Against “Cultural Marxism”

Having spent 20 years studying the history and theory of Marxism, I can say with some confidence that… most American conservatives (as well as most white nationalists), know hardly a thing about it. – Michael O’Meara – The Next Conservatism?

I was once again reminded of the truth of Mr. O’Meara’s observation by Paul Gottfried’s recent article at Vdare, Yes, Virginia (Dare) There Is A Cultural Marxism–And It’s Taking Over Conservatism Inc.

In general, the theme of “Cultural Marxism” and its supposed triumph reflects the theoretical poverty of the American right – in both its mainstream and alternative varieties.  It is consistent with the tradition of blaming the “commies” (or, for some, the commies and “the Jews”) for everything, treating the globalist/multiculturalist order as something foreign to our system rather than the “natural” product of it.

Even worse, much of what passes for insight on the matter is of the crassest character. (See, for example, here and here.) While I will confess that I’ve never been a big fan of Gottfried‘s work, I expected something better from him and so was especially disappointed by the crudeness of his analysis in this particular effort.

While Gottfried expresses some general discomfort with the term “Cultural Marxism” and acknowledges a number of the ways in which it diverges from  class-oriented Marxism of one sort or another, he argues that it can be understood as fundamentally part of that tradition and seems to endorse the view taken by so many on the American right that all of today’s ills are traceable to the influence of that handful of  unorthodox Marxist theorists associated with the Frankfurt school.

Thus, in an earlier article Gottfried claimed that Cultural Marxism has been “successful… in taking over Western societies, through educational, social and political institutions” while in the current one, after some fretting over whether or not it still makes sense to talk about the influence of the original critical theorists given how far the corruption of the West has advanced beyond what they had imagined, he ultimately assures us that “Not only does Cultural Marxism exist” but that, given the embrace of a sort of political correctness-lite at home and “humanitarian” interventionism abroad on the part of the mainstream right,  “it now appears to be taking over Conservatism Inc.” and that “Conservatism Inc. … [has] become a Cultural Marxist puppet.”

In fact, the “Cultural Marxists” are able to hold the sort of institutional power which they do because they are doing the system’s dirty work – motivating and justifying the clearing away of all of those “irrational” obstacles – family, nation, tradition, etc – to the horizontal and vertical spread of the capitalist system in its globalist phase.  As Gottfried himself points out:

… nationalizing productive forces and the creation of a workers’ state, i.e. the leftovers from classical Marxism, turn out to be the most expendable part of their revolutionary program…. Instead, what is essential to Cultural Marxism is the rooting-out of bourgeois national structures, the obliteration of gender roles and the utter devastation of “the patriarchal family.”

So, far from representing the victory of the left, the rise of “Cultural Marxism” to prominence and intellectual power represents a victory over the left – its absorption by the current incarnation of the capitalist system rather than a subversion of it.

(The introductory quote is from and article published some years back by the now-silent Michael O’Meara on William Lind, who was an early proponent of the concept of “Cultural Marxism”. The piece is typical O’Meara – full of insights and energy but seriously marred by his habitual anti-semitism. Overall, much of his critique of the notion of the alleged role of “Cultural Marxism” remains valuable.  I will not repeat his analysis here, but I do suggest that you have a look.)

Privilege – It’s a Dog’s Life

I came across an interesting article at the journal ephemera(1) by Annamari Vänskä(2) Because I Wuv You – Pet Dog Fashion and Emotional Consumption. Although I was initially unsure whether or not it was meant to be a spoof à la Alan Sokal and others, I’m convinced that it is actually meant to be taken at face value.

The article has several lessons:

First, if you Theory things up enough you can make the obvious seem, if not profound, at least pretty complicated and the simply ludicrous sound more deeply so.

Second, certain academics really do debate some crazy stuff. Thus, in true “posthumanist” form(3) the author seriously engages the issue of privilege among animals:

Some argue that pets are privileged animals: that they are favoured, remain close to humans and occupy a hierarchically higher status than other non-human animals (Thomas, 1983: 100-120). Others see pets as degraded animals: while an ‘animal’ is conceptualised as wild and self-sufficient, the ‘pet’ lacks these qualities (Fudge, 2008).

The author aligns herself with the “privileged” school:

The pampered pedigree pooch embodies the triumph of capitalism: it does not only embody the fantasy of nature as controllable and malleable by the human hand, but also the fantasy of a liberated new consumer, a model posthuman citizen who enjoys its postromantic relationships with humans.

She concludes her article with a call for action (in the usual academic sense) – critique and study:

The co-consuming pet dog thus also opens up a space for a critique of animal hierarchies. The pet dog, which is conceptually not an animal, is superior to wild and farm animals. The pet is a privileged animal, favoured due to its similarity to humans.

and

The fashioned pet dog summarises Orwell’s idea that ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ and encourages further research that gives tools for undoing the unjust dichotomies between pets and other animals.

I’m convinced, of course, but still a little unsure how to overcome those “unjust dichotomies between pets and other animals.” Perhaps I’ll stop feeding my dog and let him scrounge like the rest of his less-privileged counterparts. For now, at least, I’ve hung one of those white puzzle pieces on his collar and I expect him to have some serious discussions of the matter with his friends down at the dog park. I know it will be a challenge, but I am hopeful that they will be able to find a way to be good allies to the local coyotes.

Third, and on the serious side, capitalism commodifies and corrupts every relationship – human or otherwise. When I’m done indulging my smug, know-nothing side, I have to admit that the article is not without value. In fact, if one can read around the tiresome posthumanist theorizing, it is still a useful case-study in the way in which the capitalist system permeates and transforms our everyday lives.

(1) ephemera “encourages contributions that explicitly engage with theoretical and conceptual understandings of organizational issues, organizational processes and organizational life.”

(2)The author is, among other things, “the Adjunct Professor of Fashion Studies at the University of Turku and Adjunct Professor of Art History and Gender Studies at the University of Helsinki.” Somehow, I’m not surprised.

(3) As the author tells us: “Posthumanist approaches aim to challenge classical humanist anthropocentrism and its dichotomies – such as human / animal and nature / culture – the uniqueness of ‘the human’ as the crown of the creation, and the position of the human as an autonomous, rational being in contrast to irrational, instinctual ‘animals’ (Wolfe, 2009). In this article, posthumanism is understood as a set of questions and as a tool for dealing with those questions, when ‘the human’ is not the only autonomous, rational being who knows or consumes.”