Hedges argues that there is a power elite that controls the corporations, which completely control the economy, government and media. The power elite has instituted a permanent war economy that will shortly lead to financial and ecological catastrophe. This process began with the government’s use of propaganda to suppress opposition to World War I. Political liberals might have stopped the ascension of the power elite if they had stayed true to principles of peace and justice.
But the “liberal class” no longer speaks truth to power. Liberals in government, academia and the media may call for reform, but they are powerless to change anything, having been bought off by their corporate masters. There is nothing for reasonable people to do but retreat into small self-sustaining communities (similar to the monasteries of the Dark Ages) and/or perform acts of rebellion that are likely to have little effect on the status quo.
Given the thesis of this book, it hardly seems worth pointing out that it is repetitious and strangely organized, with sections that aren’t always related to the chapter headings. It also focuses almost completely on the United States, except for one brief section on working conditions in China. Hedges may be right that we are heading for catastrophe as a nation and a planet, but those are different propositions. His principal argument concerns the failure of political liberals to stop the corporate takeover of the United States. He seems to think that global climate change might have been avoided if corporations had less power in the United States, but that doesn’t follow.
Death of the Liberal Class is written with such force, that it is surprising to read on the dust jacket that the author is a columnist for a political website, writes for numerous publications (including Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, Granta and Mother Jones), and lives in Princeton. This makes him sound, accurately or not, like a member of the liberal class that he excoriates with such passion in this book. (12/20/10)