Friday, December 24, 2010

Chris Hedges, Marx and Climate Change

Okay, the day before Christmas is probably not the ideal time to be writing an important blog, I shouldn’t have announced it, but since I did, I’m posting it.

In The Death of the Liberal Class Chris Hedges faults the liberals,  i.e, the Democrats, for not resisting the siren calls of access to power or the seductions of the media.  He believes, as do I, that failure to respond to popular discontent will result in a right-wing revolt, as it did in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

“That this revolt will be funded, organized and manipulated by the corporate forces that caused the collapse is one of the tragic ironies of  history.  But the blame lies with the liberal class. Liberals, by standing for nothing, made possible the rise of inverted and perhaps soon classical totalitarianism.”

According to Sheldon Wolin, whom Hedges quotes, “inverted totalitarianism differs from classical forms of totalitarianism, which revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader.  It finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state....The corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism (neither replace decaying structures with new revolutionary structures (nor) offer a radical alternative. Corporate power purports to honor electoral politics, freedom and the Constitution, but (it) so corrupts and manipulates power as to make democracy impossible.”

Climate change is inseparable from inverted totalitarianism.  According to Hedges, the failure of the liberal class that it ‘sought consensus and was obedient when it should have fought back.  (It)continues to trumpet a childish faith in human progress.....the naive belief that technology will save us from ourselves.” The liberal class assumed that by working with corporate power, it could mitigate the worst excesses of capitalism and environmental degradation. It did not grasp, perhaps because liberals to not read enough Marx, the revolutionary and self-destructive nature of unfettered capitalism.”

I commend Hedges for using the M word without being openly or insidiously derogatory. Due to the extraordinary staying power of McCarthyism, Marx’s insights about capitalism and imperialism - however badly Soviet-style regimes turned out  - have been unable to penetrate the minds of well-meaning intellectuals.

Another thing I am grateful to Hedges for, is his recognition that Americans see themselves as a good people, and do not understand why the rest of the world sees us, at best, as dangerous. “American society, although it continues to use the traditional and sentimental iconography and language to describe itself....bears no resemblance to its self-image.  Corporate forces, whether in Copenhagen or the U.S. Congress, ignore the needs and desires of citizens” - not to mention those of the rest of the world.

Recognizing that corporate interests will not be defeated through elections,  Hedges offers several grim alternatives.  As the author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning , he comes out squarely against those in the anarchist movement who argue for violence. While admitting that there are times when humans are forced to respond to repression with violence, he warns that “when you ingest the poison of violence, even in a just cause, it corrupts, deforms and perverts you.”

Personally I have long been convinced that Obama was allowed to enter the White House in a tacit agreement with the Clinton Democrats that he not upset the apple cart.  According to Hedges: “The election of Obama was one more triumph of illusion over substance.  It was a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by a corporate power elite.  We mistook style and ethnicity - an advertising tactic pioneered by Clavin Klein and Benetton - for progressive politics and genuine change.  The goal of a branded Obama...was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience.”

One of the most interesting comments in this work full of illumi-nating passages, is that “our passivity is due in part to our inability to confront the awful fact of extinction, our own inevitable mortality or that of the human species....We prefer illusion.” Predic-ting a global collapse Hedges believes that the only way to survive it will be by building small largely self-sufficient, self-contained com-munities with access to sustainable agriculture. But he warns: “As climate change advances, we will face a choice between obeying....the corporations and rebellion.” Civil disobedience and the systematic breaking of laws will be the new radicalism.

Finally, Hedges espouses another idea I have expressed in A Taoist Politics: Moral acts should be carried out not because they are effective, but because they are right, and I thank him for providing me with the hefty rationales of the Catholic Workers Movement for that principle.

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