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Cultural Marxism, Critical Theory, And The

Cultural Marxism, Critical Theory, And The

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Published by Hal Shurtleff
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Slide presentation by Leif Parsell.

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Published by: Hal Shurtleff on Feb 25, 2012
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Cultural Marxism, Critical Theory, and the Demise of Western Civilization

Following the chaos of the First World War, Communism took hold in the husk of Imperial Russia. At the same time, communist revolutions in Western Europe, including large revolutions in Hungary and Germany failed. Where Communism took hold, it required the massive use of force, secret police, and the implementation of totalitarian states. The 20th century saw Communist regimes commit Democide on more 90 million people. Both during and following the First World War, socialist leaders expected that the long-awaited proletariat uprising would occur. However, revolutions in Hungary and Germany were short-lived, and the only successful revolution, in the Soviet Union, required the continued use of force. For many Socialists, Communists and Marxists, the need for violence to maintain the system was inconceivable. They had predicted that such measures would be unnecessary, as economic conditions would prepare the lower classes for revolution. As a result, a variety of Marxist thinkers developed what has today come to be known as ³Cultural Marxism,´ ³Multi-Culturalism,´ or ³Political Correctness.´

Antonio Gramsci

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Born on Sardinia in 1891. Member of the Socialist Party of Italy from 1913 onwards. During Italian socialist uprisings in 1918-1920 Gramsci felt betrayed when the workers neogiated with, rather than overthrow, their employers. Founding member of the Communist Party of Italy in 1921. Gramsci traveled to Moscow in 1922 and was appalled that force was necessary to maintain a system which ostensively was to the workers benefit. Gramsci realized that workers would not put in place a Marxist framework in society as long as they had grown up in a culture which emphasized the Christian religion and Western values. In 1926 Gramsci was imprisoned by the National Socialist state of Benito Mussolini. While in prison Gramsci wrote more than thirty notebooks on Italian history and Marxist philosophy. Here he developed Cultural Marxism, through the twin notions of ³Hegemony´ and ³Critical Theory,´ in an attempt to devise a way to replace the culture of Western societies with one amenable to Marxism.

Frankfurt School
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ Began as a week long symposium in 1922 organized by Marxist intellectual Felix Weil, which sought to question why workers revolutions in the West had failed, while in the Soviet Union they had succeeded. The symposium was so successful that Weil arranged for the formation of the Institute of Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main. In 1930 Max Horkheimer took over as director of the institute and recruited some of its most famous members, including Theodore Adorno, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and Jurgen Habermas. Together, they broke from Marx, arguing that culture was not simply a part of societies superstructure, determined by economics; it determined the reactions of citizens. Following the election of Hitler as German Chancellor in 1933, members of the school fled, eventually reestablishing itself at Columbia University in New York in 1935. Adorno and Horkheimer spent the Second World War working in Hollywood. In the early 1950¶s, a series of books published by the school under the heading of ³studies in prejudice,´ outlined the theory that any kind of group identity, including religious, ethnic, and family, were signs of mental disorder. Christian self-denial, preservationist attitudes, patriotism, and other behaviors were signs of ³insanity.´ The school created or further developed a variety of Marxist theories, including ³Critical Theory,´ ³Relativism,´ ³Authoritarian Personality,´ and ³Psychoanalysis.´

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Theory of Hegemony

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The theory of hegemony, as put forward by Gramsci and others, has at its center the idea that certain ³dominant groups,´ utilized their power to victimize other groups. They do this primarily by keeping all other groups in society subservient by creating the illusion that their values are normal. The hegemonic class then creates or supports institutions which preach this belief system. For Marxists, this creates a situation where citizens believe that they can succeed by participating in capitalism. The United States provides a perfect example of the (successful) extension of what Cultural Marxists would suggest were hegemonic value systems. From 1876-1924, the United States accepted approximately 30million European immigrants. Despite sharing a common racial and to some extent religious and historical heritage, these immigrants were very culturally different from Americans. Americans in this era took it upon themselves to aid these immigrants. Nearly every civic or economic institution in the country took it upon themselves to help these immigrants learn English and assimilate. Their children participated in a variety of Americanizing activities. In 1924, the United States drastically reduced immigration, which gave immigrants a chance to further integrate themselves. All of these factors, for Marxists, lend weight to the idea that the dominant social class in the US at this time extended their ³hegemonic value systems´ onto these immigrants.

