Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Deep Structures of the Cultural Marxism Myth

Jeet Heer has posted a timely and excellent essay at New Republic titled "Trump's Racism and the Cultural Marxism Myth." In his essay, Heer recounts much of the background to the Higgins memo that I have documented here, here and here. Heer credits William S. Lind as the major popularizer of the myth, as have I in my blog posts. What I'm posting here extends the analysis and reveals significant background about personnel and timelines to the story.

In my most recent post, I started to probe further back into the myth's history with an examination of Eliseo Vivas's over-the-top invective against Herbert Marcuse since the late 1960s. Vivas was deeply offended by Marcuse's writing and expressed his displeasure in several articles and a book, Conta Marcuse. He was also a frequent contributor to the journals, Modern Age and Intercollegiate Review both of which are associated with the conservative organization, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute or ISI. From a snippet of a speech by ISI president T. Kenneth Cribb in Ellen Messer-Davidow's 1993 article, "Manufacturing the Attack on Liberalized Higher Education" I had the hunch that the ISI might offer a clue to the metamorphosis from Vivas's anti-Marcuse screeds to the full-blown cultural Marxism myth that appeared in Lind's pamphlet, Pat Buchanan's book, Higgins's memo and Anders Breivik's manifesto.

Cribb is a pivotal character in this saga. He was national director of the ISI from 1972 to 1977, then, after earning a law degree went to work for Edwin Meese during the Reagan campaign in 1980 and ended up Counselor to the Attorney General and subsequently Assistant for Domestic Affairs to President Reagan. After the end of the Reagan administration, Cribb returned to the ISI to serve as president of that organization from 1989 to 2011.
Krawattennazis Rich Higgins and T. Kenneth Cribb
In 1989, Cribb gave an address to the Heritage Foundation on "Conservatism and the American Academy: Prospects for the 1990s" in which he outlined his vision for a "sustained counteroffensive" on what he characterized as "the last Leftist redoubt, the college campus." Cribb painted a picture of relentless persecution and harassment of conservatives in American universities taken mostly from Peter Collier and David Horowitz's Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties. He boasted of the ISI's readiness for that counteroffensive:
In addition to saving a remnant that renews the font of conservative ideas, we are now strong enough to establish a contemporary presence for conservatism on campus, and contest the Left on its own turf. We plan to do this by greatly expanding the ISI field effort, its network of campus-based programming.
Cribb was unequivocal in his view that academia was "the one redoubt left to it [the left] by the successful conservative counterattack of the 1970s and 1980s." His promised counteroffensive was thus presented as a mop-up operation for the establishment of a "free" society, which is to say a traditionalist society freed of the nuisances of relativism and other non-conservative heresies.

Fifteen years into that mop-up operation, Cribb contributed a chapter to William Lind's Political Correctness: a Short History of an Ideology, the locus classicus of the cultural Marxism myth. Cribb's chapter was titled "Political Correctness in Higher Education." It presented anecdotes from conservative college newspapers affiliated with the ISI meant to illustrate the "alarming rate" at which "the freedom to articulate and discuss ideas" was being eroded by incidents of intolerance and corruption of the curriculum to downplay the significance of Western Civilization.

"While it would be easy to dismiss such demonstrations of intolerance as student pranks," he admitted, "these incidents are the surface manifestations of a more pervasive and insidious trend..." The headline outrage was the burning of "hundreds (sometimes thousands) of copies of conservative student newspapers."  He concluded his chapter with a brief account of the ISI's efforts to stem the tide of the alarming erosion of freedom. Along with other sections of the Lind book, whole passages from Cribb's chapter were 'cribbed' by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik for his manifesto.

Curiously, there was no mention in Cribb's 1989 address to the Heritage Foundation of Herbert Marcuse, the Frankfurt School or cultural Marxism nor was there in the book by Collier and Horowitz book that Cribb had cited. "Politically correct" gets four hits though. Yet Horowitz  and Collier were active participants in 1960s New Left extremism. Similarly, ISI poster boy Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education from 1991 contains one brief and not particularly scathing mention of Marcuse and one reference political correctness but no mention of the Frankfurt School or cultural Marxism.

The political correctness. cultural Marxism stew didn't get all its ingredients until the 1992 article, "New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and Political Correctness," whose author, Michael J. Minnicino, subsequently disowned his work as "hopelessly deformed by self-censorship and the desire to in some way support Mr. LaRouche's crack-brained world-view." That fine piece of Western Civilization scholarship was then taken over and reworked by Lind in 1997.

At last we have a doctrine, a vanguard organization, and a timeline. But most importantly, courtesy of the Larouche cult, we now have a suitably unitary devil-function. The "basic Nazi trick," as Kenneth Burke labeled "the 'curative' unification by a fictitious devil-function, gradually made convincing by the sloganizing repetitiousness of standard advertising technique." Helpfully, in a 1988 address to the Heritage Foundation,William F. Campbell explained why conservatives need such a devil-function:
But as first and second generation conservatives have always known, and had to live with as an unpleasant skeleton in the family closet, there is sharp tension, if not contradiction, between the traditionalist and the libertarian wings of the conservative movement. They have been held together primarily because of their common enemies, modern egalitarianism and totalitarian collectivism, which they both abhor. 
In 1988, when Campbell made those remarks, the Soviet Union still existed and could serve the primary role of common enemy, symbolizing the alien totalitarian destiny of domestic egalitarianism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a new enemy had to be conjured. The Higgins memo is testament to the contortions that must be endured to conjure that devil.

