The Phantom Left by Chris Hedges

by Chris Hedges
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
November 1, 2010

The American left is a phantom. It is conjured up by the right wing to tag Barack Obama as a socialist and used by the liberal class to justify its complacency and lethargy. It diverts attention from corporate power. It perpetuates the myth of a democratic system that is influenced by the votes of citizens, political platforms and the work of legislators. It keeps the world neatly divided into a left and a right. The phantom left functions as a convenient scapegoat. The right wing blames it for moral degeneration and fiscal chaos. The liberal class uses it to call for “moderation.” And while we waste our time talking nonsense, the engines of corporate power—masked, ruthless and unexamined—happily devour the state.

The loss of a radical left in American politics has been catastrophic. The left once harbored militant anarchist and communist labor unions, an independent, alternative press, social movements and politicians not tethered to corporate benefactors. But its disappearance, the result of long witch hunts for communists, post-industrialization and the silencing of those who did not sign on for the utopian vision of globalization, means that there is no counterforce to halt our slide into corporate neofeudalism. This harsh reality, however, is not palatable. So the corporations that control mass communications conjure up the phantom of a left. They blame the phantom for our debacle. And they get us to speak in absurdities.


via Truthdig

Copyright © 2010 Truthdig

Chris Hedges spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He has written nine books, including Death of the Liberal Class, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009) and War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003).

From the archives:

A Recipe For Fascism by Chris Hedges

Ralph Nader: Corporate socialism controls American government

Anti-communism 101: Hijacking history by William Blum

Excerpt from Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges

The Insane Prelude to the Corporate Takeover of the Planet By Siv O’Neall

Chris Hedges: The Liberal Class + Death of the Liberal Class? (interview/debate)

The World Liberal Opportunists Made by Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges: Death of the Liberal Class

Chris Hedges: Death of the Liberal Class Q&A

Death of the Liberal Class on Dandelion Salad

73 thoughts on “The Phantom Left by Chris Hedges

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  6. Very interesting article. I’ve gotten tired of the liberal maxim that the “truth is in the middle” a long time ago. I’ve bookmarked this blog.

  7. Comedy that desperately wants to stay out trouble is just a spectacle of foolishness the audience empathizes with. But it’s not genuinely funny, it doesn’t strike home- and that was the point of the rally: to very much not find a point, because if Liberal America found a point it would be dangerous. And Liberal America is not into being even slightly dangerous.

  8. ‎”Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press. It stops at sensational formulas.” -Solzhenitsyn 1978

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  10. i would recommend a book that the late micheal harrington wrote called ”the next left”. he was the head of the democratic socialist party . very inciteful work . maybe a bit dated now .

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  12. Mr Hedge’s overarching point about the importance of real Left is certainly valid but we need to nip the other silly meme in the bud – Stewart was not decrying what he believes are actually existing extremist positions between which he and his fans stand as a moderate centrist alternative. “Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own?” is a restating of what he perceives as false caricatures of the opposing “sides” of the US political spectrum as they are portrayed in the media. Leftists (which in American parlance includes that large hunk of the Right called liberals) are not “Marxists actively subverting our Constitution” and Rightists are not “racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own” so why can’t we (you Americans) all get along? This message may be naive and may cheerfully dodge the uncomfortable possibility that at least half of this caricature is accurate, but it shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that Stewart really believes there are Marxists subverting the constitution just because some of us see some truth in claiming “Rightists” are often homophobes and racists.

    • Oh, so you think he was quoting hyperbole from the press when he said “Marxists actively subverting our Constitution”. I would love to think this interpretation is correct…and yet…I did not “hear” the air quotes in his tone of voice, which would have communicated that he thought the idea of there being constitution-shredding marxists lurking around every corner is ridiculous. I think some network higher-ups vetted his speech and insisted on tha Marxist line — and there was one other reference to socialism somewhere, I believe. I’m sure memos went back and forth and back and forth on these point…

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  14. It’s been bothering me for a long time. I realized a few years ago, when I was still an ardent fan of the Colbert Report, that he was making me laugh at things which in reality were not funny at all. Then I read the Society of the Spectacle. I’m glad you referenced Debord in your article as his theories played a large role in my realizing that Stewart and Colbert, far from instigating political change or even awareness, serve the task of making the unacceptable entertaining. Having said that I still think Colbert’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner was really funny.

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  16. Shorter Hedges: “A spectre is haunting [the GOP].”

    But it is *only* a spectre. A ghost of something that has been rotting in the grave for decades.

