One of the recurring themes in many of this blog’s posts is the pervasive nature of cultural Marxism in western society today. What began in elite universities permeates the daily lives of everyday Americans. To truly understand the destructive nature of cultural Marxism, it is imperative to identify its essence. What is the underlying idea that drives it?
Comparing classical and cultural Marxism
Before identifying its essence, we need to understand what we mean by cultural Marxism. We can get a fairly good idea of what it is by comparing it to classical Marxism.
In Tom Woods’ interview of Wendy McElroy about the current rape culture hysteria on college campuses, McEloy’s discussion of social construction is a good starting point to describe cultural Marxism:
McElroy: Social construction is the idea … that there is an active interaction between the culture and your ideas and your identity and who you are. And that’s fine, but it reverses the usual kind of understanding of it. Take Victorian literature, for example. If I said to you that Victorian literature was a reflection of Victorian mindsets, attitudes, thoughts, beliefs, you’d say, yes, of course. Well, and it also feeds back into the culture and to the beliefs, and they’re simply interacting, and you’d say, of course. Social construction says that the beliefs and institutions and such of society do not create its literature, do not create its narrative. The narrative creates the actual human beings of society, their beliefs, who they are, their identities, what they are politically. I’ve often thought that a difference between the Left and the Right is that the Right looks to human nature and it says, what can we say politically based on human nature, how can we get along without violence, and it postulates a society that’s peaceful and civil and things like that. The Left looks to politics as creating human nature and its being the genesis of what human nature and human identity is, like the Marxist man under Marxism.
WOODS: Yeah, in fact, the parallel to Marxism that I saw is the base in the superstructure. In classical Marxism, the ideas that we have, whether they’re religious or cultural or legal or whatever, these are all outgrowths of the means of production that are in use at the time. So they don’t emerge spontaneously from human beings; they are imposed on them by what they live in, and it sounds like they’ve taken that and just removed the materialism from it.
In other words, under classical Marxism, the superstructure of ideas is derived from the relationships developed through the means of production. Under cultural Marxism, politics, or power, define how people identify themselves and relate to one another. Further, politics can redefine how people identify themselves and relate to one another.
On the surface, an argument can be made that cultural Marxism, however repugnant it might be, isn’t Marxist per se. After all, Marx was a materialist. It would be unfair to pin the blame of cultural Marxism, which surfaced well after his death, on Marx himself.
However, I believe that what animated both classical and cultural Marxism is Marx himself. And what animated Marx was his life-consuming drive to remake human nature in his image, which was devoid of not only religion, but every institution that supported Western civilization as we know it.
Marx’s militant atheism driven by a hatred of God
In a brilliant article in The Review of Austrian Economics, Murray Rothbard laid out the ideas that drove Marx’s communist philosophy. What is fascinating, even frightening, about Marx’s worldview is that not only was it militantly atheistic, but it was driven by a hatred of God.
Rothbard describes how Marx, who was raised an orthodox evangelical Christian, developed his militant atheism while attending college:
Going first to the University of Bonn and then off to the prestigious new University of Berlin to study law, Marx soon converted to militant atheism, shifted his major to philosophy, and joined a Doktorklub of Young (or Left) Hegelianism, of which he soon became a leader and general secretary.
The shift to atheism quickly gave Marx’s demon of ambition full rein. Particularly revelatory of Marx’s adult as well as youthful character are volumes of poems, most of them lost until a few were recovered in recent years. Historians, when they discuss these poems, tend to dismiss them as inchoate Romantic yearnings, but they are too congruent with the adult Marx’s social and revolutionary doctrines to be casually dismissed.
Surely, here seems to be a case where a unified (early-plus-late) Marx is vividly revealed. Thus, in his poem “Feelings,” dedicated to his childhood sweetheart and later wife, Jenny von Westphalen, Marx expressed both his megalomania and his enormous thirst for destruction:
Heaven I would comprehend
I would draw the world to me;
Loving, hating, I intend
That my star shine brilliantly
Worlds I would destroy forever,
Since I can create no world;
Since my call they notice never
Here, of course, is a classic expression of Satan’s supposed reason for hating, and rebelling against, God.
The Satan theme is most explicitly set forth in Marx’s “The Fiddler,” dedicated to his father.
See this sword?
The prince of darkness
Sold it to me.
