I generally agree with Michael Enoch’s article, with several qualifications.
First, it is indeed problematic to identify as Marxism a theory that is not rooted in economic determinism and the view of class conflict as the defining element of capitalist society. Marx and Engels themselves had many ideas that would be considered “far right” today, particularly their views on racism and imperialism. Leftist anti-racism really doesn’t take off until the post-WW2 era (mostly as a backlash against Nazism, in my view).
Marx and Engels were essentially Germanic or at least Nordic supremacists, viewed indigenous peoples as non-historical, and regarded Western imperialism as a historically progressive force (they had the same view of capitalism). The early anarchists took an anti-imperialist position but Marxist anti-imperialism really begins with Lenin. At best, the Frankfurt School’s “cultural Marxism” is a revision of orthodox Marxism…at the very best. These are among the reasons I prefer the term totalitarian humanism for PC rather than cultural Marxism.
Second, aspects of political correctness seem to have been imported from Maoist China during the Cultural Revolution era rather than through the Frankfurt School. Remember the reverence that hard core New Left radicals often had for Mao in the late 60s and early 70s. Notice the similarities between a Maoist self-criticism session and the self-flagellation common among adherents of PC.
Third, I don’t think the Marxist influenced hard left alone is responsible for the growth of PC. There’s also progressive Christianity, and progressivism in general, which has much different roots than Marxism. See Paul Gottfried. (Maybe Ian B. can add some thoughts on this as well?)
Fourth, this quote:
“If humanities faculties are really geared to brainwashing students into accepting the postulates of far-left ideology, the composition of western parliaments and presidencies and the roaring success of corporate capitalism suggests they’re doing an astoundingly bad job. Anyone who takes a cool look at the last three decades of politics will think it bizarre that anyone could interpret what’s happened as the triumph of an all-powerful left.”
I would agree that while the totalitarian humanists often have their roots in anti-capitalism, it is certainly true that they have since made their accommodations to capitalism and are now trying to use capitalism to their own ends. See Tomislav Sunic’s article “The ’68ers” on this. This is not particularly surprising. Totalitarian movements often start out as anti-capitalist but use capitalism as a tool once they obtain power (see Mussolini’s fascism, Hitler’s NSDAP, and even Lenin’s “New Economic Policy.”) For that matter, see present day China.
Lastly, PC and capitalism are not necessarily in conflict. Capitalism wants workers, consumers, investors, and new markets. This means operating among an ever greater number of demographics. It is therefore perfectly logical that capitalism would embrace anti-racism, feminism, gay rights, etc. They want to sell products to minorities, women, and gays, and hire them as workers and managers, not discriminate against them. (See Noam Chomsky’s comments on how big business supports anti-racism). I suspect the serious thinkers among the cultural Left realize this, which is part of the reason why they have softened their anti-capitalism in their old age. This also explains why the corporate class has mostly rolled over in the face of PC. Remember that Singapore (which the Left considers to be fascist, and which free market conservatives often hold up as a model) also has strict “hate speech” laws.
“Anyone who takes a cool look at the last three decades of politics will think it bizarre that anyone could interpret what’s happened as the triumph of an all-powerful left”.
The Left believes in equality as an absolute moral good. To that end, the Left, while maybe not triumphant, is certainly ascendent. This is no small part due to the intellectual and moral weakness of the so-called Right. As the author suggests, Paul Gottried has an excellent line on this.
[…] by Keith Preston […]
I doubt Karl and Fred really took their “economics” that seriously – after all in his early philosophical writings Karl Marx is already an egalitarian. He was just looking for a stick to beat up the rich and big business with – and a distorted version of Ricardian economics (the Labour Theory of Value and other fallacies that could be turned to support a false idea of “exploitation) were that stick. Did Karl, or Fred, really care if the economics was true or not? I do not believe they did.
Did “Lenin” really care that the “Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism” theory he stole from the radical “liberal” (and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist) Hobson, was nonsense?
Of course he did not care – he knew the exploitation of the colonies theory was nonsense, but it was a useful stick to beat up the “capitalists” with, and attacking the rich and big business as all that mattered (it did not matter whether the charges were true – what mattered was discrediting them, burning them, so that a wonderful new society could be built on their ashes).