  17. The Situationists? Guy Debord? That’s who you’re using to try to understand what’s going on? In my opinion, that’s very misguided.
    Why not Keynes, Russell et al.? Much more profound, and original thinkers than Debord.
    And you have a link to Norman Finkelstein? A hater of Israel?
    Here are some of the problems with the left:

    1). Post-modernism
    2), Identity politics
    3). Ecology(Green movement)
    4). anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism

    Until these are changed you’re right, the Left will be nothing more than a phantom, and probably not even that.

    • See:

      Hardly a hater of Israel, but perhaps a person who hates war crimes and human rights violations.

      Anti-Zionism does not equal Anti-Semitism, as Finkelstein and others, including myself are Jewish. Not I don’t hate myself either, can’t use that one on me and most other Jews who have the courage to speak out against the crimes of the Israeli govt and military.

      • Interesting that no one commented on the other items on the list.
        My point about anti-Zionism being equal(mostly) to anti-Semitism is the unfairness and the vitriolic hatred of the Jews expressed in most criticisms of Israel. The comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany to take one of the worst examples, is a terrible slander that one sees routinely. Also the lack of any criticism of anyone else that the United States supports. The “anti-Zionists” who call for academic boycotts of Israeli Universities do not call for boycotts of Egyptian or Saudi Arabian universities, two countries that have much worse human rights records than Israel. Where are the “anti-Zionists” in regard to Columbia and the role of the US in that civil war? Why no demonstrations, boycotts, divestment movements? No, it’s only Israel that is the focus of anger. The point is why?
        Onto climate change, if one of the goals of the Green movement is to reduce everyone’s “carbon footprint”, then what argument can a “Leftist” or trade unionist make against wage cuts and austerity? Any improvement in the material conditions of people’s lives increases their “carbon footprint”, so if the “Left” embraces the ecology movement, this involves the “Left” in a fundamental contradiction, doesn’t it?
        Anyway, as you can see it’s hopeless.

        Rock on,
        Wallace Stevens

        • And you have a link on this page to Holocaust denier Ahmadinejad? And you’re seriously telling me that there’s not a terrible problem of Jew hatred on the so-called Left?

        • Wallace, that is just propaganda. He never did say that he denied the Holocaust. That would be quite stupid if he had, and he’s not a stupid man. I suggest clicking on that link and reading the transcript of his latest speech.

          I don’t fear the Left, I fear some of the Right and its Anti-Semitism, it’s rampant. It’s best not to overgeneralize, though. The Left isn’t even remotely in power in the US. The current Democratic Party is at best Center-Right, imo.

          The BDS movement against Israel has Left and Right support, it isn’t just the Left. There are many people on the Right that are against the war crimes of the state of Israel.

          And again I’ll say, war crimes and human rights violations should be exposed and condemned. That doesn’t mean that “we” side with any other govt, for example Hamas. It’s a people-issue. The Palestinian people do not deserve the treatment (to put it mildly) that they receive from the govt of Israel. Also, I’m not talking about the people of Israel, but their leaders. Many Israeli Jews do in fact speak out against their govt and its policies against the Palestinian people.

        • Wallace, it’s never hopeless. What kind of world would it be if everyone was hopeless?

          The Left does its share on speaking out against many different issues. But remember the Left is not in power in the US.

          The Left does support reducing carbon emissions and is against austerity measures against the working peoples of the world. We need to support research into renewable energy sources. Big Oil corporations have made this difficult. That’s a huge topic to discuss in a comment box though.

          Lots of info here:

          I don’t think climate change is a Left-Right issue, it’s a world issue as it will effect us all and is already effecting us.

    • You’re certainly correct about the anti-semitism disguised as anti-zionism. It’s truly disgusting and abhorrent, and makes an utter mockery of everything any real progressive would ever stand for. Until this major mistake is corrected and progressives make it very clear that they strongly support Israel’s defense of human rights then no decent person can have anything to do with them. Hamas is an ultra-right wing, ultra-violent group that is opposed to human rights, civil rights, rights for gays, women and everyone else, against the UN, against the rule of law, against democracy, against everything that is progressive. There simply is no excuse, no matter what Israel does, to support them in any way. Those who do are right-wingers, not progressives. It’s more than time that real progressives stood up to these bigots and bullies.

