Cultural Marxism—or Liberalism?
1999 letter on cultural separation
provides material for reflection on how best to describe the present dominant ideology. Weyrich calls it Political Correctness or (his preferred term) Cultural Marxism, an “alien ideology” that has gained control of America and aims openly at destroying its traditional culture. But then he says, in response to the moral catastrophe of the Clinton years, that “we have to face some unpleasant facts. I no longer believe that there is a moral majority. I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually shares our values.”
But this raises the question, if a majority of Americans go along with this “alien ideology” (and not just go along with it, but take it so profoundly for granted that it becomes impossible for anyone to criticize it), can it really be so alien? Is it really an alien belief system coming from Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School that Americans have signed on to? Or is it not, rather, our own American liberal belief system which has grown ever more radical and extreme?
This returns us to a point I’ve made before. I think Jim Kalb’s way of describing the dominant culture as “liberalism,” rather than as leftism or political correctness, is more accurate. Also it’s more hopeful. If it’s a radical or alien ideology that has so totally taken over our minds that no one even dreams of opposing it, then we must be entire zombies to have let that happen, and there wouldn’t seem much hope of our fixing things. But if it’s our own, American liberalism manifesting its own radical potentialities, then we can do something about it, because the problem is in ourselves. We have made some fundamentally wrong assumptions that have led inevitably to our current crisis, and we can go back and get things right.
The difference between calling the problem Cultural Marxism derived from the Frankfurt School and calling the problem liberalism is roughly analogous to the difference between saying: “The Masons (or the Jews) have worked this vast conspiracy for centuries to undermine the Church and Civilization (in which case what the heck do we do about it), and saying: “We have done this to ourselves and we must repent.” The first view leads to endless paranoid gripes and conspiracy mongering. The second can lead to a cure.
Years ago I spent some time with traditionalist Catholics from a New York City parish and everything wrong with the world they atttributed to the Masons. I told them, I have no idea who the Masons are, I’ve never seen a Mason. If the Masons are the source of the trouble, what do we do about that? These arguments got nowhere with them. It was the Masons. That was that.
So the question is: Is there some particular alien thing that we can nuke and then everything will be OK, or is it something more basic that is a problem within us?
Here is the excerpt from Paul Weyrich’s 1999 letter on cultural separation that set these thoughts going:
But it is impossible to ignore the fact that the United States is becoming an ideological state. The ideology of Political Correctness, which openly calls for the destruction of our traditional culture, has so gripped the body politic, has so gripped our institutions, that it is even affecting the Church. It has completely taken over the academic community. It is now pervasive in the entertainment industry, and it threatens to control literally every aspect of our lives.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 09, 2003 12:17 PM | Send
Those who came up with Political Correctness, which we more accurately call “Cultural Marxism,” did so in a deliberate fashion. I’m not going to go into the whole history of the Frankfurt School and Herbert Marcuse and the other people responsible for this. Suffice it to say that the United States is very close to becoming a state totally dominated by an alien ideology, an ideology bitterly hostile to Western culture. Even now, for the first time in their lives, people have to be afraid of what they say.
This has never been true in the history of our country. Yet today, if you say the “wrong thing,” you suddenly have legal problems, political problems, you might even lose your job or be expelled from college.
Certain topics are forbidden. You can’t approach the truth about a lot of different subjects. If you do, you are immediately branded as “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, “insensitive”, or “judgmental.”
Cultural Marxism is succeeding in its war against our culture. The question becomes, if we are unable to escape the cultural disintegration that is gripping society, then what hope can we have? Let me be perfectly frank about it. If there really were a moral majority out there, Bill Clinton would have been driven out of office months ago. It is not only the lack of political will on the part of Republicans, although that is part of the problem. More powerful is the fact that what Americans would have found absolutely intolerable only a few years ago, a majority now not only tolerates but celebrates. Americans have adopted, in large measure, the MTV culture that we so valiantly opposed just a few years ago, and it has permeated the thinking of all but those who have separated themselves from the contemporary culture.
If in Washington State and Colorado, after we have spent years talking about partial birth abortion, we can’t by referendum pass a ban on it, we have to face some unpleasant facts. I no longer believe that there is a moral majority. I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually shares our values.
Excellent piece by Mr. Auster. Liberals demonize America in particular and the West in general; this has a tendency to polarize the Right. We end up thinking that there are only three alternatives:
1) We are the good guys, so there is nothing whatsoever wrong with us that calls for repentance. Everything bad is attributable to the Other.
