"We talk about (the importance of) American culture. (But in truth): American culture was destroyed after World War I, with the rise of Madison Avenue and the implanting of mass corporate culture which sought to instill new values into the American consciousness. Instead of the values of thrift, communitarianism, modesty (and) self-sacrifice, we developed, courtesy of the advertising industry, this cult of self — this deep narcissism and hedonism that disconnected us from others and gave us mass corporate culture.
"So it's not American culture that we embrace for the moment. It's not American culture we export. It's corporate culture. And I think that altered situations will force us back into a moral system that defies the dark ethic of corporatism. And hopefully reconnects us to those values within our past that I think were brought us closer to fostering the building of common good.
"Capitalism is probably ingrained in human nature. But there are different kinds of capitalism. The kind of penny capitalism that I saw at the farmer's market in the town I grew up in is not a dangerous form of capitalism ... but corporate capitalism is something else. Corporate Capitalism is cannibalizing the nation.
"Karl Polanyi in 1944 wrote a brilliant work called 'The Great Transformation' in which he talked about the inevitable totalitarianism and wars and breakdown that was caused by a system that permitted unregulated capitalists to flourish. When everything becomes a commodity, including human labor, when the natural world becomes a commodity that is valued only by its capacity to generate profit, then you commit collective suicide, because you exhaust human beings and human resources, you deplete them, until they die. And that's precisely what's happening. Look at the oil and natural gas industry, the coal industry, our permanent war economy....
"I fear more the bankruptcy of liberalism than I do the fanaticism of the right. ... I think the book for our times is probably Dostoyevsky's 'Notes from the Underground,' (1864) in which he writes about a defeated dreamer, who becomes a cynic at a time when liberalism is bankrupt and who descends into a state of moral nihilism ... which understood precisely where his country was going.
"The bankruptcy of American liberalism is that it continued to speak against war, continued to speak on behalf of the working class, continued to support constitutional rights, and yet backed the party (the Democratic party) that betrayed all of these values. This wasn't lost on the working class. The anger of the working class toward liberals in this country is not misplaced, because liberals continue with that type of hypocrisy. They continue to espouse values and yet support political parties that tear down those values. And that's very dangerous. . . .
"The progressive movements in this country rely on the working class to propel our democracy forward. (But) our working class has been decimated. It doesn't exist any more, because there are no jobs, no meaningful jobs. And so that rage and frustration which you're already seeing leaping up around the fringes of society — and of course America is a very violent nation, that undercurrent of violence runs very deep — is presaging, I fear, a backwash. But a right wing backwash. And that is largely because the liberal class in this country became gutless.
"You strive toward a dream; you live within an illusion. And societies that cannot distinguish between illusion and reality die. If you look at the twilight periods of all great empires – Roman, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian — there is, in those final moments, not only a deep moral degeneration but an inability to distinguish what is real from fantasy.
"During the election between McCain and Obama, we were waging two wars, pre-emptive wars that under post Nurmberg laws are defined as criminal wars of aggression. We were running offshore penal colonies where we openly tortured individuals stripped of all rights. We had suspended habeas corpus. We had engaged in warrant-less wiretapping and eavesdropping on tens of millions of Americans . ... And yet we spoke of ourselves as the greatest democracy on Earth – and that as the embodiment of the highest values, we had a right to deliver it to others by force."
- Chris Hedges, whose column is published on Truthdig every Monday, spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He served for eight years as the Middle East bureau chief of The New York Times, where he shared the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism, for coverage of terrorism. Hedges also received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism.