Revolutions come in waves and cycles. We are again riding the crest of a revolutionary epic, much like 1848 or 1917, from the Arab Spring to movements against austerity in Greece to the Occupy movement. In Wages of Rebellion, Chris Hedges—who has chronicled the malaise and sickness of a society in terminal moral decline in his books Empire of Illusion and Death of the Liberal Class—investigates what social and psychological factors cause revolution, rebellion, and resistance. Drawing on an ambitious overview of prominent philosophers, historians, and literary figures he shows not only the harbingers of a coming crisis but also the nascent seeds of rebellion. Hedges' message is clear: popular uprisings in the United States and around the world are inevitable in the face of environmental destruction and wealth polarization.
Focusing on the stories of rebels from around the world and throughout history, Hedges investigates what it takes to be a rebel in modern times. Utilizing the work of Reinhold Niebuhr, Hedges describes the motivation that guides the actions of rebels as “sublime madness” — the state of passion that causes the rebel to engage in an unavailing fight against overwhelmingly powerful and oppressive forces. For Hedges, resistance is carried out not for its success, but as a moral imperative that affirms life. Those who rise up against the odds will be those endowed with this “sublime madness.”
From South African activists who dedicated their lives to ending apartheid, to contemporary anti-fracking protests in Alberta, Canada, to whistleblowers in pursuit of transparency, Wages of Rebellion shows the cost of a life committed to speaking the truth and demanding justice. Hedges has penned an indispensable guide to rebellion.
"I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists. And this is a fight that in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires that we follow those possessed by sublime madness, that we become stone catchers and find in acts of rebellion, the sparks of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies outside the possibility of success. We must grasp the harshness of reality at the same time as we refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us. People of all creeds and people of no creeds must make an absurd leap of faith to believe, despite all the empirical evidence around us, that the good draws to it the good. The fight for life goes somewhere--the Buddhists call it karma--and in these acts we make possible a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us."
I really can't add much more than that. This book was very hard to read at times, but ultimately uplifting. As much a people's history of rebellion as it is a rallying cry, I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in changing the world, and understanding what we're up against.
It's only February but I'd be shocked if I read a more worthwhile and powerful book all year. Hedges starts with the premise that revolutions occur when the point between people's expectations for their government and the actual reality of what they get instead reaches a tipping point. He then goes into detail on all of the areas where the U.S. is rapidly trending in the wrong direction. He concludes by going into detail on all of the ways governments that fear a revolt manage to maintain control. Those chapters in particular read like a nonfiction version of Jack London's dystopian classic, The Iron Heel. There is nothing pleasurable about reading this book and yet I know I won't read anything more worthwhile in a long time. Highest possible recommendation for anyone interested in real-life dystopians, sociology, and "the powers that be."
This might end up being one of the most influential books in my thinking for the entire year of 2015. Hedges lays it all bare in this manifesto on standing up against the status quo, no matter the cost. The book is about the social, political, economic, and personal costs of being a reformer and a dissenter. The book is hopefully realistic; no doctrine of inevitable social progress here. For Hedges, changing the world is besides the point - the point is to stand up to oppressive power wherever it is to be found, regardless of the consequences. He likens the reformer and the prophet to the Greek and Norse heroes of old, who faced overwhelming odds and no hope of survival and yet stood in the breach anyway, because it was the right thing to do. Important, vital reading for activists, reformers, visionaries, and prophets today looking to build democratic, non-violent movements of protest.
In this book Hedges essentially argues that US society is a corrupt oligarchy that will collapse under the weight of it's oppression of blacks and other minorities; it's misuse or ignorance of the courts; it's attacks on the free press; whose democratic structures are so corrupted as to be useless; and whose only hope is full scale revolution.
And this was what he thought of the Obama presidency!
He has a number of interesting interviews of various revolutionaries throughout the book (most currently serving time in US detention). However, not knowing more about the particulars of the cases he presents it's hard to know when he is too soft on people (his very favorable take on Assange, for instance, has dated badly now).
