he wrote in his 1959 essay “...From an Exile.” “You must welcome dissent not in a whisper when alone, but publicly so potential dissenters can hear you. What potential dissenters see now is that you accept an academic world from which we are excluded for our thoughts. This is a manifest signpost over all your arches, telling them: Think at your peril. You must not let it stand. You must (defying outside power; gritting your teeth as we grit ours) take us back.”

But they did not take Davis back. Davis, whom I met a few days ago in Toronto, could not find a job after his prison sentence and left for Canada. He has spent his career teaching mathematics at the University of Toronto. He was one of the lucky ones. Most of the professors ousted from universities never taught again. Radical and left-wing ideas were effectively stamped out. The purges, most carried out internally and away from public view, announced to everyone inside the universities that dissent was not protected. The confrontation of ideas was killed. 

“Political discourse has been impoverished since then,” Davis said. “In the 1930s it was understood by anyone who thought about it that sales taxes were regressive. They collected more proportionately from the poor than from the rich. Regressive taxation was bad for the economy. If only the rich had money, that decreased economic activity. The poor had to spend what they had and the rich could sit on it. Justice demands that we take more from the rich so as to reduce inequality. This philosophy was not refuted in the 1950s and it was not the target of the purge of the 1950s. But this idea, along with most ideas concerning economic justice and people’s control over the economy, was cleansed from the debate. Certain ideas have since become unthinkable, which is in the interest of corporations such as Goldman Sachs. The power to exclude certain ideas serves the power of corporations. It is unfortunate that there is no political party in the United States to run against Goldman Sachs. I am in favor of elections, but there is no way I can vote against Goldman Sachs.” 

The silencing of radicals such as Davis, who had been a member of the Communist Party, although he had left it by the time he was investigated by HUAC, has left academics and intellectuals without the language, vocabulary of class war and analysis to critique the ideology of globalism, the savagery of unfettered capitalism and the ascendancy of the corporate state. And while the turmoil of the 1960s saw discontent sweep through student bodies with some occasional support from faculty, the focus was largely limited to issues of identity politics—feminism, anti-racism—and the anti-war movements. The broader calls for socialism, the detailed Marxist critique of capitalism, the open rejection of the sanctity of markets, remained muted or unheard. Davis argues that not only did socialism and communism become outlaw terms, but once these were tagged as heresies, the right wing tried to make liberal, secular and pluralist outlaw terms as well. The result is an impoverishment of ideas and analysis at a moment when we desperately need radical voices to make sense of the corporate destruction of the global economy and the ecosystem. The “centrist” liberals manage to retain a voice in mainstream society because they pay homage to the marvels of corporate capitalism even as it disembowels the nation and the planet. 

“Repression does not target original thought,” Davis noted. “It targets already established heretical movements, which are not experimental but codified. If it succeeds very well in punishing heresies, it may in the next stage punish originality. And in the population, fear of uttering such a taboo word as communism may in the next stage become general paralysis of social thought.”

It is this paralysis he watches from Toronto. It is a paralysis he predicted. Opinions and questions regarded as possible in the 1930s are, he mourns, now forgotten and no longer part of intellectual and political debate. And perhaps even more egregiously the fight and struggle of radical communists, socialists and anarchists in the 1930s against lynching, discrimination, segregation and sexism were largely purged from the history books. It was as if the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had no antecedents in the battles of the Wobblies as well as the socialist and communist movements.

“Even the protests that were organized entirely by Trotskyists were written out of history,” Davis noted acidly. 


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By gerard, November 15, 2010 at 2:54 pm Link to this comment

The mendacity of American capitalism is once again so clearly visible that most adults, with or without a “higher” education, can see it. That the “lower classes” blame the “higher classes” for it is not surprising, since they see that mendacity seems to be one powerful ingredient of “higher” education. 
  It’s not a new condition but one that is historically habituated.  Most of the people who came here from Europe were pushed into it by destitution. They came determined to “make a better living.”  For them, capitalism was “freedom” and “liberty”—the freedom to steal land from the “Indians”, the “liberty” to tolerate the importation and slavery of Africans for decades, followed by more decades of racial discrimination. They accepted unjust competition and the build-up of huge personal fortunes as “inevitable”.  With the exception of the Civil War and the labor rebellions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they did not struggle to change things. They just moved West—until the West ran out.
  When they were told by their overlords that they must fight wars because “communism” and “socialism” would “take over”, they did not have the mental tools necessary to unmask the deceit and evaluate the overall situation more accurately.  Besides, they were afraid because they knew the “isms” were complicated, and they were ignorant—and helpless.
  Even today a large proportion of the population still believes in social and political injustice. They still are mainly interested in their own well-being and are misled by their unflagging hope that they can “improve” their condition, most often meaning “make more money.”
  The system of capitalism feeds on these attitudes and fights against anything that refutes them. A measlure of how insecure capitalism is, how vulnerable and frightened of falling on its face, is the degree to which media and surveillance must be used to constantly brainwash and frighten “the public” and prop up this rickety structure.
  It’s a top-heavy house of cards, and can’t help itself because it has separated itself from balance, criticism, originality and change.