2) We are the bad guys, so we deserve to be destroyed.
3) We are not the good guys or the bad guys; just the same, deep down, as our enemies (e.g. Islam, the Nazis, the Commies, or whomever).
It never occurs to many people that NONE of those perspectives are true. The truth of the matter is that we are the good guys, and we are fallen and in very serious need of repentance in order simply to survive.
Matt’s three categories—(1) we’re the good guys, (2) we’re the bad guys, and (3) everyone is equally bad so nothing matters anyway—help explain something that’s bothered me for a long time. What was the proper spiritual response to the 9/11 attack? It should have been national days of prayer and humiliation, such as America had numerous times in the Revolutionary period and at least once during the Civil War. That wouldn’t mean our enemies were justified (any more than the revolutionary era Americans felt the King was justified or that the Northern people in 1863 felt the South was justified); seeking repentance and purification from our own sins would not have been inconsistent with the knowledge that the terrorists are monstrous criminals whom we have to fight and destroy. But repentance would have shown an awareness that we are not right with God and that that has opened us to these crimes against us.
Such a response of repentance was inconceivable to modern Americans. Part of this is understandable, since the attack was so unprecedentedly horrible and threatening, and further, since there are those who (category two) do want to say America is the bad guy, and who would interpret any such traditionalist Christian response of humiliation as a confession that America really is the bad guy, and the people in category one (we’re the good guy) will naturally not want to encourage that.
The true response is what Matt has suggested.
Thanks. I think the “trichotomy” has been around for a long time. As a Catholic I see the Protestant schism as being in large part caused by clerical corruption, etc; and I see the repentence of corrupt clerics within the Roman Church as the primary thing that could have prevented it. But that doesn’t justify the Protestants in lifting heresies from Islam to bring the Church down.
A conservative for whom I have much respect wrote to me about this article.
But liberalism is not liberal—it’s anti free market, redistributionist, engaged in civil war and therefore not tolerant towards those who disagree with it. These are leftists not liberals, their mentor is Rousseau not Locke. You need another term.
Agreed that the people you’re describing are leftists not liberals. But that returns us to the question of why the majority of people, who are liberals not leftists, go along with the leftists or fail to oppose them in any serious active way. Look at the schools. Diane Ravitch just had an article showing that some of the major grade school textbook publishers do not allow any photographs that show men as carpenters, soldiers, lawyers, and construction workers, or women as homemakers, and so on. This totalitarian reconstruction of human reality is leftist, not liberal. But that raises the question: why has this leftist campaign taken over the public schools of America with barely a peep of protest? This shows that the real problem is the mainstream American liberals and conservatives who go along with these things. And they go along with them because there is nothing in the mainstream view that can effectively oppose the leftist view, because ultimately they share common, or at least compimentary, premises.
So, if mainstream liberals and conservatives are effectively to oppose these things, they need to look within themselves and see where their own belief system has got certain things wrong.
Yes, they’re called fellow travelers. But calling it liberalism misnames it and gives them a break they don’t deserve. the root of liberal is liberty. Let’s call them leftists.
Ok, but that means calling the majority (or certainly half) of the American people leftist or leftist sympathizers or fellow travellers. Is that what you want?
Yes. That’s who they are. There are hardcore leftists and fellow travelers (witting and unwitting). There are some truly muddled liberals—most people aren’t consistent in their thinking.
In any case, whatever terminology we use, we are agreeing that the problem does not lie outside of ourselves, being imposed on us by some sinister external alien force, but that it is being enabled by something within ourselves, and it ourselves that we must fix. Would you agree with that?
I disagree with Mr. Auster’s interlocutor on the terminology. Using the term “leftist” implies extremism, etc — it implies the opposite of the point of Mr. Auster’s article, which is that part of the problem lies within ourselves; and therefore the terminology he proposes undermines the substance of the article. An “it is purely the Other not us” implication comes from the notion that there is nothing whatsoever within Locke and his legacy of which we must repent. I think that also undermines the article’s main point. Even though Mr. Auster’s conservative discussion partner seems to be agreeing with Mr. Auster in substance, he attempts to backtrack from the thesis via terminology. So I think Mr. Auster’s interlocutor is waffling between the substantive position of the article and position #1 in the trichotomy.