9 comments: said...

You conjure up an interesting stew, a curious combination of connections more convincing, if less dramatic, than that put together by Namcy MacLead. One curiosum connects with earlier discussions here, namely the origin and history of the term "politically correct." In comments in an earlier post, in which reminiscing about Madison, Wiscnsin went on, I reported a belief held by some people there that the term was first used in its ironic sense in the near eastside Williamson Street neighborhood starting in the mid-1970s. This was thought to have followed on some local Maoists using it in a serious way. This brought forth speculation and reports of the term in fact being used earlier elsewhere in Commmunist-Party ruled nations. The hip lefties of Willy Street in the 70s may have been the first to use it in a sardonic and ironic way.

Now, of course, and for some time as you document, the term has been used nearly exclusively by people on the right to criticize people on the left who they think are engaging in inappropriate assertions of pc-ness. There you go again, you naughty cultural Marsists, blah blah blah.

This makes me wonder about another term that I only first saw within the last week but now wee being used all over. This is "antifa." I have mostly seen it used by people on the right, especially among alt-right types (although Trump may have just replaced it with "alt-left") to criticize their most serioius street enemies, with alt-right types denouncing "BLM/antifa" groups they see as opposing them and being supposedly sufficiently violent to justify them beating up counterprotestors and running opponents down with cars. What I have yet to see here in the US is much of anybody on the left actually identifying with this term, or certainly there being any organized groups using it in their names. To the extent that some people on the left may be doing so, I think they are following the initial usage by people on the right, for which it was a term of abuse or contempt along the lines of "politically correct," which basically nobody that I know of on the left has used seriously for decades.

Some digging and questioning has turned up that the term "antifa" was used seriously by leftists as a self-descriptor in Germany dating all the way back to the 1930s, and as short for "anti-fascist," with their being a group in Germany that had "anti-fascist" in its name and engaged in street action and used the term as a shortened self-descriptor, although never as an official name. I find this interesting. But my own digging shows no use in the US earlier than 2012, and that was a mocking and hostile definition appearing in the Urban Dictionary obviously put there by some angry rightist, for whom the "antifa" were alienated white teenagers engaging in violence against nice conservagtive people and who were "dumb." Really.

As it is, I do not know how "antifa" moved from being a serious self-descriptor by leftist anti-fascists in Germany to being a sneering negative designation by angry rightists in the US. But its use has now apparently become ubiquitous.

Sandwichman said...

I contend that the term originated in reference to certain phrases by Mao, that were not literally "politically correct" but close enough. The term was used in the '60s earnestly by some dogmatist groups on the left and derisively by other, more anarchistic elements.

Sandwichman said...

The frequency of appearance only takes off in the 1990s in conjunction with denunciations of political correctness by conservative propagandists like D'Souza and Horowitz. See the google n-gram at the link below.

Carolina Alves said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Both your recent posts are enlightening in tracing the roots (at least recent roots) of U.S. conservatism's strategic "war" against the leftist liberal camp that enveloped the U.S. political scene commencing with the successes of FDR's administration, and eventually through Kennedy/Johnson periods.

But while you're posts are very enlightening about the conservative counter strategic methods in opposing the left's ascendance and dominance I am still struggling with the right's fundamental and basic objectives (aside from opposing the left).

In my own efforts and research to understand or figure out what it is they really want, in a documented or elaborated but specific form, I find that .. as best I can surmise from what is vaguely stated (even only perhaps by back-door innuendo) it is a virtual totalitarian state under the auspices of a limited form of democracy which restricts the democratic conditions to create or maintain a ruling aristocratic capitalist class.

The best I can come up with in the most generalized and simplistic form is a State which is more along the lines of a royal hierarchical system .. King (elected by the barons), barons, knights, lords, yeoman, and worker-bees at the bottom of the pyramid. Not in those terms of course but structured in a similar form. Oligarchic or Plutocratic state for example.

In U.S. political genesis, the representatives of the masses is the House, used primarily to keep tabs on and control the masses but with ultimate power vested in the non-elected, State legislative branches' sppointed Senator(s). The subsequent compromises which ultimately prevailed were required the addition of a Bill of Rights (Madison's first 10 Amendments to appease various factions and concerns to protect (ostensibly) the status quo. That's just my gross overview interpretation, in spite of the propaganda of the Federalist Papers (Hamilton's & Madison's persuasive arguments to sway the recalcitrant in New York to accept the new Constitutions terms).