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By moonraven, November 15, 2010 at 2:38 pm Link to this comment

Jeffrey Beaumont:

I see, all Indians are clowns, right?  Ward Churchill is anything BUT a clown.  You don’t want to accept him as a human being because he confronts you about your ongoing support of genocide against indigenous people.

YOU should stop clowning around and have the courage to admit your crimes.

The dominant knee-jerk behavior in the US is to force consensus.

Not foster or nourish dissent.

This behavior has been rampant right here on the truthdig site since the beginning of the comments option.

Folks who have dared to post against the party line have been insulted and bullied.

No minority points of view have been tolerated—whether ethnic minorities or political minority points of view.

Everyone has a lot to answer for.

Fear of plurality has turned the US into its worse case scenario—a totalitarian state populated by cowards and bigots.

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By Karen Saum, November 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

55 years ago I had dinner with Chan and Natalie Davis, I a 21 year old just beginning grad school in history but already familiar with Christine de Pisa, the subject of Natalie’s dissertation topic. My husband, Richard Reichard, had just applied to teach history at George Washington Unversity and wanted the Davis’s advice on this as J. Edgar Hoover was on the board there. Chan opined it was safe; Dick applied; was hired and subsequently was visited by the FBI, and after an appearance before HUAC was fired never having met a class.

One of the most exciting evenings of my life was that dinner with the Davises. Natalie went on to become the president of the American Historical Society. Dick Reichard was hired a year later at a wonderful school, Cornell College, in Mount Vernon, Iowa. In 1973, I was fired from a teaching position at the University of Maine not for my radical politics but after, of all things, being outed by the local Unitarian minister.

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By Bubba, November 15, 2010 at 2:19 pm Link to this comment

The greatest American socialist, Henry George, was “disappeared” from American academia by American professors at the behest of their corporate bosses, whose money funded their colleges. 

These professors gave birth to neoclassical economics not because they had learned anything significant or fundamentally new, but merely to refute George’s economics, which was becoming increasingly popular among those of all social strata. 

Neoclassical economics is a failed science.  So is more modern economics, be it on the left or right side of the political spectrum. 

The world, let alone the left, needs an economics that makes sense to anyone and that works.  It must be an economics that does not need to redistribute wealth because it ensures that wealth is distributed correctly, equably from the start. 

George’s first book, Progress and Poverty, sold more copies in the 19th century than any other book except the Bible.  Today it is virtually unknown. 

The current, near total death of ethical, intelligent, but also practical, economic dissent in America did not have its origins, as many believe, in the first part of the 20th century but in the latter part of the 19th. 

And this kind of dissent will never amount to anything—anything really workable—until George’s economics become popular once again.

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By RayLan, November 15, 2010 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment

Luckily some “Leftist” intellectuals remain by virtue of their international visibility like Noam Chomsky, or Chris himself. Intellectuality itself is neither left nor right, but it is open and independant. As soon as freedom of thought is crushed and academia is retooled as a department of the corporatocracy, real education, real inquiry is at an end. It isn’t surprising that the Right want to do away with the Department of Education. I have experienced the deterioration of college standards and genuine intellecutal discourse first hand, just taking courses in the humanities at UCLA. The quality is shameful.

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By pfft, November 15, 2010 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The majority of posts here confirm the article’s premise and Hedges sharp

For example, it’s pretty obvious that many of the posters haven’t read or
studied Marx’s Capital, or they would see its incredible relevance today. Not so
in Europe where a powerful left, led by factions purged in the US, is challenging
austerity measures with 70% public support in France and national strikes.
Savvy people might wonder why they still consider Marx relevant and have such
a strong coalition.

For a Marxist analysis of the current financial crisis, look up Richard Wolff’s
presentation of Capitalism Hits The Fan (several versions are posted on
youtube, etc.). His analysis goes into much further depth than anything I’ve seen
from any other economist, using Marxist class analysis to explore the economic
as well as social causes and ramifications.

Saying Marx and the other great thinkers of history are passe because they lived
a long time ago is a statement of ignorance in itself. It’s like saying Darwin is

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By basho, November 15, 2010 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment

“Had there been, we’d have never gone to the moon. Never have devised the most stable democracy in the world (a piece of work still going strong after more than two centuries). Never had a national wealth that is still the envy of every country, including China which had a millennium of autocratic but continuous government.”

“we’d have never gone to the moon.”
-Apples and Oranges. This is not the vacuum the article is addressing. And besides you got to the moon under the guidance of a Nazi named Werner von Braun.

“Never have devised the most stable democracy in the world”. -don’t forget the Swiss.