Do the modern Frankfurt School (the P.C. crowd – or the “Critical Theory” to use the more fashionable term) really care that what they say about race, gender and sexuality (and other “victim groups” supposedly “exploited” and “oppressed”) is nonsense?
Of course they do not care. It is just another excuse – another stick to attack the capitalists with, and to attack the “henchmen” of the capitalists with (for as with the “henchmen of the kulaks” being dirt poor does not save people from Marxist attack).
Are their different factions of Marxists who hate each other?
Most certainly – but it does not really matter.
It does not matter as all the different factions of Marxism are based upon nonsense – and even if the foot soldiers ( some school teachers, or reporters for a media outlet, or some Hollywood air-head actor – or whatever) really believe in the nonsense, the leaders do not (they are not innocent believers – they despise the “shit eaters” who “eat the shit” about “the capitalists” and “big business” being to blame for everything with their “exploitation”).
And it does not matter as all the different factions of Marxist hate the West (hate “capitalism”) far more than they hate each other.
I think that Karl and Fred, and “Lenin” also, really believed that their lies were justified because a wonderful new society really would be built on the ashes of the capitalists and their henchpersons. The non Marxist totalitarian socialists such as H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw probably also believed that their desire to murder millions of people was justified because a wonderful new society really would be built upon their ashes.
But I doubt the modern leaders of Marxism (and so on) believe even that.
It has become a power cult – and that is about it.
As for modern societies.
About HALF of the economy of most Western countries is now taken up by government spending (a century ago it was about a tenth) – mostly on the Welfare States, which were NOT created due to the influence of “capitalists”, and do NOT serve the interests of “capitalists”.
Also regulations now control almost every aspect of life – and these regulations (contrary to the propaganda) do not NET benefit “the capitalists”.
The collectivist agenda seems to be going ahead.
“But their are still very rich people – indeed there are more rich people than ever”.
And they have to go around saying how rich people are evil and how the government should be bigger (tax and …… more) – the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett tap dance.
If rich people openly come out in favour of “capitalism” and saying that taxes, government spending and regulations should be LESS – then all Hell breaks lose on them.
See how people are taught to hate the very words “the Koch brothers”.
Well, I think a lot of contemporary wealthy and affluent elites really do believe in the PC ideology. Some may go along to get along, and others may see PC as being in their own interests (for the reasons I mentioned before), just as they may see corporate welfare or anti-competitive regulation to be in their interest. But I think there are plenty among the “newly rich” (those outside the traditional elite) who really believe in their ideology. Gates is a good example.
I think so too. This is where we get into post-Marxist terms like “hegemonic ideology”. Basically, PC is currently the value system of “right thinking persons” and very few seriously question it. If you’re part of the Western elite, you probably do believe in it, for real.
I think that this sort of historical analysis is important. It is something that needs to be done by “our side”, but there has been too much early leaping to conclusions, including the over-eager acceptance of the Cultural Marxism Hypothesis. I absorbed that a few years ago, but became increasingly disquieted by it, since it is one of those potted theories that seems to explain everything (which is always suspicious) and then in the still of the night you find yourself thinking it doesn’t explain anywhere near as much as you think it does.
In general, I don’t think there is a single explanation for anything in society. But people love single explanations (“A caused B”) and hate messy “A is a bit of the cause of B” type stuff. My own disquiet came from historical reading of primary sources and historically contextualised secondary ones and the unavoidable conclusion (to me anyway) that all the things we find in PC have precursors- and are often just continuations- of trends with long histories. So my own position is that the thing we call Cultural Marxism should be seen as a component of PC, and in terms of a mechanic, my interpretation is that a lot of older ideas have had it bolted on as a modern justification.
I am as you may be aware a keen critic of Feminism, so I will use that as an example. Everything in modern feminism- including things attributed to CM, like hostility to the family- existed, often just as profoundly, in the First (Victorian/Progressive Era) Wave, long before Marcuse had written a single word. And notably, the supposedly Cultural Marxist ideology of feminism, in its view of sexuality, is diametrically opposed to the beliefs of Marcuse, who is supposedly the Godfather of Cultural Marxism. So something doesn’t fit. I think that the fact that Paul Gottfried- who actually knew Marcuse and is the most paleo-conservative paleo-conservative on Planet Earth- doesn’t endorse the CMH is significant.
