Wages of Rebellion | NewSouth Books
In Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges presents a series of essays on the spirit of rebellion in present day United States. Despite the fact that many of the essays are drawn from articles previously published elsewhere, they gain currency in Hedges’s manifesto about an imminent revolution that will challenge our inherently violent and discriminatory system of corporate capitalism.
The enemy here is derived from the typical leftist view of democracy in decay: a hyper-capitalist society which promotes deregulation to increase wealth for the already wealthy, a state which refuses to act seriously on climate change, a prison system that perpetuates poverty amongst marginalised groups and a government that is increasingly reliant on mass surveillance to control the population.
Having reported on the collapse of several Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Hedges assures us that he sees the same wave of revolutionary fervour about to sweep across the United States: “this revolutionary sentiment, as much a mood as an idea, is on the march again”.
“While the focus on individual activists, many of whom Hedges has interviewed himself, gives Wages of Rebellion a fascinating intimacy full of personal accounts of struggle and persecution, it also tends to reduce his argument for impending rebellion to a faith in these romanticised notions of rebellion.”
These claims are modestly backed by a series of profiles of left-wing political activists who embody this defiant, revolutionary spirit. Drawing on a nearly two decade-long career in journalism, Hedges is able to deliver insightful portrayals of Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, various hactivists, members of the Occupy movement and several black revolutionaries.
These rebels are all clearly admired by Hedges for their willingness to sacrifice their freedom, and potentially their lives, to challenge great injustices. Drawing on a term first used by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Hedges calls this fanatical commitment to defy radical evil a “sublime madness”. It is this sublime madness that drives people like Assange to take the risks that they do and it is this sublime madness that, according to Hedges, we need to propel us to overthrow the corporate forces that “have us by the throat”.
While the focus on individual activists, many of whom Hedges has interviewed himself, gives Wages of Rebellion a fascinating intimacy full of personal accounts of struggle and persecution, it also tends to reduce his argument for impending rebellion to a faith in these romanticised notions of rebellion.
It is his admiration for these rebels that shines through more than anything else: “I do not know if the revolutionary wave and the rebels produced by it will succeed. But I do know that without these rebels, we are doomed”.
It is also not made entirely explicit what these rebels are supposed to have achieved, other than embodying this noble concept of sublime madness. In fact, the vast majority of these rebels seem to have fallen victim to the systems they attempted to challenge; they are in prison, facing charges or living in hiding.
In the end, the message is both harrowing and stirring: “we must grasp the harshness of reality at the same time as we refuse to allow this reality to paralyse us”. It is a nonviolent call to arms for us to not accept injustice but to “fight for life”. And whether or not Hedges is right about an impending revolution, this is an important message to receive.