At the time of that assembly of those who decided a change was necessary, the U.S. was run and controlled by the gentry, highly educated, widely read, landed property owners in both North and South but in the South the dominant controlling class were the plantation and agricultural trade owners. To retain or maintain a Union of these autonomous controlling aristocrats that class could not and did not create a constitution that would conceivably reduce or limit their own interests and control. More than anything they were afraid of a despotic ruler (King, President, give it some name) taking over with the power of a military to enforce, so they required that the representative power could overturn or control whomever was to "lead" the new nation as a figurehead and focus as well as retaining the autonomous controlling interests ability to wage war against a potential despotic ruler .. hence retention of State militia's independent of any federal military.

In that historical context what seems to have happened since then is that the representative powers have increasingly reduced the power of the autonomous controlling class --- through the use of the popularity of a Jacksonian type democratic and party system, which upset the entire system's original intent. The slavery extensions limitations and compromises culminating in the Civil War upset it even further and to a much larger extent, followed by new Amendments and subsequent interpretations by various SCOTUS's over time reducing the controlling class powers even more.

So my question to you is in your view or research what is it in fact that the conservatives want, beside continually inhibiting and restricting the liberal side of the political equation?

Sandwichman said...

Your "virtual totalitarian state" is a good start. I think most people believe their own ideas are the truest. "Conservatives" combine that with their inherited or acquired privileges and wealth. So their ideas are the best and they deserve everything they have and whatever else they can acquire. Wealth and privilege put them in the position to rule and that gives the impression that they are therefore most capable of ruling. I think they genuinely believe that their dominance will be what is best for those they deem inferior to them.

That would all be fine and and good except for one hitch. There is no single "conservative" program. The "free market" is an abstract chimera that is no less Utopian than perfect communism. So "what I say goes" is what conservatives actually mean by the free market. But they don't agree on "what WE say" so here is where the enemy-function becomes crucial. The designated enemy is egalitarianism... because taking money from the rich doesn't make the poor better off (even though taking money from the poor DOES make the rich better off!).

Even though conservatives think they have the best ideas, they are not so sure everybody else agrees with them. Thus they are both over-confident and paranoid. They believe in the enemy they have conjured up. They are haunted by it.

I have a confession to make. I have borrowed Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" and applied it to those who think it applies only to "socialists of all parties." Hayek's tale was an unwitting self-portrait of classical liberals!

I agree with some of the things that conservatives say, like Lord Acton's formula, but have to conclude that they are somehow exempt from the rule or, if not exempt, cynical: "oh well somebody's got to be corrupt and it might as well be me."

Anonymous said...

Thank-you for your response. I'm not much more enlightened and have assumed that the is no answer will remain ethereal.

I've used a mechanical analogy to "view" the political play between conservatives and liberals.

Its the teeter-totter principle: To shift the balance you can either put more weight on one end than the other, or shift the location of the fulcrum. The Civil War shifted the fulcrum as did the post-Great Recession FDR New Deal period. It's not a perfect analogy because of course shifting the fulcrum to the right gives the left greater control / weight / Power / Leverage.. and the converse. The weight before the onset of the civil war was on the left by abolition and greater industrial population in the northern states. Thus the only way to restore conservative power that was left to them was to shift the fulcrum (they couldn't change the population imbalance or moral sentiments)... though it shifted in the wrong direction for them (losing the war).

In general demographic changes and / or external forces shift the fulcrum. Propaganda and voting shift the weights.

That said, and with this imperfect analogy, the general composite fulcrum shift has been toward the right --- giving more power & leverage of weights to the left overall. As I see it from a distance, as minorities gain more ascendancy in population proportions relative to the white ruling class the fulcrum will continue to shift right with intermittently heavier weights (voting) applied to the right's weights to counter balance. I think (in this analogous form) that's what's happened since Reagan more or less... and Trump's ascendency is an illustration of the increasing use of propaganda. lies, deceits to shift voting weight to the right.

At some point however when voting and propaganda weights no longer do the trick or become ineffective something's going to give again.... e.g. a major fulcrum shift will have to occur. It is that which I worry about. When pressed against the wall things have a strong tendency to revert to the use of physical force.... or as was once said, war is an extension of diplomacy.

Unknown said...

Google ngram (data ends in 2008) shows "Cultural Marxism" appearing in 1976 and peaking in 1981, with another lift in the late 1990s.

There seems to be some intramural debate among Christian Reconstructionists about whether R. J. Rushdoony was a proponent of a critique of "cultural Marxism." Rushdoony was connected with Hayek, Von Mises, ISI, and IHS through the Volcker Fund, so there might be something to it. His Politics of Guilt and Pity (published in the 1970s) is marketed today as a critique of "cultural Marxism."

Sandwichman said...


My guess is that the late '70s bump would be mainly academic books distinguishing between conventional "economistic" Marxism and Marxian culture critique such as found in Telos, Franfurt School, Gramsci, Lukacs etc. I doubt many of those would engage in polemics against an alleged cultural Marxist strategy to undermine Western Civilization. I will have a look at the Rushdoony -- sounds like a parallel thread that may have retroactively been woven into the fabric.