YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 31, 2013

The nefarious “cultural Marxists”

CulturalMarxism[Update 1-5-16: progressive jurist Felix Frankfurter was already praising balanced expertise and lamenting the effects of mass media on the people in 1930, long before the Frankfurt Institute refugees came to the US.]

There is a Facebook page “Smash Cultural Marxism.” One must wonder why a handful of German refugees, some with Jewish ancestry, are getting blamed for the sharp turn toward statism in the Democratic Party.

I have written before about this terrifying cohort.  See https://clarespark.com/2011/10/21/did-frankfurters-kill-the-white-christian-west/.  Also https://clarespark.com/2009/08/25/t-w-adorno-and-his-funny-idea-of-genuine-liberalism/.

Even if you are a fashionable behaviorist and loathe Freudian ideas, the Adorno blog establishes that his idea of the ever-so-balanced (pseudo)Freud suited the Harvard social psychologists who were proponents of psychological warfare in the interests of “civilian morale.”  Such as Adorno and Horkheimer achieved fame because they blamed the Enlightenment and bureaucratic rationality for Nazism and the Holocaust. How convenient for the Harvard cohort that also called a halt to the Enlightenment (see  https://clarespark.com/2011/03/27/progressive-mind-managers-ca-1941-42/).

As refugees from Nazism, the critical theorists were vocal about the causes of Hitler’s rise to power, and their indictment of mass culture and by extension, technological society, were understandable. For instance, Erich Fromm blamed working class authoritarianism for the failure of the German working class to deliver a socialist revolution. In the end, all the Frankfurters had explanations for the rise of Hitler, and to a man (whoops! I forgot Hannah Arendt), they blamed “mass culture.” Adorno, that elitist, went so far as to condemn American jazz.

I don’t know of a German refugee whose ancestors were Jewish who identified in any way with Judaism. They were first and foremost philosophers in the German Idealist tradition. Still, some of the ideas of Herbert Marcuse remain useful today in decoding authoritarianism in our political culture. I refer to “repressive tolerance” and “repressive desublimation.”

Repressive tolerance simply states that the social critic loses when s/he allows the opposition to define the terms of debate. Thus, the analysis of propaganda and/or the “rules” of combat allow us to see through authoritarian statists of every stripe, but especially the tricks of the pseudo-moderate men–as delineated in the mass-circulated materials written by Gordon Allport and Henry A. Murray, that were nationally circulated to other progressives, ca. 1941. (See link above.) [Update 12-27-13: It is true that Marcuse was writing from the Left, but such libertarians as Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate in The Shadow University (1998), ignore the collectivist, top-down discourse of the moderate conservatives who shaped current conceptions such as the neutral state and ethnicity/’race’ in the early years of the 20th century. See for instance https://clarespark.com/2009/09/23/progressives-and-the-teaching-of-american-literature/, and https://clarespark.com/2009/09/19/populism-progressivism-and-corporatist-liberalism-in-the-nation-1919/, for the gentlemanly approach to social control of subversive elements. No analysis of academic freedom and the origins of political correctness can proceed without those actions of “moderates” who imposed an organic conservative vocabulary on American institutions–all of them.]

Repressive desublimation argues that the loosening of sexual morals benefits consumerism, in which self-worth is defined with respect to mass media definitions of sexual attractiveness and glamour. One would think that conservatives critical of hyper-sexuality in pop culture would welcome such a critique.

Or take Norbert Guterman’s and Leo Lowenthal’s manual for identifying right-wing agitators, Prophets of Deceit (1949). I read it twice and modified my own self-presentation on the radio accordingly. Some of their guideposts that stick in my mind are as follows: 1. The agitator confides personal “secrets” to the target audience to bind them more closely; and 2. The agitator exaggerates the hurdles that were necessary to overcome in finding the audience: he or she is in physical danger for revealing the secrets s/he is confiding to the target audience; and 3. The agitator wants your money.

While I reject the German Idealism of the Frankfurters, the study of propaganda, of images, and of deceptive language that they favored, are indispensable tools for historians, journalists and all others who would protect liberty and freedom of speech.