    • It seems incredibly naive to me that you think anti-Zionism is a disguise for anti-Semitism. Isn’t it obvious that the Israeli government can insulate itself from all criticism in this manner? How can I criticize a government if anything negative I say about it is called anti-Semitic? It points to the very theory you claim is ‘misguiding’ in that what you are accusing anti-Zionism of “diverts anger toward phantoms and away from the perpetrators of exploitation and injustice.” as explained in the above article. In other words: away from Israeli war crimes and towards anti-Semitism.

      • Thank you, James, very well stated.

        The more the govt/military of Israel commits war crimes and human rights violations, the more I fear Anti-Semitism for myself and my family. Anti-Semitism does exist and I see it all over the Internet daily, it is scary. But Jews and others must speak out against the crimes being perpetuated by this govt.

        Speaking out against these crimes does not make one favorable to Hamas, either. That excuse is getting old.

  18. You know what insistent bleating that there were no discernible differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties got you? 8 years of Bush.

    There ARE substantive differences between the two parties, the polarization of political discourse isn’t just imagined. Defeatism about the paucity and corruption of the American ‘Left’ plays puts people like Jonah Goldberg in a job, and frankly, as a progressive I’m absolutely glad that the political scapegoats which rear their head come election season on the left are the likes of Bill Ayers and others consigned to the scrapheap of history. That this militant strain of intransigent, reflexive leftists are nothing but historical anecdotes is absolutely a good thing for this country.

    You know what, I’m so glad that there aren’t current political figures on the left that are remotely (and objectively) worth of reviled passions as Terry Jones, Joe Arpaio and Rick Santorum, and it’s a damn shame that articles like these are getting lauded for perpetuating the self-victimised strain of “Election buying!” and “Corporate Overlords!” that will be the death of this country.

    • This is EXACTLY what is going on.

      There is a concerted effort on the part of the wealthy elite to discredit and castrate the left that has manifestly succeeded.

      If anything the response needs to be cranked UP several notches, that is Chris’s point.

  19. The wisest political and social commentary I have read in a long time. But there is one element not considered, and he dwells in the White House. I think the people who voted for Obama – I was one – thought he would lead (sic) a movement back toward a decent, communal, morally responsible society and away from the corporatism that set in with Reagan. That he would link up those who have less with those who have nothing. He has not, or the people around him have seen to it that he has not, and his voters are stunned. Stunned into a polite, ineffectual diffidence. The fight has gone out of many. Others – the NY Times, for example- are scrambling to get aboard the new bandwagon.

    • I’m sorry that you feel let down by President Obama, however, it is not a surprise to those of us who followed his campaign, watched all of his “debates”, etc.

      From Ralph Nader (2008):

      “This is the biggest political con job in the last century, the Barack Obama victory.”

    • That is the worst effect of Obama, the fight has gone out of many, myself included. I think it is now way past the point where voting makes any difference, certainly not with these two jokester parties.

      The left needs to completely regroup, establish it’s platform and agenda and actively promote this through a grassroots movement, with serious rallies and effectively organised protests.

      This would take-off like wildfire once there is enough of a clearly elucidated agenda established and platform to fight for, people will join in, donate and work for this, and, I dare say, this would encompass a reasonable majority of people in U.S.

      But it needs a spark and leadership.

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  21. Thank you Chris Hedges for caring enough about our nation to continually do the heavy lifting for all of us. You are not alone, although I suspect it must feel that way much of the time.
    I think of the Progressive Movement from the last century as a model.

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      • Thank YOU for writing such an incisive and astute piece, exactly what I have been thinking and trying to say, but you said it far more articulately than I.
        I was glad to post it at HP, as there is far too much sugary, cloudy thinking going on over there.

        • All thanks go to the writer, Chris Hedges, who so nicely allows me to repost his work here.

          I don’t care much for the Huffington Post, too much other stuff to have to sort out in order to find a decent article.

        • Yes, sorry for my misunderstanding, that reply was meant for Chris Hedges, although thank YOU for posting great articles. And yes, HP is a bit of a celeb fest with a few good writers/articles buried within it. Cheers!

  23. One of Hedges best pieces ever … the logic and deductions complete, the descriptives profound and the analogies exacting …

    Join the Green Party … for after the crash the left will need a political infrastructure or surely fascism does prevail …

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  25. This is a very perceptive article. There is no “left” organization with a vision/ideology that can effect multinational corporations and the capitalist class. Thus we endure each new disaster that capitalism brings without any ability to stop or change it. Thus we watch while a million Iraqi’s are slaughter and just occasionally utter a curse word.

    The only solution that I can see is the building of a real socialist/communist political party, but that would take commitment and sacrifice and we are too busy trying just to survive day to day to do that.

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