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Let's Get This Class War Started

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Although his actual wealth has been called into question, Donald Trump has made a handsome living playing a rich person on TV.

"The rich are different from us," F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have remarked to Ernest Hemingway, to which Hemingway allegedly replied, "Yes, they have more money."

The exchange, although it never actually took place, sums up a wisdom Fitzgerald had that eluded Hemingway. The rich are different. The cocoon of wealth and privilege permits the rich to turn those around them into compliant workers, hangers-on, servants, flatterers and sycophants. Wealth breeds, as Fitzgerald illustrated in "The Great Gatsby" and his short story "The Rich Boy," a class of people for whom human beings are disposable commodities. Colleagues, associates, employees, kitchen staff, servants, gardeners, tutors, personal trainers, even friends and family, bend to the whims of the wealthy or disappear. Once oligarchs achieve unchecked economic and political power, as they have in the United States, the citizens too become disposable.

The public face of the oligarchic class bears little resemblance to the private face. I, like Fitzgerald, was thrown into the embrace of the upper crust when young. I was shipped off as a scholarship student at the age of 10 to an exclusive New England boarding school. I had classmates whose fathers -- fathers they rarely saw -- arrived at the school in their limousines accompanied by personal photographers (and at times their mistresses), so the press could be fed images of rich and famous men playing the role of good fathers. I spent time in the homes of the ultra-rich and powerful, watching my classmates, who were children, callously order around men and women who worked as their chauffeurs, cooks, nannies and servants. When the sons and daughters of the rich get into serious trouble there are always lawyers, publicists and political personages to protect them -- George W. Bush's life is a case study in the insidious affirmative action for the rich. 

The rich have a snobbish disdain for the poor -- despite well-publicized acts of philanthropy -- and the middle class. These lower classes are viewed as uncouth parasites, annoyances that have to be endured, at times placated and always controlled in the quest to amass more power and money. My hatred of authority, along with my loathing for the pretensions, heartlessness and sense of entitlement of the rich, comes from living among the privileged. It was a deeply unpleasant experience. But it exposed me to their insatiable selfishness and hedonism. I learned, as a boy, who were my enemies.

The inability to grasp the pathology of our oligarchic rulers is one of our gravest faults. We have been blinded to the depravity of our ruling elite by the relentless propaganda of public relations firms that work on behalf of corporations and the rich. Compliant politicians, clueless entertainers and our vapid, corporate-funded popular culture, which holds up the rich as leaders to emulate and assures us that through diligence and hard work we can join them, keep us from seeing the truth.

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy," Fitzgerald wrote of the wealthy couple at the center of Gatsby's life. "They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."

Aristotle, Niccolo Machiavelli, Alexis de Tocqueville, Adam Smith and Karl Marx all began from the premise there is a natural antagonism between the rich and the masses. "Those who have too much of the goods of fortune, strength, wealth, friends, and the like, are neither willing nor able to submit to authority," Aristotle wrote in "Politics." "The evil begins at home; for when they are boys, by reason of the luxury in which they are brought up, they never learn, even at school, the habit of obedience." Oligarchs, these philosophers knew, are schooled in the mechanisms of manipulation, subtle and overt repression and exploitation to protect their wealth and power at our expense. Foremost among their mechanisms of control is the control of ideas. Ruling elites ensure that the established intellectual class is subservient to an ideology -- in this case free market capitalism and globalization -- that justifies their greed. "The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships," Marx wrote, "the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas."

The blanket dissemination of the ideology of free market capitalism through the media and the purging, especially in academia, of critical voices have permitted our oligarchs to orchestrate the largest income inequality gap in the industrialized world. The top 1 percent in the United States own 40 percent of the nation's wealth while the bottom 80 percent own only 7 percent, as Joseph E. Stiglitz wrote in "The Price of Inequality." For every dollar that the wealthiest 0.1 percent amassed in 1980 they had an additional $3 in yearly income in 2008, David Cay Johnston explained in the article "9 Things the Rich Don't Want You to Know About Taxes." The bottom 90 percent, Johnson said, in the same period added only one cent. Half of the country is now classified as poor or low-income. The real value of the minimum wage has fallen by $2.77 since 1968. Oligarchs do not believe in self-sacrifice for the common good. They never have. They never will. They are the cancer of democracy.

"We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are," Wendell Berry writes. "Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all -- by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians -- be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us. How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing."

The rise of an oligarchic state offers a nation two routes, according to Aristotle. The impoverished masses either revolt to rectify the imbalance of wealth and power or the oligarchs establish a brutal tyranny to keep the masses forcibly enslaved. We have chosen the second of Aristotle's options. The slow advances we made in the early 20th century through unions, government regulation, the New Deal, the courts, an alternative press and mass movements have been reversed. The oligarchs are turning us -- as they did in the 19th century steel and textile factories -- into disposable human beings. They are building the most pervasive security and surveillance apparatus in human history to keep us submissive.

This imbalance would not have disturbed most of our Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers, largely wealthy slaveholders, feared direct democracy. They rigged our political process to thwart popular rule and protect the property rights of the native aristocracy. The masses were to be kept at bay. The Electoral College, the original power of the states to appoint senators, the disenfranchisement of women, Native Americans, African-Americans and men without property locked most people out of the democratic process at the beginning of the republic. 

We had to fight for our voice. Hundreds of workers were killed and thousands were wounded in our labor wars. The violence dwarfed the labor battles in any other industrialized nation. The democratic openings we achieved were fought for and paid for with the blood of abolitionists, African-Americans, suffragists, workers and those in the anti-war and civil rights movements. Our radical movements, repressed and ruthlessly dismantled in the name of anti-communism, were the real engines of equality and social justice. The squalor and suffering inflicted on workers by the oligarchic class in the 19th century is mirrored in the present, now that we have been stripped of protection. Dissent is once again a criminal act. The Mellons, Rockefellers and Carnegies at the turn of the last century sought to create a nation of masters and serfs. The modern corporate incarnation of this 19th century oligarchic elite has created a worldwide neofeudalism, where workers across the planet toil in misery while corporate oligarchs amass hundreds of millions in personal wealth.

Class struggle defines most of human history. Marx got this right. The sooner we realize that we are locked in deadly warfare with our ruling, corporate elite, the sooner we will realize that these elites must be overthrown. The corporate oligarchs have now seized all institutional systems of power in the United States. Electoral politics, internal security, the judiciary, our universities, the arts and finance, along with nearly all forms of communication, are in corporate hands. Our democracy, with faux debates between two corporate parties, is meaningless political theater. There is no way within the system to defy the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry or war profiteers. The only route left to us, as Aristotle knew, is revolt.

It is not a new story. The rich, throughout history, have found ways to subjugate and re-subjugate the masses. And the masses, throughout history, have cyclically awoken to throw off their chains. The ceaseless fight in human societies between the despotic power of the rich and the struggle for justice and equality lies at the heart of Fitzgerald's novel, which uses the story of Gatsby to carry out a fierce indictment of capitalism. Fitzgerald was reading Oswald Spengler's "The Decline of the West" as he was writing "The Great Gatsby." Spengler predicted that, as Western democracies calcified and died, a class of "monied thugs" would replace the traditional political elites. Spengler was right about that. 

"There are only two or three human stories," Willa Cather wrote, "and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."

The seesaw of history has thrust the oligarchs once again into the sky. We sit humiliated and broken on the ground. It is an old battle. It has been fought over and over in human history. We never seem to learn. It is time to grab our pitchforks.

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

Hedges was part of the team of (more...)
 

