Monday, May 23, 2011

Preach it, brother Chris

I can't really bring myself to call Cornell West a "prophet," but there's much to love about former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges' latest essay laying into careerist liberals whose efforts to promote progressive values consist entirely of shilling for politicians like Barack Obama (she goes unnamed, but I'm guessing much of Hedge's ire is directed at Princeton professor and friend of the blog Melissa Harris-Perry).

The professional liberal class, Hedges observes, claims to support progressive ideas like peace and restraints on corporate power -- claims. But that claimed support is belied by the fact that, come election time, these same purported anti-corporate peaceniks busy themselves "defending and promoting systems of power that mock these values." Like the Obama campaign. Like the Democratic Party. Like the U.S. government.

Harris-Perry, for instance, last week penned a widely circulated critique of her colleague Cornell West after the latter publicly renounced his support for the Obama administration. "It is clear to me that West’s ego, not the health of American democracy, is the wounded creature," Harris-Perry wrote, adopting a tone of scathing condescension she has never been able to muster toward the man responsible for killing hundreds of Pakistani civilians (and others) with Predator drones.

Like any good, decent liberal, though, Harris-Perry made sure to inform her readers -- in the last paragraph of her piece -- that she does not much care for the president's policy of mass murder. Yet that's but a polite "disagreement," and certainly not one that'll stop her from voting for Obama and his congressional enablers or publicly shaming their critics. For if she acted on her liberal principles by promoting direct action and the empowerment of people, not politicians, she might lose the access to power and the privileges it brings -- access for which she and other careerists like her have strived their whole professional lives.

More than just an unhealthy allegiance to the politicians, though, Hedges writes -- and shines while doing so -- that the liberal class is also guilty of maintaining an unquestioning, almost religious allegiance to the state. Fantastical (and ludicrous) concepts like the "social contract" aside -- which, mind you, no government in practice has actually been founded upon -- Hedges correctly notes that the state, which relies on the liberal use of violence as a matter of course, is in fact the antithesis of truly progressive values:
By extolling the power of the state as an agent of change, as well as measuring human progress through the advances of science, technology and consumption, liberals abetted the cult of the self and the ascendancy of the corporate state. The liberal class placed its faith in the inevitability of human progress and abandoned the human values that should have remained at the core of its other post-facto liberal justifications for the only institution in society permitted to use violence as a matter of course --activism. The state, now the repository of the hopes and dreams of the liberal class, should always have been seen as the enemy.
Remember, folks: this is all coming from a former reporter for The New York Times. While Hedges' piece is a depressing indictment of modern liberalism, the fact it's written by someone once a star at the most establishment of establishment paper's is enough to give me hope that even the Harris-Perry's of the world will someday wake up and, instead attacking those who criticize the government when -- my god -- a Democrat's in power, start throwing rhetorical bombs at the true enemy of progressive reform: the state.

I'm an eternal optimist.


  1. There's some insight here:

  2. Very little "insight" at that link that I can find, JM. I found a lot more of it in this comment:

    Also, bravo Charlie.

  3. Anonymous7:45 PM

    Great post. The Left needs to return to its populist roots. The original Populist Movement was comprised of mostly farmers and industrial workers, and they really frightened the elites because they really were the "peasants with pitchforks."

    On the other hand, is anybody afraid of some latte liberal with a law degree from NYU? The plutocrats that run the country don't fear establishment liberals because they know they will eventually give up their idealism for money and career.

    However, if you have a movement of poor people with little to lose, who are fighting not out of some desire to be an "activist" or "socially aware" but because they know they are being screwed by the boss and their lives and the lives of their family members are being ruined by the powerful, then we are getting somewhere.

  4. jcapan8:45 PM

    What John said. Class warfare will be waged, if at all, by subaltern groups, not simpering liberal twats.

    Of course, job one for careerist liberals is to avoid anything but the most simulated contact with the street. Why would they want to properly direct the rabble's anger, conveniently misdirected as it presently is.

  5. Although Hedges still has some decided managerialist liberal tendencies. For example, he doesn't see any contradiction between anti-corporate radicalism and supporting the central form of monopoly -- so-called "intellectual property" -- on which the power of transnational corporations depends:

    I enjoyed seeing the use of Melissa Harris-Perry as a foil. She seems to alternate with Mark Potok of the SPLC on MSNBC's talking head lineup as spokesperson for the "rabid centrist" critique of all things anti-government. I've repeatedly heard her argue that secession and political decentralism in general, in American history, have just been cloaks for racial supremacy and reaction. The first time, I sent her an email with info about the role of the decentralist Left in American history, the use of jury nullification against the Fugitive Slave Laws, etc. Never heard back from her.

    Apparently the only alternatives are centralizing Galbraithian technocracy and being an inbred wifebeater in a white sheet.

  6. Anonymous9:45 AM

    I don't see what's a big deal about Chris Hedges. He's a tool. Laying into a has-been like Cornel West --whose Star Power was active 20 years ago-- takes no guts. But then, Chris Hedges has repeatedly shown himself a gutless fool, an apologist for empire.

    I guess I can't expect much more from someone who is working with "Medea" Benjamin, who crowed for invading Afghanistan "to protect women."

    Give with one hand, take back with the other.

    Pretend to criticize empire while helping it indirectly.

    Hedges, Benjamin... and Davis?

    Say it ain't so, Charlie.