“The first view leads to endless paranoid gripes and conspiracy mongering”. Exactly. The only real opposition to the liberal establishment in Australia in the 50s and 60s was a group called the League of Rights. They achieved very little, despite very favourable circumstances, because they explained events purely in terms of a great conspiracy.
One of the other problems for principled conservatives is to understand the “right wing” parties. These are usually a complicated mixture of right wing liberalism and mainstream conservatism, but with the more conservative individuals still retaining the core beliefs of liberalism. Many members of these parties call themselves both conservative and liberal, as if the two were interchangeable, but in the long run the “right liberalism” has always predominated. Yet many rank and file conservatives place their faith in these parties. Principled conservatism will have made some ground when the essentially liberal nature of parties like the American Republicans or the British Conservatives is better understood.
Finally, I agree with Matt that Mr Auster’s “conservative” was wrong to deny that leftists are liberals. Of course leftists want “liberty”: the same kind of liberty that classical right liberals want, namely to be self-created through their own will and reason.
Hence Germaine Greer, who is surely a “leftist”, talks endlessly of her ideal of achieving “self-definition and self-determination”. But if a woman wants “self-definition”, she needs to be less dependent on family relationships, and more dependent on a combination of herself (a career) and the state (maternity leave provisions, single mother benefits, employment rights and privileges etc). So for left liberals seeking social emancipation there is no contradiction between individual liberty and statism.
My idea for the most important cause is Americans became soft and lost their inertia. Few wanted to sacrifice, to fight. If many years earlier, many Americans had formed a Third Party that could organize radical resistance, there is a good chance we would have turned the corner already. But too many of us simply wanted the career of our choice, large inefficient housing, several automobiles, financial security etc. We bought the status quo from the ruling class and its base: unions, immigrants, liberals, minorities, and women. The outlook has become so bleak that our kindred feel that because you can’t beat them, join them.
Here are some examples of radical resistance. If many college educated Third Party people had banded together to home-school in tiny classrooms the nation’s children for little pay, the powerful teacher’s unions would not exist. If white collar workers would have suddenly begun taking good jobs for low pay and driven wages down to that of blue collar workers or less, the blue collar workers and so-called poor would have had no “rich” to soak. Immigrants would have gotten no welcome. If millions in the Third Party had decided to ignore the anti-discrimination laws, the laws would not have been enforced. If the Third Party had started its own television and film corporations, Americans would not have been brainwashed. In other words, turn the system on its head. But the few (unlike the soldiers at Valley Forge) were unwilling to sacrifice for the many, who would not have participated, at least at the beginning.
Mr. Auster, if I had to guess, I’d say your interlocutor is Richard Ferrier. Am I right?
I didn’t give the correspondent’s name because it was a private e-mail exchange.
P Murgos, did the average person of your generation really see what needed to be resisted? The men I know of my father’s generation never broke through the consciousness that political affairs were to be conceived in terms of individual opportunities. If you were to talk of nations, culture, or race with them it would barely register. In terms of morality, despite being solid family men themselves, they weren’t willing to judge wider moral trends in society, believing somehow that mainstream opionion as expressed through the newspapers was either right or irresistible. This despite the fact that they attended Church regularly. I believe that the first step for this generation was not so much greater courage to follow their beliefs, but for conservative intellectuals to place before them a belief system which broke through the core liberal idea that we are blank slate, atomised individuals pursuing our own individual desires. I don’t see that there can be group loyalties or stable moral beliefs until this is done.
That’s a good description from Mr. Richardson of the “Greatest Generation.” Good, decent, upright people, but without the deeper grounding to explain or defend their civilization and everything that had made it possible. Read Plato’s Republic, Book VIII on the “Oligarchic man,” by which Plato really means commercial man, who conducts his own life in an orderly way but has no sense of higher truth and thus can’t defend the society when it is attacked by his children.
I very much appreciate a response to my posting because I have posed these points before and was met with silence. My hypothesis is action is needed now.
I did not have lack of courage in mind when I criticized myself or the truly Greatest Generation that my Daddy belongs to. I have no more courage than the next person.
I became aware in the 1970’s that the major media had a liberal bias, and I wondered why a conservative media did not exist. I would have been willing to invest in it, but no one started a competitor. I did not think it was a matter of courage. I just kept thinking someone would eventually do it. It still is a mystery why there are no solidly conservative television and film corporations pouring out conservative sitcoms, talk shows, and movies. (I do thank God for Fox.)