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... by Alan MacDonald on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 12:50:21 PM
The aristocracy started the war to return American... by Mark Adams JD/MBA on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 3:50:51 PM
You mean that the Right to Trial by Jury is MORE t... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 1:21:08 AM
My  dream is to fulfill Isaiah 23:17-1... by Michael Dewey on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 1:23:55 PM
As usual, I enjoyed your article. I just don't kno... by Dan Cooper on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 1:35:40 PM
GENERAL STRIKE.... by Jill Herendeen on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 2:06:26 PM
Which is a good idea, if people were willing to ac... by Anna Van Z on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 2:26:12 PM
This is true--in the short run.  In the long ... by Jill Herendeen on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 7:20:34 AM
(or, accept lower and lower wages for the same job... by Jill Herendeen on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 11:05:25 AM
As to " the bafflingly stupid display by the ... by Paul Easton on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 2:19:35 PM
Article is incredibly stupid.If the history is a r... by BFalcon on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 3:14:22 AM
There is no need to invite anyone to a class war i... by Richard Pietrasz on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 2:56:27 PM
It is unreasonable. How did these 100K die?... by BFalcon on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 11:47:05 PM
It certainly is unreasonable that class warfare ki... by Richard Pietrasz on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 3:23:26 AM
I'm a little confused.  Precisely what import... by Sara Cope on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 3:29:23 PM
You didn't pay attention.We reelected Democratic p... by BFalcon on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 11:45:54 PM
Who is not paying attention?Obama is nominally a D... by Richard Pietrasz on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 3:33:18 AM
You are just too pessimistic to recognize our prog... by BFalcon on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 7:30:35 AM
There are actually lots of options, we are only li... by Ted Newcomen on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 7:13:59 AM
Yeah, the Oligarchy would LOVE to get rid of the C... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 1:48:36 AM
The Oligarchy LOVE the Constitution - framed by th... by Ted Newcomen on Thursday, Oct 24, 2013 at 7:03:07 AM
I think the best place to start is with a good pos... by Nick van Nes on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 8:52:48 AM
In general I agree, but there are a few points I w... by Paul Easton on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 2:13:00 PM
Uniformly malevolent?  Of course not, some ar... by Richard Pietrasz on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 5:30:10 PM
The super rich can have no regard for humanity, wh... by Paul Repstock on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 11:08:22 PM
This is a stunning indictment of our pathocracy. I... by Jerry Lobdill on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 2:47:05 PM
A more realistic question may be: How many are wil... by Paul Repstock on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 11:10:41 PM
 People should read Stones from the River by ... by sharon Ann on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 9:36:45 PM
How are the People to transfer Money-Power from th... by Radh Achuthan on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 2:53:02 PM
Warren Buffett said, "There really is a class war ... by S. Juniper on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 3:18:25 PM
Americans are religious people  who worship M... by Simon Leigh on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 4:21:01 PM
They don't just form laws that make everyone else ... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 1:52:29 AM
Chris Hedges:  I support the vast majority of... by Tom Madison on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 4:33:37 PM
http://www.ae911truth.org/New 2013 film:  "Se... by Tom Madison on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 4:45:35 PM
Tom Madison: This is the type of distraction that ... by Richard Pietrasz on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 5:40:28 PM
No "distraction" at all. Whether or not one openly... by Nick van Nes on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 9:04:30 AM
It IS a distraction for this discussion.... by Richard Pietrasz on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 2:44:53 PM
We all know the Skulls and Wall Street were behind... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 1:53:47 AM
When unions were strong, a progressive tax offset ... by Daniel Vasey on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 5:07:58 PM
To see how some people are trying to build a revol... by John Spritzler on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 5:40:33 PM
It's been raging for the last 30 years, more than ... by E. J. N. on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 8:27:35 PM
The answer is really quite simple -- stop.  S... by Kevin Tully on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 8:56:39 PM
Are the people you know as wealthy as the 1%... by sharon Ann on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 9:42:36 PM
