Monday, December 20, 2010

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by the "death of the liberal class"?

CHRIS HEDGES: The collapse of the pillar, the primary pillars of the liberal establishment, those liberal institutions—the press, labor, public education and, in particular universities, culture, liberal religious institutions and the Democratic Party—that have been under assault.

And I speak a lot about World War I and the rise of the Committee for Public Information, the Creel Commission, which was the first system of modern mass propaganda, very closely studied by the Nazis, used to sell an unpopular war to an American public, but also used to crush populist, radical, progressive anarchist, Socialist, Communist movements that had frightened the power elite on the eve of World War I. And they employed for the first time the techniques of mass crowd psychology studied by figures like Le Bon, Trotter and Sigmund Freud. They understood that people were moved or manipulated not by fact or reason, but by what Walter Lippmann calls the "manufacturing of consent" in his 1922 book Public Opinion. And we’ve never recovered ever since.

So the assault and destruction of these populist or radical movements, which kept liberal institutions honest, and then the purges within liberal institutions, especially the anti-Communist purges of the 1950s. And many people who were expelled from these institutions were no way Communist, figures like I.F. Stone, arguably our greatest journalist of the 20th century, couldn’t even get a job at The Nationmagazine and ends up a pariah. He’s not alone—thousands and thousands of people. So that with the rise of neoliberalism and the corporate state under Clinton, these—we lost the radical movements, and we lost the liberal institutions that normally make possible incremental or piecemeal reform within the formal mechanisms of power.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what happened within the universities.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, there was—of course, one of the most egregious examples occurred here in New York City when Rockefeller went after City University. What they did is they destroyed the capacity for people outside the power elite to get great education. City University at one time was one of the great universities in the country and educated, you know, a huge swath of mostly first-generation immigrants. The corporatization of universities is far advanced now. You have a withering of the humanities, destruction of philosophy departments. Departments must raise not only their own research and grant money, but often their own salaries. Well, you know, who’s going to pay for that?

And so, what we’ve turned our universities into are essentially vocational schools. If you go to a school like Princeton, then you will become a systems manager and go to Goldman Sachs. If you go to an inner-city dysfunctional public school in a place like Camden, you are trained vocationally to stock shelves in Walmart. It’s a kind of solidification of a very pernicious class system, and one that doesn’t train students anymore to think but to fill slots.

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