The phenomenon of “cultural Marxism” has generated much commentary in conservative circles in recent years. As a result, more people have now heard of it and its role in spawning “political correctness,” but the larger phenomenon and its origins are not sufficiently known by those who should oppose it. Catholics should be aware of the fact that cultural Marxism is not only explicitly and diametrically opposed to the Church’s faith and morals, but that it has crafted an atmosphere which marginalizes the Church — sending Christ’s Mystical Body over to the sidelines of social questions, where she can only watch society’s degeneration as a virtual helpless spectator.
That the Church seems willing to be this helpless spectator is itself a sign of how far this cultural Marxism, along with other spiritual pathogens, has penetrated even into the very institutions of the Church herself.
In advancing all of this, I am not trafficking in conspiracy theory. Dismissing your opponent’s thesis as a lunatic conspiracy theory — as the cultural Marxists at the SPLC do in this matter — is a facile way of evading the argument. This is especially so when a review of the available facts makes it abundantly clear that the theoreticians and practitioners of cultural Marxism openly stated their aims. One cannot call it a conspiracy when it is done so openly.
In 1918, a man named György Lukács became the minister of culture in the short-lived Communist government of Béla Kun in Hungary. Being of the opinion that Marxist theory could only be implemented where the family unit and sexual morals were broken down, Lukács implemented a bold program of social reform that mandated sex education in schools. The Hungarian people were horrified by this outrage, as well as other aspects of the Kun regime, and this Marxist government of Hungary lasted only about 180 days. Sadly, 1949 would bring a much longer lasting Communist regime to Saint Stephen’s great nation.
In 1923, Lukács showed up for a Marxist study week in Frankfurt, Germany, where he and other Marxist thinkers met to discuss how they might spread Communism. The ultimate result of this meeting was the founding, that same year, of the Institute of Social Research, a well-funded think tank at the University of Frankfurt. The name first proposed, “Institute for Marxism,” was scrapped in favor of the more innocuous title, but the name under which it is best known is “the Frankfurt School.” Fast forward ten years to 1933, when Hitler came to power and the members of the Institute, not only as Marxists, but also as Jews (most of them, anyway), decided that Nazi Germany was not a good place to be. After a brief stay in the Netherlands, the Institute relocated to New York, where it became affiliated with Columbia University in 1934.
To give some concreteness to their villainy, I will present brief thumbnails of three of the Frankfurt School’s main members. But some words about their ideology, aims, and purposes are in order first. To a man, these people hated Western Culture and Christianity, wanting to spread their hatred by a variety of means. These things were, after all, what stood in the way of the progress of Marxism. It has to be remembered that Marxist theory postulated the uprising of the international proletariat against the existing bourgeoisie order. When World War I came and went without such an uprising, and when the workers instead seemed content with the status quo, certain Communists became convinced that the directly economic approach of class warfare, and the violent overthrow of the political organs of the state were bad ideas. They had learned from their failures in Hungary, and they also knew that what “worked” for Russia would not work for the West. So, practicing a strategic patience, they decided to impose Marxism slowly, by undermining the culture, mocking Christianity, unleashing the sexual passions, trivializing the family, attacking the patriarchy, advancing feminism, and uglifying the arts. They would do this via a multifaceted approach in the areas of art, music, literature, education, the media, and entertainment. Their tools were “Critical Theory” (on which more later), practical applications of Freudianism, and an activist spreading of their ideas in the upper and lower echelons of education.
Their ideas very much paralleled those of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, who saw Soviet Russia first-hand and noticed how Lenin and then Stalin made the workers hate the new order of things because of the state-sanctioned terror with which it was imposed on the nation. Gramsci, too, wanted to turn people — all people, even the despised bourgeoisie — into Marxists slowly, by undermining their faith and morals, and that by cultural means. He spelled his ideas out in, among other places, his Prison Notebooks, so named because they were penned during his years of incarceration in Mussolini’s Italy. (He died in 1937, after serving eleven years of a twenty-year prison term. Apparently, he reconciled with God before his death.)