With Satan I have struck my deal,
He chalks the signs, beats time for me
I play the death march fast and free.
All this reveals a spirit that often seems to animate militant atheism. In contrast to the nonmilitant variety, which expresses a simple disbelief in God’s existence, militant atheism seems to believe implicitly in God’s existence, but to hate Him and to wage war for His destruction.
Such a spirit was all too clearly revealed in the retort of militant atheist and anarchocommunist Bakunin to the famous protheist remark of Voltaire: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” The demented Bakunin retorted, “If God did exist, it would be necessary to destroy Him.” It was this hatred of God as a creator greater than himself that apparently animated Karl Marx.
Marx’s communism purposefully negated, not elevated, man’s personality
Although Marx saw religion as harmful, that was merely one institution that needed to be eliminated:
The entire world of man (the Menschenwelt) was alienating, and had to be radically overthrown, root and branch. Only apocalyptic destruction of this world of man would permit true human nature to be realized. Only then would the existing un-man (Unmensch) truly become man (Mensch). As Marx thundered in the fourth of his “theses on Feuerbach,” “One must proceed to destroy the ‘earthly family’ as it is both ‘in theory and in practice.'”
Marx did not believe that a mere uprising was sufficient to bring about the changes needed to remake society:
[O]nly a revolution, an orgy of destruction, can accomplish such a task. And here, Marx harkened back to the call for total destruction that had animated his vision of the world in the poems of his youth. Indeed, in a speech in London in 1856, Marx gave graphic and loving expression to this goal of his “praxis.” He mentioned that in Germany in the Middle Ages there existed a secret tribunal called the Vehmgericht. He then explained:
If a red cross was seen marked on a house, people knew that its owner was doomed by the Vehm. All the houses of Europe are now marked with the mysterious red cross. History is the judge — its executioner the proletarian.
One of the key features of Marx’s communist society, like most societies designed in a mind’s eye, was the communalization of private property. However, to Marx, this communalization did not seek to elevate man’s nature, but purposefully negate it:
In short, in the stage of communalization of private property, what Marx himself considers the worst features of private property will be maximized. Not only that, but Marx concedes the truth of the charge of anticommunists then and now that communism and communization is but the expression, in Marx’s words, of “envy and a desire to reduce all to a common level.” Far from leading to a flowering of human personality, as Marx is supposed to claim, he admits that communism will negate that personality totally. Thus Marx wrote,
In completely negating the personality of man, this type of communism is really nothing but the logical expression of private property. General envy, constituting itself as a power, is the disguise in which greed reestablishes itself and satisfies itself, only in another way.… In the approach to woman as the spoil and handmaid of communal lust is expressed the infinite degradation in which man exists for himself.
If Marx himself recognized that the elimination of private property would lead to human degradation and suffering, why would he have proposed this in the first place? Rothbard argues that Marx believes that somehow, in some way, total evil will be overcome by total good through the mysterious “dialectic”:
But if this communism is admittedly so monstrous, a regime of “infinite degradation,” why should anyone favor it, much less dedicate one’s life and fight a bloody revolution to establish it? Here, as so often in Marx’s thought and writings, he falls back on the mystique of the “dialectic” — that wondrous magic wand by which one social system inevitably gives rise to its victorious transcendence and negation; and, in this case, by which total evil — which turns out, interestingly enough, to be the postrevolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and not previous capitalism — becomes transformed into total good, a never-never land absent the division of labor and all other forms of alienation.
In other words, Marx believes that by pitting people against one another through the elimination of religion, private property, marriage, and other institutions that have supported Western civilization since Jesus Christ rose from the dead, everything will work out just fine. Because wishful thinking.
Marx played the death march fast and free indeed.
How cultural Marxism is, indeed, Marxist
The essential idea behind Marx’s communism is the same idea behind cultural Marxism.
The current power structure is preventing men and women from being who they truly are. However, before building the new society, one must destroy the old one. Anyone who defends the old society, in any way, is an enemy that is preventing man (or woman, or whatever) from achieving their true potential.
Never mind that there is no basis for whatever statements Marxists of any stripe are making. Never mind that socialism has acheived nothing but human suffering, and cultural Marxism has led to nothing but unnecessary culture wars. Once the right people are in power, everything will turn out just fine.
This game plan never worked under socialism. When it comes to cultural Marxism, why does anyone think it’s going to work now?