“Never had a national wealth that is still the envy of every country,”

-as in the past tense of ‘have’?

“What we have had, lately, has been the worst dumbing-down of America in decades. “

- ie intellectual vacuum wink

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By TAO Walker, November 15, 2010 at 1:12 pm Link to this comment

Again Chris Hedges remarks the absence of a “language” sufficient unto the needs of these latter days.  He persists as well, however, in his belief that it is the argot of “leftist radicalism,” could it somehow be revived, which would fill this much-lamented vacuum.

This Old Indian offers again the Living language of Organic Functional Integrity as a viable alternative. 


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By bogi666, November 15, 2010 at 12:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

ObomberBush Cat Food Commission, is recommending cut in the Veterans Administration by increasing fees to Veterans. The fact is if the USG stopped creating wars their would be a decrease in funding for the VA, as well as a reduction in the Pentagram budget. This is common sense which doesn’t enter into the USG because the only sense the USG has is nonsense.

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By Basoflakes, November 15, 2010 at 12:50 pm Link to this comment

Excellant piece Chris Hedges.

To think, there are still people, even on this site, that equate Stalinism, and Maoism with Marxism - man, talk about vacuum.

The basic tenets of Marxist Communism still point to the problems with unbridled capitalism, the same thing that Adam Smith pointed to - once you put money and greed for it above the working class, there is no good end, and that is proven today.  Marx was proven right as evidenced by the greed of Wall Street, the Big Banks and our for profit Health care organizations.

Yeh, the HUAC meetings started the vacuum that exists today, but remember who was McCarthy’s right hand man during those hearings - Bobby Kennedy.  It wasn’t until the mid sixties that he saw the light, before it was extinguished for him.

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By Flummox, November 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm Link to this comment

omygodnotagain, The left never faced up to its dark past? Stalin? I never knew him. Sartre? He’s long dead now. Certainly these two people aren’t American and I don’t think any American has to answer for them.

And what’s all this about how much fascism has been examined? I hear about fascism mostly from right wingers, and they claim it is a purely leftist movement. So no, I don’t think the examination of fascism goes very deep, and certainly if today’s left has to take responsibility for others considered to be on the left anywhere on the planet from any age then the same rule must apply to right wingers too. And as I said I don’t hear anything of the sort.

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By Lafayette, November 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm Link to this comment


The Origin of America’s Intellectual Vacuum

There is no intellectual vacuum. There never has been an intellectual vacuum.

Had there been, we’d have never gone to the moon. Never have devised the most stable democracy in the world (a piece of work still going strong after more than two centuries). Never had a national wealth that is still the envy of every country, including China which had a millennium of autocratic but continuous government.

What we have had, lately, has been the worst dumbing-down of America in decades. As someone else already posted on this forum, this quote by (HJ Mencken):

No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

What happened, after such a great effort to educate the nation, to produce more university graduates as a percentage of the population than any other developed country in the Western World?

Everybody has a theory and mine is the advent of Ronald Reagan to the White House, whereupon, after telling Americans that government should “get off their backs”, opened Pandora’s Box of Social Ills by drastically reducing both marginal income tax (from 70% to 27%) and capital gains taxes (from 28 to 27%).

Coincident with two periods of hallucinatory growth, one based upon the fictive boom (and bust), the second upon a real estate binge that allowed some crafty people to profit hugely from debt instruments to make a colossal fortune; Americans became fascinated by Easy Money.

People flipped a condo/house in three months and nobody said, “Uh, oh! There is something very, very wrong with the housing market”. In fact, everybody thought it was bloody marvelous and should continue ad nauseam – which it did, since we got very sick economically as a result.

Few people had the common sense to think “Maybe all this cheap credit is creating an asset bubble … that will one day burst upon all of us?” It does not take intellectual capacity to recognize a binge-bubble. Neither to have asked the question, “Well, if it happened in 1929, and lasted a decade, why not once again?”

Even if there were suspicions of “what could happen, neither a political party nor one national leader had the intellectual courage to yell it from the rooftops.

So, no, there is no Intellectual Vacuum. There is a vacuum, however, of Intellectual Honesty and Deceny. We deserve a better political class than this bunch of ….

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By Jeffrey Beaumont, November 15, 2010 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Inside academia, I have met a number of pretty far left characters.  Citing Ward Churchill isn’t effective, he is a little bit of a clown.  But what about guys like David Harvey, who have very clearly and consistently articulated the problems of modern capitalism for decades?  There are plenty of leftists out there in academia, real socialist leftists.  The problem is that there ideas are difficult, while the right sells the ideas of the culture war, which the appeal to the uneducated.

