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.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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