Friday, October 22, 2021

Cultural Marxism and Critical Theory: A History

 

Which brings us to the point and purpose of Cultural Marxism; it is a method of conquest.  Not conquest with guns, tanks, planes, or armies, but with ideology.  Control the dominant ideas in a nation, and you can control the nation itself.

The Red Trojan Horse: A Concise Analysis of Cultural Marxism, by Alasdair Elder

Elder has written a book examining, first, the history of Cultural Marxism, and second, the situation today.  In this post, I will review and examine the history.

He offers, early on, his meaning of the term:

Cultural Marxism is a wide-ranging designation which refers to the promotion and employment of Critical Theory.

It is valuable that he does this, as the term Cultural Marxism, though well-known, is not technically a valid concept.  Marx’s form of communism was economic – the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie.  While Marx wrote of culture, his focus was primarily and overwhelmingly economic.

Antonio Gramsci, and also members of what is known as the Frankfurt School, would develop the idea that communism could infiltrate the West only if the dominant culture that bound the workers and the owners was torn down – replaced by a culture built from the bottom.

So, then what is Critical Theory? 

Critical Theory just means to criticize…ceaselessly. [It] is purely concerned with discrediting knowledge, but not with replacing it with anything better.  It is the essence of destructive criticism.

Applied to the cultural foundation of society, one is left with a society void of any ties that bind.  What’s the big deal, you ask?  Absent a common cultural foundation, all that is left is the state.  Where a society does not share common codes of conduct and behavior, a state will happily step in to force the issue.  At the same time, a state will happily work to destroy the common codes of conduct in order to take more power for the state.

In Critical Theory, this is the sole purpose of knowledge: to create a change in society, which will, in turn, create a change in ‘reality’ itself.

It should be clear that it is, therefore, difficult, to pin down Critical Theory into a simple talking point.  It is critical of everything – all norms, even the new norms that have resulted from prior criticism.  I have noted before: those practicing Critical Theory never “win,” because there is no goal or endpoint.  The means are the ends – always be critical of whatever norm you next choose to attack.  There is no final, acceptable norm (which will, ultimately, be the downfall of this path – painful, and even deadly, as it will be for the rest of us in the meantime).

Elder offers one idea, however, that remains constant – even for the Critical Theorists: prevent people from speaking the truth.  I would modify this only slightly: prevent people from speaking at all, if those words run contrary to the current path of criticism.  The point of my distinction: it is by speaking through our disagreements that we have some chance to move closer to truth. 

In other words, a conversation may only discover truth after many not-quite-truths or even false statements have been considered and discussed.  Almost always, my first statements in a conversation are never as “true” as my last statements – if the conversation is a fruitful conversation.

The opening chapter of the book examines Classical Marxism – the communism of Marx.  In this, Elder briefly examines Hegel, Rousseau, and Kant before coming to Marx. 

In the second chapter, he examines Sigmund Freud and Franz Boas, a German-American anthropologist.  To summarize the comments on Boas, one cannot claim one culture is any better or worse than another.  There are no objective standards available by which one can assess cultural norms and standards.  This, obviously, is rather important to practitioners of Critical Theory.

In the third chapter, he comes to the Frankfurt School, founded by Felix Weil.  Critical of Classical Marxism, this school saw the need to destroy Western Culture if communism was to advance. 

Max Horkheimer would run the Institute for Social Research (home for many of those known under the Frankfurt School banner) from 1930 to 1958.  However, it was not until the 1960s that this Institute would discover the surrogate in the West for the working class – Western culture.

The key to this was crossing Marx with Freud.  The argument was advanced that just as under capitalism everyone was economically oppressed, so under western culture everyone was psychologically oppressed.

The concept of objective knowledge was completely dismissed.  As knowledge was tied merely to social processes, what we claim to know as objectively true could be just one of many different equally true truths.

Erich Fromm would come from Germany to the United States in 1933, where he would find himself on the faculty at Columbia University.  A key area of interest for Fromm was the central role of the family in the development of the human psyche.

…he saw the family as the primary means by which the values of the superstructure were imprinted on peoples’ minds.

So, for Fromm, the family was in the way.  We know that children are free to make decisions regarding things such as abortion, birth control, and taking the jab all outside of the control and even the knowledge of their parents. 

Fromm would develop the idea that masculinity and femininity were not based on objective sexual differences, but pathologies derived from artificial social constructs.  For example, we now see that challenging local school boards is classified as domestic terrorism.

Theodor Adorno would emigrate from Germany to Britain in 1934, where he would teach at Oxford for three years.  Then on to Princeton, and later, Berkeley.  Elder points to one idea from Adorno with which I hold some sympathy:

…the Enlightenment and modern scientific thought had transformed reason into an irrational force that had come to completely dominate human thought.

I agree with this statement, to the extent that the Enlightenment divorced reason from God.  And this is where I, undoubtedly, would fall out from Adorno’s views – as there is no place for God to resolve the issue of irrational reason.  So far, even Elder has not introduced the idea that God is in some way the missing piece in this discussion; where he has mentioned Christianity, it has been in a neutral or event negative context.

Adorno would go after the family – parenthood, pride on one’s family, traditional attitudes toward sex and gender, etc., were all described as pathologies or phobias.  Those who suffered insecurity regarding family relations would make for perfect progressive liberal (i.e., leftist) thinkers.  He developed a list of personality traits, and those who came up short on the desired traits would be assigned an “F,” for fascist.

Antonio Gramsci, not a member of the Institute, discovered the need to focus on culture in the West before the members of the Institute did.  He would write in the 1930s on these matters, in what became known as The Prison Notebooks. 

The culture of society had to be eroded in order to make room for communism.  In this way, self-governance would be reduced, and individuals would become less self-reliant and less reliant on family and community.  Hence, they would become more reliant on the state. 

Gramsci called the process “the long march.”  Theatre, literature, newspapers, magazines, etc.  But to achieve this, his ideas would first have to spread through the universities and educational system (and, unsaid by Elder, churches). 

Once the march was over, every single cultural barrier to Marxism would have been methodically and surreptitiously removed

The Prison Notebooks offered the blueprint for destroying Christian values.  But the implementation was yet to be developed.

Herbert Marcuse would come from Germany to Columbia University in 1934, then, later, to Brandeis University and the University of California in San Diego. 

Marcuse had managed to find the surrogate for the working class that Horkheimer had been searching for: students and minority groups.

The focus would be sexual liberation.  The abandonment of responsibly self-governance and replacing it with irresponsible hedonism.  The availability of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s would be the fuel for realizing this objective. Language was to be questioned (only white people could be racist, for example), and also there was to be an unwaveringly favorable view of all minority groups at all times no matter what. 

Finally, the fourth and final chapter of this first part of the book covers the Useful Idiots.  Influential cultural figures, members of the mass media, wealthy filmmakers, and academics and other intellectuals could all be brought into the work – just as described by Gramsci and Marcuse.

…far from being idealistic, these people were to be selected for their cynicism, egotism, and total lack of scruples.

The constant message: license over liberty.  These two concepts are seen as the same by leftists (and many libertarians of the “anything peaceful” variety), yet liberty is only liberty (and is only sustainable) if one lives in accord with his nature – to live responsibly. 

Saul Alinsky is introduced, and his Rules for Radicals.  The purpose and method: to destroy and demoralize anyone possessed of the courage to stand up against this long march.  This would be done via useful idiots – those who lack critical thinking, and can be turned into rabid followers.

Alinsky’s twelve rules are offered: the illusion of power is more important than actual power; address topics that are outside the knowledge base of cult members; address topics outside the knowledge base of the opposition; hold the opposition to its moral standards; make full use of ridicule; employ tactics that the cult members would enjoy; never use a particular tactic for too long; mercilessly keep up the pressure; make full use of threats and intimidation; continuously advance destructive arguments; agree to apparent resolutions, while pressing for more.

The twelfth rule is to make the argument about the personality, rather than issues. …this last rule was aimed at destroying them as a person. …it required the complete isolation of the individual in question…turn the individual into nothing less than a social leper.

Conclusion

This covers the first part of Elder’s book, the history behind Cultural Marxism.  Is it merely coincidence that society has developed almost exactly along the lines presented by Gramsci and the Frankfurt School?  Is it irrelevant that those who advocated this path saw it as the road to communism in the West?  I think the answer to each question is no.

A couple of items that I believe are worth note.  First, Elder offers no footnotes or endnotes, so it is difficult to follow where he is paraphrasing or if he is taking ideas directly from a source.  Given the depth of the subject, this seems a shortcoming.  He does, however, offer a selected bibliography, with about 30 books listed.

Second, Elder seems dismissive of Christianity – for example, using the phrase “unproven superstition” when considering the fallen nature of man.  I have seen no evidence in the book thus far that Elder recognizes the unfortunate reality: Gramsci placed, front and center, the need to destroy Christianity if communism was to succeed in the West.

As I have noted often regarding those libertarians and others who also see Christianity as a hindrance to liberty: Christianity cannot be a hindrance both to liberty and to communism at the same time.  I say Gramsci understands the situation better than do such libertarians and, perhaps, better than Elder.

18 comments:

  1. I believe that Gramsci had more than a greater respect for Christianity than might appear on the surface. For instance, theology for Gramsci is not determined by the general determination of thinking by the economic infrastructure: not all theological disputes are reducible to contradictions in the mode of production. The positions of the West and the Orthodox East on the Filioque Question, according to Gramsci, are not merely derivative from underlying economic causes. Again, the cult of the saints in the form of veneration of relics shows a healthy "materialism" in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Gramsci prefers lay religious beliefs to the sophisticated, perhaps sophistical, theology of the Jesuits.
    Marcuse: one of my students argued that his supplementation of Marx with Freud evidenced a lack of courage. Marcuse's real inspiration was for his criticism of modernity was Martin Heidegger, but it would be politically dangerous for Marcuse to make that explicit, for obvious reasons. So,Marcuse substituted psychoanalysis for Heideggerian ontology.
    A fundamental problem for Marcuse is his self-exemption from what Marcuse claims to be the all pervasive power of late capitalist thought. The main difficulty: only a society of fully liberated human beings can engender autonomous human actors who would profit from unrestrained freedom of thinking. But only fully liberated human beings could bring such a society into existence. How to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, how to think in the autonomous way characteristic of the liberated human being, about this Marcuse gives no advice. Yet, apparently, he, at least, accomplished this self liberation.

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  2. Excellent; thanks!
    And your last paragraph is spot on. The libertarians need a good does of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, in my humble opinion.

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    1. Hans Hoppe has said that libertarians (by and large) need to learn culture from conservatives, and conservatives (by and large) need to learn economics and political theory from libertarians.

      Or you could be Carl Ludwig von Haller and get it all right 200 years ago.

      I certainly agree with Hans. I was raised and have remained mostly socially conservative my whole life but only came to libertarianism through reading Rothbard and Hoppe and several others. Since my conservatism was mostly unstudied, I have for the past 5 or so years been trying to study and familiarize myself with the great conservative thinkers in history. It has been fun and dare I say... enlightening! Here are some I've taken a peek at:

      Wilson
      Solzhenitsyn
      Nisbet
      Bradford
      Kirk
      Meyer
      Weaver
      Babbit
      Dawson
      Kuehnelt-Leddihn
      Voegelin
      Sumner
      Chesterton
      Acton
      Tocqueville
      Burckhardt
      Haller
      Burke

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  3. Communists poorly disguised as Marxists poorly disguised as Socialists poorly disguised as (lol) Democrats.

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  4. One the points you make consistently is that what is important isn't libertarian theory. It's liberty. That helps focus a person on what is important and what is not.

    For example, Gov. Abbott's executive order banning employer vaxx mandates in Texas. Executive orders are problematic procedurally and even legally. Libertarians criticize it because it encroaches on the private property rights of business owner. But that criticism while correct according to theory misses about a million things related to the reality of life in 2021.

    The EO isn't that powerful. There are more forceful things Abbott could have done and that I would prefer he do, but I am thankful at least for the signal that the Governor of Texas is against vaxx mandates. It gives cover to people wanting to push back and probably opportunities for law suits.

    I wish Abbott would mobilize the Texas National Guard to enforce the ban on mandates in light of Biden's executive order and coming OSHA regulation. If Biden wouldn't have done what he did I wouldn't have the same opinion. But the situation stands. He is a fascist dictator and large corporations are doing the bidding of the government. I am looking for anyone with power to fight this evil, even if the effort is wrong headed or clumsy.

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  5. I would say that Herbert Marcuse is a more important character than he gets credit for. He was the godfather of the New Left movement. The hippy movement and New Left movement of the 60s came from his writings and mentorship. He is the one who wrote the blueprint how to organize the intersectionality movement in the US. He may not have developed Critical Theory or Critical Race Theory. But those who did were carrying out his plans for the US.