Not being an intellectual, I must rely on common sense causes for failure. I can’t argue with Plato or Einstein. Taking the path of least resistance seems to have been the major blunder. Simply voting is taking the path of least resistance. Simply voting has been a failure. Traditional values have been retreating steadily since at least the 1960’s, when my memory begins. Newt Gingrich, when he spoke immediately after the extraordinary Republican takeover of the Congress in the 1990’s, said Americans cannot expect change by simply voting.
Resistance, for example, is giving up that sixty-hour a week high-salary job and working in a less time consuming job that would allow one time to be politically active. Supporting one another through a Third Party is tangible action that can be taken now. I am not sure we need an unassailable counterargument for every argument. The counterarguments are not necessarily that complicated unless one is searching for a fundamental equation analogous to a unified theory of universal forces. If it comes down to it, the argument can be “well that is the way I want it, and I have as much right to get what I want as you do.” But it seems the sponsors here have already come up with darn good arguments on many things. I’ll bet good arguments have been around for decades. Action and a leader have not been around. Because neither have emerged, maybe the commentators are right that we are dealing with a spiritual punishment and there needs to be repentance.
(Please recognize that I am not here to win arguments. I am here to learn.)
I’m not sure what Mr. Murgos expects us to say. The post and the following discussion had to do with the proper definition of words, not with activism. There is a place for action, and for thinking about what kinds of action to take, but there is also a place for trying to understand things, and that’s what the focus is on at VFR.
From time to time I’ve been involved in working on activist plans. Once I worked with others trying to start a national grassroots immigration restriction movement. Once I developed a manifesto for a possible organization devoted to re-establishing European-American leadership in this country. I’ve tryied to generate interest in a platform for a new political party. There may be more sustained activism in the future. But the clear thinking we attempt to engage in at VFR will help any possible activism.
Every conservative or restorationist movement fails because it is not grounded in a set of understandings and allegiances distinct from that which it is trying to resist, so it can’t sustain itself against the prevailing social forces. That’s why it’s not enough to have strong feelings and convictions, one needs articulated clear principles grounded in morality and truth, and the ability to defend them.
Did you ever see the video on the Frankfurt School put out by Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation? It was hosted by Bill Lind and is very persuasive.
However, people all over the West did submit to “Cultural Marxism.”
If we stipulate that people all over the West did submit to “Cultural Marxism” then the important question is, why? If it were some alien, outside, evil force then how could it enter and take over the minds of Western people everywhere? The answer is that Cultural Marxism is not some outside evil force, but rather a natural manifestation of advanced liberalism; it comes from the inside not the outside. As Mark Richardson points out left liberals and right liberals fundamentally value exactly the same things: they just disagree as to how they should be brought about. When a right-liberal feels intensely violated, alienated, and impotent he identifies an Enemy and becomes a Nazi. When a right-liberal feels intensely violated, alienated, and impotent he identifies an Enemy and becomes a Communist. But they are all branches of the same tree, pustules springing from the same virus.
Sorry, my second-to-last sentence should read:
“When a LEFT-liberal feels intensely violated, alienated, and impotent he identifies an Enemy and becomes a Communist.”
I find that I can use the word “liberal” (unlike “leftist”) with both positive and negative connotations: the positive connotation being most especially the belief in the high value of free educated rational discourse and the willingness to reconsider one’s prejudices—as contrasted, for instance, with that Spanish Falangist leader who cried “Down with intelligence!” in opposition to such liberals (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) as Jose Ortega y Gasset. Does this mean I am merely confused about my fundamental beliefs? If so, everyone else at this site who values open debate must also be similarly confused.
For a more consistent conservatism, one apparently has to go to the ultra-Catholics such as Donoso Cortes, who explicitly asserts that intellectual freedom does *not* lead to the victory of the truth, thanks to the pride of Man, which rejects the very ideas for which there is the best evidence. I admire this thinker a great deal. But he seems quite alien to my own English-speaking tradition, such as it is, and I doubt there are many people here who would want to crush free intellectual enquiry, even if they saw some need to restrict, formally or informally, some of its manifestations, such as the free promulgation of anti-religious ideas among the uneducated.