And despite all the talk of revolution he offers no clear vision to what might come next, which is a problem as any revolution is more likely than not to end in a much worse place than now.
However, throughout he makes many interesting points, and it's hard not too see this book as prophetic to the current state of US politics under Trump.
Chris Hedges has undertaken he daunting task of inspiring the lay reader to think progressively and to act decisively in the face of impending doom. Whether it be economic, ecological, or political, we are faced with resolving within ourselves if we have the moral courage to be revolutionary in our thinking and finally in our actions. Hedges cites great literary figures, the standouts for me were Melville and Thomas Paine. Both radical idealists that were castigated during their lifetimes and only recently celebrated due to the fact that they are safely tucked away in historical eras that seem superfluous compared to our modern predicaments. I can not help but think that no matter what actions we take as individuals or as mass movements, we are doomed, perhaps even faster if we act. The movie and graphic novels, Snowpiercer, come to mind. If we stop the train, "we all freeze and die" was the mantra. We are all aboard this mad train of rampant ecological damage and mindless consumerism but if we slow it down, we will set off far worse consequences, at least for the short term. There is no slowing or stopping the madness without bringing about an acceleration of global warming and a total collapse of the global economies. We will ride the train until the engine that drives it finally gives out. Only then, will the survivors muster the courage to be radical. In the present moment, revolution is a luxury we simply can't afford. Brilliant book by a brave man.
Not a particularly easy book to read (both in terms of the way that it's written and what it has to say), but a critically important book nonetheless. Hedges argues that America is living in "a revolutionary moment" that is being fuelled by frustrated expectations ("the gap between what people want, and indeed expect, and what they get"). He pinpoints the key ingredients in the recipe for revolution: "The revolutionary ideal, the vision of a better world, the belief that resistance is a moral act to protect the weak and the poor -- in short, an ideology -- fuses with the sense of loss and betrayal engendered by a system that can no longer meet expectations." He calls upon citizens to make brave and bold choices, including engaging in non-violent acts of civil disobedience, to help create a society that focuses on meeting the needs of all citizens as opposed to just a privileged few.
This book could have been good if it wasn't so hyperbolic. When you call POTUS a house slave, you lose me. I think the point is a good one--the pendulum has swung way too far away from the people. And perhaps books like this are necessary as radical calls on the left, but it's not careful so it loses some of its power. The prose is beautiful though and I love the weaving in of literature. It was just a tough read because I kept rolling my eyes at straight up exaggerations.
Wages of Rebellion is Chris Hedges's meditation on the contexts that surround resistance against power. Hedges's analysis is part genealogical, part historical, part original reporting, and part theological. He blends these methods of analysis to show the moral imperative of revolt, what precedes it, and what it looks like when it happens.
Ultimately, Hedges concludes that in order to survive, humanity must rebel against corporate capitalism and the militarized police/surveillance state. He acknowledges that such rebellion, although imperative on a collective level, is irrational on an individual level. Nevertheless he calls upon everyone to draw strength from what the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr calls "sublime madness" and to disrupt the systems of power everywhere.
Wages of Rebellion is an excellent read. It not only demonstrates the moral imperative of revolt, but also serves as a template for carving out meaning for oneself through acts of rebellion. It coheres well with Hedges's other works such as Empire of Illusion, Death of the Liberal Class, and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. I highly recommend this book.
Eugene B. Debs: "Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said it then as I said it now, that while there is a lower-class, I am in it. And while there is a criminal element, I am of it. And while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
I stumbled on this thinking it was more about literal 'wages' and labor strikes. Instead, it is about the way that rebels and revolutionaries have endured in spite of attacks from the state, the corporate oligarchy, and even left-leaning liberals. Hedges talks to and about revolutionaries who challenge power in radical ways, with subjects from Thomas Payne, Louis Auguste Blanqui, Bryan Stevenson, Edward Snowden, Jeremy Hammond, Václav Havel, Prison Watch, Eugene Debs, and others. This was published in 2015 so I'd have loved Hedges to include more from the 2014 Black Lives Matter protests and how that rebellion has taken a toll on some of its founders.