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By omygodnotagain, November 15, 2010 at 11:41 am Link to this comment

Chris the left was not crushed, it never faced up to its dark past and decided to hide it. Turn on the History Channel and there is everyday some program on Nazis, thousands of books, countless films. But how many can we count on the crimes of Communism (The Black Book of Communism is worth referencing Harvard Press). Stalin killed 30 million people, Mao an estimated 50 million, one third of the population of Cambodia (at least the Killing Fields got made into a movie). Where are the mea culpas. Many of today’s elites had family members in the past who sang the praises of Stalin, and praised Mao. They want to forget. If the Socialist left wants to become a force again it needs to be examined in as much detail as Fascism has been. We can criticize philosopher Martin Heidegger for joining the Nazi party, but still get the nostalgic wobblies about John Paul Satre, who later in life admited he knew what Stalin was doing, in the Ukraine and other places, but in his own words the ends justified the means. We need a Communist war crimes trial, if that were to happen I feel there will be a lot of embarrassed progressives and literati at Upper West Side soirees.

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By hen0egg, November 15, 2010 at 11:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Like some good ‘ol cross bearin, cross-dressers from

Colorado Springs to Congress, methinks we’re a crazy

cracy of closeted commies!

Thales: “Know thyself”

Polonius: “Above all else, to thine own self be true”

All this self knows is that: this message; every

stitch of clothing my employer offers; even some of

my flesh and blood co-workin comrades are made

possible by good ‘ol communist red China!

Xie xie y’all

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By G.Anderson, November 15, 2010 at 11:29 am Link to this comment

The problem is mistated by Mr. Hedges, its not one of anti illectualizm, but rather fashionable intellectualism.

Those particular left leaning ideas were just simply not in fashion at the time.

However, they were soon replaced, with other ideas, that were more fashionable. Currently, feminism, seems to be the fashionable idea, that grips the intellectual life of colleges. And like many fashionable ideas, this one seems to have peaked. It contains the intellectual seeds of it’s own destruction, and one day a new fashionalbe idea will replace it too.

The problem here is that people believe that their ideas, are reasonable, and logical and because of that they should be accepted on face value. They will find justification for their thoughts no matter how absurd they are.

For in point of fact, reason, most often is just a disguise, for the unconscious. A desguise we use to make our baser instincts acceptable. Instead of acting them out, while frothing at the mouth, we present them, well reasoned and justified, but the end results are the same. Reason, for many, is just a disguise.

Just like a dream, in which the content is disguised by symbols, without values, and a moral foundation, it can become a road to hell.

No the problem with this country, is not that we are anti intellectual, it’s that we have replaced our values, with greed, and self indulgence.

Just don’t get caught, is the value we live by.

That people are persecuted, and damaged because they believe in an idea that is unfashionable, is immoral.
Unreasonable ideas should not be suppresed only exposed for what they are, unsupported by the facts.

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By SusanSunflower, November 15, 2010 at 11:26 am Link to this comment

In a nutshell, “careerism” won ... across the boards ... as people “decided” they couldn’t afford to speak openly, self-censored, went-along-to-get-along until many found they actually had “no convictions” which—coupled with our learned belief in our own lack-of-competence (believe me or your lying eyes, anyone?)—creates rock-or-hard-place inertia.

Highly recommend “Century of Self” documentary available online in various places (including you-tube and google video)

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By Bonk, November 15, 2010 at 11:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To begin, most of the people reading and posting here would have a hard time
defining the terms, communist, Marxist and socialist. That is normal in America
today and tragic, but nothing to be.

The idea that Marxism isn’t necessary to the left is nonsense. No educated
person in Europe or the Netherlands would say such a thing. Unlike Adam
Smiths writings, which are NOT verboten, Marxism is a criticism of capitalism,
the economic system that is reducing wages and living standards worldwide
today. This kind of conversation is taking place in European societies today and
the people are in the streets, with 71% of the public supporting the protests in
France against austerity measures. If Americans held protests on the same
scale here, adjusted for our larger population, there would have been 12
million people in the streets. They have an un-purged left there.

The tragedy Hedges is speaking of is the the lack, particularly in the US, of any
kind of foundation for thinking of and criticizing the current exploitive system
which, for the news of those posting that this is a new age, has been in place
for over 300 years.

The reason why people on the left have no common framework, no foundation
around which to form ideas is that the dissenting political and economic
intellectual thought from the last 150 years was purged and silenced.

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By felicity, November 15, 2010 at 11:21 am Link to this comment

History records that prosperous nations seem to
inevitably drift into materialism and anti-
intellectualism with almost predictable disastrous
results. (The ‘why’ unfortunately is still waiting an
answer.) At least we’re in line with the historical

It’s always amused me, how about befuddled me, that
American liberals are called socialists/communists and
Lenin is on record for hating liberals, social
democrats and, of course, the bourgeoisie.