The problem really is that the CMH is the creation of American Conservatives, who were trying to find a theory to explain everything that has changed since 1955 or thereabouts, and thus have made a grievous error in confusing two quite different and oppositional phenomena- the outbreak of bohemianism that characterises the 60s and 70s- and political correctness which (particularly in its feminist form) is a reactionary movement against that bohemianism.
Other elements are similarly unclear. The racism hysteria is a consequence of the American Civil Rights experience, and that whole conflict again goes back two centuries or more. The rise of Environmentalism as a popular ideology started off in Germany, but in America traces through German immigration to California and the “nature boys” like eden abez and Gypsy Boots. And so on. There is certainly Frankfurt School Marxism mixed in with it all- or at least various forms of post-Marxism- but I think it doesn’t hold water to describe the whole phenomenon by that term (“Cultural Marxism”) and I think in general it is simply used as an apparent theoretical model to justify things that people wanted to believe anyway.
This becomes problematic when arguing with opponents. When we drag out terms like Cultural Marxism, they immediately can simply say that they aren’t Marxists. Because they aren’t. They don’t pore over Marxists texts or desire anything like communism (the economic system of the Boomer Era is “neoliberalism”, a radically statist unfree market system powered by finance capitalism, fiat expansion and so on). So we tend to look weak, and foolish in the debate and it probably works against us. Talking about CM plays well to our own choir. But I think it’s counterproductive as a theory and narrative for use in general discussion.
That’s my tuppence in the old money on the subject. 🙂
I’m also reminded of Paul Gottfried’s semi-humorous analysis (can’t remember where) that what happened to Marxism was that it attracted a lot of crazy people, weirdos and perverts, and once the mainstream of it proved to be a bust, they were all that were left.
He said that in an interview he did with me at one point.
Ah right, I think that was indeed where I heard it.
“the outbreak of bohemianism that characterises the 60s and 70s- and political correctness which (particularly in its feminist form) is a reactionary movement against that bohemianism”.
I agree. This is where I part ways with paleos like Peter Hitchens. Contrary to the view that “it were the 60s what done it”, I think that the increasing statism, authoritarianism and speech/thought policing of the current ruling class is a reaction against the freedom and anti-establishmentarianism of the 1960s.
Indeed. The basic argument of the “Puritan Hypothesis” which is to some degree an answer to the CMH is that the thing that Gramsci et al identified as “standing in the way of communism” (in this they were right) is a much older ideology which for want of a better word I call puritanism (since it does trace culturally to the Puritans) and which identifies the State as the guardian of public morals; as such the adoption of Marxist arguments regarding class oppression was not the triumph of Marxism itself, but simply a justifying ideology by which the State could reassert its moral authority. Thus, the new sins of racism, sexism, homophobia and being unGreen- as well as smoking, drinking, being plump and saying rude thigns on Twitter) allowed a new moral authority in new spheres after the collapse of the old one in the later post-war period; although it does not take much investigation to note that it is a long way toward reasserting control in the old spheres- hence the current flap over Page 3, which is pure Mary Whitehouse.
Which is why the 1970s is the temporal class enemy of the new establishment.
My view is that totalitarian humanism is partially an effort by the establishment to co-opt 60s and 70s social radicalism by giving them what they wanted in social policy like affirmative action, abortion, gay rights, environmentalism, etc in exchange for giving up some of their more radical ideas and genuinely anti-establishment ideas (like the hardcore opposition to US foreign policy you found in the anti-Vietnam War movement).
And some of it is a backlash of the Left against its own past, e.g. former drugged out hippie Marxist radicals turned health nut progressive liberals (which fits with the thesis Ian B. has offered above).
We also have to consider cultural, demographic, economic, technological and generational changes that have collectively contributed to shifts in cultural values in a variety of ways.
