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Forum Post: The Treason of Intellectuals - Chris Hedges

Posted 1 year ago on April 3, 2013, 5:23 a.m. EST by AumfHungerStrike (0)
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The Treason of Intellectuals

by Chris Hedges

The rewriting of history by the power elite was painfully evident as the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Some claimed they had opposed the war when they had not. Others among “Bush’s useful idiots” argued that they had merely acted in good faith on the information available; if they had known then what they know now, they assured us, they would have acted differently. This, of course, is false. The war boosters, especially the “liberal hawks”—who included Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken and John Kerry, along with academics, writers and journalists such as Bill Keller, Michael Ignatieff, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Fareed Zakaria, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, George Packer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kanan Makiya and the late Christopher Hitchens—did what they always have done: engage in acts of self-preservation. To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.

These apologists, however, acted not only as cheerleaders for war; in most cases they ridiculed and attempted to discredit anyone who questioned the call to invade Iraq. Kristof, in The New York Times, attacked the filmmaker Michael Moore as a conspiracy theorist and wrote that anti-war voices were only polarizing what he termed “the political cesspool.” Hitchens said that those who opposed the attack on Iraq “do not think that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy at all.” He called the typical anti-war protester a “blithering ex-flower child or ranting neo-Stalinist.” The halfhearted mea culpas by many of these courtiers a decade later always fail to mention the most pernicious and fundamental role they played in the buildup to the war—shutting down public debate. Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught of right-wing “patriots” and their liberal apologists, became pariahs. In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience, turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly wanted to demonstrate its own “patriotism” and “realism” about national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational hatred of all war critics. Many of us received death threats and lost our jobs, for me one at The New York Times. These liberal warmongers, 10 years later, remain both clueless about their moral bankruptcy and cloyingly sanctimonious. They have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on their hands.

The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again.

Leslie Gelb, in the magazine Foreign Affairs, spelled it out after the invasion of Iraq.

“My initial support for the war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility,” he wrote. “We ‘experts’ have a lot to fix about ourselves, even as we ‘perfect’ the media. We must redouble our commitment to independent thought, and embrace, rather than cast aside, opinions and facts that blow the common—often wrong—wisdom apart. Our democracy requires nothing less.”

The moral cowardice of the power elite is especially evident when it comes to the plight of the Palestinians. The liberal class, in fact, is used to marginalize and discredit those, such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, who have the honesty, integrity and courage to denounce Israeli war crimes. And the liberal class is compensated for its dirty role in squelching debate.

“Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position, which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take,” wrote the late Edward Said. “You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship.”

“For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence,” Said went on. “If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.”

Julien Benda argued in his 1927 book “The Treason of Intellectuals”—“La Trahison des Clercs”—that it is only when we are not in pursuit of practical aims or material advantages that we can serve as a conscience and a corrective. Those who transfer their allegiance to the practical aims of power and material advantage emasculate themselves intellectually and morally. Benda wrote that intellectuals were once supposed to be indifferent to popular passions. They “set an example of attachment to the purely disinterested activity of the mind and created a belief in the supreme value of this form of existence.” They looked “as moralists upon the conflict of human egotisms.” They “preached, in the name of humanity or justice, the adoption of an abstract principle superior to and directly opposed to these passions.” These intellectuals were not, Benda conceded, very often able to prevent the powerful from “filling all history with the noise of their hatred and their slaughters.” But they did, at least, “prevent the laymen from setting up their actions as a religion, they did prevent them from thinking themselves great men as they carried out these activities.” In short, Benda asserted, “humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honored good. This contradiction was an honor to the human species, and formed the rift whereby civilization slipped into the world.” But once the intellectuals began to “play the game of political passions,” those who had “acted as a check on the realism of the people began to act as its stimulators.” And this is why Michael Moore is correct when he blames The New York Times and the liberal establishment, even more than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, for the Iraq War.

“The desire to tell the truth,” wrote Paul Baran, the brilliant Marxist economist and author of “The Political Economy of Growth,” is “only one condition for being an intellectual. The other is courage, readiness to carry on rational inquiry to wherever it may lead … to withstand … comfortable and lucrative conformity.”

