Before I get into this piece that Chris Hedges does on the the trashing of Cornell West by the so called Liberal Establishment, I feel some back story needs to be made a bit clearer. This country had a fair strong leftist and socialist movement prior to WWII. However with the beginning of the cold war, McCarthyism and the anti-communist sentiment and witch hunts – this pretty much got decimated. In fact if you even thought about being anymore than slightly left of center politically and somebody found out, your entire carrier could very well be toast. This was especially true for those in the professions and college educated fields. And socialism ? Forgetaboutit.
So when Hedges takes the Liberals to task like he does here, you have to keep this in mind as it really has not changed much.
The capitulation of the liberal class to corporate capitalism, as Irving Howe once noted, has “bleached out all political tendencies.” The liberal class has become, Howe wrote, “a loose shelter, a poncho rather than a program; to call oneself a liberal one doesn’t really have to believe in anything.” The decision to subordinate ethics to political expediency has led liberals to steadily surrender their moral autonomy, voice and beliefs to the dictates of the corporate state. As Dwight Macdonald wrote in “The Root Is Man,” those who do not make human beings the center of their concern soon lose the capacity to make any ethical choices, for they willingly sacrifice others in the name of the politically expedient and practical.
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 activism. The state, now the repository of the hopes and dreams of the liberal class, should always have been seen as the enemy. The destruction of the old radical and militant movements—the communists, socialists and anarchists—has left liberals without a source of new ideas. The link between an effective liberal class and a more radical left was always essential to the health of the former. The liberal class, by allowing radical movements to be dismembered through Red baiting and by banishing those within its ranks who had moral autonomy, gradually deformed basic liberal tenets to support unfettered capitalism, the national security state, globalization and permanent war. Liberalism, cut off from the radical roots of creative and bold thought, merged completely with the corporate power elite. The liberal class at once was betrayed and betrayed itself. And it now functions like a commercial brand, giving a different flavor, face or spin to the ruthless mechanisms of corporate power. This, indeed, is the primary function of Barack Obama.
And there is a reason for this. There is an Upton Sinclair quote that goes, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Which is as true today as it was when he made it. And for this very reason the Liberal Establishment in this country since WWII has not been all the liberal. These days they are even more entrenched with their 401Ks and other investments. Risking their law practice or medical practice or university professorships by coming out strongly for progressive agendas is simply not in the cards.
The liberal class, despite becoming an object of widespread public scorn, prefers the choreographed charade. It will decry the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or call for universal health care, but continue to defend and support a Democratic Party that has no intention of disrupting the corporate machine. As long as the charade is played, the liberal class can hold itself up as the conscience of the nation without having to act. It can maintain its privileged economic status. It can continue to live in an imaginary world where democratic reform and responsible government exist. It can pretend it has a voice and influence in the corridors of power. But the uselessness and irrelevancy of the liberal class are not lost on the tens of millions of Americans who suffer the indignities of the corporate state. And this is why liberals are rightly despised by the working class and the poor.
Indeed. The Liberal Establishment were never all that comfortable with the civil rights movement – mostly championed by the young – and some were even more hawkish on the Vietnam War than many conservatives.
The pillars of the liberal establishment—the press, the church, culture, the university, labor and the Democratic Party—all honor an unwritten quid pro quo with corporations and the power elite, as well as our masters of war, on whom they depend for money, access and positions of influence. Those who expose this moral cowardice and collaboration with corporate power are always ruthlessly thrust aside.
So is it any wonder that after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, these same people began championing Globalization and the so called War on Terror, all of which continue their economic status quo and their continued financial success ?
Leo Tolstoy wrote that there were three characteristics of all forms of prophecy: “First, it is entirely opposed to the general ideas of the people in the midst of whom it is uttered; second, all who hear it feel its truth; and thirdly, above all, it urges men to realize what it foretells.” Prophets put forward during their day ideas that the mass of people, including the elite, denounce as impractical and yet at the same time sense to be true. This is what invokes the rage against the prophet. He or she states the obvious in a society where the obvious is seditious. Prophecy is feared because of the consequences of the truth. To accept that Obama is, as West said, a mascot for Wall Street means having to challenge some frightening monoliths of power and give up the comfortable illusion that the Democratic Party or liberal institutions can be instruments for genuine reform.
Reform that may shake up the life styles of this Liberal Establishment. Heaven forbid.