Here, then, are quick thumbnails of three Frankfurt School notables.
Max Horkheimer, who headed up the Institute beginning in 1930, married the psychological errors of Sigmund Freud to Marxist political theory. Being a Freudian, Horkheimer’s thought was suffused with the erotic, and his exultation of the sensual is perhaps best illustrated by his lauding the famous pervert, the Marquis de Sade, as the champion of a “higher morality.” Thanks to Horkheimer’s use of Freud, Communists could now explain western man’s blindness to the glories of Marxism as a result of his sexual repression, a condition that could be remedied by hyper-sexualizing American and European society via the arts and entertainment. Around the time of World War II, he spent time, along with Theodor Adorno, in Hollywood, where they would meet with Aldous Huxley and Igor Stravinsky, both radicals in their own right. The Frankfurt School luminaries were very dedicated to spreading the gospel of cultural revolution, and one can only guess at the degree to which this trip to Hollywood contributed to the film industry’s constant output of indecency and blasphemy.
Theodor Adorno was also one of the chief architects, with Horkheimer, of “Critical Theory,” which is a pretentious name for a series of blistering attacks on everything traditional and Christian from a leftist perspective. In the words of William Lind,
What is the theory? To criticize every traditional institution, starting with the family, brutally and unremittingly, in order to bring them down. It wrote a series of “studies in prejudice,” which said that anyone who believes in traditional Western culture is prejudiced, a “racist” or “sexist” or “fascist” — and is also mentally ill.
Adorno also co-authored the book The Authoritarian Personality, concerning which, Pat Buchanan wrote in The Death of the West, “To Adorno, the patriarchal family was the cradle of fascism.” A composer and music critic who understood the power of the avant garde to undermine people’s grounding in Western Culture and tradition, Adorno also engaged in sociology, and sought to explain the rise of fascism and Nazism by a Freudian kind of exploration of the sexually repressed, bullied mind of western man. Calling your enemy crazy is, after all, much easier than meeting him on an equal playing field (remember what we said of the SPLC, above!). Americans, he said, were all ready for a fascist regime because we were so blinded by these forces, including, of course, the repressive institution of the family.
Herbert Marcuse, unlike Horkheimer and Adorno, stayed in the United States after the war, where he became a major figure of the New Left. In 1955, he published the book, Eros and Civilization. According to Tyler Durden,
In the book, Marcuse argued that Western culture was inherently repressive because it gave up happiness for social progress.
The book called for “polymorphous perversity,” a concept crafted by Freud. It posed the idea of sexual pleasure outside the traditional norms. Eros and Civilization would become very influential in shaping the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Marcuse would be the one to answer Horkheimer’s question from the 1930s: Who would replace the working class as the new vanguards of the Marxist revolution?
Marcuse believed that it would be a victim coalition of minorities — blacks, women, and homosexuals.
The social movements of the 1960s — black power, feminism, gay rights, sexual liberation — gave Marcuse a unique vehicle to release cultural Marxist ideas into the mainstream. Railing against all things “establishment,” the Frankfurt School’s ideals caught on like wildfire across American universities.
Marcuse also popularized the work of the Frankfurt School, translating its turgid German philosophical esoterica into more approachable prose, and even popular slogans; “make love, not war” was one of his inventions.
Because the proletariat were not interested a worker’s revolution, the dynamism of the Marxist class struggle had to be removed from the context of bourgeoisie versus proletariat, and applied instead to various other conflicts between oppressor and oppressed, which, via education, entertainment, etc., the cultural revolutionaries would themselves create. Saul Alinsky, Black Lives Matter, homosexual activists, and various other activists and movements, many funded by people like George Soros, have continued this dialectic.
Cultural Marxism and the Frankfurt School are not the only explanation of our social ills. To say so would be a terrible monism. But the corrosive effect that these particular Marxists have had is one important factor in explaining the desperate state of the world around us.
Which is why we need all the more to treasure what the revolutionaries hate: the monuments of Western Culture, and much more so, the Catholic Church that incubated them.