This book has some powerful ideas with quotes and stories that reiterate the need to challenge power aggressively by coming together to organize with solidarity and mutual aid at the forefront of movements.
"The rebel shows us that there is no hope for correction or reversal by appealing to power. The rebel makes it clear that it is only by overthrowing traditional systems of power that we can be liberated. The denunciation of the rebel is a matter of self-preservation for the liberal class."
"The idea that the very oppressed and poor are important as initiating and maintaining revolutions is a bourgeois one... No government has ever fallen before its attackers until it has lost control over its armed forces." -I believe this is a quote by Britton in the introduction
"Louis Auguste Blanqui dismissed the idea, central to Marx, that human history is a linear progression towards equality and greater morality. He warned that this absurd positivism is the lie perpetuated by oppressors...I am not amongst those that say progress can be taken for granted, that humanity cannot go backwards." -I should read more Blanqui!
"As a species, we're doomed by hope. Reality is dismissed when it is unpleasant." -Margaret Atwood
re the supreme court refusing to hear certain cases of government imprisoning based on "If we do not rapidly build militant, mass movements to overthrow corporate tyranny, including breaking the back of the two-party duopoly that is the mask of corporate power, we will lose what remains of our liberty."
It was only after Snowden leaked the documents that the conversation about the problems actually started. Others had tried working within the system, but it all failed and often led to the people trying to work within channels getting in trouble too.
Rebellion against oligarchal elite is percolating. Thousands of factory strikes have happened in China in 2011-2013 (Pepsi, Nike, Adidas).
Legal system is almost always on the state side... so Václav Havel says utter and complete transparency and rigid adherence to non-violence, including not damaging property.
Occupy activists argued for non-violence and no property damage so that masses are more likely to join in. Violent and property damaging tactics privilege those with privilege under the law. People of color more likely to be arrested for property damage than white people (we saw this play out in 2020 protests).
We call for accountability and transparency!
On Obama, "it exposes him for what he is: the ideological heir of Booker T. Washington, a black accommodationist, whose core message to black people was, in the words of W.E.B. DuBois, of adjustment and submission. Obama's message to the black underclass in the midst of the corporate rape of the nation is drawn verbatim from the Booker T. Washington playbook. He tells them to work harder (as if anyone in the country works harder than the working poor) to get an education, and to obey the law."
"40% of our babies are living in poverty, living without enough food, and Obama comes to us and says quit whining. He doesn't say that to the corporate elites!"
Prison Watch letters that describe how prisoners are being abused and sexually abused by prison workers as well as psychological torture like sensory and sleep deprivation and extended solitary confinement.
Eugene B. Debs: "Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said it then as I said it now, that while there is a lower-class, I am in it. And while there is a criminal element, I am of it. And while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." ********
"Thomas Payne is America's single great revolutionary theorist." -Go read Common Sense, Rights of Man, Age of Reason. Calle for Civil society to be separated from the state.
"Do you think we should rape people who rape? We don't rape rapists because we think about the people who would have to commit the rape... We can't imagine replicating a rape and holding onto our dignity, but because we think we've found a way to kill people that is civilized and decent, we are comfortable." Bryan Stevenson
Jeremy Hammond. Activist and hacker. Goal is to build leaderless collectives based on free association, consensus, mutual aid, self-sufficiency and harmony with the environment. "It's essential that we all work to cut our ties with capitalism and engage in resistance that includes mass organizing of protest."
"The rebel shows us that there is no hope for correction or reversal by appealing to power. The rebel makes it clear that it is only by overthrowing traditional systems of power that we can be liberated. The denunciation of the rebel is a matter of self-preservation for the liberal class."
I've read several books by Hedges, most notably "War Is A Force That Gives Meaning To Our Lives". He is an exceptional writer and he makes compelling cases with his arguments.
