Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Conservatives can be *strange*

I often refer here to conservative critics of the Iraq War, like Justin Raimundo or William Lind.  Some of the ones I quote may be coming more from a traditional Republican "realist" approach to foreign policy, others from more of an Old Right ("paleo-conservative") viewpoint.  While I tend to fall more into the "liberal internationalist" camp - though not the pro-Iraq War part, for sure.

But sometimes people can be very expert and sensible in one area, and be spaced out or downright silly in another.  Michael Scheuer, for instance, was the former head of the CIA team tasked to hunt down Bin Laden.  He's one of the leading experts on Bin Laden and jihadism, and his writing on those topics is extremely informative and sensibly nuanced.  But his larger views on foreign policy have up until now struck me as being an odd hodgepodge of views that don't necessarily fit together well.

William Lind, who I quoted on the war the other day, is also the author of this book review that I just came across: Dead But Not Gone American Conservative 10/10/05 issue; accessed 10/03/05.  It's a review of a book called The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium (2005) by Paul Gottfried.

I was reading a hard copy of Lind's review in a bookstore-coffeehouse, and I read this passage to my wife, who is Austrian: "some European countries have now gone farther than the U.S. in making cultural Marxism the state ideology - any dissent from which risks a term in prison".  And I asked her which European states she thought he meant.

She just gave me a blank look and said, "I have no idea."  Neither do I.

Especially since I'm in the middle of a book about the democratic opposition movements in Communist East Germany.  I just have to wonder how anyone whose brain isn't pickled in OxyContin would write something like that.

There's no point really in trying to refute it; he's describing a situation that just doesn't exist in the "reality-based" world.  Sunday night's episode of Charmed had a couple of demons who wiped out people's memories by sending them through a nightmare Alice-in-Wonderland world.  Maybe he was caught up in something like that when he wrote it.

To put it in slightly more context - which if anything makes it less intelligible - here's a longer quote:

Far from being a bastion of church-going cultural conservatism, the United States has become the world leader of the culturally Marxist revolution, to the point of attempting to impose secular democracy and women’s rights on the Islamic world by force of arms. Gottfried rightly traces European cultural Marxism back to the American-designed re-education of the Germans after World War II, of which Habermas proudly proclaims himself an heir. If some European countries have now gone farther than the U.S. in making cultural Marxism the state ideology—any dissent from which risks a term in prison—America had much to do with injecting the poison into the European body politic. This time it was Horkheimer and Adorno who arrived on the sealed train.

In his last chapter, Gottfried argues that the “soft despotism” of cultural Marxism, the spirit of Huxley’s Brave New World, is a political religion. That is a fair description of ideology in general; all ideologies are anti-Christ, false Christianity promising heaven on earth through man’s own efforts. Despite labeling cultural Marxism “post-Marxism,” Gottfried acknowledges that “the appeal of a Communist god remains a critical point of reference for explaining the current European parliamentary left.”

Let's see, that would be the "parliamentary left" of people like Tony Blair, head of Britain social-democratic (Labour) party.  Tony, who will be forever remembered for being Bush's poodle in foreign affairs, is head of a party desperately trying to resist "the appeal of a Communist god"?

And the US is "the world leader of the culturally Marxist revolution"?!?

No, this is not from The Onion.

What I found even more disturbing, though, was the book he described.  According to Lind, his main argument is that the Frankfurt School of "critical theory" is responsible for injecting Marxism into the mainstream of American andwestern European life by creating "political correctness."  Now, "political correctness" can mean God-knows-what in BushSpeak.  But generally it seems to mean anything liberal, Democratic or critical of racism.  Or maybe just anything the followers of the True Path of Dear Leader Bush happen to be irritated by at a particular moment.

Now, in the reality-based world, the "Frankfurt School" was an actual group of real live people.  They were a group of scholars at the Frankfurt School of Social Research in Germany, which had to shut down during the Third Reich.  It was an interdisciplinary school of social science research, and the participants were working from a Marxist perspective.  The most famous names associated with the Frankfurt School would include Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm and Walter Benjamin.  The best-known living participant would be the German philosopher and political analyst Jürgen Habermas.  None of them are household words; you won't see many people perusing their books on the subway train.

