Wages of Rebellion (Summary 1)

By 1JustCity Citizen
February 8, 2016

From Katherine Davis book club coordinator;

I really hope this book club can be accessible to everyone. Wages of Rebellion is filled with some terms, vocabulary, or concepts that may not be familiar to all. The overall ideas of Hedges are quite interesting and I hope this book can be a platform for learning in our community. I encourage you, as you are reading, to consider how we can apply these ideas to our local Winnipeg community. Curiosity and the interest to learn about each other is what can bring us together.

A little note about each of the summaries: The chapter summaries are excerpts and direct quotes from Wages of Rebellion. In no way am I passing this off as my own words. These excerpts are what I saw as the most important text to portray a general overview of Hedges’ Introduction. I will continue to follow-up with summaries for each chapter, similar to this format.


The chapter summaries are excerpts and direct quotes from Wages of Rebellion. In no way am I passing this off as my own words. These excerpts are what I saw as the most important text to portray a general overview of Hedges’ Introduction. I will continue to follow-up with summaries for each chapter, similar to this format. I encourage you to email the group with anything you learned, or a quote or fact that you saw to be interesting.

 The introduction outlines the premise of Chris Hedges’ Wages of Rebellion. Hedges believes that we are currently living in a revolutionary moment. The economic and political landscape of the Global economy is failing the majority of humanity. The wealth is held in the hands of very few and the citizen has become irrelevant. The structure of power has surrendered to corporate power. Although citizenry may participate in “elections” the demands of the corporation and banks are paramount, overriding the best interest of the majority of citizens. Governments cater to a small narrow interest group and those interest groups are no longer capable of responding rationally in times of crisis.

In this moment in history, a political, economic, or natural disaster – in short a crisis – will ignite unrest, lead to instability and we will see the state carry out draconian forms of repression to maintain “order.”

Throughout his introduction, Hedges reviews different author’s theories of unrest, political struggle, shift of power and ultimately different preconditions of revolution. He highlights key political thinkers including Crane Brinton, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and James Davies. Also using their philosophies in contexts of historical revolutions, Russia being a primary example.

The fundamental tool of any successful revolt is the nonviolent conversion of the forces deployed to restore order to the side of the rebels. More successful revolutions are, for this reason, fundamentally nonviolent. Hedges cites James Davies, stating that the “intolerable gap between what people want and what they get” is the most important component of revolt.

A disenfranchised middle class and alienated members of the ruling class who orchestrate and lead a revolt.

Hedges argues that today this key component of revolution – the gap between what people want, and indeed expect, and what they get – is being played out in the U.S. and many states in Europe during a new age of mounting scarcity, declining wages, joblessness, government-imposed “austerity” measures, and assaults on civil liberties.

The rising living standards by the American working class in the 1950s have been in precipitous decline since the 1970s. The real earnings of the median male have declined by 19 percent since 1970, and the median male with only a high school diploma saw his real earnings fall by 41 percent from 1970 to 2010. Moreover, the memory of the postwar moment of prosperity and the belief that prosperity under the Constitution that most Americans want restored – have left Americans increasingly alienated, frustrated and angry.

The neoliberal version of the promise of rising living standards is based on the fallacy of economic deregulation and financialization. Let us be rich, the elites say, and you will share the spoils. All you have to do is work hard, obey the rules and believe in yourself. This myth is disseminated across the political spectrum. This promise is fiction.

Hedges uses global examples of unrest in Egypt, Greece, Spain the Arab world to show that the primacy of corporate profit in a globalized economy has become universal and so have its consequences.

More and more people are falling into poverty and climate change in particular will only exacerbate these conditions.

There is a loss of faith in established systems of power. There is a weakening among the elites of the will to rule.

Hedges quotes Vladimir Lenin who states, “Only when the “lower classes” do not want the old way, and when the “upper classes” cannot carry on in the old way – only then can revolution win.”

Hedges quotes historians and political philosophers, particularly Immanuel Kant and Walter Benjamin. The important point that Benjamin and Kant make is that revolutions, whether in art of society, are about emotion. These moments engender not simply new ideas but new feelings about established power and human possibilities.

In Hedges three previous books, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Death of the Liberal Class, and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, he examines a cultural, political, and economic system in terminal decline. He chronicles the rise of totalitarian corporate power, or what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin in Democracy Incorporated calls “inverted totalitarianism.” Inverted totalitarianism represents “the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry,” he writes. It is a dispersed, faceless power – “the rule of Nobody,” as Hannah Arendt wrote – that is expressed in the blank, terrifying anonymity of the corporate state.

Inverted totalitarianism purports to honour electoral politics, freedom of speech, the right to assembly, and the Constitution. But they so corrupt and manipulate the levers of power internally that democracy is extinguished. The Constitution remains in place but has been radically reinterpreted by the courts and by the executive and legislative branches of government, all serving corporate power, as to be essentially nullified.

Inverted totalitarianism, Wolin writes, is typically furthered by power-holders and citizens who often seem unaware of the deeper consequences of their actions or inactions.

In Hedges previous books he argues that change will only come from mass movements and large-scale acts of civil disobedience. Wages of Rebellion examines another aspect of revolt. Exploring the forces and personalities that foster rebellion, it looks at the personal cost of rebellion – what it takes emotionally, psychologically, and physically to defy absolute power.

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