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By kattenkart, November 15, 2010 at 11:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This article does seem to have a double focus:  the loss of wide-ranging intellectual discourse at the universities and colleges and a brief biography of one of the 1950s witch hunt victims (who refused to remain a victim).  Re. the first:  the persistent muting and suppression of free thought is now guaranteed by younger professors who were educated in a public school system that was designed by corporate leaders.  They have been trained in a factory-system that keeps children “in-line”, answering to “the bell”, following the crowd and always under the thumb of authority. They are taught to the test from the time they start school and have never known how to think for themselves.  Yes, there are exceptions but they are discouraged.

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By tomcarberry, November 15, 2010 at 11:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

When the University of Colorado fired Ward Churchill, the lead prosecutor was Mimi Wesson, a law professor and “champion” of women’s rights, who often appears on NPR as a spokesperson for “liberal” causes.  Almost the entire political establishment, left and right, supported Churchill’s dismissal.  “Democratic” senator Mark Udall said”

Rep. Mark Udall supported the board’s decision to fire Churchill in a released statement: “Academic freedom goes hand-in-hand with freedom of speech. Even the most controversial and unpopular of views will inevitably find a safe haven in our colleges and universities. That doesn’t mean that all ideas are equal in force or that inflammatory ideas are beyond reproach. Nor does it excuse teachers or professors for uttering nonsense and calling it instruction.”

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By Fat Freddy, November 15, 2010 at 11:10 am Link to this comment

Free Speech

Freedom of speech is a fundamental American freedom, and nowhere should it be more valued and protected than at America’s colleges and universities. The “marketplace of ideas” upon which a university depends for its intellectual vitality cannot flourish when students or faculty members must fear punishment for expressing views that might be unpopular with the public at large or disfavored by university administrators. Yet this freedom is under continuous assault at many of America’s campuses. Speech codes dictating what may or may not be said, “free speech zones” confining free speech to certain areas of campus, and administrative attempts to punish or repress speech on a case-by-case basis are common today in academia. FIRE’s public cases dealing with freedom of speech, listed below, demonstrate our commitment to restoring and preserving this basic freedom on our nation’s campuses. The future of a generation of students—and of liberal education itself—depends on our success.

”[Colleges and universities] have become the most intellectually constipated area of American life.”

- Dave Barry (being serious)

It is Mr Hedges “Intellectual Class” that is guilty of suppressing speech. They have, in effect, become “The Man”.

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By Ed Lytwak, November 15, 2010 at 10:54 am Link to this comment

Truly viable intellectualism cannot be stamped out or impoverished without the complicity of the intellectuals themselves.  The most grievous wounds are always self inflicted and in the case of American left-intellectualism, the primary failure has been an inability to envision a future that is radically different from the past.  The U.S. left of the 1930s,40s and 50s became stuck in a view of history continuously repeating itself as class warfare - a mistake that Chris Hedges too often makes.

Hedges also makes the mistake of conflating the disappearance of left-wing intellectualism in the educational system, media, politics and “mainstream” society and culture with its alleged impoverishment in society and especially culture as a whole - something that could not be farther from the truth. It is American democracy, economic, society and culture that have become intellectually impoverished or worse.

Real left intellectualism has transformed itself into a new and radically different way of thinking and has never been more viable than it is today.  It began in the 1960s with the counter culture and has matured in the rise of grassroots movements for social change such as civil rights, animal rights, green politics, community resilience and new, bold economic visions such as David Korten’s “Agenda for a New Economy.”

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By SusanSunflower, November 15, 2010 at 10:37 am Link to this comment

I keep thinking we’ve managed to end up exactly where Marcuse’s “One Dimensional Man” was trying to help us avoid ...

The lack of imagination beyong consumerism is appalling—fed in part by the universal exhaustion of trying to “afford” an un-affordable “life-style”—both personal and national ...

I’m beginning to wonder just how much of our national economic house-of-cards rests on the MIC and the Law Enforcement/Surveillance/Prison Industrial complex

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By peter garayt, November 15, 2010 at 10:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have worked in a University Library in Toronto Canada from 1983 until the present and I can testify
that it has devolved from a fairly dynamic environment into a glorified junior high school with corporate
monopolies and a very tired faculty.
peter g

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By balkas, November 15, 2010 at 10:33 am Link to this comment

since, as i see it, we can only achieve two structures of society: one idyllicly
egalitarian [not utopian] and the other perfectly inegalitarian, and u.s.
constitution permits/commands that only the latter be fully developed, we can
expect that any idea favoring the first development, wld be banned or thwarted
and propagators of such ideas punished.

in addition, there may be at least 30 mn americans who’d be happy to kill
people in defense of constitution.

swiss structure appears to be in midway or farther towards an idyllic society
than any land.  of course, it cannot be even mentioned let alone studied.
swiss [i am not saying they r better humans than us] r staying [correctly] out of the disunited nations and do not obey the
region of united-disunited nations, aka, u.s.

both of these d.n. appear highly murderous, corrupt, etc.
yes, cults r strongly united as well as 1k dear uncles when it comes to defense
of u.s constitution; i.e., killing disobedient aliens and punishing dissent.

it is not the punishment meted to ‘aliens’ or dissidents that 99.99% of americans
rue, but perceived weakening or even collapse of d.n. 

it does not take much thinking to conclude that we can expect only worse deeds
from structure of u.s society. and not just to ‘alien’ pops, but also for most
underpeople in u.s. also.