Critical Theory

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Critical Theory has its basis in a complete distrust of the Enlightenment, and the belief that culture, and the institutions which support culture, exist for mass deception. What was the theory? The theory was to criticize. By subjecting every traditional institution, starting with family, to endless, unremitting criticism, it hoped to bring them down. Critical Theory is the basis for the ³studies´ departments that now inhabit American colleges and universities. Not surprisingly, those departments are the home turf of academic political correctness. ³Adorno and Horkheimer theorized that the phenomenon of mass culture has a political implication, namely that all the many forms of popular culture are a single culture industry whose purpose is to ensure the continued obedience of the masses to market interests.´ Therefore critical theory and what later became known as ³deconstruction,´ posit that no value is better than another, and that any value was simply created by one person to control another. ³The idea behind deconstruction is to deconstruct the workings of strong nation-states with powerful immigration policies, to deconstruct the rhetoric of nationalism, the politics of place, the metaphysics of native land and native tongue. («) The idea is to disarm the bombs of identity that nation-states build to defend themselves against the stranger.´ Jacques Derrida

Cultural Marxism in the 1960¶s Revolution

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After many of the Frankfurt School scholars returned to Germany, Herbert Marcuse became the spotlight of the American branch. In 1955 he published the book Eros and Civilization, which celebrated what Marcuse called ³polymorphous perversity.´ During 1960¶s protests against the Vietnam war, he popularized the phrase, ³make love, not war.´ Marcuse posited that the best allies for cultural marxists were to be found in the fostering of what he called ³victimized interest groups rightly opposed to Western civilization, with all the defiance, and the hatred, and the joy of rebellious victims, defining their own humanity against the definitions of the masters.´ Students in Paris during the 1968 uprising marched with banners reading "Marx, Mao, and Marcuse."

Teaching History Under Cultural Marxism

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‡³Most Americans are today blind to the fact that there is even such a thing as a distinctive American and Western civilization, and that they themselves, and everything they know and love, are products of it. Increasingly cut off from their cultural roots, many Americans, particularly our younger generations, no longer know who they are, and are easily swayed by ideological currents telling them that their civilization adds up to nothing more than a cloud of ³cultural diversity´ changing at random from moment to moment.´ ±Lawrence Auster

The Long March?

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Both Gramsci and the Frankfurt school suggested that Cultural Marxism would need to transform the culture. Violent revolutions were unnecessary, and in fact counter-productive. Instead of overthrowing cultural institutions, they were first allied with, then co-opted, and finally taken over. In the 1960¶s an important figure in the history of Cultural Marxism arose in Chicago: Saul Alinsky. ³Alinsky was a µtransformational Marxist¶ in the mould of Antonio Gramsci, who promoted the strategy of a µlong march through the institutions¶ by capturing the culture. In similar vein, Alinsky condemned the New Left for alienating the general public by its demonstrations and outlandish appearance. The revolution had to be carried out through stealth and deception. Its proponents had to cultivate an image of centrism and pragmatism. A master of infiltration, Alinsky wooed Chicago mobsters and Wall Street financiers alike.´ His creed was set out in his book µRules for Radicals¶ ± a book he dedicated to Lucifer, whom he called the µfirst radical¶. It was Alinsky for whom µchange¶ was his mantra. And by µchange¶, he meant a Marxist revolution achieved by slow, incremental, Machiavellian means which turned society inside out. The community organiziers which Alinsky cultivated eventually included Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and such organizations as ACORN. Today, leftists comprise 90% of American academics, have control over mass media, and their doctrines influence many religious and civic organizations.

Political Correctness and ³Repressive Tolerance´

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In 1965 Marcuse wrote an essay called ³Repressive Tolerance,´ where he outlined his belief that open debate favored hegemonic ideas because of the cultural institutions supporting these beliefs. Echoing other cultural Marxists, Marcuse believed that monocultures in the Western World represented a, ³A clear and present danger. Consequently, true pacification requires the withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger. I maintain that our society is in such an emergency situation, and that it has become the normal state of affairs. («) Therefore true tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left.´ Today, political correctness and repressive tolerance has restrained the academic, political, and social discourse through Western Civilization.

