A Curious Bit of Backstory Behind the NYT’s Review of Chris Hedges’ New Book
Chris Hedges’ latest book, “Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt” was given top placement in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review section, and although a high profile doesn’t always guarantee high praise, it turns out there’s a story behind this media story.
In his NYT review, author and New Yorker fixture George Packer reads Hedges’ “Wages” against a counternarrative by a conspicuous voice from the far right, Charles Murray — he of “The Bell Curve” notoriety — who just put out a book of his own, “By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.”
That was a charged and gymnastic move, and it could have provided the setup for a provocative read, but upon closer inspection, it seems like a bit of a stunt. And to be clear, challenging the content of Packer’s critique — which suggests that “Wages” lacks a well-fortified through line, excessively flatters certain revolutionary figures and fails, like Murray’s work, to deliver on its populist promise — isn’t the point of this exercise.
A more neutral reviewer sensing certain stirrings in the zeitgeist that both Murray and Hedges were attempting to address, and then assessing how they handled their respective efforts, could play the two authors off each other without potentially drawing upon other impressions or influences in the process. As it happens, however, Hedges and Packer have crossed paths, and swords, before.
Hedges called Packer on the carpet in a 2013 Truthdig column, “The Treason of the Intellectuals,” in which Hedges referred to Packer as one of many “war boosters” and “liberal hawks” who “did what they always have done: engage in self preservation” in the lead-up to the Iraq War.
But before that, in 2009, the two debated about the state of the American democratic project during a panel discussion at the Miami Book Fair International. That conversation is posted in full below, to put the history between these two writers in a more complete context than was fit to print in Sunday’s New York Times.
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