Those who doggedly challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question the reigning political passions, who refuse to sacrifice their integrity to serve the cult of power, are pushed to the margins. They are denounced by the very people who, years later, will often claim these moral battles as their own. It is only the outcasts and the rebels who keep truth and intellectual inquiry alive. They alone name the crimes of the state. They alone give a voice to the victims of oppression. They alone ask the difficult questions. Most important, they expose the powerful, along with their liberal apologists, for what they are. © 2013 TruthDig.com

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Source: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/04/01-0?print

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45 Comments

45 Comments


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[-] 4 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

Most intellectuals are sheep. As Hedges points out from, I believe, Edward Said's fantastic little book, "Representations of the Intellectual":

"You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship.”

Only intellectuals that can overcome these desires are true intellectuals. Great article. Thank you for posting it.

[-] 2 points by Builder (4202) 1 year ago

This must be the reason that scientists seem to find exactly what their paymasters are looking for.

[-] 2 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

Good point. Nothing like backing into an hypothesis for capitalist purposes.

[-] 2 points by Builder (4202) 1 year ago

"Speaking real truth to power".

I'm putting that in my little book of wisdom.

Thankyou, BW.

[-] 2 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

Sure, :). I know people complain about how the forum is moderated, but overall, we get to speak our mind here. It's a good thing.

[-] 2 points by Builder (4202) 1 year ago

Ordinarily, I'm a respectful thoughtful individual.

I do have limits, and I reached one last night.

[-] 2 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

That is the good thing about the forum. We speak our minds and someone speaks theirs right back to us. LOL.

[-] 2 points by Builder (4202) 1 year ago

Sometimes I feel that I'm screaming in a vacuum.

Best to just move on sometimes, I guess.

[-] 3 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

Without our outrage we'd get nowhere.

[-] 2 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 1 year ago

Be aggressive but dont get married to the results.

[-] 2 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

At least you don't live in the U.S. I think it's even more frustrating here.

[-] 2 points by Builder (4202) 1 year ago

I know it's frustrating looking in from the edge of reality.

It's worse knowing that our govt follows yours like it's an unwritten law.

[-] 3 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

Ever notice how many of the best contributors here are foreigners? That is because you see the U.S. through a different lens. Most Americans see the U.S. through the lens of a phony nationalism. We are lucky to have you all here because we learn from your perspective, in my opinion. I agree, it is too bad that many governments such as Australia and U.K. are moving in the same crappy direction we are.

[-] 3 points by Builder (4202) 1 year ago

Thanks for the heads up, BW.

The corruption seems to be endemic to capitalism, or maybe the bribe holders are spreading cash far and wide. I don't trust our politicians as far as I could dropkick them.

People often ask me why I'm commenting on US politics. It's because US foreign policy affects Australia directly.

We have a treaty of sorts, called ANZUS. A mutual pact, that ties our military arrangements together. Not sure if it's for your benefit, or ours, but it is what it is. We have a nation that is the same size as yours in square miles, but no people, compared to the US. Our gov wants to feel safe.

I'm not so sure they are cozying up to the right people.

[-] 1 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 1 year ago

Whats everyone's thoughts over there with our military buildup and now North Korea?

[-] 1 points by Builder (4202) 1 year ago

Although we are allies, there's no love lost between our nations.

US foreign policy is a running joke in Australia.

As for North Korea, it's a laugh to suggest they are a threat to anyone but the lamestream media.

[-] 1 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 1 year ago

Gotcha.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

Most intellectuals are sheep. As Hedges points out from, I believe, Edward Said's fantastic little book, "Representations of the Intellectual"

Intellectuals - But - COWARDS. So actually Traitors to intelligence - for safety of position.

[-] 4 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

Very true. If you ever have time to read Said's very little compact book, he talks about how the purpose of the intellectual is to better the world, not himself, but the world. Traitors, most of them are, indeed. And, cowards, for fearing the outcome of speaking real truth to power.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

speaking real truth to power

This is a priority. AN ABSOLUTE NECESSITY.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

Apparently someone would prefer speaking lies to power. Koch/Cato/Heritage/Alec/BP/Exxon/Halliburton/etc shill?

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

Can you imagine? How do they look at themselves in the mirror? Shame on them for keeping us all down.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

No - "I" CAN NOT IMAGINE - BUT -"They" are INSANE. That is the ONLY explanation.

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

Must be. I think we need to put them away, then, hard as that is, lol.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

ACA - can anyone think of a better application?

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

I was thinking APA as in American Psychiatric Association.

