The Marxism in the Mayhem
“Philosophical concepts nourished in the stillness of a professor's study,” wrote Isaiah Berlin, “could destroy a civilization.” Karl Marx’s concepts paved the way for today’s riots and terrorism.
Dear friends and supporters:
Behind the violent riots in the wake of the reprehensible killing of George Floyd is a pernicious web of ideas known as Cultural Marxism. Not that one in a thousand of the recent terrorists has ever read Marx or even consciously considers Marxism a guiding principle. But perhaps one in a hundred has heard of “systemic racism” (a Marxist category), and if they have not heard of it, embrace the idea to which it refers.
The terrorism of burning, looting, and killing isn’t simply outrage at the killing of Floyd. Peaceful protests favoring justice for his family are entirely legitimate and part of the American heritage protected by the First Amendment.
But the terrorism and the charges that the brutal police officer not only meet justice but also that this specific evil act parades an entire society and its history guilty of gross evil evidence one of the most pernicious, civilization-destroying ideas of the modern world. That idea is Marxism.
When most Americans hear Marxism, they probably think of the Soviet Union (1917–1991) and of (still-)Communiust China, Cuba, and North Korea. These are regimes erected on classical (original) Marxism. This is the Marxism of the economic writings of 19th century German philosopher Karl Marx (like Das Kapital).
Marx was an atheistic materialist who believed that the material and physical was the fundamental (and only) reality of life. Above all things, we are driven by physical survival, health, food, material security and comfort. There is no God, devil, heaven, or hell. There is no metaphysics; WYSIATI (What You See Is All There Is).
Marx took this materialism a step further. All of our ideas, our religion, our philosophy, our economics, our arts are molded by our material condition, whether we know it or not. The rulers or elite in society, for example, create ideologies like classical liberalism (the political philosophy of the U. S. Founding) or economic freedom to justify their privileged position and keep themselves in power.
The unprivileged in society believe in God to help them endure the hardships of this life by holding out hope for a better afterlife. The privileged believe in God to provide a justification for moral laws (like property rights) that preserve their wealth and status.
Marx held these ideas and others to be merely self-preserving myths that the new enlightened materialists must smash in order to create the just society in which all people share equally in material provision. Since there is no religion, and nothing but the material world, there could be no greater human society than one of material equality. The just society is the materially egalitarian society. This is why Marx was a state socialist, and he increasingly came to believe that society would not change without armed conflict (revolution).
This, of course, is just what happened in both the Soviet Union and later in Mao’s China. The fact that Marx’s ideas themselves, according to his theory, emerged as a result of his material condition and therefore were not absolute, seemed not to have troubled him. In the words of G. K. Chesterton, he undermined his own mines, but few people seem to have noticed the self-refutation.
As early as a year or two after the newly created Soviet Union, Hungarian Marxist György Lukács (LOO-kotch) was already revising Marx’s theories and Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (GROM-shee) headed in the same general direction. This is called Cultural Marxism (or revisionist Marxism or neo-Marxism or existential Marxism). In the 20’s German Marxists like Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse (Mar-KOOS-u) joined the revisionist caravan. Later this German Marxism at their Frankfurt School devised Critical Theory, a reasoned way of evaluating — and altering — all of society (not just economics) from a Marxist perspective. Later on, Marx’s early (Paris) writings, dealing with culture, not just economics, were discovered, and their basic theses conformed to a remarkable degree to the European Cultural Marxism and Critical Theory.
The key to understanding Critical Theory is its method: dialectics. To simplify, it means viewing reality not as things are, but as they were and are in the process of becoming.
Everything, including man, is in flux. Nothing is fixed or permanent, not even ethics; our standards of what are right and wrong are evolving, like everything else. In the dialectical methodology of CT everything is in process, evolving. The task of CT is not to analyze people and things as they are but as they will be — in their evolution and transformation.
This is a task limited to smart people, for they alone have the intelligence to look beyond the present concrete and to abstract from history an evaluation of the process of people and things. People are as much acted on by their history and culture as they themselves act.
This means that we cannot (for example) judge individuals only by their actions but must see them as the products of their economic background or religious upbringing — or race.
Despite differences, what all these Cultural Marxists had in common was the belief that Classical Marxism was too narrow. Life is not just about economics. The ruling classes impose their view of religion, sexuality, education, race, gender, art, science, and technology on the “oppressed” classes.
What was needed was not merely material egalitarianism, but cultural egalitarianism.