In "Wages of Rebellion", Hedges paints a bleak, dystopian picture not only of the current geopolitical climate, but of the future, in which climate changes and the failures of neoliberalism combine to paint frightening images of the future. Written before the election of Trump, Hedges observations of a disaffected white working class rallying in the face of dismal economic prospects to elect a dangerous populist demagogue like Trump are prescient.
Perhaps the most sage argument he makes in "Wages of Rebellion" is one that advocates taking control of one's own life: "To recover our mental balance we must respond to Trump the way victims of trauma respond to abuse. We must build communities where we can find understanding and solidarity. We must allow ourselves to mourn. We must name the psychosis that afflicts us. We must carry out acts of civil disobedience and steadfast defiance to re-empower others and ourselves. We must fend off the madness and engage in dialogues based on truth, literacy, empathy and reality. We must invest more time in activities such as finding solace in nature, or focusing on music, theater, literature, art and even worship—activities that hold the capacity for renewal and transcendence. This is the only way we will remain psychologically whole. Building an outer shell or attempting to hide will exacerbate our psychological distress and depression. We may not win, but we will have, if we create small, like-minded cells of defiance, the capacity not to go insane."
This is the second Chris Hedges book I've read. I looked back at my review of Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and find that, word-for-word, I could just substitute that review for this one. In the intervening six years between the books, Hedges has been thinking more about how to rise up against the injustices of the 'corporate state' that America (and most of the rest of the world) has become. This book could have been titled 'how to behave in a revolution'.
Things that will stay with me from this one: the history-blindness of Confederate supporters in the South; the shocking treatment of suspects with a dissenting worldview by the US legal system; the loneliness of the true rebel (Thomas Paine's difficult life after the American Revolution was one example Hedges used); the use of the prison system in the US to generate income for corporations and the widespread use of solitary confinement in US prisons (a practice identified as torture by the international community).
Hedges' books make me worry about living so close to the US: I foresee a day when there will be refugees arriving in Canada again, like they did during the time of the Underground Railroad.
I've had some mixed feelings about Chris Hedges for a while. Similar to Naomi Klein he says enough good that you assume he must get it. Every time you hear him he sounds a little more radical, pushing for more urgency, drastic changes, even "militancy." Unfortunately he's still kind of missing the mark. He really just sounds confused at this point, having spent so long buying into relatively mainstream liberal and progressive ideas and a strict adherence to non-violence, including respect for private property, but obviously starting to realize the flaws in that approach. This book basically combines pretty good rants against capitalism with sad anecdotes of some of its recent victims. The suggested solutions are left pretty obscure. He seems mainly to be promoting socialist policies as far as I can tell. I've heard him pushing for veganism elsewhere, which was kind of surprising to me that he would buy into that considering he has an endorsement on the cover of Deep Green Resistance and therefore should probably know better. Yet no mention of carbon sequestering grazing systems or permaculture food forests, reruralization or any of the other ideas that desperately need to reach a wider audience. Instead the last paragraph of the book starts with "I do not know if we can build a better society" and he ends his acknowledgements saying that he fears he hasn't done enough for his childrens future. So,yeah, he's right about the moral imperative of resistance but this is definitely not my favorite.
A powerful book. Maybe not as methodical as, say, a Noam Chomsky, but full marks for passion.
"No act of rebellion can be effective, much less moral, unless it first takes into account reality, no matter how bleak that reality. As our lives become increasingly fragile, we will have to make hard decisions about how to ensure our own survival and yet remain moral beings. We will be called to fight battles, some of which we will have no hope of winning, if only to keep alive the possibility of compassion and justice. We will depend on others to survive."
This book is an impassioned plea to the American public to revolt against the American Government and Corporate capitalism. Hedges declares America a Fascist state run by a puppet government controlled by Corporate capitalism instead of one dictator. His vision of our future is bleak. He even states he has no idea if we will make it. But Hedges declares we have a moral duty to civil disobedience and supports his case with well researched stories of historical rebellions/revolutions and their agitators and modern day rebels and current events. Hedges interviewed some of today's most controversial rebels such as Chelsey Manning and Weibo Ludwig. This book is passionate and pushes Hedges agenda. I didn't mind it even though I was expecting more stories about the rebels themselves, but they are evidence for his case, not the subject themselves. The whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking about the change of government in the States and what's happening to the civil liberties of the Water Protectors, The Occupy Movement, The Women's Marches and other resisters. The crazy seems accelerated and it makes this book a chilling read.