Modern Cultural Marxism
‡ ‡ ‡ Professor Peter Spiro mocked President Bush¶s pronouncement that, ³those who swear the oath of citizenship are doing more than completing a legal process, they are making a lifelong pledge to support the values and laws of America,´ as an ³incidental sop to nationalists. Law Professor T. Alexander Alienikoff suggested that it was wrong for Americans to suggest that it was the immigrants who needed to adjust to the culture of the United States. Professor Robert Bach, whose seven year study of immigration, funded by the Ford Foundation, advocated for the maintenance of ethnic immigrant identities, supported non-citizen voting, and in attacking assimilation, suggested that it was homogeneity, not diversity, ³that may be the problem in America.´ Professor Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago denounced emphasis on ³patriotic pride´ as ³morally dangerous,´ urged the ethnic superiority of cosmopolitanism over patriotism, and argued that people would direct their ³allegiance´ to the ³worldwide community of human beings.´ Professor Amy Guttmann of Princeton argued it was ³repugnant´ for America students to learn that they are ³above all, citizens of the United States.´ The ³primary allegiance´ of Americans, she urged, ³should not be to the United States or to some other politically sovereign community, but to ³democratic humanism.´ Professor Richard Sennett of New York University denounced ³the evil of a shared national identity´ and judged the erosion of national sovereignty ³basically as a positive phenomenon.´ («) In 1992 Strobe Talbot, then a journalist writing in Time, approvingly looked forward to a future when ³nationhood as we know it will be obsolete; and all states will recognize a single global authority.´ In 1994 he became the Deputy Secretary of State. In October 1989 New York Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol gave the following speech. ± ³We are becoming a different people. Our country is becoming more ethnically, linguistically and culturally diverse. («) The old idea was that it didn¶t matter where you came from, that what mattered was being an American. Decent people didn¶t talk about race. This was to be truly a new world. The purpose of the schools was the promotion of assimilation, implanting in children the Anglo-Saxon conceptions of righteousness, law, order and popular government, and awakening in them a reverence for our institutions. This prevented the U.S. from becoming an ethnically Balkanized nation. The assimilationist ideal worked for ethnic peoples who were white but is not working nearly as well for ethnic peoples of color. Replacing the old, Assimilationist view is a competing ethic²cultural pluralism. Today we must accommodate not only a diversity of origins but a diversity of views.´

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³It would resemble paternal power if, like that, it had for its object to prepare men for manhood; but on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them fixed irrevocably in childhood; it likes citizens to enjoy themselves provided that they think only of enjoying themselves. It willingly works for their happiness; but it wants to be the unique agent and sole arbiter of that; it provides for their security, foresees and secures their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts their principal affairs, directs their industry, regulates their estates, divides their inheritances; can it not take away from them entirely the trouble of thinking and the pain of living? («) Each individual allows himself to be attached because he sees that it is not a man or a class but the people themselves that hold the end of the chain.´ ³In thinking through the crisis of American national identity, we should keep in mind the opening words of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths«." Usually, and correctly, we emphasize the truths that are to be held, but we must not forget the "We" who holds them. The American creed is the keystone of American national identity; but it requires a culture to sustain it. The republican task is to recognize the creed's primacy, the culture's indispensability, and the challenge, which political wisdom alone can answer, to shape a people that can live up to its principles.´ Charles Kessler

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Further Reading
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ Who Are We? By Samuel Huntington Death of the West and Suicide of a Superpower by Patrick Buchanan ³The Path to National Suicide´ by Lawrence Auster Culture Matters edited by Lawrence Harrison The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society by Arthur Schleisinger ³Assimilation in American Life´ by Milton Gordon The Rise and Fall of Anglo America by Eric P. Kaufman ³Sea Change in America¶s Civic Culture in the 1960¶s´ by Phillip Gleason ³Liberal Democracy vs. Transnational Progressivism´ and ³Why We Have a Culture War´ by John Fonte ³The Crisis of American Identity´ by Charles Kessler The Foundations of American Citizenship by Richard Sinopoli Assimilation, American Style by Peter Salins The Long March by Roger Kimball Patriotic Pluralism and The Decline of Civic Education by Jeffery Mirel ³A Vast Social Experiment: The Immigration Act of 1965´ by Otis Graham Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam ³Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt´ by Paul Gottfried The Unmaking of Americans by John T. Miller The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom

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