“The long march through the institutions”
Moreover, the capture of society by violent revolution as in Soviet Russia would likely not work in the West, with its history of liberal institutions and gradual, democratic change. Therefore, the Cultural Marxists needed a more gradual, peaceful, subtle strategy. This was cultural revolution, subverting one area of culture after another — music, TV, movies, the arts, the universities, the press, the major foundations, even the churches. They would engage in the “long march through the institutions,” words wrongly attributed to Gramsci but rightly describing the strategy of Cultural Marxism. They would reinvent the meaning of liberty, freedom, and equality to seduce Westerners and gradually capture Western culture without a violent revolution.
When they finally did capture politics, the point was to change the entire culture, not just economics. Lukács summarized it best:
Politics is simply the means; the end is culture.
Cultural revolution de-privileging traditional Western, Christian culture and installing the secular non-hierarchical society glorifying “progressive” education, homosexuality, feminism, criminality, grievance culture, abortion, unemployment, and thought police was the goal of Cultural Marxism.
Critical theory Americanized
The critical theorists left Germany after the National Socialists were democratically elected in 1933, and they relocated the Frankfurt School to the United States with the help of secular “progressives” like John Dewey, heavily funded by major foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation. They were lionized at colleges where they taught, like Columbia, Harvard, and Brandeis; and they infected thousands of their students and, down the intellectual food chain, hundreds of thousands of younger Americans. The New Left of the 60s and 70s was their progeny.
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Critical Race Theory
This brings us back to the present, with our cities in conflagration from race riots and some politicians too timid to curb the crime for fear of being perceived as not sufficiently outraged at police brutality toward blacks.
Is there a way of thinking that could justify a sweeping indictment, not just of the killing of George Floyd and of other police brutality against all races, but of the entire American society, its history and its institutions? There is.
The early Cultural Marxists were interested in race, but it was not until the 70s that another generation of critical theorists honed in on it by devising Critical Race Theory (CRT), which is Critical Theory (of Cultural Marxism) applied specifically to race.
CRT isn’t interested in analyzing the obvious racist crimes and actions against blacks in America’s past: the KKK, lynching, Reconstruction-era patronizing, and overt discrimination. Rather, CRT is committed to analyzing and changing the entire American society, which it believes is inherently racist.
This leads CRT to some surprising and bizarre conclusions. The political philosophy of the American Founding is sometimes called classical liberalism (CL). This is not the same thing as modern liberalism, which is almost its opposite. Classical liberalism was molded by Protestant Christianity.
CL holds to maximum individual liberty within God’s moral law. We might shorten it to moral liberty. It includes the biblical ideas that everyone is to be treated equally under the law. We are a nation of laws, and not of men. No one is above or below the law. There’s not one standard for rich and another for poor, for black versus white, man versus woman, urban versus rural, and so on. The same law applies to everybody.
CL champions economic liberty. Some people call it the free market. It simply means that apart from coercion, theft, and fraud, you are free to exchange goods and services with whomever you want. Politicians don’t control the exchange of goods. Citizens do.
CL stands for equality of opportunity. One of the God-given rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence is the pursuit of happiness. Of course, happiness is not a right, but to pursue happiness is a divinely endowed right.
For CRT, this is the problem. While Martin Luther King, Jr. labored for a colorblind society, that people would not account for race and skin color in making decisions about others, CRT opposes this colorblindness. How can this be?
Colorblindness means that all races are treated the same, but, according to CRT, blacks have been oppressed as a class, merely on the basis of the color of their skin, and therefore to treat everyone the same means that they are not treated fairly. They should be given special opportunities and privileges that other races are denied, like affirmative action in housing, hiring, and college admission.
CRT is not about abolishing discrimination, but about practicing a new, broader discrimination. They want to reverse the gains of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Race as a non-biological social construction
CRT supports another bizarre and counterintuitive tenet. You might think that biological race and skin color are a guiding fact for CRT, but you would be mistaken. They hold to “non-essentialism”: race is a social construction, not a biological reality. One can be considered a part of a particular racial class apart from one’s biological race or skin color. In this way, Bill Clinton was sometimes considered America’s first black president. Barack Obama was also vested with that label, despite the fact that he is half white biologically.
Black conservatives (classical liberals) like Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, on the other hand, are often considered white by CRT because they do not conform to Marxist expectations of blackness as a class. The most important factor is a way of thinking and acting (Marxist), not actual race and skin color.
Race is ideological, not biological.
Equality of results
Further, you might expect CRT to be at the forefront of equal opportunities for everyone. This means that racial minorities, not only blacks, should be treated the same everywhere at all times, at least in theory. But this would be a dashed expectation.
