“The Death of the Liberal Class” is a sad book. Not that we require all books to have pleasant subjects. There are plenty of unhappy things that need to be said. This book is sad for another reason; it is sad that it came to be written at all.
Chris Hodges is a radical. He is a vociferous critic of what is wrong with America and the human race, and many of his ideas strike a receptive chord in a lot of people who don’t go quite as far as he does, but still appreciate his thoughts. For the most part, those people make up the liberal class.
As he explains in his book, the usual process of change in a democratic society is that the radicals present the ideas, but are too few in numbers to take effective action. The radical thinkers depend on attracting the attention of the more mainstream liberals, who have the numbers to effect the change they desire in a methodical and incremental fashion.
In “Les Miserables”, the cry of the rebels on the barricades is, “The people will rise.” Like “Les Mis,” this book is the story about what happens to the radicals when the people don’t rise.
In reading through “The Death of the Liberal Class,” I see the sad spectacle of a tired and discouraged reformer who has given up on the possibility of making any of the changes of his dreams, and has instead turned his invective against those upon whom he depended for support, but who, in his view, have failed him.
The book is thus a constant stream of denunciation. It is a list of all the atrocities that this widely experienced journalist has encountered in his life, all described with professional skill. Responsibility is then laid directly at the feet of, not those who caused society’s ills (the “power elite”), but of the liberal class who failed to live up to the author’s expectations, because they did not rally behind him as he hoped.
This book lists America’s constant state of war (all the way back to WWI), the McCarthy era, the dispossessed and unemployed of America, the plight of civilians in Afghanistan, the decline of the written word, the increasing spectacle of the political scene, and many other ailments of our society. One by one, these are all recounted and their cause laid directly at the feet of those who know better, but have not acted.
The specific problem with this book is that while these things probably need to be said in order to light a fire under a complacent group of people, Hodges has chosen to forgo the usual pattern of philosophical argument: set up a scenario, make a connection, then point out a solution. In almost every case he uses his skill to set up a scenario that makes our blood boil, then skips the necessity of making a connection, and goes straight to “it’s all the fault of the liberal class.” As a result, there is sense that Hodges is too tired to discuss or argue any more. He only wishes to blame.
Instead of logical argument, his one technique to support his theories is a constant stream of references to the opinions of people most of us have never heard of, who think the same way he does. Another trick not really meant to persuade anybody of anything.
The book has its share of factual errors (Canada has no Labour party) and faulty logic, leading the reader to suspect that it was not aimed at the logical thinker. In fact, one is constantly led to wonder for whom this book was really written.
It is not until the very end of the book, when Hedges begins to discuss the duty of the rebel to stand with the dispossessed, that we see the fire and enthusiasm that has driven this writer to achieve his much-deserved reputation for excellence in thought and expression. Unfortunately, 5 pages of inspiration do not make up for over 200 pages of invective and anger.
If you read this book, it will only sadden you, that one of America’s great social critics has reached such depths of despair as to turn against his necessary partners in the functioning of democracy. It is one of those rants that would have been a great way for the author to blow off steam, but should have then been put on a shelf. And left there.