I can’t even call this a review because it isn’t really. If you want to know whether or not I liked the book, I did, plain and simple. I liked it because it made me think and it made me sad.
Basically, here’s Hedge’s premise. In order for a modern republic to function it needs to have a healthy, vibrant liberal class. Hedges never defines liberal class, but based on context the liberal class is a group of idealistic, altruistic, energetic intellectuals who strongly and passionately believe in progress, liberty, and, as my Euro teacher would put it, making sure everyone is well off enough to have a stake in society and the possibility of getting a steak in general. Think Eugene V. Debs. Dorothy Day. Steinbeck works too.
We need this liberal class to act as a check for the rest of the political spectrum. It forces those that are considered too radical, those who don’t want reform, they want to restart, out. It keeps the power elite on their toes.
To me, that make sense. Because, well, excuse me, my history nerd is about to show, it holds true for what’s happened in America. The vibrant liberal class at the turn of the century. Communists never got a firm foothold in the country. Anarchists were not to be taken seriously. The groups existed, but they were largely checked. They had no real power. Elite power got checked too. Trusts got busted, some by Teddy, others by Woody. We introduced moderate reforms: the 8 hour workday, minimum wage, public schooling. Frank L. Baum wrote the Wizard of Oz, we had a healthy debate over annexing the Philippines, and life was good.
A healthy liberal class is good for a country; so are enthusiastic bunches of conservatives, boat loads of religious groups, war hawks, pacifists, snobs, and rednecks. Allowing different ideas leads to pluralism, and pluralism makes for good democracy. Ask Madison about it.
Hedges argues that America’s liberal class has stopped functioning. It sold its soul. Would-be members gave up hard-won ideals for positions in the liberal elite. Or they were born into it, and never fully understood the ideals to begin with. Oddly enough, the best citation of the problem comes from another author, Lawrence Lipton, writing on the Beatniks in The Holy Barbarians.
“One amateur I know found herself confronted one day with an ideological, if not a moral, problem. The supermarket where she sometimes shoplifted a quarter of a pound of butter- more as social protest when butter prices took a sudden jump than from any actual necessity- was being picketed by strikers. Out of sympathy with the striking union she went across the street to the little independent grocer and did her shoplifting there till the strike was over (155).”
Don’t worry though, Hedges gives plenty of examples, ranging from the eccentricities of the modern art world to the Clintons. He traces how it happened, starting with George Creel’s replacement of press with propaganda in WWI, hitting those lovely Beatniks, and ending with today’s corporatocracy.
Hedges is disgusted with modern liberals, and quite honestly, I don’t blame him. It’s a fantastic book (okay, this is more like a review than I thought….). But, here’s the thing. Hedges predicts there is no going back. The liberal class has died; no amount of CPR can fix this mess. He predicts doom and destruction. Unfettered corporate pillaging, across the world. An imperative need to create small, isolated, sustainable communities. The need to preserve culture. An neverending vat of world-suck. A plunge into a new dark age.
Guys, I need some hope. Some awesomeness, something good. Something to make me look forward to the world’s future and not cringe.
PS- I post here too: savethelastbook.blogspot.com and I'd love some interesting nerdfighters to follow on Twitter. @ostergaard_shel