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.