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

Well there ya go!!!! Still - part of a whole health care program. Maybe they would be a necessary reason for re-instituting electroshock therapy - for the criminally insane.

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

LOL. That's all I have to say. But, no, no. I have more. No health insurance for them! They have to pay for their institutionalization! LOL. Remember? No entitlements!

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

That would/should be part of the ACA. "They" can afford to pay out of pocket. {:-])

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[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

speaking real truth to power

Now get this. From Heritage no less:

Dr. Carson Speaks about Fiscal Responsibilty at National Prayer ...


Now. Look at the source that is promoting the sharing of this national prayer breakfast speech. Heritage????????????? REALLY?

Well then consider - a very successful liar incorporates as much truth as possible - so that their lie will pass unnoticed.

As I feel this was a fair speech ( short on much content - but still a good start ).

Why would Heritage/Koch cover and circulate the speech? To hide their true intentions behind a smoke screen.

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

A flat tax. Yeah right. That's fair. Not. These people have no moral compass. They are lost souls.

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

A flat tax need not be ten percent for the greedy wealthy. It could well be 50% or so. That is why I said it was a fair speech but that it did not go far enough. There was a lot of room for improvement - looking at the reality of today's situation.

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

Well, then it's not a flat tax, because how could you tax the guy making $10/hour at 50%?

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

Flat tax in that it would be applied to a certain level of income. 50% at over 200,000 ? 40% between 150,000 and 200,000. 30% Between 100,000 and 150,000. 20% at 60,000 to 100,000. 10% 30,000 to 60,000. 0% below 30,000.

Flat comes in the fact of no loop-holes.

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

That's a different way of looking at flat, but fair enough. The highest tax rate used to be 90%. We should go back to that.

[-] 0 points by DKAtoday (27774) from Coon Rapids, MN 1 year ago

Absolutely.

End the BS of hitting everyone at the check-out counter - for extras.

[-] 2 points by shadz66 (19985) 1 year ago

Very interesting moniker and an excellent article. I apologise but won't just simply assume that you know about what is going on in Guantanamo Bay at the moment, in order to justify appending :

e tenebris, lux ...

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[-] 2 points by Narley (281) 1 year ago

I don’t give a damn who orchestrated the Iraq war. One my hot button issues is the US thinking it should police the world. We have military bases all over the world and get involved in every conflict that comes along. I can’t figure out why we don’t pull out of Afghanistan tomorrow. I mean leave equipment there and put our troops on the next plane home.

I’m an old veteran, and I get pissed off every time I hear of a soldier being killed. This madness. We’re not going to convince the Afghans to love us. We need to just leave. Now I hear we’re providing some level of support in Syria. Jesus H Christ, do we think the Syrians will now convert to Christianity or what?

I’m pro-gun on this forum, and take a lot of heat because I believe in people’s rights to own guns. But that doesn’t mean I support war or sending our sons and daughters to die for no reason.

The US has become a war monger. We need to close most foreign military bases and stop trying to interfere in other nations business. This is something I would march and protest for.

[-] 1 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 1 year ago

Nice comment.

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[-] 2 points by OTP (-203) from Tampa, FL 1 year ago

"Those who doggedly challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question the reigning political passions, who refuse to sacrifice their integrity to serve the cult of power, are pushed to the margins. They are denounced by the very people who, years later, will often claim these moral battles as their own. It is only the outcasts and the rebels who keep truth and intellectual inquiry alive. They alone name the crimes of the state. They alone give a voice to the victims of oppression. They alone ask the difficult questions. Most important, they expose the powerful, along with their liberal apologists, for what they are."

Exactly. Which is why those very same elites decided that Occupy MUST be shut down.

[-] 1 points by GirlFriday (17435) 1 year ago

Anybody know how much Hedges is worth? How much money that he makes?

[-] 1 points by jorae28 (8) 1 year ago

The government and unions are the only two ways to fight WS. We need government to be our friend, and stop being WS friend. We have to chose our fights, and the banking industry is our fight.

[-] 2 points by beautifulworld (20443) 1 year ago

Well said. The banking industry is the number one problem. But, let's call out the intellectuals who have completely let down the people by not shining a light on what our capitalist economy has allowed the bankers to do.

[-] 1 points by HCabret (-327) 1 year ago

The people are the goverment here in the US supposedly. "We the people" and all that jazz......