I admit it. If Chris Hedges had a fan club, and sent its members David Cassidy-like studio photos and groovy stickers for your school folders, I’d join it. And on Saturday, at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA, he was signing books and let me take his picture:
Is Hedges cool, or what?
Hedges is a former foreign correspondant for the New York Times and now writes a regular column for Truthdig.com.
His books tend to be reportage combined with philosophical reflections on culture, religion, and politics. He told me that he has a book in the pipeline on our human proclivity for living in denial and fantasy, and how this plays out in our public life (if I undertood him correctly).
Though his upcoming book is already done, I mentioned to him an Isaiah Berlin essay that might have had some bearing on his thesis, but I couldn’t recall the book of Berlin’s that it was in. Should Hedges accidentally find his way to this blog post (he said he’d actually seen this blog), the book is The Power of Ideas, and the essay is titled, “The Origins of Israel”. In the essay, Berlin suggests that sometimes naive outsiders with fantastic and highly improbable visions for the future, actually strike gold precisely because they did not listen to reason or expert insiders, but dwelled, as it were, outside of reality. Berlin’s exhibit “A” is the 19th century Zionist visionary, Theodor Herzl:
The distinguishing characteristic of Herzl was that [he] . . . possessed a somewhat romantic conception of the Jews, scarcely recognisable to those who themselves grew up in the thick of a closely-knit traditional Jewish community. There is something about great radical solutions to political questions which seems to make it necessary for them to be born in the minds of those who in some sense stand on the rim, and look in from outside, and have an over-simple ideal, an over-simple purpose, a lucid, usually violent vision, based on an indispensible ignorance of detail. Those who know too much—know too many detailed facts too closely—cannot, as a rule, produce radical solutions.
Of course, somebody (Karl Rove?) was reading Berlin in the Bush White House and reinforcing in Bush his worst intellectual tendencies, making them appear to be the virtues of a true visionary—the outsider who doesn’t pay attention to details, and changes everything, making reality and history rather than facing it.