Wages of Rebellion

Wages of RebellionWages of Rebellion may be Chris Hedges’ best book.

I’ve read a lot of Hedges, too often with mixed feelings. I’ve always liked his politics, but I’ve been put off by his left-evangelical tone. He can be pretty shrill, which lessens his power to convince.

In this book, in a remarkable mixing of scholarship and observation, Hedges submerges much of the personal pain so evident in books like The World As It Is.

The whole book is compelling reading, but for me, former lit teacher that I am, the best part is the beginning chapter, “Doomed Voyages,” in which Hedges engagingly weaves economic and political theory with a long discourse on the contemporary moral relevance of Moby Dick.

The similarity between our present problems and Melville’s 19th century metaphor is apt, and Hedges makes the most of it.

One of the most prescient portraits of our ultimate fate as a species is found in Herman Melville’s novel about a doomed whaling voyage, Moby-Dick. Melville paints our murderous obsessions, our hubris, our violent impulses, moral weakness, and inevitable self-destruction in his chronicle of the quest by a demented captain, Ahab, for the white whale.

Hedges makes the comparison explicit:

“Even with the flashing red lights before us, even with huge swaths of the country living in Depression-like conditions, we bow slavishly before the enticing illusion provided to us by our masters of limitless power, wealth, and technological prowess. The system, although it is killing us, is our religion.”

The rest of the book is almost as rich, combining acute political and economic analysis (backed by the writing and research of many other authors) with affecting journalistic narratives that bring to life the passions and motivations of some of the most prominent contemporary victims of state suppression.

Throughout, Hedges emphasizes the single person as the moral core of any revolutionary movement. It’s the committed individual, not the group, who is vital to the cause of redress. Wages of Rebellion is a clear call for personal radicalism.

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.

Appropriately, Hedges begins each chapter with the story of an individual, a victim or a hero (often, both), whose struggles against the power of the dominant culture are both informative and inspiring.

Some of these people everyone knows well, from Daniel Ellsberg to Edward Snowden. Others, little recognized in the wider celebrity culture that distracts us — like former Quaker activist Bonnie Kerness and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal — struggle with dignity and determination to find justice for themselves and for others like them.

Hedges admires them all.

And in Wages of Rebellion, it’s easier than usual to admire Hedges.


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