Another issue is that is a historical truism that former out-groups often become just as authoritarian when they achieve power as the former in-groups they replaced. Just as homosexuals were once subject to criminalization, now they want to criminalize homophobia. Just as women were once treated as second class citizens, now feminists want to treat men as second class citizens. Just as atheists, Jews, and other religious minorities have been discriminated against in the past, now they want to politically antagonize Christians. Just as racial minorities were once subject to racial oppression, now they want to persecute perceived racists.
Does any theory explain everything? No it does not – that would be the error of reductionism, in reality the world is a complicated place.
For example it is easy enough to explain Mr Mussolini and his “Fascism” as a mutant form of Marxism. But Mr Hitler and his National Socialism is more complicated – there is a lot of non Marxist German collectivism in there, for example the racial doctrines.
And the difference matters – in practical military terms.
There was always something hollow about Fascism – it was Marxism without the Class Struggle (Hamlet without the Prince), and without even full collectivisation (just lots of state owned companies – and endless regulations, and arbitrary commands, on what was left of the private economy) who was going to fight to the death for that?
It was not cowardice that led to Italians surrendering (challenge an Italian to a fight – and you will find they do not tend to be cowards), they did not really believe in the hollow sham of Fascism, which is why they surrendered with neatly packed suitcases (someone who is terrified does not stop to pack).
But many Germans really did believe in the racial socialism of Hitler, just as many foot soldier types really believe in Marxist Class Hatred – “the corporations are to blame!” can inspire the same passion as “the Jews are to blame”, and inspiring sincere hatred in the street level foot soldiers is important. The Islamists know the same lesson – give people two things……..
Something to hate – important.
And the promise of wonderful perfect society – also important.
As Sorel pointed out – it does not really matter if it is true, as long as people BELIEVE it.
Take Ian’s example of Calvinism.
It is batshit – not the example, the Calvinism. Double Predestination and the rest of it – utter batshit.
It makes no sense philosophically or theologically (none) – but that does not matter if people are ready to kill for it and die for it.
Ditto Marxism, National Socialism and Islamism (Sunni and Shia).
I’m currently plodding through a second edition of my Culture War book. Back in 2007 – and that was before I came into contact with Keith Preston and Ian B – I settled for a variant of the CM hypothesis. I still think cultural leftism is a strand of critical importance in the story of where we are. But I am now also convinced by a variant of the Puritan hypothesis. What is important, though, is that the two of them work together. Without a predisposition to control via guilt, the cultural leftists would have had about as much influence in USUK as the Classical Marxists. Without the Frankfurt School, the puritans would have had to look round much harder than they did for a new legitimising ideology.
What is important – and I must tell Paul in advance that I just haven’t time to get involved in debate with him over this – is that the kind of libertarian arguments we put so fluently in the 1980s are no longer of central importance. When we explained that state ownership was inefficient, we were arguing with people who /mostly /wanted more goodies for the working classes. When we explained that state control in economic matters tended to state control in everything else, we were arguing with people who /mostly /liked the “non-economic” freedoms.
The enemies we now face wear business suits and aren’t interested in renationalising the telephone network and steel industry. They want a corporatised economy directed by themselves or that allows them unlimited skimming rights. They don’t care if their taxes and regulations make everyone else poorer. As for freedom in general, they believe they have the right and duty to tell the rest of us how to live, down to and including how many boiled potatoes we eat and how often we wash ourselves.
The present threat to freedom is radically different from any of the threats we faced in the last century. We need to update our ideology of analysis and resistance to take account of that. We also need to take stock of our traditional allies and opponents. Imagine an English patriot c1793 who insisted on denouncing the Pope and the Pretender – who somehow managed to claim that Robespierre’s main intention for this country was to restore the Stuarts – that’s the equivalent of a libertarian in 2015 who still fundamentally believes it is 1981.
Opposition to central planning (in the traditional Marxian) sense was correct under the circumstances that predominated in 1981. Now that circumstances have changed, it is vital to reconceptualise and reassess: who are our “friends” and who are our “enemies”.
(My boldfaced type.)
