I read Chris Hedges’ book The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, many years ago, and I was impressed by his strong statements and his searing condemnation of the educated class to which we belong, and how we lost the people by the cynically serving them spectacle, and how that spectacle would eventually become indistinguishable, to them, from reality.
In his trademark manner he articulated and clarified many things that had been vague, unformed ideas I’d entertained, writing of a future characterized by a widening gulf between the literate and the illiterate, complexity no longer understandable by the masses. His writing was hyperbolic, dire, doomsday. It seemed like an apocalyptic screed and much too dark. No more. His prognostications have been realized, the day he warned of has arrived.
Chris Hedges writes again, with many more now hopefully listening, that neoliberal kowtowing to corporate masters destroyed the underclass and opened the doors for fascism. He writes in an August 2016 article:
College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—succeeded for decades.
On behalf of corporations indeed. He excoriates the press too, in this interview with my former boss David Talbot, dismissing most journalists as stenographers for the powerful.
There are tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-class whites, rightfully enraged at what has been done to them, their families and their communities. They have risen up to reject the neoliberal policies and political correctness imposed on them by college-educated elites from both political parties: Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism.
These Americans want a kind of freedom—a freedom to hate. They want the freedom to use words like “nigger,” “kike,” “spic,” “chink,” “raghead” and “fag.” They want the freedom to idealize violence and the gun culture. They want the freedom to have enemies, to physically assault Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, homosexuals and anyone who dares criticize their cryptofascism. They want the freedom to celebrate historical movements and figures that the college-educated elites condemn, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy. They want the freedom to ridicule and dismiss intellectuals, ideas, science and culture. They want the freedom to silence those who have been telling them how to behave. And they want the freedom to revel in hypermasculinity, racism, sexism and white patriarchy. These are the core sentiments of fascism. These sentiments are engendered by the collapse of the liberal state.
The freedom to hate has arrived and we can see it in the streets, in stores, in classrooms today, unleashed by the election of Trump. All over the internet you can find innumerable examples of rising fascism such as this, which happened yesterday in Queens:
Hedges quotes Richard Rorty, an old favorite of mine, whom I encountered because of his chapter “The Barber of Kasbeam”about cruelty in the work of Vladimir Nabokov in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity particularly “the potential of cruelty inherent in the quest for autonomy”. Rorty writes in his 1998 book Achieving Our Country a prediction of our current state of affairs:
One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
But we can go even farther back than 1998 for this prediction. Plato, in his Republic, warns that democracy is the very birthplace of tyranny. “Too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery, for both private man and city.” The Third Reich rose out of an era of great liberality and decadence, particularly in the cities, among the elite, a society of great freedom for women, gays, and Jews. At the time there was what people were calling a “überfremdung”–an “overpowering”–a great influx of foreigners into Germany.
There is a section, if you can bear to read it, on page 789 of your Bollingen edition of Plato, and continuing onto page 790 that describes a former oligarch, become a democrat, now shameless and resplendent in his freedom, sharing “equality” all around. See if you don’t recognize us in it:
“And does he not,” said, I, “also live out his life in this fashion, day by day indulging the appetite of the day, now winebibbing and abandoning himself to the lascivious pleasing of the flute and again drinking only water and dieting, and at one time exercising his body, and sometimes idling and neglecting all things, and at another time seeming to occupy himself with philosophy. And frequently he goes in for politics and bounces up and says and does whatever enters his head. And if military men excite his emulation, thither he rushes, and in his existence, but he calls this life of his the life of pleasure and freedom and happiness an cleaves to it to the end.”
“That is a perfect description,” he said, “of a devotee of equality.”
It is not reminiscent of the now classic description of the liberal elite as “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving”? And, too, this “devotee of equality” is not unlike Hedges’ description of liberals lavish in their inclusion, but excluding one group in particular:
These elites, many from East Coast Ivy League schools, spoke the language of values—civility, inclusivity, a condemnation of overt racism and bigotry, a concern for the middle class—while thrusting a knife into the back of the underclass for their corporate masters. This game has ended.
This game has ended indeed, and not how we thought it would. We’re paying attention now. These have been bad days, and after my sorrow and shock, I begin working on a plan.
I seek relief in poetry, Plato and the care and feeding of children and small dogs.