Book #42 for 2016 Read Harder Challenge Task: Read a book about politics, in your country or another OFB Summer Bingo Square: A book you heard about on the radio
I had been planning to review this after the election, but the more I think about it, the more important I feel it is to state my opinions before it's too late. Not that anybody really cares about my opinions on economics and politics, but still, there are big changes on the horizon, and I don't want to be one of those who stand silently by while the world goes completely to shit.
Because that's what is happening, I'm pretty sure of it. Hedges gets called "alarmist" and "hyperbolic" a lot, and I have tried to read this book through that lens, but I have to say that I think he is spot-on in his assessments as well as his clear disappointment in this nation's populace, with its ability to distract itself so easily from issues that really matter in a very real sense. He is absolutely right that revolution is not part of our intellectual history. It's something I have been struggling with in my research of the 18th and 19th centuries, so I was glad for him to articulate that so clearly for me, that we went straight from a monarchy to an an oligarchy and have been kidding ourselves ever since.
This book deals with the wage-slavery we are seeing as a result of the current corporatocracy, but it goes so much broader and deeper than that. We have now reached the point of no return on so many levels, and at the risk of sounding like an anarchist (which I am SO not), I contend that the United States of America is an idea that had its chance. It had its day in the sun, and now it is going to fall -- very noisily, very messily, and very painfully. And not just for us. We're taking a lot of innocent bystanders with us. Hedges wrote this before Trump's POTUS candidacy, but he predicted the demagogue's ascendancy perfectly. He anticipated the racial and environmental battles with eerie prescience. And he pointed out (not by name, of course) that it would take a Bernie Sanders to inspire us to revolution.
And then, everything started going to shit. We had our Bernie Sanders. And then, suddenly, we didn't. I try to convince myself that Bernie's popularity and his willingness to bring socialism to the table, that he's taking the fight back to Congress, that this all means that we aren't doomed as a nation. But I just don't know.
This book forced me to ask myself how much of a rebel I am. And I'm sad to report that the answer is "not very." Part of me would like to see this country dismantled so we can start from scratch. It's this mode of thinking, in fact, that got me Fs in Administrative Law in grad school two semesters in a row. But part of me is too complacent, too firmly ensconced in my white-privileged, middle-class existence to take those risks. That I worry about what would happen to the disenfranchised if we were to have a full-on revolution -- does that make me a thoughtful ally? Or does it make me a privileged asshole who's really good at justifying my cowardice?
I need to remind myself that Thomas Paine is evidently my historical soulmate. And I need to study him and his world. I need to dig deeper than the PC soundbites we got in school. I think that's one thing that this book got me good and pissed-off about: public school propaganda. (And any private school I could have attended would have been so much worse!) So much of the history recounted in this book was never even mentioned, and what was mentioned was presented as a) anomalous, and b) ancient history. There was no sense that we were still on the continuum that has stolen so much from so many.
But what can I do? I am not Thomas Paine. I am not running for political office (and wouldn't stand a chance of winning if I were). I don't even have money to put towards causes. But I am a writer. Genre stuff, to be sure, but who says it cannot be of literary and social merit? So I am signing on as one of the dreaded Social Justice Warriors.
This is a book that I highly recommend. It is definitely a book that must be read by all US Americans – activists and non-activists alike, and indeed by everyone. Rebellion, the way Chris Hedges presents it, should be a tool of resistance to be embraced by all because, as he starts out saying, “We live in a revolutionary moment.” I for one don’t want to be left out.
Chris Hedges uses the terms “rebellion” and “revolt” as a “moral imperative”, and gives many examples of “rebels” who have accepted this “sublime madness”, as he calls it. Those are very strong terms that many might find threatening, but the temptation to ignore them and not recognize them as part of our world reality today will certainly result in a doomed society. There is still time for redemption.
