In Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s defense before the Senate Judiciary Committee to refute the unsubstantiated allegations by Christine Blasey Ford regarding an alleged sexual assault 36 years ago, he charged the Democratic senators on the committee with sowing “the wind for decades to come…[and]…the whole country will reap the whirlwind.”
The whirlwind is already here. To really grasp what’s going on in the political tumult of contemporary times it’s necessary to go beyond the players, parties, and immediate issues and understand the sources of cultural transformation that set the stage for all contemporary politics to play out. Politics is after all downstream of the culture.
For about the last two and a half generations there has been a subtle but growing assault on most of the values that were previously the bedrock of American society. Many older Americans hardly recognize the country of their childhood. While technological progress has proceeded at a rapid pace providing convenience, efficiency, and higher standards of material living, the foundational institutions of American society—the family, educational institutions, manners and civility, respect for law and order, and merit-based outcomes have been in concurrent decline.
How is it that so many Americans have allowed institutions and norms to be undermined that were the basis for almost all our prior success? And how could this happen after the United States stood decisively with the forces of good — helping the allied powers to win two world wars and then playing the key role in winning the Cold War.
It has happened because revolutionary ideological forces have been subtly at work to transform society from within — slowly and broadly so as to be almost unnoticed. Most assume that winning the Cold War meant we also defeated the Marxist ideology backing the Soviet Union. Yet a closer look at social history in 20th century America shows that strains of neo-Marxism have proliferated and collectively provided the central transformative ideological force shaping American culture over the last several generations and into the present.
Antonio Gramsci was a leading 20th century Marxist theoretician who argued that communists’ route to taking power in developed, industrialized societies such as the United States would be best achieved through a “long march through the institutions.” This would be a gradual process of radicalization of the cultural institutions — “the superstructure” — of bourgeois society, a process that would in turn transform the values and morals of society. Gramsci believed that as society’s morals were softened, its political and economic foundation would be more easily undermined and restructured.
Cultural Marxism was also advanced by intellectuals from the “Frankfurt School,” who were forced to flee Nazi Germany in the mid-1930s. Resettling in the U.S., members of the Frankfurt School, such as Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkeimer, Eric Fromm and Wilhelm Reich, first set up shop at Columbia University, and then later found their way into teaching at various elite universities such as Berkeley, Princeton, Harvard, the New School for Social Research and Brandeis. In the context of American culture, “the long march through the institutions” meant, in the words of Herbert Marcuse, “working against the established institutions while working in them.”
While the Frankfurt School was neo-Marxist, many of its adherents were less interested in economics and redistribution of wealth than in remaking and transforming society through attitudinal and cultural change. They incorporated Marxist class theory into sociology and psychology while also assimilating Freud’s theories on sexuality. Thus, Marx’s theory of the dialectic of perpetual conflict was joined together with Freud’s neurotic ideas, creating a sort of Freudian-Marxism. The amalgam provided a broad-based critique of social problems oriented toward transforming society as a whole — something they called Critical Theory.
While the leaders of the Frankfurt School had limited influence being somewhat ensconced in Berkeley, the New School and Ivy League universities, their Critical Theory ideas were considered avant-garde and received a multiplier effect through other universities and particularly as they were embraced by the teachers’ colleges across the country in the 1950s and 1960s. What was perhaps unique about the cultural Marxists was their “street smarts” recognition that psychological conditioning was more effective than philosophical arguments to achieve the goal of transforming America’s culture.
Essentially the Frankfurt School believed that as long as an individual believed that his reason and common sense could solve the problems facing society, then that society would never reach the state of hopelessness and alienation that they considered necessary to foment socialist revolution. Their task, therefore, was to undermine both the Judeo-Christian legacy and the foundation for rational reasoning by creating a narrative of destructive criticism affecting every sphere and institution of life, resulting in a loss of any absolute truth or meaning. This then would bring on mass hopelessness and de-stabilize society, setting the stage for bringing down what they saw as the ‘oppressive’ order.
The Critical Theory project emphasized and prioritized the demolition of Christianity and the nuclear family. They also sought to exacerbate race relations and promote massive immigration to destroy national identity. Additional focal points in their agenda encouraged dependency on state benefits and the bending of the legal system to favor perpetrators of crime over victims. And lastly, the agenda sought to dumb down the media and undermine schools’ and teachers’ authority.
An important part of the Critical Theory project of total transformation of society was to break down traditional relationships between men and women by promoting and legitimizing unhinged sexual permissiveness with no cultural or religious restraint. Building on the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory, leaders of what came to be known as Postmodernism advanced the wrecking ball cultural deconstruction project right through the turn of the 21stcentury.
Postmodernists have had no use for tradition or any standards of normalcy, believing that all truth is contrived illusion rather than absolute. Homosexuality and transgenderism are not only valid choices, but even preferable for advancing the destruction of the traditional family and society. They also view the scientific method as being useless, with facts too limiting to determine anything — making truth and error two side of the same coin. Thus Fake News did not arise out of reaction to Donald Trump, but more fundamentally as an extension of Postmodernism. Postmodernists were the first advocates of open borders, which was also an extension of the project to destroy national identity and undermine the democratic electoral process.
What is obviously striking is the degree to which this agenda of breakdown and national transformation promoted by a relatively small constituency of cultural Marxists associated with the Frankfurt School and Postmodernism has been accepted and infused into the leadership and operating procedures of the Democrat Party. Illustrative of this was Democrat Presidential candidate flagbearer Hillary Clinton, wherein she proclaimed to the 2015 Women in the World Summit, not long before she launched her 2016 presidential campaign, that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”
Since the 2016 election, this breakdown has now erupted in a new civil war. On the one side, we have those who have been shaped both overtly and subliminally by cultural Marxist ideology and on the other side we have those who find grounding and purpose in transcendent values—predominantly associated with Judaism and Christianity.
While Postmodernists may have held the commanding heights in the culture that includes Hollywood, the media and schools for some time, they recently have been stumbling rather badly for all to see with corruption, intolerance and visceral hatred. Exhibit A right now is the ambush of the nominee for Supreme Court justice, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, an eminently qualified and likable candidate, now in the cross-hairs of destruction for purely ideological reasons by accusers who have, in true Postmodernist tradition, turned the Constitution and due process on its head with a ginned-up media presumption of guilt on salacious hearsay rather than corroborating evidence. Sounds like a repeat of the failed Steele dossier, intended to destroy Donald Trump.
As fortune would have it, the moderate Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy — whose retirement provides the opening for candidate Brett Kavanaugh — found himself speaking before a Constitution Day celebration student group in Sacramento the day after the conflicting testimonies of Ford and Kavanaugh. One 17-year old student, Maya Steinhart, commented that ‘‘Nobody’s behaving like adults… It’s absolute chaos and it makes no sense and it’s terrifying and it’s not working.’’ Kennedy replied, ‘‘In the first part of this century we’re seeing the death and decline of democracy.” Yes, the whirlwind is already here.
T.S. Eliot describes the right side in cultural civil wars as being with people with a “grounding in reality that comes from the power of the eternal source of truth.” Indeed there is always hope for faithful Americans, who can take heart from Providence playing a key role today as was the case in ancient Israel when the Jewish prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that “my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail…for they shall not prosper [and] they shall have everlasting confusion…”
Scott Powell is a senior fellow at Discovery Institute in Seattle and managing partner of RemingtonRand LLC, a recruiting consultancy. Reach him at email@example.com.