The thing is, this idea hardly began with the Puritans. It is indeed a “much older ideology” than Puritanism, older by over two millenia in fact, since it goes back to Aristotle, who thought an important purpose of government was to create virtuous citizens (which certainly “identifies the State as the guardian of public morals”), back to Plato and his idealized Heaven-on-Earth ruled by Philosopher Kings, and no doubt farther back yet.
So why not call this nearly-2400-year-old line of thinking Ancient-Greekism (or something), which is far more accurate than calling it “Puritanism” (even though to do so would blackguard the Ancient Greeks, i.e. the persons who were alive in Greece in the later half of the first millenium B.C.)?
Now, since far from all Puritans (so-called) adhered to this line, the question is, why tar Puritans, in particular, with this evil brush? Where is the difference between this sort of stereotyping and the stereotyping that explains that Marxism, Bolshevism, Communism are the creation of “the Jews,” which opinion implies that there is a “dark side” to this dangerous group.
There have been Jews, Catholics, Puritans, non-Puritan Protestants, atheists, Muslims, and many others who have been truly nasty pieces of work. Within each of these groups there have been subgroups who shared some evil ideology and perpetrated it against as much of humanity as they could get their bludgeons on.
In fact today, all of Polite Society today knows that the great evil of our age is perpetrated by Conservatives (and those in bed with Big Oil); and that term is then stretched to include libertarians, even including left-“libertarians.” Most of the people who comment (at least) here have some sympathy or even agreement with some position understood to be “Conservative.”
I resent being cast as a soulless, im- or a-moral, spreader of evil just because I am in some ways conservative and definitely in the libertarian, individualist group. Even though one can certainly find a lineal subgroup of conservatives all of whom should have been drowned at birth, and the same of libertarians.
Of course, I know that everyone other than I who frequents LA eats little babies, just as did all the Puritans (except for Roger Williams — maybe). This only proves that everyone here, except YrsTrly, is the spiritual son or daughter of the Evil Puritans — which is of course a redundancy — who themselves were so responsible for our current mess that we might as well give up and admit that it’s they who are the original creators of Sin, evil, and dogs and cats living together.
Because you have to start history somewhere, and in England and the Anglosphere, the Puritans are the identifiable cohort who were the carriers of this, and to whom the modern GramscoFabianNazis can be traced ideologically. And in fact, I would argue that they themselves trace back not so much to Aristotle or Plato, but to values inherited via Christianity from the Ancient Jews. But like I say, you have to start your history somewhere and in this context, the Reformation makes a pretty good year zero, and the antics of the English Puritans and the Massachusetts Bay Nutters stand as good identifiable markers. My general narrative is that English and Anglic history for the past few hundred years has been a culture war between liberals and puritans, which we see form up recognisably in the 17th century.
The current definition of “conservative” by the way is anyone who disagrees with whatever current progressive policy is.
Just to add to the comment which I think is going to be below this one once I post due to chronological ordering, the other reason is that the word “puritan” is already well known and part of common speech, and generally seen as a negative term, and that is useful in getting ideas across. Calling them “Aritotelian Statists” or “Neo-neo-Platonists” or something would just leave most people utterly baffled. But saying, “they’re trying to stop you eating sugary foods because they’re puritans” gets the idea across pretty quickly.
In general terms, then, what the Puritan Hypothesis does is bind the current Progressivist project of Political Correctness to something people already understand- Puritanism- and provides it with historical context. In particular, that changes it from something weird and recent (under the CMH, it is a boggling ideology constructed by a shadowy Jewish cabal) to something local and understandable- the puritan tradition that people already know about.
The important point is that these problems are intrinsic not extrinsic.
Marxism has failed; liberalism has triumphed. It is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of a proposal for a counter-Enlightenment political structure in this country. In formal politics, there is no political party in the United Kingdom that exists outside democratic liberalism.
I find the unusual approach to analysis — especially of ideology — that philosopher Slavoj Žižek employs, to be fascinating. Obviously, I disagree with him that communism is the only true alternative to the status quo, but I find him to be incredibly thought-provoking beyond the superficial humour and mind-bogglingly complex ideas, and the angle from which he critiques might be useful to libertarians too. I know of another traditionalist conservative blogger in the UK who considers himself Žižekian as far as analysis goes.