This notion has been kicking around on the far, militia-movement-style-right for a while.  The White Citizens Council (formally the Council for Conservative Citizens) used to advertise a video lecture on their Web site promoting this theme that I understand was a hit among the black-helicopters-are-coming-to-get-us crowd.  The fact that several of the best-known Frankfurt School adherents were Jewish gives the idea an extra appeal.  Things are messed up, the argument goes, because Jew commies have imposed a Marxist culture on America.

I'm wondering if this is an example of a notion that first crawls around on the crackpot right, then worms its way into mainstream Republican thinking (without losing its crackpot quality).  Gov. Schwarzenegger's embrace of the idea of private vigilantes patrolling the US-Mexican border is an example of that.  David Neiwert at his Orcinus blog recently wrote about a similar process going on with the "wise use" brand of anti-environmentalist ideology.

Bill Berkowitz wrote about this theory, as promoted by American Conservative publisher Pat Buchanan and William Lind himself in the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) Reframing the Enemy Intelligence Report (Summer 2003).

He summarized the theory this way:

"Cultural Marxism," described as a conspiratorial attempt to wreck American culture and morality, is the newest intellectual bugaboo on the radical right. Surprisingly, there are signs that this bizarre theory is catching on in the mainstream.

The phrase refers to a kind of "political correctness" on steroids - a covert assault on the American way of life that allegedly has been developed by the left over the course of the last 70 years. Those who are pushing the "cultural Marxism" scenario aren't merely poking fun at the PC excesses of the "People's Republic of Berkeley," or the couple of American cities whose leaders renamed manholes "person-holes" in a bid to root out sexist thought.

Right-wing ideologues, racists and other extremists have jazzed up political correctness and repackaged it — in its most virulent form, as an anti-Semitic theory that identifies Jews in general and several Jewish intellectuals in particular as nefarious, communistic destroyers. These supposed originators of "cultural Marxism" are seen as conspiratorial plotters intent on making Americans feel guilty and thus subverting their Christian culture.

In a nutshell, the theory posits that a tiny group of Jewish philosophers who fled Germany in the 1930s and set up shop at Columbia University in New York City devised an unorthodox form of "Marxism" that took aim at American society's culture, rather than its economic system.

He notes that Lind, who is "a principal of far-right political strategist Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation", has been pushing this theory for years.  Gottfried's book, whiach apprently spins the same ridiculous theme or something very similar, is published by the University of Missouri press, somaybe it is getting "mainstreamed."

Berkowitz writes of Lind:

But it may be William Lind, who has long worked at the Free Congress Foundation that his ally Paul Weyrich founded, who has done the most to define the enemies who make up the so-called "cultural Marxists." Ultimately, this enemy has come to embody a whole host of Lind's bête noires - feminists, homosexuals, secular humanists, multiculturalists, sex educators, environmentalists, immigrants, black nationalists, the ACLU and the hated Frankfurt School philosophers.

And Lind apparently isn't shy about pointing out the Jewish aspect of his conspiracy theory:

At the core of the far right's concept of cultural Marxism are the Jews. Lind made this plain in June 2002, when he gave a speech on the subject to a Washington Holocaust denial conference hosted by the anti-Semitic journal, Barnes Review.

Although he told his audience that his Free Congress Foundation was "not among those who question whether the Holocaust occurred," he went on to lay out just who the cultural conspirators were: "These guys," he explained, "were all Jewish."

Like Jews in general, the Frankfurt School makes a convenient antagonist — one that is basically seen as antithetical to all things American. The school, says social psychology professor Richard Lichtman of the Berkeley-based Wright Institute, is "a convenient target that very few people really know anything about.

"By grounding their critique in Marxism and using the Frankfurt School, [cultural conservatives] make it seem like it's quite foreign to anything American. It takes on a mysterious cast and translates as an incomprehensible, anti-American, foreign movement that is only interested in undermining the U.S.," he said. "The idea being transmitted is that we are being infected from the outside."

Berkowitz concludes with the observation on "cultural Marxism" that, for the moment, "the spread of this particular theory is a classic case of concepts that originated on the radical right slowly but surely making their way into the American mind."

After reading Lind's review and the SPLC's writeup on him and his Frankfurt School theory, I'm going to be reluctant to quote him on the Iraq War in the future.  Or if I do, I'll feel compelled to include a disclaimer about how the guy is promoting this nutty theory.


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