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    1. Also his book "Eros and Civilization" had a large influence on the Sexual Revolution of the sixties, possibly the greatest frontal assault on the traditional Christian way of life, apart from Soviet communism.

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  6. Marcuse, Gramsci, Weil, Marx, Freud, Alinsky, Horkheimer, Adorno, Boas....

    Why is just about every person mentioned on this page from a small tribe of people that represents < 1% of the population in the west?

    Don't you find it odd that 1% is 99% of the names dropped on this page? If so, why is this aspect not brought out?

    "Is it merely coincidence that society has developed almost exactly along the lines presented by Gramsci and the Frankfurt School?"

    Well, by ignoring the various social networks and ethnic connections, you aren't going to find that out. For instance, why do the Neocons not oppose any of this social engineering? Hint: same tribe.

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    1. And then...what?

      Every Jew, some Jews?

      I have been harmed more by white (non-Jewish) people than I have been harmed by Jews.

      The manifestation of evil can be found in people of every tribe.

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    2. Jews are just the idea men. Always have been. In the realm of ideas they stand head and shoulders above the rest, not necessarily in terms of what is good and true but what is influential. In modern times, their ideas are mostly harmful it should have to be admitted (excepting Rothbard and Mises and others in the heroic camp of freedom). But usually to be harmed by a bad Jewish idea you must (more or less) voluntarily submit to it or those around you, i.e. your kin, your community, your nation, must do so.

      Also the above statement unrealistically groups all Jews into the same category and unfairly maligns all of them by the actions of a scant few villains. For instance, I'm sure there are many Jews who are not in favor of fractional reserve banking, fiat currency, abortion, porn, sexual liberation, feminism, victim culture, aggressive foreign policy, assassinations, false flags, communism, social democracy, etc. ;)

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    3. “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained” -- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

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    4. I have the same question as Jim except that I am curious as to why so many of these people originated, not in Jewry, but in Germany. What was there about the Germanic culture which produced so many of these influential thinkers?

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    5. Roger, to your question...I don't know. But what was it about Germanic culture which produced so many influential composers, scientists, philosophers, theologians?

      In other words, that German culture also produced thinkers in harmful studies cannot be separated from the reality that German culture produced influential thinkers in many fields.

      This is why I don't get hung up on "the Jews" or the Germans are all Nazis or whatever. The Solzhenitsyn quote says it well. No individual, no culture, is immune from this line.

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    6. Roger,

      I think I remember reading that many of the Jews who immigrated to America who supported communism and socialism were from the Eastern Europe. Is Germany considered Eastern Europe?

      BM,

      Culture is a transferable thing, and so we should always welcome as many into the fold of liberty as possible. Imagine if the liberty movement had discounted Rothbard's work because he was a Jew. Or Thomas Sowell because he was black? That would have been supremely stupid.

      But... it is interesting and perhaps wise in terms of strategy to understand in which self-identified groups the current support for liberty is highest and which groups represent the greatest perils to liberty. Not that I would ever want to build a fence to round them up, but maybe a fence to keep them out wouldn't be so bad.

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  7. Great summation of the roots of Critical Theory.

    "The availability of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s would be the fuel for realizing this objective. " - BM

    Don't forget that the 'Pill' was made available around this time as well, which nearly erased that last shred of respect for the act of sex and its natural consequences. See here for an interesting discussion on the Pill's impact on the Sexual Revolution and the family.

    "But to achieve this, his ideas would first have to spread through the universities and educational system (and, unsaid by Elder, churches). " - BM

    "We must make it clear to the few Bishops and Cardinals who remain faithful to the Magisterium, that there can be no possibility of dialogue with those who have amply demonstrated that they are aligned with the enemy. We must pray to the Divine Majesty through the intercession of the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of the Priesthood asking that she may deign to accept our sufferings and the sufferings of these good priests and for the conversion of the Hierarchy that has been corrupted today from the top down." - Archbishop Vigano

    "I have seen no evidence in the book thus far that Elder recognizes the unfortunate reality: Gramsci placed, front and center, the need to destroy Christianity if communism was to succeed in the West." - BM

    That's a shame Elder could not see (or accept) this.

    Archbishop Vigano said it recently:

    "[T]he cause of the present evils [is] rebellion against the Universal Kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ."

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