I have no doubt that antisemitism accounts for the continued blaming of “cultural Marxism” for “political correctness” and anti-Americanism in general. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/06/30/the-origins-of-political-correctness-2/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/06/19/committee-for-economic-development-and-its-sociologists/ including the internal links. Look to the pseudo-moderate men for the threat to “American culture,” not to the “secular progressives” who represent emancipation from the dead hand of illegitimate authority. (For instance, Henry A. Murray of Harvard, one of their affinity group, argued for the return of the moderate father, for an authoritarian father would drive the children into radicalism. Such a perfectly moderate father (like the Good King or Platonic Guardian) was of course Franklin Delano Roosevelt.)

Bill Donahue


  1. […] I asked Facebook friends where they thought “political correctness” came from, and I was referred to three authors: William Lind, Roger Kimball, and Diana West. I am in sharp disagreement with their work, which is all too reminiscent of the John Birch Society, “paleoconservatism,”  and the most paranoid populism. (The second in this sequence is https://clarespark.com/2013/06/30/the-origins-of-political-correctness-2/. A must-read on the origins of “cultural Marxism” is found here: https://clarespark.com/2013/07/31/the-nefarious-cultural-marxists/.) […]

    Pingback by The origins of political correctness | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — December 24, 2013 @ 1:23 am | Reply

  2. […] For Ben Urwand’s recent book The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, “Hollywood”, “Jewish” moguls, “capitalism,” and the ostensibly Nazified/anticommunist/bigoted  American movie industry are conflated and held in contempt. (The “collaboration” that Urwand and the many critics of mass culture and mass media may have in mind is the bond between image and audience. Like other critics of technology and its assistance to demagogues, Urwand turns out to be an antimodern, even a sort of Tory, though he appears to be writing from the left. For instance, writing in the voice of “Doremus Jessup,” Sinclair Lewis wrote, “‘Is it just possible,’ [Doremus Jessup] sighed, ‘that the most vigorous and boldest idealists have been the worst enemies of human progress instead of its greatest creators? Possible that plain men with the humble trait of minding their own business will rank higher in the heavenly hierarchy than all the plumed souls who have shoved their way in among the masses and insisted on saving them?’” So modern mass media enable demagoguery of the kind that Lewis fears. Odd that Lewis doesn’t pin this on FDR in his It Can’t Happen Here  (1935), a book that Urwand admired and wished that it had been turned into a movie. (For a blog on the “cultural Marxists” see https://clarespark.com/2013/07/31/the-nefarious-cultural-marxists/.) […]

    Pingback by The pitfalls in writing histories of the movies | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — November 27, 2013 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

  3. I don’t think it’s entirely fair to dismiss the notion of cultural Marxism quite so glibly. The field of culture has been regarded as more important than economics by many Marxists, from Willi Munzenberg to Mike Gold. It’s difficult to argue that the ISR was not a thoroughly Marxist venture from the beginning: As Rolf Wiggershaus writes in his definitive “The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories, and Political Significance” (MIT Press, 1995), its original name was The Institute for Marxism. Nor is it quite fair to confound criticism of critical theory with anti-Semitism, merely because many of its proponents were Jewish. Many researchers who decried the rise of cultural Marxism, political correctness and anti-Americanism were themselves Jewish. It’s hard to argue that Herbert Romerstein, for example, was motivated by anti-Semitism.

    Comment by Mark LaRochelle — September 16, 2013 @ 4:03 pm | Reply

    • My posts on “cultural Marxism” were directed to its enemies, not to its friends. Mostly I was chastising the far right anti-Semites who blame “cultural Marxism” for political correctness. I am not sure that you read my blog very carefully. Although I am no longer on the left, I learned much from this group of culture critics, but don’t agree with their glib attribution of mass culture as the force behind working class authoritarianism (Erich Fromm did this, and he was not the only one).

      Comment by clarelspark — September 16, 2013 @ 4:43 pm | Reply

      • Mr. Rochelle makes a good point, and I second it: you attribute anti-semitism to unnamed “far-right” characters while — uncharacteristically, I think — conflating a very broad school of criticism with that cohort. I do find this troubling.

        Comment by tinatrent — December 21, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

      • You have no idea to whom I might be referring? Try Willis Carto and his Liberty Lobby for one, especially relevant to this subject. There are legions of others in recent history, but often using screen aliases.

        Comment by clarelspark — December 21, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

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