‘Cultural Marxism’ Catching On

Television commentator Pat Buchanan says it is being used to "de-Christianize" America. Washington heavyweight William Lind claims it is turning U.S. college campuses into "ivy-covered North Koreas." Retired naval commander Gerald Atkinson fears it has invaded the nation's military academies. Immigration activist John Vinson suggests it aims "to distort and destroy" our country.

"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.

The theory holds that these self-interested Jews — the so-called "Frankfurt School" of philosophers — planned to try to convince mainstream Americans that white ethnic pride is bad, that sexual liberation is good, and that supposedly traditional American values — Christianity, "family values," and so on — are reactionary and bigoted. With their core values thus subverted, the theory goes, Americans would be quick to sign on to the ideas of the far left.

The very term, "cultural Marxism," is clearly intended to conjure up xenophobic anxieties. But can a theory like this, built on the words of long-dead intellectuals who have little discernible relevance to normal Americans' lives, really fly? As bizarre as it might sound, there is some evidence that it may. Certainly, those who are pushing the theory seem to believe that it is an important one.

"Political correctness looms over American society like a colossus," William Lind, a principal of far-right political strategist Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation and a key popularizer of the idea of cultural Marxism, warned in a 1998 speech. "It has taken over both political parties and is enforced by many laws and government regulations. It almost totally controls the most powerful element in our culture, the entertainment industry. It dominates both public and higher education. ... It has even captured the clergy in many Christian churches."

From PC to Cultural Marxism
The idea of political correctness — the predecessor of the more highly charged concept of cultural Marxism — was popularized by the mass media in the early 1990s, highlighted by a 1991 speech by the first President Bush in which he warned that "free speech [is] under assault throughout the United States." By the end of 1992, feature stories on the phenomenon had appeared in Newsweek, New York magazine, The New Republic, Atlantic Monthly and the New York Review of Books.

The Wall Street Journal, whose editorial writers had recklessly pilloried a University of Pennsylvania academic as the personification of political correctness, said it posed a "far worse ... threat to intellectual freedom" than McCarthyism. In the pages of The Washington Times (see 'Defending Dixie'), Heritage Foundation scholar Laurence Jarvik wrote angrily that "storm troopers" were attacking "Western culture."

Of course, the phrase was basically a politically charged construct that was used to mock the left and even liberals. Challenges to gender bias, efforts to diversify the nation's universities, and similar policies were dismissed as attempts to turn the universities into "gulags" under the thumbs of left-wing thought police. The term was used to attack ideas while avoiding any discussion of their merits.

Although he didn't use the words "cultural Marxism," white nationalist Pat Buchanan (see description of The American Cause), helped frame the debate as a "culture war" in his inflammatory speech in support of the first President Bush's nomination for reelection at the 1992 GOP convention in Houston.

"There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America," Buchanan said in his nationally televised address. "It is a cultural war, as critical to the nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself."

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, LGBT people, secular humanists, multiculturalists, sex educators, environmentalists, immigrants, black nationalists, the ACLU and the hated Frankfurt School philosophers.

In July 1998, Lind told a conference of the right-wing watchdog group Accuracy in Academia that political correctness and cultural Marxism were "totalitarian ideologies" that were turning American campuses into "small ivy-covered North Koreas, where the student or faculty member who dares to cross any of the lines set up by the gender feminist or the homosexual-rights activists, or the local black or Hispanic group, or any of the other sainted 'victims' groups that revolves around, quickly find themselves in judicial trouble."