Hedges, Paul Craig Roberts, William Blum, Cynthia... by Gary Corseri on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 8:44:00 PM
Metaphorically what is a pitchfork? A new word? A ... by Luis Magno on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 10:39:29 PM
Luis Magno (here) is also known as El Cid Campeado... by Luis Magno on Monday, Oct 21, 2013 at 11:25:18 PM
Why can't the progressive voices, not get their ow... by Joseph N. Caucci on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 4:47:27 AM
Credo is an alternative to Verizon - we switched t... by Philip Pease on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 11:06:05 AM
Basically, because businesses care for themselves ... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 1:58:34 AM
I don't care how arrogent the rich are, nor how ba... by David Chester on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 5:20:10 AM
The means of taking down the 1% has been on the we... by R. A. Landbeck on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 6:11:16 AM
If there is a better way tow work than worker owne... by Michael Dewey on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 7:16:26 AM
What workers in the States?  Our jobs are GON... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 2:01:47 AM
The people who do work in the States, be it fast f... by Michael Dewey on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 8:07:42 AM
Most people in this country will not understand th... by Lester Shepherd on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 8:20:19 AM
That is a global, not national phenomenon. Now we... by Paul Repstock on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 10:22:34 AM
You are very close to the truth of this Lester. Ex... by Paul Repstock on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 11:42:35 AM
How quickly the problem could be fixed with a taxa... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 2:04:05 AM
I understand and sympathize with your pov Neal. Ta... by Paul Repstock on Thursday, Oct 24, 2013 at 12:08:03 AM
When money is valued more than humanity (greed vs ... by Philip Pease on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 11:30:36 AM
I agree anger and hate against the rich is NOT a s... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 2:05:52 AM
Good comment.  But I don't think that there a... by Amy Schreiner on Thursday, Oct 24, 2013 at 7:37:30 PM
I agree with you that there are not too many peace... by Richard Pietrasz on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 3:40:46 AM
The problem is that our votes are counted in secre... by Amy Schreiner on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 8:19:17 AM
Pitchforks are not an option, neither literally no... by Rivera Sun on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 12:32:47 PM
The movements you cite were not nonviolent.  ... by Richard Pietrasz on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 2:53:09 PM
....which is why there needs to be a general strik... by Jill Herendeen on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 7:06:12 AM
Don't hold your breath - I don't think most Americ... by Ted Newcomen on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 7:33:26 AM
If there were a general strike, not sure there WOU... by Jill Herendeen on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 8:25:31 AM
How about a general rent and mortgage strike? &nbs... by Michael Dewey on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 9:34:43 AM
Sadly if the likes of you & me stopped paying ... by Ted Newcomen on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 11:54:45 AM
Great photo of Donald Trump who has expressed the ... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 1:08:22 AM
The US military have been mercenaries from the beg... by Richard Pietrasz on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 3:43:27 AM
Indeed Neil, particularly by taxing land values in... by David Chester on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 6:35:41 AM
LOL David; Who sets the level of that land taxatio... by Paul Repstock on Thursday, Oct 24, 2013 at 12:28:04 AM
You should take into account too, the numbers of y... by David Chester on Thursday, Oct 24, 2013 at 1:03:00 AM
I tried many times to vet through OEN the idea of ... by Mark Sashine on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 6:37:59 AM
Mark; Wealth alone does not make evil. It merely c... by Paul Repstock on Thursday, Oct 24, 2013 at 12:40:51 AM
You mean Let's Start Fighting Back, don't you? Cla... by E. J. N. on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 12:42:27 PM
  I  suggest we signal to each other tha... by sharon Ann on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 9:32:07 PM
Funny you should say this - read here... by Ted Newcomen on Thursday, Oct 24, 2013 at 6:54:30 AM
Here I go again, making it simple... America is t... by Kim Cassidy on Thursday, Oct 24, 2013 at 12:35:17 AM
I agree it is time for revolt but not warfare. The... by Mira Karell on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 4:33:23 PM
Taking to the streets is important but what may re... by Michael Dewey on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 6:00:40 PM
Chris Hedges hits the nail on the head and doesn't... by Barry Ladendorf on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 10:04:54 PM
One of the stories that has been repeated througho... by Howard Switzer on Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013 at 4:34:15 PM