CRT wants equality of results, not equality of opportunity. In other words, they want to rig the legal system and college admissions and hiring practices and much else in order to give preferential treatment to racial minorities. They don’t want everyone to be treated equally. They want whites to be penalized and blacks to be privileged.
Some CRT devotees agree with Antonio Gramsci who advocated turning the tables culturally. Gramsci wasn’t just about “inclusion.” He advocated the “periphery-centered society.” Those who were formerly privileged must be de-privileged. The upper crust must feel the pain of the marginalization and misery of the formerly oppressed. The oppressed must rule over their oppressors.
When today we observe colleges demanding racial “sensitivity training” for non-compliant old-fashioned CL free speech professors, and abject apologies by white students for the alleged racism of their predecessors, we see on graphic display the spirit of Gramsci adjusted to CRT.
Perhaps their most bizarre suggestion of all is cumulative voting. Some among the critical race theorists believe that the time-honored system of full and free election is unfair. Therefore, they believe that minorities should be granted as many votes for a particular candidate as there are candidates in that category. For instance, if there are 12 individuals running for judge, they can place 12 votes on one black (or Hispanic) judge.
Cumulative voting is often done within corporate boards, but this is not what CRT is talking about. They want it in political elections. They want the advantage of greater representation of racial minorities in public office without their having to get elected in a traditional, evenhanded way.
But the foundational tenet of CRT without which the others carry almost no meaning is a belief in “systemic [or institutional] racism.” CRT authors Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic of the standard college text Critical Race Theory: An Introduction write:
Racism is pervasive, systemic, and deeply ingrained …. The status quo [of society] is inherently racist, rather than merely sporadically and accidentally so ….
For CRT, this means that merely being white is to be part of the oppressing class. When whites object to affirmative action on the grounds that it discriminates against whites (and other races), the CRT response is that they’re not innocent, but should be penalized for their race. They are guilty of “white privilege.”
If somebody argues that everyone should be held to universal standards, irrespective of race, the CRT rejoins that there is no universally valid moral standard, only truth from a particular perspective, notably a racial perspective. There’s black truth and white truth and Hispanic truth and Asian truth. There’s no universal truth that applies equally to all.
The possibility of revolutionary violence
CRT is impatient with gradual, incremental change, and believes that since the evil is systemic, change must come all at once. Delgado and Stefancic declare:
As happened in South Africa, the change may be convulsive and cataclysmic. If so, critical theorists and activists will need to provide criminal defense for resistance movements and activists and to articulate the recent strategies for that resistance.
While Cultural Marxism wants subtle cultural change, therefore, it does not foreswear violence in all cases, and the terrorism we see on our TV screens exemplifies a Marxist rage.
If they cannot capture institutions peacefully, they’ll capture politics violently.
If this sounds like what has been happening in America’s leading cities over the last week or so, that’s because it is. “Systemic racism” has been the rationale by which Leftist politicians and the press and public figures have rationalized the looting and killing the innocent.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, for example, a Democrat, trumpeted:
It does fall to myself, other elected leaders, community leaders and others that if we do not get to that systemic problem [racism], eventually this will get us back to a point that led to our communities on fire, our security and safety in question and a searching of who we are ….
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, creditably opposing the terrorism, nonetheless made a fragmented but remarkable observation:
“[But] to destroy the historic culture, to destroy the systemic racism, to destroy, in specifics where this is concerned, the laws, legal precedents, police union contracts, all of the things that make it so difficult to hold someone accountable when a life, like George Floyd’s, is so wrongfully taken, [sic]” he continued.
According to the good mayor, nothing short of the destruction of the system, the historic American culture in its laws, legal precedents, and police union contracts, will suffice to create justice.
It is a program of destruction, not redemption.
Note this tweet by one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history:
Translation: If you are condemning the rioting, looting, killing, and terrorism, you are part of the problem: “systemic racism.”
Leftist actor George Clooney writes that America’s greatest pandemic is “systemic racism”:
This is our pandemic. It infects all of us, and in 400 years we’ve yet to find a vaccine. It seems we’ve stopped even looking for one and we just try to treat the wound on an individual basis. And we sure haven’t done a very good job of that.
In other words, the problem is not individual acts of racism that must be addressed on their own (de)merit. The wound is societal and must be extirpated in a vast, societal vaccine.
But Clooney then makes a fascinating observation:
We need policymakers and politicians that reflect basic fairness to all of their citizens equally.
But, as we have noted, the very idea of “systemic racism” demands that fairness be defined as penalizing whites and privileging blacks and other races (socially constructed races, mind you). So “all . . . citizens equally” cannot be treated fairly if Clooney’s program is to be implemented.