My impression is that the problem with leftism is not that it represents an evil set of principles but that it takes good ideas, for example Christian nonresistance or charity, and applies them in an extreme, simple-minded and vulgar (democratic) collectivist way. To combat this unfortunately requires not equally simplistic opposing principles but better-educated minds in positions of influence….
Classical, individualist liberalism also suffered from this simple-mindedness. Yet we have to intelligently correct this without throwing out such closely related institutions as freedom of thought.
The extremist implication of the term “leftist” is entirely justified. In historical perspective, we now live in an extremist society and the sooner this is widely recognized the better.
“Extremism” though implies deviation from what commonly is the case. It also implies that the problem is not within us, but is something that has infiltrated us from the outside. Whatever language we end up using cannot imply those things if the needed repentence is to be taken seriously. Whatever that may leave in as discourse appropriate to our purpose, I think it leaves “extremism” and “leftism” out.
I like “extremist” as in “we now live in an extremist society” though. So used the word emphasizes that the problem within us is indeed a big problem.
On Mr. Hare’s basic point, it seems to me that liberal tendencies can be good in many cases but they become bad in principle when they become an “ism” — that is, an ordered way of thinking that puts freedom and discourse rather than the good, beautiful and true first.
I suppose that from a religous perspective the problem with these liberal tendencies is that they have become separated from the theological “center” which gave birth to them. With the collapse of the center, peripheral goods have been forced to serve as surrogate central goods. For example, political democracy has been turned from a sometimes useful device into an unquestionable dogma of universal applicability.
Ian, liberalism doesn’t mean a support for free intellectual inquiry.
The underlying philosophy of all forms of liberalism is the idea that we can and should be self-created through our own will and reason. This philosophy means that liberals, over time, will reject existing impediments to individual will and reason. This includes anything that is inborn or unchosen, such as the influence of being born male or female, ethnic identity or ethnic nationalism, objective morality, and stable family commitments.
It also means that liberals, whether moderate or radical, tend to have a core understanding of themselves as “blank slate” individuals, stripped of those qualities which give a particular and necessary association to others.
A principled or philosophical conservatism is an affirmation that we have an inborn nature which gives a particular direction to our lives, and which arises prior to and independent from our reason and will.
It can also be seen as a defence of those forms of identity and connectedness that liberalism rejects in the service of an unimpeded will and reason.
The problem with liberalism is not that it has been applied simplistically by the poorly educated. The problem is that the best educated experience the longest exposure to liberal first principles and have, over time, pursued these first principles to their logical end.
We have to clearly understand, and reject, those first principles!
Liberalism nowadays doesn’t mean a support for free intellectual enquiry, but the two used to be closely associated. There are even a few liberals still around who genuinely believe in free speech. The free exercise of our own reason would appear to require intellectual freedom, so this close association should not be surprising. I feel as though I’m stating the obvious here.
The idea that we have an “inborn nature” may be as dangerous, simplistically employed, as the idea that we are self-created. If we have an inborn nature, why should we not give free rein to it, throwing off the shackles of conventional morality? And why bother to cultivate oneself in any way if one’s inborn nature is independent of one’s will? (I don’t see why our will shouldn’t be part of our inborn nature….)
I don’t want to stomp on the poorly-educated. We seem to lack a significant well-educated class nowadays, and rule by the semi-educated “anti-elite” may be much worse than rule by the uneducated.
Yes, our will is part of our inborn nature. But does it act upon a blank slate? Can it move us in any direction? Must it recognise the limits implied by certain necessary social relationships? Or by an objectively existing moral order?
For instance, does it mean anything to our will that we are born male and female? Are there specific virtues that our will should seek to carry us toward if we are men? Do we have particular duties our will ought to aim at if we are fathers, or husbands, or brothers? Is our will contravening what is objectively “right” if it disregards these duties?
Liberals want to be self-created by their own will and so they tend to reject over time those aspects of human nature which might limit the “sphere of play” of their will. Conservatives do accept the existence of their own will, but accept that direction is given to our lives by factors outside of this will, including inborn aspects of our own nature.
I don’t think I disagree with anything in Mark Richardson’s last post. He seems in effect to be illustrating my point that liberalism errs by applying principles—such as the desirability of removing obstacles to the free play of the will—in an extreme, oversimplified way; while conservatism applies them more subtly and maturely, taking account of the conflicting claims of other principles, none of which (at least on the secular plane) are given the status of axioms from which everything else inexorably flows.