Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt

by Chris Hedges

Nation Books, 2015

With Wages of Rebellion, Chris Hedges continues to raise the game. Having read four of his other works, I doubted that he could write with any more intensity or urgency than he has already but, sure enough, in his new book he has done so.

WagesOfRebellion_CoverThe ills of what he calls the corporate state have become increasingly menacing to our survival. Matters which he treats in Wages of Rebellion include pervasive surveillance of American citizens, in the name of national security; the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistleblowers; rampant gun violence; mass incarceration, much of it privatized and always heavily biased toward minorities; and climate change. Yes, climate change looms large here, for the first time in his writing; it makes for a bleak but vital addition to Hedges’ already bleak worldview.

Hedges’ purpose, as always, is to awaken us to the magnitude of the problems we face, and in this he succeeds. He endeavors as well to define some path to a future where we confront and conquer the maladies of our modern civilization, but in this he seems less certain. He advocates nonviolent resistance which, he argues, has the advantage of potentially winning over members of the other side: the government enforcers of the status quo, such as police, bureaucrats, and the military. Accomplishing this conversion can tip the balance toward genuine reform, he believes.

On the other hand, nonviolent civil disobedience might not be enough. Hedges highlights individuals who have gone beyond peaceful resistance into rebellion: Julian Assange of Wikileaks; U.S. soldier Bradley (Chelsea) Manning; black revolutionary Mumia Abu-Jamal; Ronnie Kasrils of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement; Wiebo Ludwig, ecoterrorist of fracking and the Alberta tar sands (a real-life George Washington Hayduke, straight out of Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang); Axel von dem Bussche, one of the last surviving conspirators involved in various attempts to assassinate Adolph Hitler; and others. Hedges hypothesizes that rebels like these, who are possessed of “sublime madness,” might be necessary today as the vanguard leading to real change, although the rebels themselves will most likely not live to see the results. The rest of us must be inspired by and follow those who pay the ultimate price. I will not be one of these rebels. I can offer the excuse that I am too old, but the truth is that I lack the courage.

Chris Hedges is the ultimate truth teller. With each new book, the truths he tells have become increasingly unpleasant. In Wages of Rebellion he writes, “I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species.” In all his work you can see his anger and despair, but in Wages of Rebellion you will see his compassion as well. Notably for me, in his Acknowledgments at the end of the book, he says of his children, “… they infuse our lives with irreplaceable joy, wonder, and beauty. I write and struggle for them. I worry about the world they will inherit. I fear I have never done enough.”

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