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By M L, November 15, 2010 at 10:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dissent is the highest form of patriotisi when questioning domestic and foreign policies based on lies and deceit.

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By entropy2, November 15, 2010 at 10:22 am Link to this comment

Silencing a voice is a crime and a tragedy. But make no mistake. The purging of dissenting perspectives goes on no matter which gang controls state power. I have a limited level of sympathy for the long-suffering intellectual class. They chose to throw in their lot with the state. In doing so, they (whether they chose to accept it or not) committed to serve the state’s objectives. That is, to provide our corporate rulers with compliant, tech-stuffed drones for their machines. In return, they were afforded the privilege of not needing to hang with the riff-raff, except on their own terms. Why is it any surprise that, when they began advocating a different faction taking over the government’s power, that the current leaseholders smashed them like bugs? (Now, if they weren’t serious about effecting a radical change in the power structure, then they were just involved in an theoretical circlejerk, and I still don’t have much sympathy.) In any case, had they won, assuming they wanted to, would their state have been any less brutal about rooting out dissent? Maybe…maybe not. People with power tends to exert it toward its maximum, not its minimum.

Should they have expected justice? I guess maybe, in those days, some still believed in the myth of justice for commoners. But, if they’d read their history, they might have pondered over whether the state has ever been about justice. More likely, they thought that they had become part of the protected elite, as opposed to parasitical sycophants. Oops.

It’s all about power. Because the concentration of power naturally engenders a hierarchy, the state creates an elite and then proceeds to serve and protect it. The cover ideology of the elite is irrelevant. And, as the reach and power of the state grows, so grows the power of the elite. If you don’t like a powerful elite, then disperse the power of its enforcer, the state.

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By Mike, November 15, 2010 at 10:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Hedges keeps referring to the “radical left”. Most of the ideas that the left (not in DC) propose are only radical in Washington. Almost everywhere else on the planet its considered sane policy.

The GOP labels anything that doesn’t keep the 1% happy as radical. Calling the left which no longer exists in government “radical” plays into their hands. Its not giving away the store but I don’t believe it helps either.

I’m still a big fan of Mr. Hedges though and I am looking forward to his next piece.

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By Gregory Goldmacher, November 15, 2010 at 10:08 am Link to this comment

Here’s a wonderful essay on heresy, and what make for intellectual taboos, by Paul Graham:

Worth a read, no matter what your political orientation.

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By Michael, November 15, 2010 at 10:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Over the last hundred years, there have been ups and downs in the struggle between radicalism and reaction, and not only in the United States.

In the so-called, Worker’s State, the Soviet Union, under that great radical, Jozef Stalin, many more dissidents of the Communist Left were criticised, attacked, and eliminated, than they ever were in the United States. Joe McCarthy was a thug, but compared to Stalin he was a pathetic, and ultimately rather sad little man. Though he did selve a useful purpose, up to a point. A pawn in far bigger game.

I only mention Stalin’s purges to add a little scale and perspective. As totalitarian states go, the United States was, and arguably still is, remarkably Liberal and Free. But for how long? The trajectory is seemingly all in one direction. The wrong direction.

Still, it’s actually, a positive sign that the power-elite have to expend so many resources on propaganda and influencing the masses, who otherwise might become very restless indeed, especially now.

Especially now, because “reality” is cutting, axing, slashing, its way through the elaborate veil, filter or screen, that separates what we can see, and know, and what we are told to believe. There’s a gargantuan effort, an effort to project a vision, a utopia, an illusion about how we live onto this screen, only now there are holes, rips, and tears in the screen, and soon they’ll widen inexorably into great gashes and enormous holes, as reality in all its terrible glory bursts through.

Then, there is going to be the opportunity, a window of opportunity, the chance for change, a kind of hope.

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By David J. Cyr, November 15, 2010 at 10:07 am Link to this comment

QUOTE (Hedges quoting Chandler Davis):

“It is unfortunate that there is no political party in the United States to run against Goldman Sachs. I am in favor of elections, but there is no way I can vote against Goldman Sachs.”


Therein, both Chandler Davis and Chris Hedges implicitly support the liberal lie that the only electoral choices available are the twin evils — the voter’s choice restricted to being a criminal accomplice in support of either evil (R)s, or the greater evil (D)s.

If all the people who’ve ever claimed they’d have voted Green — “if only Greens could win” — had ever all voted Green, then either the Greens would now have control of all branches of government, or there would now be a permanent condition of martial law with all elections eliminated… providing absolutely honest transparency of the objective reality that even the most demockery deluded could not then deny.

In service to the corporate party, the “progressive” liberals waged a ruthless “wasted vote” campaign of voter suppression. They convinced near everyone who wished to have elections serve a good purpose that their votes were wasted (garbage), if they truly and honestly voted for the good they actually wanted… wasted if they voted for any candidate offering a real alternative to what is… wasted if they voted for any candidate not preselected to be an “electable” acceptable to the corporate state.

The greatest success that “progressive” liberals have had has been their suppression of uncommonly sensible voting. The “progressive” liberals have corporate obediently ensured that elections have not served any good purpose. Whether (D) “progressive” liberals “win” or loose, it is **THEIR** numbers that reliably routinely ensure that elections are wasted.

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By commonwealth, November 15, 2010 at 9:55 am Link to this comment

Chris Hedges misses something that is very close to him, and that many in the
progressive/liberal stream of thought ignore.  It is not necessary to resurrect
socialism and the Marxist critique of capitalism in order to challenge the radical
right.  Religious values:  Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist—all
offer a vocabulary that stands against greed and self-centeredness.  It is the
compassionate vocabulary of the New Testament:  Love the Lord thy God with
all thy heart and soul and mind and thy neighbor as thyself;  it is the justice of
the Old Testament whose prophets railed against greed and corruption;  it is
the enlightenment of Buddhism and Hinduism which holds compassion and
unity as the highest of all attributes;  and it is the sense of accountability in
Islam, which always refers to prayer in the context of care for widows and
orphans those who are in need, and reminds men and women that we will be
held to account.  Justice and Mercy, Love and Compassion are all religious and
spiritual values.  Could there be any stronger way to challenge the
conservatives who seem to believe in their self-righteousness that they have
preempted God Himself?

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, November 15, 2010 at 9:19 am Link to this comment

Hey guys, don’t think Hedges is glorifying the Communist party in this piece.  He just picked this professor who happened to be a communist.  My take is that he’s lamenting the disappearance of true and open debate in the university.  Like it or not, we need universities to be cauldrons of open debate and questioning of authority.  We need our elite to hear all points of view and to be challenged to draw their own conclusions.  This is especially true in business and law but can be applied to almost any discipline.  We need open discussion and challenges to any orthodoxy.  It is truly sad to hear the words “conservative university”.  That is an oxymoron if every I heard one.

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By markulyseas, November 15, 2010 at 9:15 am Link to this comment

America’s intellectual vacuum is filled with consumerism of the worst kind…
Living beyond one’s means on the “magic plastic card”.

Plutocracy reigns supreme.

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By KeepLeft, November 15, 2010 at 8:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have been reading Chris Hedges’ commentaries for years now and can see the cintinuing leftward movement in his writings. That’s a good thing, but he has not taken the decisive step yet. He needs to follow in the footsteps of John Reed, and combine his condiderable writing and speaking skills with membership in a Marxist organization. If he does not take that decisisve step, he risks becoming a synical old “radical” that blames everyone but himself for the problems we wishes to transform.

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By tenstring, November 15, 2010 at 8:22 am Link to this comment

I would also add that this phenomenon has led to the championing of mediocrity in academia; so much so that it’s often one of the tests for employment.  Hedges says it—if the only spectrum of permitted viewpoints contains only those that are friendly to Goldman Sachs, there will be no one to explain the recent scam perpetrated by them and others.  One thing the Communists recognized in 20s as well as now is that Capitalism institutionalized the criminal mind.

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By Cromag, November 15, 2010 at 8:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“If there is no external civil society in which dissidence
can exist, then public debate is locked in a paradigm
that assumes value of dogma.”
French Prof. Phillip Nemo

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By Terry Burke, November 15, 2010 at 8:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A Quaker friend of mine, a biologist with Phd from Cornell and post-doc Edinborough, experienced this in fifties also. 

Question - Was this intellectual purge also true at the colleges with religious affiliations?

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By peterjkraus, November 15, 2010 at 8:12 am Link to this comment

Yo, FiftyGigs! Were and are all fifty gigs for the
spooks, the FBI and NSA, for all the secret police
outfits undermining our Constitution? Or are you just
plain blind?

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By Eurasia2012, November 15, 2010 at 8:02 am Link to this comment

