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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’illusion de l’Amérique, nation élue

by André Tosel, Philosopher

The Illusion of America, as the Chosen Nation

Translated Sunday 17 March 2013, by Henry Crapo

The simultaneous appearance of two books by the American Chris Hedges, in French translations, by a Canadian publisher in Quebec, is to be welcomed. Journalist for fifteen years at the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize recipient, analyst of the society of his country, Hedges shows the vitality of American critical thinking. The books in question [1] are — The empire of illusion: The death of culture and the triumph of spectacle — Death of the progressive elite,

Chris Hedges shows, in the first book, that culture produces a neoliberal American conformism, magical in nature, an illusion of happiness, catering to the most outrageous individual desires and preventing the followers of this culture from distinguishing what is real from what is false and pretentious. Thus the pornography industry in Las Vegas, which holds regular exhibitions, and gives the illusion of free sexuality while organizing the mercantile and sadistic humiliation of its followers. Thus the "reality shows" that adapt their players and spectators to fierce competition and render acceptable the idea that anyone defeated by life deserves to be annihilated by the others. Thus academic seminars devoted to personal development that fetishize the ideal of private happiness. Finally, the use of images immunizes against any thoughtful judgement, and dispenses knowledge for the profit of the permanent spectacle instead of politics, and gives free play to established powers and their ruthless strategies.

Hedges paints a terrifying portrait of his society, of this monster that is governed by large companies, that feeds upon the material and moral impoverishment of the multitudes, and seeks to be desired by exalting the identification of individuals with the illusion of American exceptionalism.

The second book is a sequel, and is more directly political. Hedges seeks a major cause of this disaster in the cultural bankruptcy of American progressivism, be it democratic or more radical. By making unlimited concessions to neoliberalism in economic and social matters, progressivism has participated in this barbarism and has run adrift, under Obama’s rule.

A handful of intellectuals resisted, of course, such as Chomsky, Rorty, Hove, Zinn, Jameson and others. Politicians also, like Ralph Nader, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. But resistance was not massive. Opportunism and careerism came first, but fear came to undermine ethical-political commitment. Intellectuals of the moderate left, vaguely humanist, have not denounced the violence of the business community, the unjustified enrichment, the rise of poverty and racism, imperial warmongering. They agreed that the lure of profit, patriotic delusions, the ideology of the "clash of civilizations", the fear of internal enemies, the hatred of the critical left, become the new accepted rationale for loss of freedom.

The state-as-enterprise is then freed from giving any consideration to its "progressive" critics. The latter — the unions, the Democratic Party, universities — are all inclined to entrepreneurial management and to using their supposed neutrality to defend the interests of private enterprise, in a democracy people now disdained. The "progressive" elite is now a memory: detached from any connection with the multitudes of ordinary citizens, it lives happily in its intellectual devaluation, since this is outweighed by the commercialization of society. The consequence of this undeniable betrayal of progressives is the rise of racist right wing populism, fundamentalism, both nationalist and ultra-liberal. This "elite" is a caste without honor that sacrificed intellectual honesty for financial success without awareness of their acts.

These analyses may seem catastrophic, but they are fed by a lucid historical consciousness. Hedges departs from the voluntary wreckage of attempts at countering power ever since the First World War, and develops a narrative that carries on up to the invasion of Iraq. They are based on the examination of specific research and first-hand information. They do not limit themselves to ruminating over impotence, since they announce revolts and liberate the field of possibilities by getting rid of the ideological vacuum. When will the journalists of Le Monde, Liberation, and other organs "ready-to-think" French pseudo-progressivism display the same courage, and work to understand the growing Monster?


[1Chris Hedges, The empire of illusion. The death of the culture and the triumph of spectacle (2009), editor Lux, Quebec, 2012, 268 p., 20 euros The death of progressive elite, (2010), Lux publisher, Quebec, 2012, 299 p. , 20 euros. Translation by Nicolas Calvé.

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