Eradicating “systemic racism” requires a new socially destructive discrimination.
Justice Is Blind
My colleague Brian G. Mattson’s e-newsletter article “Lady Justice’s Blindfold” utterly repudiates the discriminatory favoritism of the culturally Marxist idea of “systemic racism”:
Make no mistake: the only alternative of rigidly and uncompromisingly focusing on the law as the standard of judgment is to allow Lady Justice to “peek.” And when Lady Justice peeks — when she wants to know, before rendering judgment, the color of the skin of victim and perpetrator, or the position and status of the plaintiff or defendant, whether the parties are socially marginalized or not, she is by definition rendering favoritism in some way. Because the identity of one party or the other now distorts or displaces the law as the norm or standard. (emphases original)
We are no longer a nation of laws, but of men. There is no legal colorblindness but rather intentional legal color-awareness. We rig the law in order to get the results our ideology demands.
Individual responsibility for individual actions is erased. A white is judged guilty of oppression for membership in the white class and a black is privileged over other races and even justified in extralegal violence and looting due to his race. Romans 14:12 declares:
So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.
But “systemic racism” is the antithesis of individual accounting. It is social accounting based not on one’s sins or obedience but on the color of one’s skin.
It is contra-Christian to the core.
Politicians, “thought leaders,” and even some churchmen who have been timid and mealy mouthed about condemning the current domestic terrorism on the grounds that they might appear “racially insensitive” indicate how far they have departed from biblical standards of righteousness￼ and from the CL of the U. S. Founding.
Two verdicts are equally and concurrently true:
(1) The police brutality unleashed on￼￼￼ George Floyd was reprehensible.
(2) The terrorist brutality unleashed on our cities is reprehensible.
No qualifications.￼ No apologies. No nuances. Full stop.
There is a chilling logic to the “systemic racism” idea on which the mob is savagely acting. Target, Walgreens, and O’Reilly Auto Parts participate in the “racist system” and deserve to be burned to the ground. Graffiti “calling for authorities to be sexually assaulted” is perfectly sensible to this rapacious Cultural Marxism. This is a way of acting driven by a way of thinking. And it is demonic.
Unfortunately, CRT finds hospitality in even alleged conservative strongholds like the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, and The Gospel Coalition. This is Marxism concealed within the trojan horse of “social justice” by which to subvert orthodox Christianity.
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Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. Cultural Marxism and CRT are bad ideas, and when bad ideas take root in human minds and hearts, they do not stay there. They are translated into decisions, actions, and observable lives.
Churches are burned, stores looted, shop owners murdered — the rationale (to the extent there is a rationale and not simply a nihilistic gang of sociopathic thugs) being the redress of Marxism’s “systemic racism.” The stated desire of CRT champions Delgado and Stefancic is that “CRT . . . become the new civil rights orthodoxy.”
This project has our entire civilization in its target sights.
Every cultural revolution includes the “progressive” elites standing on the sideline, cheering on, abetting, and funding the radicals subverting, looting, firebombing, and smashing “The Establishment.”
Only in the end do they learn the grim truth they are insufficiently pure, zealous, and radical, and will face at the hands of the nihilistic fanatics Robespierre’s guillotine, figuratively or literally.
The revolution always eats its own, who all along hypocritically relied on the evenhanded liberty of the alleged corrupt society that permitted its own subversion — and in the end, they ironically perish along with the society that alone kept them viable.
The task of families and schools and churches must be to restore biblical standards of justice — blind justice that refuses to peek at color and race and sex.
God’s way alone is the just way. No God, no justice.
For more on this topic, here is my lecture on Critical Theory for the Ezra Institute’s To Give an Answer conference:
I will be in western Pennsylvania delivering the commencement address (“What Does the Lord Require?”) to Christ Dominion Academy on Saturday, June 20 and staying over to preach on Father’s Day (“Jesus’ Father, and Ours”), June 21, at Living Church. If you are in western Pennsylvania or northeast Ohio, I would love to see you.
In October 2016 Angelo Codevilla, one of the nation’s leading conservative thinkers, was a presenter at CCL’s annual San Francisco symposium. His greatest work is The Character of Nations, but his most influential is The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It. He invented that moniker “The Ruling Class” to describe the centralizing secular elite who see the rest of their fellows as selfish, recalcitrant bumpkins to be ruled like children.
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Thank you for your friendship and support.
Yours for the divine Monarch,
Founder & President
Center for Cultural Leadership
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