I consider rebels as eyes in the dark. They can see what others can’t or refuse to see. Martin Luther King, as Hedges tells us, dared to stare at the darkness of racism in the US. His eyes were shut by a bullet but he had already shone light on racism to the point of no return. However, another “rebel” interviewed by Hedges in his prison, Mumia Abu-Jamal, sees racism as persistent and manipulated: “The empire desperately needed a new face, a black face, to seduce the public. This is the role of Barak Obama. He is the black face of empire.”
Hedges gives more examples of rebels who decided to defy the whole system as in the cases of Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and others. What all these rebels have in common is that they have done so at risk of their own lives, which is the ultimate “sublime madness”. Is it a coincidence that many were either killed or imprisoned or forced to seek refuge in order to escape detention?
The book is inspiring for all those who value social justice and true democracy. It is a call to become involved for a better society.
I've somehow managed to ignore Chris Hedges to this point, so Wages was a revelation on multiple planes. Hedges references a wide and diverse bibliography in his argument that members of societies have a moral requirement--an imperative--to oppose repression, to progress towards greater openness, equality and democracy. I obviously agree.
Quite enjoyed these arguments in particular: - Lenin and Stalin betrayed the masses of their comrade revolutionaries by justifying the establishment of the ultimate right-wing autocratic nanny state rather than a democracy for what became the Soviet Union. - Obama was an accommodationist, preaching "Adjust and submit", "work harder", and "tough love". Just as Jesse Jackson was the head house negro on the Clinton Plantation, Sharpton was the head negro of the Obama Plantation. Obama was actually worse than Booker T. Washington at representing his "people". A false revolutionary, no better than Stalin. - Rebellion is the moral imperative for all who recognize injustice, but it takes a great toll on the individual. It requires a peculiar obstinacy, strong faith--for there is nothing rational about rebellion--and often a difficult personality, to wear out one's life for others--to constantly beat the water for another's net. - Moby Dick contains the genetic code of America--that of self-destructive fury. Like Ahab and his crew, we rationalize our collective madness and ridicule those that call for revolt. The system, although it is killing us, is our religion.
The book paints a bleak picture of the western world. Chris Hedges masterfully paints the the vanity of rich people who abuse the ones they have impoverished, the militarized police state that violently oppresses any dissent, imprisons whistleblowers, and demonizes those who oppose it; the corporate oligarchs who buy politicians, and shamelessly destroy the environment. All these vile things done under the "holy" guise of free market capitalism, all the while we are being told that there is no alternative.
But there is hope, and the hope lies first, and foremost with the revolutionaries, the people who unrelentingly question the status quo, no matter the consequences. And it is within all of us to take on the role of rebels in order to bring on change, we cannot, and must not simply wait for it.
I quite enjoyed these profiles of modern dissenters and rebels and Hedges has a knack for fiery writing that keeps my attention. It really puts the struggle in context and highlights useful tactics and concepts. I do think it was lacking in material action and advice, and at times offered contradictory viewpoints about violence and property destruction. I'm also annoyed by Hedges seemingly ignorant perspective on Black Bloc, which lacks much nuance. Overall, this was informative and sent me on plenty of searches to learn more about the figures and movements it describes.
Not a well organized book but one that's still easily enjoyed. A tendency to moralize has been Hedged trademark and he doesn't waver from it in his latest work. But beyond the moralizing, he easily makes his point -- rebellions occur due to wealth disparity and environmental decline but even more important decreased and unmet expectations. An enjoyable read sometimes just to see what name he will drop next.
Very one sided, I missed a good clear argumentation based on facts rather than assumptions. The author do not challenge his own way of thinking. It is an ode to revolutionaries and not a scientific search for truth and better understanding of the world.
I’ve heard of Chris Hedges a lot on the left, but this is the first thing I’ve read by him. Reminded me of Noam Chomsky, in that it’s well-written and makes solid points, but for whatever reason isn’t as persuasive or compelling to me as similar writing by other writers.