What follows is a conversation between Dr. Cornel West and Sharmini Peries of the Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.
SHARMINI PERIES: Cornel West, I thank you so much for joining us today.
CORNEL WEST: Thank you. I salute you and the wonderful work that you do.
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you. Now, Cornel, when I look around the world–I’ve recently been to Greece. I’ve been in Latin America with you when President Chavez was here. And the world has changed dramatically in terms of the shift to the right. And we’ve just recently seen, you know, Bolsonaro coming to power in Brazil. We have Trump here. We have Duterte in the Philippines, and the political shift to the right in Europe that’s taking place. All these changes are taking place right before our eyes, dramatically different from the last time you and I met-
CORNEL WEST: Absolutely.
SHARMINI PERIES: When there was a leftward shift in Latin America. And so I want to ask you … you’re also the author of Hope On a Tightrope, just before President Obama came to office. You’re the man behind Media Matters. You know, you have an understanding of the world like no one else I know. That’s why you’re my most favorite public intellectual of the day. So tell us your thinking of what we are facing as progressives, as revolutionary people.
CORNEL WEST: Well, I think at the present moment we’re seeing the imperial meltdown in the American empire. It takes the form of the relative eclipse of any integrity, honesty, decency, generosity, compassion among the vast majority of those who rule. You always have a prophetic slice of those who rule. And so you have both the wealth inequality on the one hand, you have the denial of the ecological catastrophe coming–or not the denial, the sense that somehow you can continually hold it back and defer. And you–and what we need is a more massive awakening of poor and working people, and people who care. People who are willing to serve something bigger than their own careers, or their own opportunity for their individual project.
We’re losing this sense of we-ness. We’re losing the sense of collective project. And we on the left, we’re so fragmented that we’re unable to come up with a language that is strong enough to create solidarity across the board. But it’s got to be solidarity in the face of empire, which means when you talk about imperial rule, when you talk about foreign policies that are preoccupied with just profit and political manipulation rather than allowing the Indigenous peoples in any parts of the world to live lives in such a way that they can flower and flourish. Which means you have to have serious discussions about the U.S. imperial role in Latin America, the U.S. imperial role in the Middle East, you have to have honest conversations about Israeli occupation of Palestinians. Honesty about the occupation of Kashmir, and Tibet. Critiques of authoritarian rulers in Africa. There has a strong moral consistency tied to political courage to tell the truth in the name of poor and working people who are catching hell. Poor and working people tend to be an afterthought.