Not Oprah’s Book Club: Death of the Liberal Class

Book cover of Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedge Turns out Death of the Liberal Class, Chris Hedge’s bleak polemic on the failure of liberal institutions to challenge the rise of the corporate state, is not exactly good beach reading material. But while it totally ruined my vacation high, I’m glad I read it. Because damn: this book is some real talk.

Hedge, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, argues that the liberal class, which once served as a safety valve that provided hope for progressive democratic reform, has become a “useless and despised appendage of corporate power.”

Anger and a sense of betray: these are what…tens of millions of other disenfranchised workers express. These emotions spring from the failure of the liberal class over the past three decades to protect the minimal interests of the working and middle class as corporations dismantled the democratic state, decimated the manufacturing sector, looted the U.S. Treasury, waged imperial wars that can neither be afforded nor won, and gutted the basic laws that protected the interests of ordinary citizens. Yet the liberal class continues to speak the prim and obsolete language of policies and issues. It refuses to defy the corporate assault. A virulent right wing, for this reason, captures and expresses the legitimate rage articulated by the disenfranchised. And the liberal class has become obsolete even as it clings to its positions of privilege within liberal institutions.

None of the major pillars of the liberal class–the media, the church, the university, labor unions, the arts, and the Democratic Party–are spared from Hedge’s indictment. He argues that by silencing radical thinkers, refusing to challenge unfettered capitalism, and getting a little too cozy with the powerful, liberalism “betrayed itself.” And right-wing movements like the Tea Party will happily fill the ideological vacuum it has left by co-opting the language of populist rebellion for their anti-democratic, anti-liberal ends.

This book is filled with hyperbole and many a sweeping generalization. But those broad strokes are largely true and paint a deeply depressing reality–one that forces liberals to take a hard look at the how corporate power corrupts our own institutions and acknowledge the limits of reform within a broken system. It’s not pretty–and Hedges doesn’t offer much by way of hope for the future. So I’d recommend taking it with a grain of salt–plus a shot of liquor to help drown your sorrows.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Jasmine

    Does it offer ANY solutions or is it just a doomsday book?

    • toongrrl

      I hope it does, cause the cover is creeping me out!

    • Maya

      Well, he says liberals need to re-learn the language of class struggle–which I think is good advice. Other than that, he says hope will be found in resistance for resistance’s sake–even if it is ultimately ineffective. Whether you find that advice satisfying enough or not I think will depend on your personality!

      • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

        That sounds promising. I’m also curious to read his take on the role of “the arts” (by which I’m guessing he means the art elite/establishment?), see if it’s some of the things I’ve been thinking about it and all.

  • nazza

    It is true that liberals painted themselves into a corner. I would argue it was because they were in love with a notion of themselves as savior. Drunk off of their own self-importance, they refused to continue to challenge themselves and to be provocative for the sake of growth.

    Every major figure I know has said something that makes someone uncomfortable.

  • sex-toy-james

    It feels like the the populist theme that Republicans have embarked on is all about blaming lazy poor people and rewarding the rich. It works because on a broad level people like to have someone below them.

    I think that liberal institutions have broadly discredited themselves by sticking to rhetoric and refusing to deal with the current realities.
    Unions have spent a decades building up resentment in anyone who’s had to deal with them.
    I listened to a debate with call in questions where Barbara boxer did everything not to answer a small company owner who couldn’t afford to operate his business without Indian programmers.
    I tried to buy a used car during the reign of cash for clunkers, and that was pretty much a green washed handout to the car companies paid for by poorer people who now had to pay more for used cars because of the reduced supply.

    At the same time, the whole anti-corporate rhetoric ignores the fact that capitalism and somewhat free markets are why I can get a device that allows me instant access to all of the world’s knowledge, entertainment, and instant communication for a relatively low cost. Vicious competition means that I have affordable access to so much more than I would have without it, whether it’s fresh fruit and vegetables or fancy cheese. So railing against the corporations looks like a lot of show without substance. That’s not to say that without government intervention, corporations won’t eliminate all competition, charge extortion level prices, and refuse to innovate, but so long as you keep them from co-opting regulatory institutions and in a state of vicious competition, you get a lot of benefits.

    All that disillusionment aside, the DOJ coming down on the AT&T and Tmobile merger did inject me with a big shot of optimism.

  • Critter

    I love this.

    We need more people speaking out against capitalism and getting us engaged in class struggle.

  • fyoumudflaps

    Hmmm. Sorry but all I can notice is how “The Churches” are named a liberal pillar.