Brief Review of Death of the Liberal Class

Have you read Chris Hedges’ book Death of the Liberal Class, (2010)? It is a smooth compendium of the main ideas one might abstract from the last three years of CounterPunch articles, and from similar “left wing” channels on the internet.

Hedges is writing about, and scolding, a class he is a member of; his moral outrage is probably systematized in his own mind by a conceptual framework learned earlier in the Christian ministry (he is the son of a preacher and went to divinity school, similar to MLK, Jr.), and his smooth populist style of presentation (topical, not overly deep, like Rev. Bill Moyers) was honed in his career as a journalist (war correspondent).

My wife recommended the book, which she got from our public library (it’s pricey). Hedges has put the basics of the leftist (socialist/environmentalist) message into an easily digestible form of modest proportion. The good of this is that it should have wider appeal.

I have no strong criticisms of Hedges’ book since I can see my version of his same thoughts throughout most (but not all) of it. One might criticize the fact that Hedges does not conclude with any practical action a motivated reader could take to change the national politics described. Hedges is presenting “the vision thing” to a wide audience; he may urge us to revolt, but this is purely rhetorical (and, in fact, leads into a discussion of revolt as attitude, taken from Camus, which I, myself, have done in my writing).

For regular (and friendly) readers of CounterPunch (CP), there would be no new lessons in political theory or political philosophy in Hedges’ book, though one might certainly pick up any number of interesting tidbits and connections — Hedges is a highly educated, well connected, and experienced observer; also, imbued leftists would not gain any tactical practicalities from Hedges. But, such leftists might enjoy, or find it interesting, to read a sincere and yet breezy longish essay (not a big book) that reflects their sentiments, and ‘mainstreams’ their overall point of view.

Hedges concludes his book with a good deal of pessimism, seeing the dawning (or even later on the first day) of an anticipated dark age in American life. I agree that skepticism toward the idea of progress is appropriate, given the evidence of recent history, but I also think it a mistake to believe we are necessarily doomed (or alternatively, destined to be “saved”) by some form of historical determinism: people could think and act differently, as a unified society, to change the present trends and to aim at different political economies. How to activate that “could” throughout American society is the nub of the leftist problem.

Hedges describes why he is led to his concluding pessimism, so the book’s ending can be a useful point of departure for other analysts and critics. Why or why not to worry; and what to do and how, are open to discussion. And this is true of nearly everything written as political criticism from the left.

I thought of writing a thorough review of Death of the Liberal Class, but I can’t convince myself CP-type readers would really care about such a review, since for them the book could only be at most a reflection of their own thinking (with no theory lesson, no practical recipes), though nicely expressed. (Actually, the thought that whatever I might write would likely be pointless as advocacy, has becalmed that activity: we are living in times of faith and omniscience.)

I suspect a large part of Hedges’ pessimism comes from his self-realized redundancy, and this is something I can understand. Hedges knows himself to be a liberal (like a European “social democrat”, I would think) whose capabilities, education, and advantageous circumstances have granted a comfortable life by the publication of his thoughts, and elevated him beyond the working classes. But he and his peers of similar type in elite social circles (note the people he interviews, among them Chomsky, Finkelstein and Nader) are totally ignored by both the working classes (“consumers”, the widest public) and the political management class, in the crafting of national policies. To most Americans, Hedges and his ilk are boutique, marginal froo-froo. Hedges and those who think like him are drowning in a rising tide of indifference to the decay of civic virtue.

Death of the Liberal Class is a lament with recriminations, written as one man’s extended political epitaph of his own social function.

Manuel Garcia, Jr. is an occasional writer who is always independent. His e-mail address is: Read other articles by Manuel, or visit Manuel's website.