Chris Hedges: A Resurgence of Real Liberalism

In Canada, the party of the left is called the Liberal party and in the United States, it is called the Democratic party. Those who claim that they are “liberal” are so because they want progress. Throughout history, a liberal was a social “safety valve” — ensuring equality and fairness in a regularly conservative government.

However, over the last century, the liberal class — which used to be prophetic radicals looking for change — has been covertly replaced with fancy, college educated professionals, who are no longer public servants as they only represent the corporations and the business elite.

The Liberal and Democratic parties no longer work for the poor people and minorities. They work for money. During election campaigns, they will say whatever they have to in order to win. Real liberals — real progressives — can’t fit into bureaucracy. They have to run as Independents.

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MANDEL NGAN / AFP / GETTY

This is quite a lengthy excerpt from the book Death of the Liberal Class by the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, but I think that it’s worth reading in its entirety.

“Classical liberalism was founded largely as a response to the dissolution of feudalism and church authoritarianism. It argued for non-interference or independence under the rule of law. It incorporates a few aspects of ancient Athenian philosophy as expressed by Pericles and the Sophists, but was a philosophical system that marked a radical rupture with both Aristotelian thought and medieval theology. Classical liberalism has, the philosopher John Gray writes,

four principle features, or perspectives, which give it a recognizable identity: it is individualist, in that it asserts the moral primacy of the person against any collectivity; egalitarian, in that it confers on all human beings the same basic moral status; universalist, affirming the moral unity of the species; and meliorist, in that it asserts the open-ended improvability, by use of critical reason, of human life.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704), and Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) laid the foundations for classical liberalism. The work of these theorists was expanded in the eighteenth-century by the Scottish moral philosophers, the French philosophes, and the early architects of American democracy. The philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) redefined liberalism in the nineteenth-century to call for the redistribution of wealth and the promotion of the welfare state.

The liberal era, which flourished in the later part of the nineteenth-century and the early years of the twentieth, was characterized by the growth of mass movements and social reforms that addressed working conditions in factories, the organizing of labor unions, women’s rights, universal education, housing for the poor, public health campaigns, and socialism. The liberal era effectively ended with World War I. The war, which shattered liberal optimism about the inevitability of human progress, also consolidated state and corporate control over economic, political, cultural, and social affairs. It created mass culture, fostered through the consumer society the cult of the self, led the nation into an era of permanent war, and used fear and mass propaganda to cow citizens and silence independent and radical voices within the liberal class. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, put in place only when the capitalism system collapsed, was the final political gasp of classical liberalism in the United States. The New Deal reforms, however, were systemically dismantled in the years after World War II, often with the assistance of the liberal class.

A mutant outgrowth of the liberal class, one that embraced a fervent anticommunism and saw national security as the highest priority, emerged after World War I in the United States. It was characterized by a deep pessimism about human nature and found its ideological roots in moral philosophers such as the Christian realist Reinhold Neibuhr, although Neibuhr was frequently misinterpreted and oversimplified by those seeking to justify political passivity and imperial adventurism. This brand of liberalism, fearful of being seen as soft on communism, struggled to find its place in contemporary culture as its stated value systems became increasingly at odds with increased state control, the disempowerment of workers, and the growth of a massive military-industrial complex. By the time Cold War liberalism shifted into a liberal embrace of globalization, imperial expansion, and unfettered capitalism, the ideals that were part of classical liberalism no longer characterized the liberal class.

APEC Summit, Manila, Philippines - 19 Nov 2015
Independent /Rex Features

In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue. It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements, making the liberal class a useful component with the power elite.

But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets that often end in violence.

The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.

The liberal class refuses to recognize the obvious because it does not want to lose its comfortable and often well-paid perch. Churches and universities — in elite schools such as Princeton, professors can earn $180,000 a year — enjoy tax-exempt status as long as they refrain from overt political critiques. Labor leaders make lavish salaries and are considered junior partners within corporate capitalism as long as they do not speak the language of class struggle. Politicians, like generals, are loyal to the demands of the corporate state in power and retire to become millionaires as lobbyists or corporate managers. Artists who use their talents to foster the myths and illusions that bombard our society live comfortably in the Hollywood Hills.

The media, the church, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts, and labor unions — the pillars of the liberal class — have been bought off with corporate money and promises of scraps tossed to them by the narrow circles of power. Journalists, who prize access to the powerful more than they prize the truth, report lies and propaganda to propel us into a war in Iraq. Many of these same journalists assured us it was prudent to entrust our life savings to a financial system run by speculators and thieves. Those life savings were gutted. The media, catering to corporate advertisers and sponsors, at the same time renders invisible whole sections of the population whose misery, poverty, and grievances should be the principle focus of journalism.

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REUTERS/David Becker

The greatest sin of the liberal class, throughout the twentieth-century and into the early part of this century, has been its enthusiastic collusion with the power elite to silence, ban, and blacklist rebels, iconoclasts, communists, socialists, anarchists, radical union leaders, and pacifists who once could have given Ernest Logan Bell (a character in his book), as well as others in the working class, the words and ideas with which to battle back against the abuses of the corporate state. The repeated “anti-Red” purges of the twentieth-century United States, during and after both World Wars, and continuously from the 1950s until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, were carried out in the name of anticommunism, but in reality proved to be devastating blows to popular social movements. The old communists in the American labor movement spoke in the language of class struggle. They understood that Wall Street, along with corporations such as BP, is the enemy. They offered a broad social vision that allowed even the non-communist left to employ a vocabulary that made sense of the destructive impulses of capitalism. But once the Communist Party, along with other radical movements, was eradicated as a social and political force in the 1940s and 1950s, once the liberal class took government-imposed loyalty oaths and collaborated in the hunts for phantom communist agents, the country was robbed of the ability to make sense of the struggle with the corporate state. The liberal class became fearful, timid, and ineffectual. It lost its voice. It became part of the corporate structure it should have been dismantling. It created an ideological vacuum on the left and ceded the language of rebellion to the far right.”

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