Given the importance of the topic addressed in Chris Hedge’s “America’s Intellectual Vacuum,” it is sad and indeed disheartening that the article is couched in the worn-out, no longer applicable and false left-right (liberal-
conservative/right wing) paradigm. The implication here is that all “worthwhile” dissent comes from the left and there is also the implication that “Communism” was given a raw deal in the U.S.  Mr. Hedges needs to read Jonah Golberg’s “Liberal Fascism” (Penguin Books: 2007) and become more knowledgeable regarding the history of the left before he makes the kinds cavalier and unfounded proclamations, such as are made in this article. Notably, “Communism,” (as Hitler and his National SOCIALIST party) was funded by the same Wall Street boys that are now in control of U.S. government, with its “liberal” dominated agenda (it would be mindless and ridiculous at this point to blame where we are now on Bush & Co.). While the Tea Party movement in its initial form has in some measure been infiltrated, co-opted and as a result flatly discredited, the movement did begin as a forceful and laudable voice of
dissent against the ObamaCare fraud, big government and against the kinds of actions that are being taken under the current regime (which has more in common with fascism that with “classical” liberalism) that are undermining the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. The lethal naked-body scanners that have now been instituted in U.S. airports and the “molestation” (“deep” pat-down) that is given as a punishment to those who refuse to be radiated is being brought to us by the “liberal” (fascist) Obama regime (such procedures are highly reminiscent of the Nazi death camps). Because Chris Hedges couches his argument in the false left/right paradigm, he ultimately functions as a “gate keeper”—which is to say as just another media whore who is attempting to make sure that only selected (i.e., so called “liberal”) voices, such as his own get heard. As such, this article is flatly and blatantly disinformation, and is not only non-constructive, but is destructive vis-a-vis the dissent that it falsely purports to uphold.

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By paul, November 15, 2010 at 8:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Interesting to see advertisments scattered about this page from the anti-union, anti-labor, anti-left organizations.  Vote against Obama’s Big Labor Scheme?  Wow.

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By Norman Birnbaum, November 15, 2010 at 7:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Having known Chandler Davis at Harvard Graduate School in the worst days of the Cold War freeze on thought, I am very glad to learn that he is still in there fighting. I wish that I had had his constancy and clarity then, whatever of that I have gained has come rather slowly—and much is due to the influence and example of persons like himself. Is Chandler, however, rather too dismissive of the anti-capitalist component of the sixties movements? Mills, Marcuse, Robert Wolff, Barrington Moore, Melman, Sweezy, Huberman,the group Radical Political Economics and the University of Massachusetts economists, David Gordon, Leontiev, give us a rather more differentiated picture. One cause of the problem of
the political vacuum in the universities was the weakening of the labor movement outside it. Now, of course, with the alteration in the structure of employment in higher education,  the decreasing number of tenured posts, academic life is becoming even less hospitable to the critical exercise of mind—or, not to idealize the recent past, unhospitable in a different way.

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By FiftyGigs, November 15, 2010 at 7:53 am Link to this comment

In short, this article bemoans that all America’s ills would be solved if only there were no Democratic Party or Republican Party, but only the Communist Party?

Yeah, right.

McCarthy rose to power by defeating a pro-labor Republican. Republican. That’s proof that the two-party system doesn’t change? A joke.

Let’s also not forget that McCarthyism rose in part because of the corruption and complacency of the media.

Corruption and complacency that exists today. Let’s see, what were we discussing on September 10, 2001? Chandra Levy, and how the involvement of a Congressman proved the degeneration of government? (He didn’t kill her, you know.)

As is true now, conservative oppression grew because of lack of effective opposition, not because conservatism harbors some manifest destiny. George Bush didn’t come to power by force, by scheming, or even by the will of the majority.

He came to power because progressives let him.

“In retrospect I am sorry I didn’t declare myself as a conscientious objector.”

Uh huh.

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By tenstring, November 15, 2010 at 7:48 am Link to this comment

Chris Hedges hits the nail on the head again.  I have experienced political “tests” in my academic job search, including a grilling on what I thought about Ward Churchill, which had nothing to do with actually functioning in the position.  The powerful never wanted the Bill of Rights, and they’ve certainly found many ways around it.

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By CA, November 15, 2010 at 7:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is an interesting argument. At the same time, it feels off in a couple of ways. First, many of the issues—social inequality, crises of capitalism and ecology, state violence, etc.—that need intellectual analysis from dissenting minds are quite international in scope, so I am not sure why the search for radical voices needs to begin and end in North America. Second, there are plenty of radicals in the US, just not necessarily in the big-shot disciplines at the big shot institutions, or even in the universities (you could find a good slice of these folks at the annual Left Forum in NYC, for example). The real issue at stake here seems to be a systematic undervaluing and inattention to the radical work that is happening, which this article ultimately plays into by claiming that these people ceased to exist after the 50’s, which is just not the case. That feels like sloppy journalism, and it actually works to produce the void which it professes to observe. Look harder and further afield.

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By kerryrose, November 15, 2010 at 6:59 am Link to this comment

It is the same in Universities, now.  Absolutely the same, and enforced, not at the top by Administration, but by professors, assistant professors, and Doctoral advisors.

I don’t know how this thread within the Departments is created or sustained. I’m sure it’s not something that is discussed in meetings, ‘So, how can we ensure that our students never question authoritative structures, while allowing them to give lip service to ‘contemporary issues?  How can we defang them?’

Maybe the University just keeps hiring those of ‘like mind,’ and refusing tenure to the more ‘out of the box (read: control)’ thinkers.

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