Zizek’s “philosophy” is incomprehensible garbage. It is not Jeffersonian or Paineian liberals who oppress us. The Enlightenment was a Good Thing.
[…] view, expressed in an article commenting on Enoch’s article, stresses the abandonment of Economic Marxism implicit in the term Cultural Marxism and explicit […]
My apologies, once again, for being late to the party. In mitigation, I will say that the headpost referred to an essay by Michael Enoch, but didn’t give a link to it. So, thinking I probably wouldn’t understand it without that context, I didn’t even read the essay on my first pass. It wasn’t until a week later that I noticed there were lots of comments on the thread, including some really good ones.
So, without further ado…
@LostLeonardo 23JAN 11:29pm
“The Left believes in equality as an absolute moral good.”
I think that is only the public face of their belief. Deep inside, I suspect leftists think more along Orwellian lines: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
@Paul Marks 24JAN 8:13am
“The collectivist agenda seems to be going ahead.”
Yes. That is the bit that our enemies did inherit from the marxists/communists.
@Ian B 24JAN 9:34am
“political correctness… is a reactionary movement against that bohemianism.”
Spot on, Ian.
@LostLeonardo 24JAN 10:58am
Your re-working of Ian’s point in your last sentence is also very good.
@Sean Gabb 24JAN 6:45pm
Bravo, Sean! Your description of our enemies in your third paragraph is as good as anything of yours I have yet read. And you didn’t even mention their liking for wars.
“The present threat to freedom is radically different from any of the threats we faced in the last century. We need to update our ideology of analysis and resistance to take account of that. We also need to take stock of our traditional allies and opponents.”
Absolutely. If I may add to this and to LostLeonardo’s comment on 24JAN at 7:42pm: Perhaps before we ask “who are our friends, and who are our enemies?” we should first ask “who are ‘we,’ and what do we want?” Even before that, perhaps, each of us should ask, about our own political thinking, the question, “Who am I, and what do I want?”
@Ian B 24JAN 10:12pm
“The current definition of “conservative” by the way is anyone who disagrees with whatever current progressive policy is.”
My own provisional definition of a conservative (at least, a conservative of the kind I can work with) is “someone who looks backwards in time for their political inspiration.”
@Ian B 24JAN 10:22pm
I think you’re right to call our enemies “statists.” In fact, “statism” looks to me the best word we’ve found to label their ideology so far. And that’s because everything they do is aimed at perpetuating, and increasing the power of, the state (and, secondarily, their own power and wealth as well).
@Vabadus 24JAN 11:00pm
I find democratic liberalism (aka liberal democracy) to be an oxymoron.
Liberalism, at least as I understand it, is quite an individualistic idea. It says, in effect, “As long as you keep to this particular set of rules, in the rest of your life the choices are yours.”
Democracy, on the other hand, is inherently collectivist. For the demos of democracy is singular, not plural. Even putting the best possible light on it, democracy is “rule of the populace by the populace,” not “rule of the persons by the persons.” Democracy doesn’t empower the individual; in fact, quite the reverse.
If democracy did what it says on the tin, the result would be tyranny of the majority – the 51 per cent riding roughshod over the 49 per cent. But as it actually is, it’s even worse. However many parties there may appear to be, you have at best only three choices: vote for the ruling establishment, vote for an obvious loser like the Monster Raving Loonies, or don’t vote at all. (And they want to take away our right to do the last). So, after a while, democracies become in effect one party states; but one party states in which the ruling class can claim that “the people” have sanctioned their legitimacy. And so, like an absolute monarch, in their own minds they can do no wrong.
@LostLeonardo 24JAN 11:18pm
“The Enlightenment was a Good Thing.”
Yes. Absolutely. That’s why our enemies seek to trash Enlightenment values like individuality, seeking the truth and honest science, and to replace them with nonsense like “social cohesion,” spouting of lies and propaganda, and emotional manipulation.
I think Gottfried sees The Authoritarian Personality as *the* influential product of the Frankfurt School and also something of a precursor of the cultural marxism:
[…] for this, or the view that roots of PC can be fully explained by Marxist influences. See here and […]